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 left is a 25-year-old woman who left Nigeria for Dubai in 2013. She talks about living her best life, getting a great job, and then returning home because her husband is a pastor here.
When did you first realise that you wanted to leave Nigeria?
My parents were career parents, so they weren’t always around. They made up for their absence by taking us on trips abroad. We travelled a lot when I was a kid, and whenever we got back to Nigeria, I would realise that things were different.
One thing that stuck out for me was television. I liked cartoons, so whenever we got back, I was reminded that the cartoons showing on our televisions were nothing compared to those I’d been watching in whatever country we just got back from. This made me want to leave Nigeria.
Haha. So it was just the cartoons?
I always knew I was going to leave Nigeria after secondary school to study abroad. That’s how it was in our family. But we still travelled at least every other year for holidays until things got bad for my parents financially.
How did that affect things?
We didn’t travel for about three years. Things started getting better shortly after I finished secondary school, so I could travel for university in January 2013.
Where did you go?
I went to the UAE.
Why the UAE?
The initial plan was Canada, but at that point, if you wanted to go to a Canadian university, you had to do 12th grade again in a Canadian school. I’d repeated SS1, so I’d already spent seven years in secondary school. I didn’t want to spend another year, so I found a Canadian university in Dubai that didn’t require the 12th-grade thing.
Admission was pretty easy for Nigerians. Most of the Nigerians in the school were northerners, and they were very wealthy, so the school made it very easy for Nigerians to get admission. The plan was to stay there for one year and then transfer to Canada. That way, I would have successfully avoided wasting a year of my life in 12th grade again.
Is that what you did?
Nope. I got to Dubai and knew I didn’t want to leave immediately. It was so beautiful. I’d been to America a few times before I went to Dubai, and I liked it. One month after I got to Dubai, I had to go back to America. When I landed, I was almost disgusted. It was so ordinary. Dubai, however, was glamorous.
What was it like moving to a different country on your own?
I was prepared for it, so I liked it. It was a chance to be free. I cried when my mum dropped me off at my dorm, but that was it. I moved on quickly.
What was it like at the university?
It was amazing. There was a McDonald’s beside my school, so I ate McDonald’s every single day. I had to get used to the fact that the weekdays are different from what I was used to. In the UAE, weekends are Friday and Saturday, and the weekdays start from Sunday. Church was on Fridays.
How did that affect you?
I went to church two times in my first year and stopped. It was stressful ending the week on a Thursday and going to church on Sunday. Because of this, my lifestyle changed. I became lost. I started hanging with people I normally wouldn’t, and doing things I normally wouldn’t do. We were going to clubs with fake I.Ds and hanging with dangerous people. Looking back, I’m grateful none of us got hurt. Now, I hear stories of people we were hanging out with being in jail and I just thank God.
One day, something happened that just made me stop hanging with them.
Tell me about it.
After we graduated, I randomly decided to go to a church. I can’t remember what was preached or anything like that. It wasn’t a repentance message. It was just a normal Sunday service. Something changed about me in that service. When I got back home, I felt like I needed to stop living that life.
How did your friends take it?
The next day, we were at the club again. We got there at midnight. At one a.m., I decided I wanted to leave. It was so weird to them. They tried to persuade me to stay but I insisted. From that day, they all stopped talking to me. Well, all of them except one, who I’m still friends with.
That was it?
That was it. I became a full church girl. I was the most dedicated worker you’d find in church. My commitment to Jesus Christ skyrocketed. It’s been amazing ever since.
Why didn’t you return to Nigeria after school?
I didn’t return because I didn’t want to do NYSC. That was it.
What was life after school like?
I got an internship right before I left school, but after some months, they let me go. It sent me into a bad depression because I was looking for a job and was hoping I would get one before my visa expired. It was such a tough time.
How did you handle that period?
I became a “therapist” for my current husband. We’d met online and he was going through some dark times as well, so I helped him work through his issues as a way to suppress mine.
Did that work?
It did, and luckily, two days before my visa expired, I got a good job. I was at that job for three years.
What was living in Dubai like?
It was safe. You could be out by one a.m. and not be worried about your life. It was very peaceful. There was the occasional racism, but I could live with it.
What was racism like?
Racism was not getting promoted at the same time as the person I joined with because I needed to prove myself a bit more because I am black. It was my white co-worker saying the N-word and thinking it was not a bad thing. It was someone opening the curtain in a dark room and saying, “Oh I can finally see you”. It was another co-worker asking me what it felt like to finally be able to use plastic cutlery because we didn’t have any where I was coming from. It was the Nigerian prince joke. It was my professor in university telling me that I did a great job for my final year project but I probably would never get a job because people only hired “girls with blue eyes and blond hair”.
A few years later, he met me at a conference and was begging to hire me. I was hot cake. I’d gotten promoted multiple times and was in the best years of my career, making a lot of money. But in 2020, I had to return to Nigeria.
I got married, and although my husband wanted to move here with me, there was something bigger waiting for us at home.
What was that?
Ministry. My husband is a pastor and his call meant I had to move back to Nigeria to be with him.
What’s Nigeria like?
I’m not used to being here yet. I hardly go out because Nigeria feels very unsafe for me. I don’t have any friends here yet.
How has your career progressed since?
Public relations in Nigeria is different from public relations in Dubai. I’ve tried my hands on some work here. Some of it was successful, but I failed badly at some others. I’m still learning about the scene here.
What do you like about being in Nigeria?
I’m living with my best person and I’m pleased about it.
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.