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 is a 32-year-old woman who left Nigeria in 2010 to live with her dad in America. She talks about her dad’s death, moving states, making career choices, getting in $200k debt, and finally becoming financially stable.
When did you decide that you wanted to move to the US?
Moving to the US was always going to happen. It was just a matter of time. My dad had a Green Card, so when I was 11, he moved back to the US to file for my brother, my mum and me to join him. He’d gotten a job as a doctor and a lecturer, so he had a good life waiting for him.
And so you waited…
Yes. When I got to SS3, I wrote my SATs and got admitted into two schools, but I had to stay in Nigeria because I couldn’t process my student visa while a permanent visa was already being processed for me. Same thing happened to my brother. I eventually went to a private university in Nigeria. In 2010, my final year of university, my visa got approved. I was 21.
How did it feel to wait for that long?
It wasn’t terrible. Throughout secondary school and university, my dad sent us new shoes and clothes, so we stood out. Anytime my mum and I fought — which was a lot — I reported to my dad and he would tell her to stop beating me. I was daddy’s girl.
He came back at least twice every year to visit. These visits were not fun. He couldn’t come to terms with the fact that the children he left in Nigeria were getting older, so he treated us like children and gave us a 7 p.m. curfew whenever he was around. Everytime we needed to go out, he objected. When I was in university, he couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I had a boyfriend. As much as I missed him when he wasn’t around, I didn’t enjoy his presence.
When he was gone though, we talked on the phone every day.
How long did you wait after university before you moved to the US?
Not as long as I wanted to. I went to a boarding school and a private university, which was like boarding school, so I was excited to get some freedom after school. I spent every waking moment dreaming about NYSC. My friends and I had made plans. I’d just broken up with my university boyfriend and needed some time to blow off some steam and meet new guys in camp. I’d asked my dad for money to get all the things I needed for camp, and he gave me.
A few days before graduation, my mum woke me up because she had some news for me — I was moving to the US the day after my graduation. My dad had booked the flight a long time ago and didn’t know how to tell me. He just gave me the NYSC money because he didn’t want me to suspect anything. I flew into a rage and left home. I cried a lot. I didn’t want to leave Nigeria yet.
On the day after graduation, I was on a plane to the US.
Ouch. How did that feel?
Terrible. I felt cut off from my own life. I missed out on a lot of things my friends were doing and lost a lot of relationships. I thought I was going to keep up with my friends through Blackberry Messenger when I got here, but my dad had a new phone waiting for me. Everything was overwhelming.
I had a childhood friend who lived 20 minutes away from my dad. We’d kept in touch when he moved here, so we were still pretty close. He could have been the person that made things easier for me when I got here, but his girlfriend didn’t like us hanging out, so we had to cut that off. My brother, who moved to the US shortly after me, was also not around. He went to see his girlfriend in another state. My dad wasn’t happy about that.
It didn’t help that things weren’t fun for me when I got here. My dad was a total nerd, so when I got to his house, all I saw were books. He’d gotten books for me too. He wanted me to get a law degree here immediately. I didn’t want to study law. I’d just finished a degree in communications. He got me a car, promised to fill up the tank every week. I had food, shelter and a $200 weekly stipend, and all he wanted was for me to study for my Law School Admission Test (L-SAT).
The plan for me was to go back to Nigeria after living in the US for six months, do NYSC, spend a few years there and maybe come back to the US. A one year law degree in the US would not do anything to help my situation in that case.
So what did you do?
I secretly got a job at a grocery store, just because I wanted to go out. At least that was fun. My dad got angry when he found out, but I didn’t stop.
What happened next?
I woke up one morning feeling very uneasy. Something wasn’t right. My dad was sitting on the living room couch, and as I stepped out, he told me to hand him his shorts because he might need to go out. Work was a four-minute drive, and immediately I got to work, I started sweating heavily and feeling very nauseous.
Then I got a call from my aunt. She’d been banging on the house door and nobody had answered. I told her that it meant nobody was at home. A few moments later, my siblings called to tell me they’d been calling my dad but he didn’t pick. I was pretty sure he was fine, but they insisted I went to the house to check on him.
When I got home, my dad’s cars were in the garage. That’s when I got scared. I got inside and saw him. He was dead.
I called 911, and in 2 minutes, our house was filled with paramedics. Because they didn’t want to break the news to me, they lied that they found a pulse and had to rush him to the hospital but I needed to call all our family to come to the hospital.
I have older siblings in the US that had been in the US long before my brother and I got here — my dad was polygamous, and my step siblings were much older than my brother and I. They lived in the same city as us. I called them, and they got to the hospital as soon as they could. I also had uncles and aunties in that city. They were there too. My brother was on the next flight to our city with his girlfriend and her sister.
When they broke the news, my eldest brother cried like a baby. He’s 16 years older than me. His wife said she’d never seen him cry before.
I’m really sorry. What caused his death?
I think it’s his village people. The hospital said he died of “natural causes”. He just died. No heart attack or anything. My dad was very health-conscious and active.
Four months before he died, he turned 60, and we threw his first ever birthday party for him. He didn’t expect it, so he cried and prayed for us. I’m glad we could at least do that. I spent only six months with him in the US before he died.
How did your mum take it?
It was hard for her because she was still living in Nigeria when it happened, but she mourned and moved on. She loved my dad, but the reality was that he wasn’t present in her life because he lived in another country.
What happened next?
On the morning my dad died, my brother had gotten a good job offer at a bank and sent the offer letter to my dad’s mail. He never got a reply. In one week, we buried my dad and right before my brother left, he asked me if I wanted to move with him or stay in that city alone. I didn’t want to. So we got in my car and drove for 20 hours across the country, and that’s where everything changed.
I quickly realised that my Nigerian journalism degree wasn’t going to get me anywhere here. At that point, I still didn’t know what to do with my life, so I got a job that paid just a bit better than what I was making at the grocery store. That was when I realised that my dad was trying to make me get a law degree so that I would get a good job here.
Shortly after I resumed my job, someone advised me to study nursing. I was reluctant, but I got into a community college and started studying. I had to start from Chemistry 101, because I didn’t have any background in sciences. My education cost $5,000 that year, so I took student loans. In the middle of the school year, I realised I didn’t want to be a nurse. I’d make good money, but I’d be miserable. My dad had once told me, “Don’t be pressured into studying nursing when you come to America. They’ll tell you that you’ll make good money, and it’s true, but I know you. You don’t want to be a nurse. You’d be miserable.” That’s exactly what was happening, so I dropped out.
What did you do next?
My brother’s career was flying. He’d gotten two promotions and been moved to a different branch in another state, so I had to live alone in the cheapest and most ghetto of places. It was when I lived alone I decided I wanted to get a master’s in journalism.
My brother decided to do his master’s too and got into the same school as me, so we lived together. He got a full scholarship for his MBA, while I took student loans.
Master’s was good. I was at the top of my class, got a job that paid $10/hour as a lecturer, was living with my brother and was getting an education. Before my brother finished his MBA, a job that paid him six figures yearly was waiting for him. I didn’t get a job until six months after I graduated, and it paid $35k a year.
Is that small?
I was the official photographer for my brother’s MBA set and I watched 90% of them get six-figure paying jobs before they graduated.
One day, at a CNN conference, I realised that none of the top people at the major news agencies there had a journalism degree. They all had MBAs. So I was a journalist slaving away for people that didn’t even have journalism degrees.
To worsen the situation, I was disadvantaged at my job because I was a black woman. I watched white boys who I trained at their recruitment rise over me year after year. In two years, my income increased by just $3k.
During this period, I reconnected with the person that would eventually become my husband. We’d been friends in Nigeria. He had a great job in Lagos and didn’t want to move to the US, so I tried to get a job at the US embassy in Nigeria but couldn’t. At some point, we broke up because he didn’t want to come, but in the end, he came and we got married.
For me, the plan was for us to get our MBAs as soon as we could. I told my husband, but he didn’t want to. He wanted to enjoy his life in the US first. After I applied pressure, he agreed and we got into the same school.
Student loans too?
Yes. Between community college and MBA, I had accrued about $200k in student loans. But in my first year getting my MBA, I got an internship that paid $84k a year, free accommodation and free Ubers to and from school every day.
By the second year, my husband and I had gotten six figure jobs waiting for us seven months before we graduated.
But then I got pregnant.
Ah… So what happened?
I got my maternity leave even before I resumed. Fully paid. Now I’m working as a General Manager at my company, living with my husband, and starting a side business.
Goals. I’m curious, how’s your brother doing?
His company decided to spread, and open branches in Africa, and guess who they sent to the Nigerian branch as an expatriate?
Yep. Working as an expatriate in his own country. Goals.
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.