Today’s subject on Abroad Life moved to the US when she was 17. Eight years later, she talks about her life in the US, losing her mum, getting married to an American in Nigeria, and the process of getting her Green Card.
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.
When did you realise you wanted to leave Nigeria?
I always knew it was going to happen.
I’m the third of four children. My older siblings left Nigeria to the US for university after they finished secondary school so I was expecting mine. Unlike them, I didn’t have to first spend one year in a Nigerian university. They did that because the process for their admissions didn’t go smoothly and they didn’t want to waste the year. I left in 2013.
What was growing up like for you?
I was privileged in Nigeria. We were a middle-class family, so I wouldn’t say I have a very “Nigerian” reality. I took trips to the UK and Dubai on holidays. But my life in Nigeria wasn’t eventful. I went to boarding school, so I was always either in school, at home, or travelling with family.
Had you been to the US before you went there for school?
Nope. And when it was time to leave, I was excited.
You know the way American movies depict the college experience — parties, frat houses and all that? That’s what I expected. It’s what I wanted too. The semi-wild child in me was looking to break free from Nigeria and be an American college student. My older siblings had spent one year each in a very strict Nigerian university and I wasn’t going to do that.
Did your expectations come through?
No. It wasn’t what I expected.
My university was very conservative. It was a religious private school. Drinking on campus wasn’t allowed— and they were strict about it. There weren’t any parties. It was all just bland.
Eeish… How did you handle that?
I made friends and we did all our outings off campus. The year after I got to the US, I turned 18. I was able to get a job, save up and get a car. Off campus, I attended parties, went to concerts, experimented with drinking, weed and all that. Normal teenage stuff.
What was school itself like?
It was okay. I studied biology for four years and it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Although I didn’t get much freedom to miss classes. My school was small, so it was easy for the professors to know your name and face and notice when you were absent.
What happened after school?
I had a short break for about a year and a half before starting my nursing degree. I wanted to study medicine but in that break, I decided to go for nursing instead.
Why didn’t you study medicine from the beginning?
In the US, you can’t study medicine right out of secondary school. You have to do a degree of your choice first before going to medical school. Mine was biology.
Why did you decide to change from medicine to nursing?
A lot happened in the period after university. I worked a couple of jobs, went through some changes and all that. Worst of all, my mum died. I knew I wanted to be in the medical field, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit four years of my life to studying medicine. I didn’t want it so bad that it would take away as much of the time it was going to from me. Nursing was what I decided to go with. I didn’t need four years, I needed 18 months. I finished nursing school last year.
Sorry about your mum’s death. How did it affect you?
My mum died shortly after I finished school. Losing her and recovering from that intensified my personality. I’d always been a person who believed life has no meaning and I’m just here for vibes. Losing her intensified those feelings, so now I’m very much alive for vibes and vibes only. Now, nothing is worth the stress and I also have no religious belief. t. All these things had always been inside of me, but now they are real.
That’s interesting. So you’re on a work visa in the US?
No, I have a Green Card.
I’m married. My husband is an American citizen.
I did not see that coming.
My marital status is one of the last things people find out about me because it doesn’t really reflect on my personality. I’m the same person since before I was married, and our relationship is the same since before we were married. We met on the first day of orientation in school. We were friends until our fourth year when we started dating. After school, we moved in together for a bit, and then in 2018, we got married. Our wedding was in Nigeria.
Since we started dating, he understood that I didn’t want to be with someone who wasn’t interested in where I’m from. He’d been to Nigeria even before we got married. Luckily, my dad was willing to sponsor our wedding, so I took one week off from nursing school, flew down, did a small wedding and came back. We did long distance for a bit because I was in nursing school and he was working in another state. When I was done, we picked a map, selected five different possible places and decided on one state to move to. We liked the DC area, so we decided to move to Virginia. I also got a job here.
Two months ago, he got a job in California and had to move there. I’ve had to travel eight times since then to see him. It’s been fun because I like travelling, and I only work three days a week so my schedule affords me the opportunity to travel.
I hear nurses are very well paid in the US.
It’s true. Nurses are paid well, but differently in different states. In California, they’re paid super super well. That’s good for me because I’ve been planning on moving there with my husband. I’ve applied for jobs and now I’m waiting for my license to be transferred to California.
Nice. For purely research purposes, did the American government hand you a Green Card immediately after you got married?
Haha.. no! When we first got married, we didn’t talk about me applying for a Green Card. We just put it off. But at some point, we realised it would probably be great if I had one because I would get better job prospects and more benefits, so about eight months after we got married, we started the application process. It was super expensive. I also didn’t want to do it myself because I knew it would be better if professionals handled it, so I found a company that did the entire process for us. Of course, that made it much more expensive. But I’m thankful I used professionals because I know someone who tried to do it herself and is still at it five years later. About a year after we applied, they called us for an interview, and I don’t know if it was luck or if the interviewer had done their research, but our interview lasted like two seconds. They asked us just one simple question and that was it. I got my Green Card in the mail.
I know of couples that were taken to different rooms and drilled by different interviewers about their relationship, family life, and all that and still don’t have their Green Cards.
Damn. What benefits does a Green Card afford you?
I’m basically an American citizen that cannot vote. It makes me feel weird that I’m never going to be a part of the political process, because I wasn’t old enough to vote when I was in Nigeria, and now I can’t vote in the US.
Do you see yourself moving back to Nigeria?
I’ve been to Nigeria every year since I left in 2013, but I’m not moving back to stay. Nigeria doesn’t give me the opportunity that America does economically, the systems in Nigeria don’t really work, and I feel generally more secure 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.