Personal Narratives

What I’ve learned from living in 2 countries

April 23, 2023

By Debbie Ogunbowale
Staff Writer

Immigrating to the United States from the West African country Nigeria at the age of six was a culture shock for me. I was not used to the snow, the diversity and the constant access to electricity. I also had to change my Nigerian English accent to American English so that I would fit in and get along with my friends. I had to work extra hard so that I wasn’t overlooked when I was in the presence of other people who didn’t resemble me, and over the years, that part has never gotten easier.

Being an immigrant at a very young age meant that I quickly adjusted to my surroundings. It has also taught me lessons about the two countries. These are the differences that stand out to me:

1. Academic and economic opportunities

One of the reasons my parents and I moved to the United States was because they wanted me to have a better life than was possible in Nigeria. The United States provides opportunities that most people around the world cannot even begin to imagine, like having access to education at top universities and jobs with tremendous earning potential. Many immigrants like myself left our homes in search of a better life, education, freedom and amenities like good roads, affordable housing and constant electricity. We wouldn’t have had to leave our countries if the quality of life were better.

2. Climate

In most parts of the United States, the weather can be extreme. When it is hot, it’s too hot and when it is cold, it’s way too cold. Fires, floods, hurricanes, snowstorms and tornados are potentially deadly weather events that take place throughout the year in the United States, unlike in Nigeria where they rarely happen. While Nigeria has two seasons categorized as the rainy (April-September) and dry (October-April) season, the United States has four seasons: winter, spring, fall and summer.

3. Cultural differences

The three largest ethnic groups in Nigeria are the Hausas, the Yorubas and the Igbos. I fit into the Yoruba people with our own form of dress and varieties of foods, which are completely different from those in the United States. Upon arriving in the United States, I had to give up virtually all my African clothing and some foods to assimilate into American culture.

4. Discrimination

According to Stanford University psychologist Steven O. Roberts, “Racism is a system of advantage based on race. It is a hierarchy. It is a pandemic. Racism is so deeply embedded within U.S. minds and U.S. society that it is virtually impossible to escape.” 

Nigerians have a way of embracing one another’s culture irrespective of the region they come from, so discrimination was never a prominent issue. In contrast, in the United States, “34% of Americans reported harboring ‘some racist feelings’ in general as a self-description,” according to ABC News. Racism is a remnant of the United States’ history with it being built on the backs of slaves. It is a major issue that cannot be overlooked.

5. Political structures and free speech

The African government in general needs to improve its political structure. It is a country where citizens have no right to express their feelings and opinions without being punished by the government. Most political figures promote totalitarianism instead of democracy, subjecting people to their own wishes and demands. If citizens try to protest or express their feelings against the government in public, they risk being killed. In contrast, people in the United States are protected by the First Amendment

In Nigeria, journalists often fear for their lives because the country lacks press freedom. The nonprofit organization Reporters Without Borders ranks Nigeria 129 out of 180 countries when it comes to press freedom, which causes some journalists to flee or relocate abroad for safety. In contrast, Reporters Without Borders ranks the United States 42nd in press freedom.

6. Religious beliefs and freedom of religion

Nigeria has two main religions, Christianity and Islam, whereas people in the United States practice a variety of religions, which include Catholicism, Judaism, Protestantism and much more. In Nigeria, once a person is born into a particular family with a certain religion, they are mandated to practice that religion irrespective of their personal religious preferences. Unlike Nigeria, in the United States, people are free to practice whatever religion they wish. They are also free to be agnostic or atheist without being punished for it.

Relocating to another country was no easy task. With it came days of homesickness, loneliness and longing to see those family and friends left behind. However, it taught me so much, and for that I am grateful.

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