Favour from Nigeria: I want to be a model for how you view my continent, my country, my race

Ezinne Favour Ogwuegbu is a 2020 cum laude graduate of the master’s programme in International Relations and Regional Studies at the University of Tartu.

Favour (second from the left) with her friends and diploma after the graduation ceremony. Photo from a private collection

On a hot summer day, I met Favour in front of the university’s main building, and we headed to the university cafe nearby. It was lunchtime, and they only served lunch, which we were not interested in. However, we were allowed to stay and enjoy coffee on the house, which I did. I turned down the music in the room – we were there alone – and we started our conversation.

Conversation is something that Favour always goes for to understand other people and cultures. “If you think we are different, have a dialogue with us first. You would be surprised at what you would learn about other people if you just took the time to have a conversation with them, even for five minutes. Have conversations first; do not assume,” Favour encourages.

She sometimes misses conversations. After classes, everybody just vanishes. Students are busy with their lives, kids, and jobs. “And when you do meet your classmates, it occasionally feels like you are in another academic conference,” Favour smiles.

She considers Estonians to be very reserved. However, whenever she encountered problems, people went out of their way to help. In contrast to Estonians, Nigerians are very warm and expressive. Favour admits that her usual “larger than life” personality has become more reserved after coming to Estonia.

Here, she does experience the occasional stares, but it seems as though they have decreased now. In a popular blog post, entitled “Discrimination in Estonia: Are Estonians racist?” Favour acknowledged that “If you are looking for a place where you are not considered different or won’t get stared at from time to time, that place is back home in your country.” She knows that some people are indeed racist and encourages her fellows “not to let one negative experience ruin the urge to go out and do some good, to be understood.”

Favour with the team of international student ambassadors at the University of Tartu. Photo from a private collection

In her introduction as an international student ambassador at the University of Tartu, Favour expresses her gratitude to Estonia “for the chance to prove herself as a simple individual in search for knowledge, in a foreign country.” However, she also admits that when she follows the recent news and developments in Estonia, it does make her feel unwanted in a lot of ways, and it is not necessarily the best feeling.

The young Nigerian believes in sharing cultures, respect, and trying to learn as much as possible from the place where you are. One way she tries to get closer to the Estonian culture is through music. Favour’s favourite Estonian singer is Karl-Erik Taukar. She enjoys singing too, but prefers to do it solo rather than in a choir. She says: “As soon as I can learn the lyrics well, I will sing my heart out along to any song in any language.”

Whatever Favour does, she wants to give it her all and not just little snippets of time. She is eager to learn. That’s why on a scale from one to ten, she evaluates her inclination to procrastinate as two. To avoid procrastination, she makes room for it – obviously, not too much room. Another trick she uses is setting her internal deadlines at an earlier time. In most cases, though, the tricks are not needed. “When I set my mind to do something, I just go ahead and get it done,” Favour admits.

She was writing her thesis in spring during the coronavirus outbreak and did not find the experience enjoyable. Favour lives with a roommate at the Narva 27 dorm, and they had to be with each other all the time, following different schedules and routines. There was also concern for family and friends. “I survived,” Favour sums up the experience. She knew that for the sake of her thesis, she had to stay in Tartu.

Last autumn, she was on an Erasmus exchange to Vilnius University. There she enjoyed intimate classes and close connections to other people. She felt welcome in this beautiful city. Cultural reservation was still there, but compared to Estonia, it was not so strong.

Favour is also great at football and table tennis. Photo from a private collection

Our conversation was interrupted by a waiter who came to tell us that the restaurant was closing. We moved on to the nearby Meat Market restaurant on Küütri Street, only to discover – even before anyone was ready to serve us – that the noisy construction opposite the university’s main building resumed. So we moved again: this time to the cosy inner yard of the Krempel Café. There we ordered freshly baked cinnamon rolls, and our conversation continued.

“Lovely people, beautiful island, lovely school,” Favour says of Eastern Mediterranean University in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, where she completed her bachelor’s studies in international relations. There she co-founded VOIS Cyprus with three friends, an organisation that represents the voices of international students and promotes dialogue.

Cyprus motivated Favour to come to Estonia. It is similar in terms of population size and the environment. She has mixed feelings about metropolitan cities like Paris or Milan. Also, she would prefer colder climates over hotter ones. Relative security matters, too.

Favour grew up in the eastern part of Nigeria. She belongs to one of the 250+ tribes, the Igbo. Her grandfather was a local king of their village, and is believed to have had about 15 wives. One of her uncles served as a chief justice of Nigeria. Favour comes from a family that takes education very seriously.

“I talk to my family every other day. I’m happy to be a source of inspiration to them as much as they are to me. When my Mom learned that I had the honour of graduating from the University of Tartu cum laude, she exclaimed: “My superstar!” Parents don’t expect it, but we feel like: “You have taken care of me, I’ll take care of you as you grow older. It’s just the values,” Favour says.

Favour has three brothers and a sister; one brother has passed away. She is the youngest child in the family. “My family is an inspiration, but my late brother and his philosophy of life – my model,” Favour admits. She is happy to be a role model and inspiration for students of her former high school. Favour’s most important message to them is that you can make an impact beyond your street, your country, your continent. Dream big.

Favour met Estonian diplomat Lauri Bambus for an interview about Estonia’s diplomacy and the role of digital technologies in diplomatic practices. Photo from a private collection

Favour sees her future in Nigeria. According to her, the country deserves better. She wants Nigerians of the future to be proud of themselves. “I have a great desire to revitalise the foreign relations and diplomacy between my country and the rest of the world,” she says. Meanwhile, she aspires to work with international organisations and plans to go a bit later for PhD.

“I believe in my future so much, in what I can give to my country. Life is about having an itch. Do something, start something,” Favour concludes.

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