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 today’s Abroad Life is a 21-year-old woman who left Nigeria for Canada in 2018. She talks about the extreme cold, struggling to fit in, her church making life hard for her and why she doesn’t feel at home in Canada.
When did you decide you wanted to leave Nigeria?
2018. I was in my final year of secondary school. My school allowed us to take the SAT, IGCSE and other exams that gave us the opportunity to study abroad. I knew about the exchange rates, so I wasn’t on my parents’ neck about wanting to go abroad. Luckily, they wanted me to travel too. We found a school in Winnipeg, Manitoba and I came here.
What did you expect Canada to be like?
I had been to the US a few times to visit family, so I didn’t expect a dramatic difference. I knew it would be cold, and I told myself “It’s going to be a boring version of the US.”
That’s what I’d heard.
Is that what it was?
The part about the cold was true. After a few days, I knew I wanted to leave. I didn’t think I would survive. In winter here, it gets really depressing because we’re all indoors and everything is gloomy. And you can’t complain too much because the people you’re complaining to live in the same condition. If you’re trying to go out without a car in winter and you miss your bus, you have to wait in the cold till another one comes. It’s crazy!
The place in Winnipeg where I stayed was pretty nice, but the population was mostly old people, so things were quiet and slow. I’m used to it now, but I didn’t like it at first. I didn’t want to spend my prime years in a boring area.
What was happening in school?
I was finding it hard to settle in. I resumed two weeks late because of some visa wahala and people already had friend groups. It was surprising to me because I thought things like that only happened in secondary schools. First of all, I’m a reserved person, and now people were already in groups? It wasn’t easy.
Even with the lecturers, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. When I resumed, I met one of my professors to tell him about why I missed classes, my visa wahala and all that. I sat down and told him the full story with details, and his response was “Check the portal”. It pained me. I know that in Nigeria, you can whine lecturers and have some nice conversations with them. This one was just too official. It was one of the times I felt like I would rather be in Nigeria.
Damn. How did you survive?
I made a friend and they helped me settle in better.
What other communities did you find useful for integration?
I had church, but soon realised that that wasn’t going to work out.
You know how they say you can’t dress the way you like in Nigerian churches, but if you go to the same church’s branch abroad, they’ll let you dress how you like? It was the opposite for me. In Nigeria, my church wasn’t big on dressing, calling people out and all that. When I started attending its Winnipeg branch, it was a whole different story. That was almost the only thing they spoke about— calling out people with dreads, piercings and all that. They said if we were in Nigeria, we wouldn’t be able to do all that, so we also couldn’t do it in Canada.
Is everyone in your church Nigerian?
Every single person. On some days it felt good because the older people had Nigerian parent vibes and it’s stuff like that you see and miss your parents, but on most days, you didn’t feel accepted. I had to leave. The church I attend now has younger people and they’re more liberal in the way they approach things.
Nice. I’m curious about your relationship with the friends you left in Nigeria.
It’s not as good as it used to be. We can’t communicate as often as we used to, so it’s just there. I’m much better now than when I first moved here though. My sister is here too and we live together with my cousin.
The thing people say about Canada being Nigeria 2.0. Is it true?
I don’t know about the entire Canada, but here in Winnipeg, you can’t step out and not see a Nigerian. We’re everywhere. It’s helpful because when you’re new here, you don’t feel so alienated. One time when I got lost, I didn’t ask anyone for directions until I met a Nigerian woman who went the extra mile to follow me along the way I was going just to be sure I was right.
But with all the Nigerians here, I still don’t feel so at home.
Food. I miss Nigerian food.
Haha. What are your plans for after school?
I want to become a permanent resident here. I’ll probably stay here in Winnipeg, move to a better area, get a car, and be able to travel and move around during winter. I like the fact that I can be here in my quiet city and be surprised when I explore more interesting places.
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.