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Dad left mum for having all-female kids, I’m glad I’ve made my mum proud – Chinyere, UNN first-class graduate who graduated at 37

Chinyere Cecile, 37, emerged the best graduate of the Faculty of Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, with a 4.73 CGPA from the Department of Foreign Languages and Literary Studies in the 2014/2015 academic session. In this interview with TUNDE AJAJA, she talks about her education and life experiences.

You had your first degree at 37, did you have delay in securing admission?

No, I didn’t. I dropped out of school many times to work and raise money for my education, that was what really caused the delay. My growing up was characterised by some challenges. I started taking care of myself from when I was very young. When I was in secondary school, I was out of school for four years due to lack of money, so I was working to raise money to continue my studies. The same thing happened when I was in primary school. I used to put my schooling on hold to work to raise some money. It was very challenging. When you put all the years I missed together, that’s why I couldn’t finish school at the ‘normal’ age.

What kind of work were you doing?

In most cases, I had to hawk vegetables and I was involved in farming too, likewise my mum and siblings. Then, when we harvested, we ate some and sold the rest. Sometimes, we helped other farmers to sell their produce just to raise money. I had my primary and part of my secondary education in Cameroon and my grandmother made sure that my sisters and I went to a bilingual nursery and primary school before we came back to Nigeria. Back then, my siblings and I had to resort to evening school under adult education for our primary education because we needed to go out in the morning to look for work or go to the farm and then later in the evening, we would go to school. There were times we slept in an old barn given to us by a pastor and it was hellish anytime it rained. Basically, I had financial challenges as an integral part of my education experience all along, even till I graduated from the university. However, I couldn’t have made it alone if God didn’t bring good Samaritans, like one of my lecturers, on my way. She gave me shelter since my first year till this very moment. She’s an aunt to some good friends who made up their minds to see me become the woman God has called me to be. I can’t exhaust my experience here, but I thank God that in spite of those issues, I had my West African Senior School Certificate Examination and my Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination at one sitting and I made a first class.

You grew up in Cameroon, what brought you back to Nigeria?

My father left Cameroon when I was four because my mother didn’t have a male child with him. Sometime later, we; my mum and the three of us, came back. I was already in secondary school but I came to complete it here after working for some time. My siblings went through same experience but they were not able to enter the university because of money, so, they later went back to Cameroon with my mother. And that was why I refused to give up on my dream of being educated, in spite of what I went through. It was very challenging but thank God who saw me through. I organised private lessons and taught French somewhere while in school, which also helped.

Since you already knew how to speak French, why did you choose Foreign Languages and Literary Studies again?

Language is part of human existence, and I find that interesting, because man, out of every other living being, is the only creature possessing an organised means of communication, which is what language is all about. Since my childhood, it has been my passion to study this course, especially after coming across inspiring poems and storybooks written by some of the great French writers such as Lafontaine, Victor Hugo, etc. It’s basically about learning foreign languages and their literary studies. The culture and civilisation aspects were very interesting. It might not be a popular course but it’s very interesting and its job prospects are impressive. People with expertise in foreign languages can find job as diplomats in foreign countries where such languages are spoken. They can be tutors or translator/interpreter in multinational organisations. For example, I served as French Interpreter during the 2015 Nigerian University Games Association preparations in UNN. I was also the French editor for my department, as well as the religious coordinator.

How many languages do you speak?

I speak English, Igbo, French and I have rudimentary knowledge of Russian and German.

Since you already have some knowledge of the course, how easy was it to have a first class?

It is never easy to make a first class, because language as a whole is not easy to learn, especially when it is not your native language. So, attaining that level of excellence happens only with God’s favour, determination, hard work and self-discipline. I didn’t need anybody to tell me to take my studies seriously because of what I went through to get money. When I got admission, I decided to give my best to secure the best grade, so I had to minimise distraction of any kind. I entrusted my life into God’s hands as the only Shepherd of my soul and destiny. Also, I created study groups to teach my classmates things they found difficult and I started that from 100 level.

When did you start having first class?

I started leading my class from 100 level and organising tutorials for my coursemates helped me greatly. Beyond that, I was influenced to make such decision just to honour my mother by making her so proud of her “girl” child. That was what cost her marriage, so, I planned to make her proud. Female children can also attain the same level of greatness like a male child. I believe we can achieve whatever we set our eyes on if we believe and work towards it. We were more than forty in my final year but only two of us had first class.

What was your typical day like?

It was usually hectic as a result of long hours of lectures, putting in extra hours of work in the evening to further my studies and finding time to teach others. Being a person with strong quest for knowledge, I spent considerable amount of time studying and I slept well because that was when I was free. For my private studying, I spent quite a lot of time in the library making use of all the resources I could lay my hands on. In my third year, I wrote an article in French and it was adjudged one of the best then. So, someone gave me a gift for that.

Did your background affect you in any way?

No, I didn’t allow my background to affect my academic performance. If I should let my background creep into my thoughts, I would not have made a first class, because it was enough distraction and source of worry.

Given all you went through, did you have time for social activities?

Of course, I was social and I did attend some social gatherings, just that I was cautious of the number of hours I put into such activities because of the time I spent working hard to meet my financial needs. I spent my leisure playing games, I did physical exercise such as gymnastic, jogging and taking a long walk on some of the beautiful hills of Nsukka. That enabled me to think and reflect on life. I watched cartoons, comedy shows, adventure and action movies to relieve me of some tension. I also visited orphaned kids in motherless babies’ homes, partly to appreciate God for the gift of life. I also engaged myself in God’s work, which is evangelism.

What were your memorable moments?

I think my happiest moment was during my matriculation ceremony because it was the day my dream of studying French Language became a reality. The thought of studying my dream course ignited the interest and dedication that kept me moving. The day of my convocation was also very remarkable, even though my siblings and my mum could not attend. I felt lonely. I can’t recall having any serious embarrassing moments because I was always ready to dare the odds to get what I wanted. That is when you talk of taking the bull by the horns.

You must have been older than some of your classmates, were there times you felt humiliated?

They never humiliated me; they respected me because I was mindful of my words and conduct, even though I looked younger than my age. Some of them even doubted my age. I took it upon myself to help those who needed it and that earned me some respect as well.

What are your aspirations?

I dream of teaching the French language at an advanced level or working in any other organisation that needs my expertise in French language. Furthermore, I hope my story will inspire many, mostly women, to encourage them to rise up against the various barriers and restrictions imposed on them by culture and traditions. My desire is to go for Master’s and PhD, but that is if I’m able to raise the money.

Given all you have been through to get your first degree, are you disturbed by the unemployment rate in the country?

The rate of unemployment in our country is really troubling and there are good reasons to be troubled by the scourge. However, I have a firm assurance and belief that my help comes from God, the “owner of heaven and earth”. He will surely make a way for me where there is no way.

What is your advice to students?

For those who desire excellent results, they should always give priority to their studies, regardless of the distraction. They should trust in God’s unfailing wisdom and favour.


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Cecilia ARINYE

The last NUGA GAMES in UNN was in 2009
NUGA GAMES is a National University Games so a French interpreter is not required
UNN has not hosted the WAUG GAMES or any International Games since 2009, so where is the relevance for a French interpreter.

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