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 moved to the UK in 2018, but immediately wanted to return to Nigeria — people told her to go back to her country and others mimicked her accent. She’s finally moved to a new town and, for the first time, is excited about living in the UK.
First things first, when did you decide to move abroad?
In 2016, people were crazy about moving to Canada. My older brother jumped on that craze and decided to move there too for school at 16, so I thought, “Me too I have to leave Nigeria.”
My plan was to go to the US for university, but a mass shooting happened in the US, and I just became paranoid. It seemed like something bad would happen to me if I went to that side of the world.
Thankfully, in 2018, a family friend finished their sixth form in the UK, and because I was just finishing secondary school, my parents decided I should go to the UK to do my sixth form too. When I moved, I was 16.
Was that your first time travelling?
Oh no. I’m a UK citizen. My parents travelled to the UK to have me and moved back to Nigeria one month later. Every year since I was a kid, we travelled to either the US, UK, Dubai or Ghana. Honestly, I don’t know why we didn’t think of the UK first when we were considering my university options. When we did decide, it seemed like the most sensible option.
How did leaving Nigeria to go stay elsewhere feel?
Exciting. My mum spent about 15 years of her childhood up in the UK, so she brought us up on UK stories and slangs. Whenever I tried to say those slangs to my Nigerian friends, it seemed like I was speaking another language. They just didn’t get it. Moving to the UK was meant to be an avenue for me to explore who I thought I was at heart.
Okay so, expectations vs reality?
So, I moved to a town called Stevenage to live with a family friend, her husband and two daughters. I thought I was going to get there and meet a nice, sexy town with a great social scene and people I could relate well with. But omo, that town wasn’t giving “abroad” at all. The roads were bad and the buildings were ugly. I wanted to run back to Lagos.
My school was a bus away in another town called Hitchin. That place wasn’t great too, but what stood out in both towns was the absolute whiteness of it. I rarely saw any black people. And the white people I encountered were people with thick accents who couldn’t even speak correct English, but occasionally told me to go back to my country.
In school, people would say stuff like, “Oh my! How can you speak and write so well?” I was also introduced as, “Lisa* from Nigeria” every single time. Like, what happened to just saying my name? Why did they have to add “from Nigeria” every single time? I didn’t enjoy my two years in sixth form at all.
That sounds awful.
The only thing that helped me survive was the family I lived with. They treated me like their own daughter, and their kids treated me like their own sister. On my mum’s birthday, I was sad I couldn’t be in Nigeria for her party, and the people I was staying with went out, got food, and started a mini party in the house just so I could feel better.
I finished sixth form in the middle of the pandemic in 2020, so I took a break before university. I just felt like.
What did you do for that year?
I got a job at a store in Stevenage. I arranged stuff on counters, cleaned and did some other administrative tasks. It was the ghetto. I worked with older white people who mistook me for a dissimilar-looking black colleague and mimicked my accent. It was a store, so there was no HR I could report to. I just moved on whenever anything like that happened.
How long did you work there?
Exactly one year. After that, I moved to Coventry for university. Again, my first thought when I moved in to my hostel at my uni in Coventry was, “Am I really abroad?” The walls were cracked and the hallways were dirty. I thought I’d hate being here too.
But when I went into the campus, things looked much better. First, I saw diversity like I hadn’t seen in Stevenage or Hitchin. There were people from so many different countries — especially Africa — that just seemed like they would make cool friends.
One thing I noticed was that people from other countries know about Nigeria and Nigerians more than Nigerians know about other people. As I settled in, I started making friends. And yeah, all my friends are black.
It’s not like I don’t speak with white people o. I just don’t have them in my close circles because there’s not a lot we can relate to.
How long is your uni course?
It’s three years. I don’t know what I’m doing when I finish here, but I know I was born to enjoy my life and have plenty money, so that’s probably what’s going to happen.
I’m also considering returning to Nigeria for NYSC, but when I get to that river, I’ll cross it. Right now, I just want to enjoy uni and enjoy my life.
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.