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 didn’t know she was moving to the US 13 years ago — she thought she was going for a summer vacation. She talks to us about feeling disconnected from her friends in Nigeria, struggling to settle in the US, and the reason she wants to move back to Lagos.
When did you move to the US?
2008. I had just finished JSS 2 and my dad came to pick me up from boarding school. Right before we drove off, he said, “I hope you packed everything, because we’re moving to the US in two weeks.” I didn’t understand what he said. We normally went to the UK for holidays, so I thought this was a holiday trip to a different country. It wasn’t until my friends in Nigeria were resuming school and I was still in the US that it hit me that America had become home.
Whoa. Did your entire family move?
I moved with my mum and my sisters. My dad worked at an oil company in Nigeria, so he stayed back.
How did this drastic change affect you?
At first, I didn’t mind because I thought I was in the US for just the holidays. When I realised I wasn’t going back to Nigeria, I became super sad. A lot of things were happening at once and I was overwhelmed. For example, I had to retake JSS 2 — 8th Grade — because they said I was too young to go to high school. We also moved from one state to another in the space of a few months. It was a lot.
Why did you move states?
I can’t remember, but we moved from North Carolina to Houston. North Carolina had white people, and it seemed like I was abroad, but when we moved to Houston, it was like I was back in Lagos. Nigerians are everywhere you turn in Houston. This made settling in even weirder for me because I was just asking myself, “Am I in Nigeria or am I in America?”
I’m curious. On what type of visa does a whole family move to the US?
We arrived on a tourist visa and then filed for permanent residency. By 2009, we got our permanent residency, and by 2013, we were full citizens — me, my mum and my sisters.
What about your dad?
He passed away in Nigeria in 2009, a year and a half after we moved to the US. He visited about three times before he died.
I’m sorry. Did high school help you settle in better?
Not really. It was a fresh start, but I didn’t make the most of it because I hadn’t fully disconnected from Nigeria. You know that feeling you get on your first day of secondary school when everything feels new — like a fresh start? That’s how I felt starting high school. I struggled with making friends, but I didn’t mind because I still had my friends from my Nigerian secondary school.
Also, I had one final shot at re-living the Nigerian secondary school dream that I wanted so much and keenly looked forward to.
What was it?
Senior secondary graduation in 2012. My school had a tradition where on the final week of graduation, everyone who had ever been a part of the graduating class, from JSS 1 up until that point would come together for a fun-filled four-day fest that involved bonfires, movies, and all that. You didn’t have to be graduating with the class. You just had to have been a part of the class at some point.
Now that I look back, I realise that I hinged a lot of my happiness on attending that event. I needed something to hold on to because the way I left Nigeria was too abrupt.
Please tell me you went.
I did not. 2012 came and it just didn’t happen. We either didn’t plan enough or plane tickets were just too expensive. I know I said it was when my friends were resuming school that it hit me that I was now living in the US, but this one hit me much harder.
Damn. Did you ever discuss your discomfort at being in the US with your family?
We didn’t speak about things like that. We just did our own things individually.
What happened next?
I went to college in Texas. It was then I started making friends and settling into the US. It was also in college I became intentional about my walk with God, and took my Christianity seriously. I grew up in a Christian home, but I didn’t have a relationship with God or take Christianity seriously. In college, I started attending a new church, and my relationship with God became more intentional, and it’s been great ever since.
I also had a bit more freedom, so I explored the fancier and more fun parts of Houston and discovered that Houston wasn’t terrible — I had just lived in a not so great area. I realised that I didn’t actually hate Houston — I just hadn’t explored it enough.
Shortly after I finished college, I decided that I was going to stay in Houston, but shortly after that decision, I got a job in New Jersey. I’d heard that New Jersey was a New York wannabe, and it was true. Everything, especially rent, was excessively expensive for no good reason. It was a terrible place to live. To be honest, my mind was just fixed on moving back to Houston
Luckily, three weeks after I moved, the company transferred me to Atlanta. At first, I didn’t mind Atlanta, but after some time, I realised it wasn’t so great as well.
Did you eventually move back?
In 2018, I requested a transfer back, and it was granted. That was the first time since I moved to the US that I felt like I was somewhere I was meant to be. It took 10 years to feel like I was at home in the US.
Have you been to Nigeria ever since?
The first time I returned to Nigeria was in 2019. My sisters and I wanted to experience “detty December”.
We all had jobs, so we had our own money to buy tickets.
2019 was also my dad’s 10-year remembrance, so it just seemed like the perfect time to show up.
What was detty December like?
I liked it. It wasn’t your typical IJGB detty December though, because I didn’t go to any of the concerts or go clubbing. I mostly spent time with my extended family, and I think it was in that period I started nursing thoughts of moving back to Lagos.
Haha, yes. When I tell people I want to move to Lagos, they tell me it’s a terrible idea because Nigeria is not a good place. What they don’t understand is that I’m an American citizen — if things don’t work out, I’ll pack my load and come back to America.
Someone told me that Lagos in December isn’t the same as Lagos in any other month, and if I wanted to move, I should visit in another month. So I visited this year.
Lagos is chaotic, but it’s home.
What plans have you made to move back?
I’ve been applying for jobs, and most of the employers have asked for an NYSC certificate because they don’t want to give a Nigerian an expat visa. I could just tell them I’m not Nigerian because I’m an American citizen, but I’d rather be honest. Last year, I considered doing NYSC just so I could scale that hurdle but I don’t think I’ll go through with it.
I don’t want to move to Lagos without first having a good corporate job there. I don’t want to risk having to run up and down looking for jobs. If I don’t find a job soon, I’ll push my move to next year. I just started working at a Big Four accounting firm and once I stay here for one year, I can request a transfer to their Lagos branch. If that doesn’t work out, I’ll just visit a few times every year.
Hey there! My name is David 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.