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.
Today’s subject on Abroad Life had a culture shock when she went to the UK and found out that people weren’t as nice as she expected. After staying there for seven years and getting used to living that way, she moved back to Nigeria, only to be shocked that people were so nice and funny.
When did you first decide to move abroad?
I didn’t decide by myself. I’d just finished secondary school at 16, and my parents decided they wanted my twin sister and me to go to the UK to study. This was in 2013. I’d been to the UK for holiday a couple of times prior, and the US just once, also for holiday.
Expectation vs reality: UK edition.
Every time I’d been to the UK before then, we stayed with family in London. This time, we went to a school in Buckingham. I thought, “Hm, Buckingham must be big and grand and bustling because that’s where the Queen lives. As in, Buckingham Palace.” See, it’s a small, quiet town that’s the opposite of what I thought it was. Apparently, Buckingham Palace is in London.
Settling in was difficult. There aren’t a lot of Nigerians in Buckingham, so I had to socialise with people who didn’t understand my accent, jokes and culture. To make it worse, I was coming from an all-girls secondary school in Nigeria to a mixed university in the UK. The last time I mixed with boys was in primary school. Now I was classmates with… with men.
What was that like?
I was scared. I didn’t know what I could say to them or the boundaries I could cross. It was as I gradually settled in I made male friends and learnt how to interact with men.
I wanted to get into a romantic relationship but couldn’t because I didn’t find anyone I really liked. And even the relationships that could have gone somewhere always ended because they wanted to have sex. As a Christian, I can’t have sex before marriage.
Did things get better?
I started seeing that although brits were very straight to the point, they used a lot of endearment terms like “sweetie” or “darling”. That made me feel a bit more at ease. Even if they were being mean, they still called you darling.
On the other hand, they didn’t joke a lot. Everyone was just so serious. Thankfully, I had my twin sister, and we did almost everything together. We lived together in school and changed apartments twice together.
Wait, how long did you stay in the UK?
Seven years. We did a four-year course, and then a two-year master’s programme. The extra year we took was because our dad died.
We travelled home in 2017 and found out our dad had died. We’d got to Nigeria on the 21st of that month. He died on the 15th. When we tried to call him before we got to Nigeria and his number wasn’t going through, my mum told us he travelled to a place where there was no network.
Imagine getting home for the holidays and finding out your dad is no longer alive. He’d promised to take us to different fun places that holiday, and he was just gone. It hurt like hell. We had to stay for the funeral and then stay with our mum too.
One thing I learned from my dad’s death was that people from different backgrounds approach death differently.
In Nigeria, people showed they cared by saying stuff like, “Be strong” and “It’s better to lose your dad than your mum, so be thankful”. That didn’t really sit right with me, especially when I compared it with all the messages when I got back to the UK. All the “We love you” and “So sorry about your loss”. It was just different, and better.
Tell me your favourite part about the UK.
Accessibility to a wider range of stuff. Stuff like gluten-free food, same-day deliveries, good roads and electricity. You can’t beat that.
And your least favourite thing?
The UK is brutally expensive. I say “brutally” because nobody cares if you can’t pay for something. They’ll bring the police for you. For example, if you owe one month’s rent, you should be afraid because they can bring the police to arrest you. There’s no “take this discount because you’re my customer”. Nope. It’s all very official. At first, I thought it was them being wicked, but I just realised, business is business.
By 2020, I finished my master’s and moved back to Nigeria.
What was that like?
Imagine having culture shock in your own country. I hadn’t lived in Nigeria as an adult, so it was difficult settling in again. First of all, I had to get used to the fact that Nigerians joke a lot — a reality I wasn’t used to in the UK. Someone would say something, and I’d get angry before I realised it was a joke. Or a “cruise”. I had to learn all the terms like “japa” and “sapa”. People were also much nicer. Even strangers.
It took me over a year, but I’ve now gotten used to being here.
Do you plan to stay?
I’ll probably be out again for my master’s this year. This time, in the US. I haven’t told anyone because I haven’t got my admission and visa yet, but fingers crossed.
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.