I have always wanted to travel abroad for postgraduate studies to see the world and meet new people. I did not just want to study, I wanted it to be in a calm, scenic, and affordable place.
It was therefore love at first sight when I came across the University of Tartu on studyportals.com late December 2019. By January 2020, I had put together my application and applied for the MA programme in International Law and Human Rights. My joy knew no bounds when on 7 May, right amidst the gloomy lockdown and the Covid-19 global pandemic, I received a conditional offer from the University of Tartu.
I proceeded immediately to fulfil the conditions of my offer and mailed the relevant documents to the admissions department for consideration. On 30 June, I received an email confirming my enrolment, and my arduous but rather exciting journey to Tartu began.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and most countries under lockdown, it was not clear how I was going to make it to Estonia. To compound my worries, there is no Estonian embassy in Nigeria, my home country. The closest Estonian representation is in Egypt.
I got really agitated when other institutions in Estonia began to cancel or postpone admission offers of third country students, but my worries were laid to rest when I received an email notifying me that studies would be held online until most students were able to make it to Estonia.
I paid my tuition even when it wasn’t yet clear that I would make it to Estonia. The closest Estonian embassy to Nigeria is in Egypt, so I wrote to the consulate to book a date. I got a prompt response and the meeting was scheduled for 3 November. To travel to Egypt, however, I needed an Egyptian visa and also had to apply to the Egyptian embassy in Nigeria.
On my visit to the Egyptian embassy I was informed that visit and tourist visas were as then suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I met similar disappointment at the Turkish, Israeli, and Belarusian embassies. I was considering deferring my studies to the next academic session when I got the good news that a new Estonian embassy would be opening in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
I quickly wrote to the embassy and secured 12 November for an appointment, and I cancelled my appointment with the Estonian embassy in Egypt. I had no problem securing a tourist visa to the UAE. However, the Estonian Embassy, following the regulations in the capital city of Abu Dhabi, required that all visitors to the embassy must have stayed within the UAE for at least 14 days before their appointments.
So, on 26 October I left Nigeria for the first time in my life after taking the Covid-19 test and getting a negative result. I was excited about what lay ahead, but I was also sad about leaving my family and friends. I boarded Rwandair with two stopovers in Accra and Kigali, the longest I have ever travelled by air.
I arrived in Dubai, UAE, on 27 October to meet my cousins who were to host me, waiting to receive me. I took another Covid-19 test before leaving the airport and travelling to Ajman, where my cousins live and study. I settled in Ajman quickly and quite enjoyed my stay there. My daily routine included taking a short walk to the Starbucks café, where I used the free internet to participate in lectures, or following my cousins to the neighbouring city of Sharjah to use the public library for my assignments and coursework.
Days rolled into weeks, and my appointment with the embassy was approaching. Sincerely, I was worried; prior to my interview, I had never been to a visa interview. The UAE visa I applied for was done online, and neither physical presence nor interview was required. I was worried about being rejected after I had left my job at home, paid my tuition, and said goodbye to friends and family.
Before then, however, my birthday was on 9 November. My cousins and new friends made it a memorable one, with a little celebration which took my mind off the pressure of the visa application and appointment.
To visit the Estonian Embassy in Abu Dhabi, I had to take another Covid-19 test to be allowed in at the border. I took the test on 10 November and the result was ready the next day. I readied all the needed documents and my credentials, and set out early on 12 November from Ajman to meet up with my 11:30 appointment with the embassy in Abu Dhabi.
I arrived at the Abu Dhabi border at about 7:45, and, to my dismay, the border police denied me entry and asked my cousin who volunteered to drive me to the embassy to turn back. I was shocked to my core: I had all the necessary documents and I had taken the compulsory Covid-19 test, so why was I asked to turn back?
As I am not one to give up easily, I asked my cousin to make a U-turn and try again. The same officer once again asked us to turn back, this time angrily. I tried to explain to him that I had an important appointment to catch up with, but he was not interested in anything I had to say. The officer then told me that Nigerian passport holders are not allowed into Abu Dhabi.
I was perplexed and realised the officer was acting on his own volition, as there was no prior official announcement to that effect. He ordered us to turn back and once again I was denied entry. Not knowing what to do, we parked at a gas station, where I called the Estonian embassy to explain my ordeal. The voice at the other end of the phone was so reassuring and agreed to move my appointment by an hour if I could make it.
We drove to the border for the third time, hoping for a miracle or a different officer, and luckily this time we were attended to by a different and really amiable officer who only checked my passport, confirmed that I had taken the Covid-19 test, and set me on my way. The experience at the border really shook me, and I arrived at the embassy looking very distraught.
Surprisingly, the lady that attended to me was very friendly, as though to compensate for my unpleasant experience at the border. I explained the challenge I encountered getting into Abu Dhabi, and the embassy offered to have my passport delivered to me in Ajman when a decision would be taken, provided I make the necessary arrangement with a courier company. I took the offer with both hands, thanked the consular official, and left.
On 16 November, I received an email confirming that a decision had been taken on my visa application, and the next day the courier company I had earlier contracted delivered my passport with the Estonian visa stamped in it.
I booked a Lufthansa flight and left the UAE in the wee hours of 21 November. I had a twelve-hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany, and arrived at Tallinn airport around 01:30 on 22 November.
As the taxi drove me to the hostel where I would be isolating for the next ten days, in compliance with the Covid-19 regulations, I wound down the window to allow some of the drizzling cold Estonian rain to touch my face. I then, like William E. Henley, “thank(ed) whatever gods may be…” for my resilient spirit – probably the same manner of resilience that has kept the University of Tartu going since 1632, and the same manner of resilience I would be needing to excel in my programme for the next two years.