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 talks about getting the chance to move to the US, opting out finding out she had to move to Canada within a 3-day period, and her struggles with navigating adulthood for the first time in Canada.
When did you decide to leave Nigeria?
I was in SS 3 when I first had the idea to leave Nigeria for good. Growing up, my family went on vacation to the UK and the US every summer — we interchanged every year, but when I got to SS 3, everyone started talking about how they wanted to go abroad to study and not come back, and that suddenly seemed like a great plan.
LMAO. What did you do about it?
Because my secondary school had a lot of people going abroad to study over the years, schools abroad usually came to convince students to attend their schools. When I showed my parents the fees I would be paying if I went to one of those schools, they laughed and told me to go and buy JAMB form for Unilag.
What happened next?
In the months before I wrote POST UTME, we went on a trip to the US and an interesting series of events followed, that meant I’d have to return to the US soon.
We hardly travelled with my dad because he had work, so this time too, it was just my mum, my two older siblings and me. We were visiting my parents’ friend when another person’s name came up as a mutual acquaintance. After some connections, we found out that the woman, let’s call her Mrs B, was someone my dad helped with a police case before he retired from the police force, and she was close friends with my parents’ friend, so we all decided to pay her a visit. She was excited to see us. Omo, the case must have been big because the way she was thanking us ehn, you would think we gave her a million dollars. We called my dad and it took him a while to remember her, but he eventually did.
After all the pleasantries, she invited us to stay at her house for a few days.
Just like that?
Just like that o. She was the nicest woman ever.
In the midst of all the conversations, my mum mentioned that I was trying to move to the US to school and settle and the woman offered to house me and help us make everything work. Right before my eyes, they started making plans — the high school I’d go to before I was able to go to college, how I’d transition into a permanent resident through my marriage to an American, everything. And she was happy to help. She had children my age, so it would be easy to fit in and live with her.
JUST LIKE THAT?
Just like that. My mum asked if I was interested in the arrangement and I said I was, so we returned to Nigeria to renew my visa before I returned to start my new life.
The visa process took about a month and after I got my new visa, my mum and I travelled back to the US.
How did this period make you feel?
I was excited because I was finally getting what I wanted. In my first week in the US, I was sure I was going to have the best life ever. Remember I said the woman had children my age? I fit in like a glove.
One week later, my mum had to return to Nigeria; that’s where reality hit. Four days before she left, she sat me down to talk to me about the implications of what I was about to do — I couldn’t come to Nigeria whenever I liked because I was going to be trying to secure a Green Card. Travelling out of the country could ruin the plan. I would have to miss my sister’s wedding the following year. She also hinted that I might need to marry an American if I wanted this to work fully. She tried to balance it out by saying she and my siblings would visit me every year, but the damage had been done.
I cried every day for the next three days because, omooo, it was too much to take in.
When my mum noticed I was crying, she called my dad and told him I wasn’t going to be able to do it, so they booked my flight and I returned to Nigeria.
LMAO! How old were you?
This happened in 2017, so I was 16.
Tell me what happened next.
I returned to Nigeria just in time to write POST UTME to study law at Uninlag — an exam for which I was ill-prepared. I failed. It was a tough period for me because I’d now seen all my options go wrong right before my eyes.
My parents didn’t want me to stay at home, so they found a private university in Nigeria for me to go to. They had started a new session, but they didn’t have an issue with me joining mid-session to do A-Levels.
One day, about six months after I resumed, my dad called me to tell me he had started the process for me to go to school in Canada, but I needed to focus on my education and get good grades in Nigeria first to show I was serious enough to travel. I didn’t think too much about it.
A few weeks later, he came to check on me, and while he was with me, he called my mum. My mum didn’t know the phone was on speaker, so she asked him if he had told me my Canadian visa came through. He panicked, put the phone off speaker, and just replied, telling her he hadn’t. But me, I already heard what I heard. My Canadian visa was ready? I was excited.
My dad wasn’t as excited as I was. He told me to relax and focus on my education in the Nigerian school, and if I did well, I would travel.
Omo. Were you able to focus?
I didn’t have to. Three days later, they called me and said, “Pack your bags. We’re coming to pick you tomorrow. You’re going to Canada on Friday.” It was Tuesday.
Once again… Just like that?
LMAO! I was dumbstruck. I didn’t know what to tell my school friends who didn’t know anything about my travel plan.
“Hi guys, tomorrow is probably the last time you’ll ever see me because I’m leaving this school and going to resume in a different school in Canada.”
It was hard, but I sha told them. They were happy for me.
The next day, they came to pick me up, and two days later, I was on a plane to Canada.
Tell me your first thoughts about Canada.
It was cold! I travelled a lot growing up, so being in Canada didn’t seem different from being in the US. But the cold? Omo, I didn’t expect it.
Can I tell you an embarrassing fact?
The concept of Canada was new to me. I didn’t know a place like Canada existed until a few months earlier when my parents started the process, so I didn’t know it was a super cold place. I resumed school immediately.
What was it like settling in?
It was difficult at first. I arrived in winter and didn’t come here with winter clothes or shoes, so I had to go out every day to buy stuff that I would need to settle in — clothes, shoes, household items.
I also had a hard time settling in school. In the hostel, I stayed in the room with one Nigerian and two other people of different nationalities, and if not for the Nigerian, I would have lost my mind. The room was always so dirty and filled with weed smoke, so we couldn’t stand it. We eventually left and I got a shared apartment.
At school, it was hard as well. First of all, people couldn’t pronounce my name, so I had to give an English name that wasn’t even mine so they wouldn’t butcher my real name every single time. After the first semester though, I got a bit more confident and told everyone not to call me the English name again. It took them a while, then it clicked.
You know what’s most interesting to me about being in Canada?
I want to know.
The surrealness of adulthood. I keep marvelling at the fact that I can make my own decisions and live on my own. The fact that I had to find an apartment by myself and have to constantly stock it with food and household items with my own money, and at my own convenience amazes me. When I first got here, I spent money anyhow on the most random things, but, omo, sapa is everywhere and I had to learn not to overspend if I didn’t want to go broke. The realisation that I didn’t have my parents here to give me money every time set me straight. Now that I have a job as a librarian at school and make my own money, I’m learning to save and only spend money on essentials.
It can also be really scary because people in my situation find themselves making decisions they typically wouldn’t make. Many of the Nigerians I know here vowed not to smoke weed in Canada, but when you see a weed dispensary on every corner you turn to, offering weed in every way, shape and form, the pressure to try it outweighs your self-control.
Is that the situation you find yourself in?
All my life, I’ve always stayed away from drugs because they’re just not something I’ve ever considered. Apart from the fact that I haven’t strongly considered it too, I’m scared that my parents will one day find out if I did drugs and they would be so disappointed, they would ask me to return to Nigeria.
Being made to return to Nigeria before I can complete school and get my permanent residence here is something that scares me terribly.
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.