“You Don’t Know How Black You Are Until You’re on a Train With Only White People” — Abroad Life

June 17, 2022

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.


This week’s subject on Abroad Life was on the fence about japa-ing until he got a job offer in Munich, Germany. He talks about settling in a quiet city as a black man, the crazy tax system, and why being abroad is great for his Nigerian dreams.

Abroad Life Germany

When did you decide to move abroad?

I’d been trying to decide whether to move abroad or not for a couple of years. I work as a product designer so I see many people in tech get jobs abroad and move. Every time that happens, I’m like, “Wait, am I missing something? Am I going to be the only one here in three years and realise I’ve made a mistake?”

On the other hand, I’ve always wanted to build projects that help Nigerians. For example, before I left, I started one that helped young people develop skills in tech. So how could I be thinking of japa if I wanted to do stuff like that?

Why did you eventually leave?

I have a friend who works for a company in Munich. He referred me and I got a job. When applying for jobs in foreign organisations, you would usually have to go through five or six rounds of interviews, but because my friend is a team lead, I only had to do two very brief rounds. I wasn’t even prepared for the interviews. After the first round, I didn’t expect them to call me for another, but they did and offered me a job. So it wasn’t like I was actively trying to leave. The opportunity just presented itself and I took it. 

But again, at that point, Nigeria was scary to me. I had a friend who was stabbed in the neck in 2019, and it just felt like the insecurity was getting worse. When you add that to the poor working conditions, leaving wasn’t such a bad idea. And the more I thought about it, the more I realised the advantages of leaving. 

Like what?

First of all, career advantages. The biggest companies I’ve worked with in Lagos only serviced people in urban cities like Lagos and Abuja. Here, I was getting the opportunity to work with a company that has impact in nine European countries. Also, my then girlfriend had just finished university, and we were thinking of marriage, so it made sense to settle in Germany. And most of my friends had left Nigeria for European countries. Moving was a good way to reconnect. 

See, even if there were disadvantages of moving abroad, my family and friends didn’t even want to hear about them. Immediately I got the job, it was like everyone was saying, “Oya, pack your load and go”. 

But were there prospective disadvantages?

Just the thought that if I was looking to build valuable projects for Nigerians, could I really do it from outside Nigeria? There was also the fear of a lack of community. 

When did you leave?

October 2021.

Expectation vs reality: Munich edition. 

I had a pretty clear expectation that was close to reality because I already knew a couple of people who live here and told me what to expect in terms of housing, taxes, work, weather and people. But you can’t be prepared enough for the loneliness and seclusion you face when you move abroad.

On the work side of things, my teammates were helpful in answering my questions from an immigrant’s perspective because many of them are immigrants too. 

Was that your first time abroad?

Nah. I’ve been to the UK about eight or nine times. My dad lived in the UK for 15 years when I was growing up, so my brother and I went to visit him on most holidays. 

How was your experience in the UK different from Germany?

The UK is different from many European countries because they speak English. It’s easy for a Nigerian to move around and interact in the UK because everyone speaks our official language. Also, everywhere you turn in the UK, you see Nigerians and Nigerian restaurants. Here, the language is different, you probably won’t run into many Nigerians, and you’ll be lucky to find Nigerian food. 

And how did the fact that you’ve travelled a lot help you settle?

I guess it meant I was used to travel itineraries, flights, immigration, and generally just being outside Nigeria.

When did you get married?

April this year [2022]. Before I left last year though, I saw my girlfriend’s parents to ask for their daughter’s hand in marriage. I returned in April to do the traditional introduction and court wedding so we could start the visa process for family reunion. It typically takes nine months, so we’re waiting. In the meantime, I’ll travel to Nigeria to stay with her?

You can work remotely?

Yep. 

So why did you have to go to Germany to resume?

German laws. First, because of tax purposes. Germany wants all employees of German companies to be paid within the German economy. They don’t want the tax going to other countries. So I had to be here at the beginning to set it up. Then, my passport is the EU blue card which mandates me to be in Germany for the most part of a year. So if I stay six months and one day in Germany, I can leave and spend the rest of the year elsewhere and my passport would still be valid. 

But for work, I can stay anywhere, anytime. We’re only mandated to meet four times a year for hangouts and team bonding. 

What’s it like living in Munich though? 

Is it crazy if I say I miss the craziness of Lagos sometimes? I have Nigerian friends in Germany who moved to Berlin because it’s more bubbly than Munich. Munich is quiet. In fact, it’s almost too quiet. You can almost hear ringing in your ears from being in a place so quiet. And it’s because the people here are composed and mind their own business. I could wear my AirPods, put it on noise cancellation, commute for an hour, and not have missed anything because nothing out of the ordinary happens. There are German laws that you can’t take a bath or use your washing machine after 10 p.m. because you might disturb your neighbour. So imagine how lonely it’ll get if you move from Lagos to a place like that. It took me some time to get used to it.

I also look at how perfectly the systems like healthcare and transportation work and wonder how soon Nigeria can get there. See, there are trains from everywhere to everywhere that are never even one minute late. This place works like a machine. A German Machine.

But one of the biggest changes I’ve had to adjust to is realising my blackness. I’m not very dark-skinned o. But you don’t realise how black you are until you’re in a society filled with white people. Picture this: you’re on a train with 200 people and the only black person is you. It’s like a drop of blood on snow. It’s crazy. It’ll make you uncomfortable in your own skin. You’ll start to compare your physical features to white people’s. It takes some getting used to, but the more I made friends with them, the easier it was for me to understand that we’re all the same. 

Let’s talk about food. What do you eat?

Food is pretty cheap here, to be honest. Let’s see, apart from the government taking 42% of my salary as tax, I spend —

WHAT?

Oh yeah, there are different tax brackets in Germany. You won’t get taxed if you don’t earn up to €9,985 a year. But the higher you make, the more you get taxed. The highest is 45%. 

Germany tax brackets
Tax brackets in Germany

But the thing is, after a couple of months, you become okay with the idea of giving the government your money because you can see it being put to work. The healthcare system is one of the best in the world, the country is safe, everything works. But your money is used to take care of older people and people without jobs. To combat the possibility of young people sitting at home and waiting for the government to take care of them, the government makes sure every young unemployed German goes through a fully-sponsored skill acquisition programme. They even house them until they can get good jobs and reconnect with society. 

Also, random, but since we’re talking about money and taxes, one of the reasons people get married here is so they can get reduced taxes and a €400 monthly stipend for every child they have till that child turns 18. In fact, I have a friend who got her €400 every month till she turned 25. Other than that, people don’t really get married. I mean, it’s not a very religious society, so there really isn’t any need for people to solemnise their unions. 

Interesting. Back to food. 

I eat rice, swallow and spaghetti like a regular Nigerian, and there’s a Nigerian woman here who makes soup in bulk for me. I also visit a Nigerian restaurant from time to time. 

Also, let’s go back to your plans to build projects to help Nigerians. How’s that going?

I’d say staying here gives me a better chance because I have better access to money, people and venture capitalists that can sponsor projects. 

What are your plans for the future in Germany? 

I want to stay at this job for at most two years and then move because thats the best way to massively increase your earnings in tech. I also want to be in Germany for at least three years so I can get my EU permanent residence and move to wherever my wife and I want. 

Does your current passport allow you travel within the EU?

Yes, it does. A couple of friends and I have been to Prague and Budapest. We were planning another trip for August, but I’ll probably be in Nigeria by then.


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.

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