“Sometimes, I Feel More American Than Nigerian”- Abroad Life

March 5, 2021

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.

The subject of this week’s Abroad Life moved between Nigeria and the US three times between 2008 and 2015. He talks about leaving his friends behind, being black in the US, and the reason he doesn’t feel very Nigerian.

When did you move to the US?

I moved here twice. First in 2008, when I was 10, and in 2015 after secondary school. 

Why did you move the first time?

My dad had some projects here that were going to keep him for some time, so the entire family moved. Even as young as I was, I remember the visa process being extremely difficult. We prayed a lot; we were so tense. We were successful in one try, and everyone packed their stuff, said goodbye and left. 

What was that like for you?

It was difficult. I was 10. I already had long-term childhood friends in Nigeria. I was used to the weather, the food, the way of living, everything, and I liked it. When we moved, I only had my older sisters and my younger brother.

Thankfully, we’re a close-knit family, so I didn’t feel too disconnected.

What was integrating into society like?

In the four years that I stayed in the US, I went to three different schools because we moved around a lot. It didn’t help that they were very white schools. So, apart from being the new kid, I was also the black kid from Africa who spoke weird and wasn’t as rich as my classmates. I found it hard to make friends. At such a young age, being black already meant something for me. 

How did that eventually play out?

My dad was my rock. I looked up to as an example of what a black man should be. He was busy, but he wasn’t too busy to make time for us. I come from a Christian background, so my parents also instilled a lot of values in me. Many of them, I still follow until now. 

That’s awesome. Did you eventually make friends?

I made a few friends. It was when I began to settle in that we had to go back to Nigeria. Once again, it was difficult. I was reluctant to leave because I was enjoying life here. I’d also heard a lot about Nigeria that I wasn’t looking forward to. 

What did you hear?

Just the regular corruption, insecurity, poverty, terrorism and all that. I wasn’t looking forward to all of that. I think I was scared. 

How did it turn out?

The three years I spent in Nigeria were some of the best of my life. At first, it was weird. During my time in the US, I’d formed an American accent. That was suddenly the only way I knew how to speak. So again, I was the new kid in class who spoke differently. I was in SS1 at this point, so it wasn’t as if I got bullied. I was just the different one. Teachers even gave me special treatment. 

But as I made friends and settled in, I started enjoying the Nigerian boarding school experience. I was the kid who sat in the back of the class and made jokes so that everyone would laugh, but I wouldn’t get punished because I put on a poker face and acted like I didn’t know what was going on. I made friends I know I’ll have for life, and we did all the crazy stuff young people did to make the principal say, “This SS3 set is the worst that has ever come to this school!” 

Good times. 

Ah, the memories. What happened after you left secondary school?

I left Nigeria a few months after I finished secondary school. By the time we were taking our WAEC and JAMB exams, I’d written SATs and gotten admission to a school in the US. My older sisters were in university in the US too. There wasn’t any time to actually be a Nigerian in Nigeria. It was straight from the US to a Nigerian boarding school and back to the US almost immediately. I haven’t gone back ever since. 

Was that hard for you?

In some ways, it was. I had made friends and wanted to enjoy some time with them. There were also a lot of questions in my mind about Nigeria and what it meant to stay here. I wanted to see the streets and the people, I wanted to interact. But I understand the decision for my parents to move my life forward. Some people I finished secondary school with in 2015 aren’t done with university now because of things like strikes and all that. I can’t even imagine that for myself. 

What was university like?

It was pretty nice. I went to a nice school, met some good people, I had a job in school, so I wasn’t always broke, I had a nice apartment and was very involved with politics and humanitarian activities in school. I got my bachelor’s about two years ago and now I’m doing my masters. I also have a really good job. I’m doing all of this while trying to maintain my visa status, so I can stay in the US and get a green card.

Do you ever want to come back to Nigeria?

Not until I get my permanent residency here sorted. After that, I can visit and stay awhile. Because of the way my life has played out, I’m more comfortable being in the US than being in Nigeria. Many times, I joke and say that I’m more American than I’m Nigerian. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like a joke. I just haven’t experienced Nigeria enough.

Want more Abroad Life? Check in every Friday at 12 PM (WAT) for a new episode. Until then, read every story of the series here.

David Odunlami

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