“Wife, Mother, Immigrant & Going Back to School After 19 Years…Here’s My Journey”
Let me begin by saying that there is no easy way to earn your master’s or doctoral degree and most people have a point, or period, during the process when everything isn’t “smooth sailing”.
The good part is that by the time you make it through, you will realize that through all of the challenges you’ve overcome, you have grown stronger. Although, I thankfully did not encounter any significant problems as I progressed through my Master’s program, there were significant and unprecedented challenges during my journey through my doctoral program. These challenging “storms”, mostly due to circumstances beyond my control eventually turned into category five hurricanes and thus affected me more intensely than others who didn’t share my same traits. What are these circumstances?
Well, to begin I was foreign born student with an accent, a woman of color, already married with four children and I was between the ages of 30 and 40 years old at the time. Thus, I was an unconventional students who had to overcome unconventional challenges.
My journey in post-graduate education began after my husband and I sent our first two kids to a boarding school in Nigeria in order to immerse them in Nigerian culture and tradition and gain a deeper connection to their roots. It wasn’t their first time going back to their native land, but it was their first time spending extended time away from their nuclear family. Although I missed my children, the positive aspect of the situation was that I had much more time on my hands and that’s when I decided to begin pursuing my Master’s degree. Since I had been out of college for 19 years, a university in New Orleans granted me conditional admission into its Master’s program in Education with the requirement that I enroll in two refresher undergraduate courses before officially entering the program. My psychology professor at the time noticed my tenacity and zeal to succeed and became interested in me and my success. After getting to know me better and learning that I had four children, a business, an unofficial recruitment agency, and experience as a community organizer, she prophesied something that would push me and fuel my fire in the toughest times. She said,
“You are going to be a success story!” This fuel would come in handy time and time again when my resolve was being tested during the crucible of dealing with my doctoral program professors.
After taking the two refresher courses in the summer, the next semester I started my Master’s degree in Educational Administration and decided to take three courses the first two semesters, and every semester afterwards because
I felt it was the ideal pace and workload to balance my mommy life and school, or so I thought. The situation was manageable until my two eldest children returned from Nigeria while I was still in my Master’s program. I soon returned to taking four children to four different schools as well as to all their sports practices and games across the city, thus making this period one of the most difficult times in my life. Each child was always playing one or two sports throughout the year ranging from football, basketball, baseball, and track for the boys and basketball, softball, volleyball, and track for the girls. I used to read for my classes in the car during games and practices, bring all of the kids home, cook and feed them and my husband, and when it was finally all said and done I would crack my books back open for my night time study session after my “break from studying”. It was very challenging, but I was determined to succeed.
As a former athlete, I am naturally competitive and this seemed like another competition with my greatest challenger: MYSELF. Ever since I was a child, I was always taught to be a competitor and to complete whatever I started and no matter what to always give my very best effort. With this mentality and the support and love of my God and family, I was able to finish my Master’s program with honors.
Although I made it through my Master’s program, I had no idea that as I pursued a doctoral degree the campus climate would not be conducive to foreign graduate students; due to a myriad of invisible barriers emanating from intergroup differences. Keep checking, I will explore these experiences in my next blog!
-Florence Oby Chigbu, PhD
GET TO KNOW FLORENCE:
First and Last Name: Florence N. Chigbu
Hometown: Nkwerre, Imo State, Nigeria
Current Job/Occupation: Executive Vice President & Author
What’s the best advice you ever received as a student or young professional?
That I must make sure I had full family support if not it will not work. That was so true, without my family supports and encouragements I would not have completed the program.