The Nigerian experience is physical, emotional, and sometimes international. No one knows it better than our features on #TheAbroadLife, a series where we detail and explore Nigerian experiences while living abroad.
This week’s subject on Abroad Life left Nigeria for the US in 2014. Last year, she moved to Canada. Why? The US has too much immigration wahala. She thinks more Nigerians should come to Canada because “things work” there.
When did you leave Nigeria?
Eight years ago, in July 2014.
That’s a long time ago. Why did you leave?
My parents wanted me to. I was already in my first year at Afe Babalola University, but they thought it’d be great to send me abroad instead. I saw a chance to leave Nigeria, so of course I took it
Was the US the only option?
For my parents, yes. For me, nope. I wanted to go to Hungary or Ukraine because that’s where people from my class in secondary school were going.
Expectation vs reality: US edition
First, I expected it to be colder. But I got there in the summer and visited my aunt who lived in California first, so it was definitely not cold. Also, I expected to find it hard to fit in because I was new. Imagine a 17-year-old moving to a new country on her own. But I found that people were nice, and I made friends easily.
Generally though, I didn’t have too many expectations.
I’d imagine moving at 17 was scary
Oh, it was. But thankfully, I’d been in boarding school since I was 10, so I was used to being away from my parents. Also, being away from home gave me a new-found sense of freedom I couldn’t get when I was in Nigeria, under the wings of my parents, especially my dad.
What did you do with your new-found freedom?
I just went to parties. That’s it. My home training didn’t allow me go too far.
So settling was easy for you?
I’m thankful for one thing, and that’s the two friends I made on the second and third day of school in Arkansas. They’re Rwandan and Congolese respectively, and they were my close friends throughout university. I’m still really close with one of them.
I’m grateful because many people don’t make friends that early and end up struggling with things like loneliness and even depression. Also, it was the beginning of me having only African friends throughout my three-year stay in Arkansas.
It’s giving racist
When you stay in a very white city in Arkansas, you encounter a lot of racism. It’s not the violent kind, but you notice an air around the white people like they think they’re better than you. They’re nice, but only from afar. There are also comments they make that just make you go, “What?”
Give an example
I can never forget this one. So on my third day in school, I was in the kitchen area, warming up some food, when a white student walked up to me to say hi. As the conversation went on, he asked where I was from, and I told him “Nigeria”. He said, “Oh, so your father must be the president then.” And when I said no, he said, “Oh, so vice president?” When I said no again, he just said okay and left. It’s like he was surprised a “regular” Nigerian could afford to send their kid to the US for school.
What of the Black Americans?
They have a thing where they act like they’re better than Africans. I remember one condescendingly telling me, “Oh, your accent is so thick and African”. I just kept them at arm’s length and rolled with my fellow Africans.
When I graduated and moved to California, which is more diverse than Arkansas, I made some Asian-American and white friends who were more open-minded. But still, no African Americans.
Why did you move to California?
For work. The initial plan was to study medicine after biology because in the US, you need a bachelor’s before you can study medicine. But med school fees were looking scary so I just decided to work and chase a Green Card instead.
Have you got it?
Nope. Immigration in the US is tough. I had to leave because I ran out of time and legal options, and refused to marry anyone for papers, real or arrangée. I moved to Canada in June 2021.
Have you been back in Nigeria ever since?
Only in 2016. My mum and siblings have all come to visit since I got here, but I haven’t seen my dad since 2016. I miss him.
Why’s he never visited?
I have no idea. He even got an American visit visa but never came. I want to visit Nigeria this December but these flight prices dey choke.
What’s the plan with Canada now?
I’m currently in nursing school, and I graduate in October next year. After two years, I can apply for permanent residency (PR) myself. That’s the plan. In the US, I would’ve had to find a job with a company willing to apply for on my behalf, and it’s a lottery, which makes it difficult to know how long it takes.
Canada vs America
For immigration, Canada is better. Healthcare, Canada wins. Safety, Canada wins. The people here are also much nicer. But for taxes, the US wins. They can finish you with taxes in this Canada. As a working-class person, it’s difficult to become rich off your salary because of how much you’re taxed. But I like to think about it like this; healthcare is free, so why not?
How do you qualify for free healthcare?
I have no idea. I think it’s a province-by-province thing. I live in Alberta, and healthcare is free here for students. But I don’t think it applies to students in Ontario.
You spoke about taxes. Do you have a job?
Unlike in the US, international students in Canada can work outside the school campus. So I work at a hospital, babysit and work in disability support. I get taxed for all three jobs, but I’ll get all the money back in December because my annual income is too low to fall within a tax bracket.
What’s your social life like?
Pretty great. I decided to move to Alberta because a close friend from secondary school moved and has lived here since 2013. We reconnected, and she’s introduced me to her Nigerian friends. Oh, and yes, there are a lot of Nigerians in Canada! I absolutely love it.
What do you miss most about Nigeria?
The food. Even when we cook Nigerian food here, it doesn’t taste the same.
What do you hate most about being in Canada?
Uhm… Just the fact that I’m a student. I can’t wait to graduate and get my PR. I went from studying biology in the US to hustling for Green Card for three years to moving here for school again. I can’t wait to finally finish and settle.
Oh wait! Canada is also bloody expensive compared to America. Food, petrol, everything. Expensive.
Do you think more Nigerians should move to Canada?
Absolutely. I have friends who moved here in 2018, got their PR in 2021 and bought a house this year . If you’re a hard worker, the system will work for you. They’ll tax you plenty of money, but at least you know you have healthcare, safety, you can buy a house, and just have a decent family life.
Want more Abroad Life? Check in every Friday at 9 A.M. (WAT) for a new episode. Until then, read every story of the series here.
Hey there! My name is Sheriff and I’m the writer of Abroad Life. If you’re a Nigerian and you live or have lived abroad, I would love to talk to you about what that experience feels like and feature you on Abroad Life. All you need to do is fill out this short form, and I’ll be in contact.