The Immigrant’s Truth: #JapaStory03
I have always wanted to leave, to be honest. For as long as I can remember, I lived my days as if I was doing something temporarily; and that the end would soon come. I think it’s why I passed up on so many things. I would often think to myself, “this is not my original country. Why relax when I have so much relaxation ahead?.” I think now that the thought of leaving definitely gave me more satisfaction than the actual act. It’s probably what the scientists refer to as the difference between wanting and liking something.
In today’s post, I had a chat with Ade over the phone; and it was quickly obvious that he was passionate about a lot of things like sports and entertainment. I could immediately tell that he takes his work as seriously as he did his relaxation; he had just come back from a vacation when I caught up with him. Working as a certification and compliance engineer with a leading manufacturing company, Ade is one to play by the books; to ensure that emission limits are not exceeded in the engines that we use daily.
Through him, I experienced the novelty of preparing the wheat swallow in a microwave. I had only just met him but the candour with which he told his #Japastory was captivating. He was patient to feed my curiosity even as I pelted him with questions after questions; and was kind enough to show me how he dexterously made his; what I referred to as, magic bowl of wheat swallow. Without wasting time, I will let you dive into his interesting story.
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Why did you leave Nigeria?
Ade: It’s a long story; and if I have to tell it properly, I would have to take us as far back to the year 2000, when I was a primary school student. (I quickly chipped in to say, “hey, I’m all for that!”) My dad worked as a contractor for one of the biggest oil companies in Nigeria. They had one of their facilities located in Warri. We lived in Lagos and each time he came back, he would talk about the perks he enjoyed; how it was such a big deal when he was not even a full staff member. It was then that I decided in my head that; I was going to go into the oil and gas sector as well, when I grew up.
The conviction grew stronger as I got older. I was able to experience most of what my dad talked about from my own environment. By virtue of this, I automatically went to the science class. After secondary school, I got admitted into one of the reputable universities in Nigeria to study Mechanical engineering. Later on as fate will have it; through someone I knew, I got the opportunity to carry out an internship with an oil and gas company; and the great experience I had further sealed things for me. In my mind, I said we die here! I got a second internship again at an NNPC subsidiary in my penultimate year at the university; and I was convinced at the time about the path to follow.
Fortunately, after my undergraduate degree, I got a job through a program set up by a University alumnus; who owned an oil & gas venture. He made contributions back to Universities by offering entry level positions to their best students. Owing to how I was familiar with the area through my earlier internships; it gave me an extra edge and I was selected. I worked in Bonny Island at the time. We had an entire area powered by the best amenities, dedicated to the comfort of the workers. It was as if we were not even in Nigeria; with how we enjoyed uninterrupted basic amenities.
Now back to your question, I knew that I was going leave Nigeria even before I finished my undergraduate degree; because of how the educational system was not much to vouch for. First off, I remember that I would see Master’s level students at that time, carrying hand-outs everywhere. This bothered me. I thought, if the same thing we did at the undergrad level was what they would let us continue with, at an advanced level; that spelled a perennial problem. So, I knew all along that I wanted to leave to get a master’s degree in the US.
However, a big part of me still held on to the thought that if I successfully secured a place in one of Nigeria’s oil & gas Big 5; Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total, Agip and Chevron, I would stay back. It is what I have always wanted, and it’s why I told the background story. And due to the fact that I was well informed; I knew that when you compare the pay gap between what they earn home to abroad, in the oil & gas industry, it was almost the same. That was comforting.
I had a job but kept pushing because I was not comfortable with what I earned. So, I made applications many times to these companies but none of them came through. You know these places and how it’s almost never a fair competition. You need someone that knows someone to slot your name into these things. Majorly because of how there are fewer spaces than the number of applicants. In one case, there was a graduate job that needed 20 positions to be filled; and they had over 15 centers for their recruitment process.
The number of people that applied were over 500,000. You can visualize that amount of people competing for only 20 roles and that is not even the sad part. The sad part is, at least 10 of those positions are reserved for top government officials; who wants to fill them with their own people. Nepotism has taken deep roots in our culture. Everyone does it and we call it connections. I have seen people get gigs without writing any of these tests. It’s unimaginable sometimes, how we struggle in the country for the barest minimum.
I wrote the application exams for one of these companies thrice. I passed twice but did not get any response. Unfortunately, the person that I knew who I got my first internship through; that could have helped, died shortly after I graduated. Him being gone, was one of the hardest pills I have had to swallow. So, when I could not get into any of these places by merit; and with a determination that I could not possibly settle for less. I decided on the next best option which was to pack my bags and exit Nigeria.
Why the US?
Ade: I actually looked at a couple more places other than the US. I planned for the UAE too because I had a friend who worked in a petroleum institute there. But due to some time constraints, I could not get into some of the places I applied into. I also looked at Canada but the schools I applied into did not offer me the course I wanted. They offered me something else. The UK was never an option because I knew how people were going and coming back; and that did not fit into my plan. Eventually, the US did it for me.
Did you have family in the US?
Ade: I had family but they did not know I was coming. Partly because of how I went to a different state than where they resided. The US is spaced, geographically. Some of these cities are very far from one another. So, it was not exactly a case of me having people that added extra incentive. I knew that I was going to be fine, whether or not I had anyone.
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How did you fare with that, not having family close by?
Ade: Well, I often tell people that whatever you intend to do or wherever you want to go; always have or know people that have done it before. It saves you a lot of money in the long run. Google will provide information but would not necessarily tell you everything that you need to know. I relied a lot on the information I got from there; and it was not exactly the best option. Of course I know better, looking back now. I made some decisions that incurred more cost than they should have; because of not knowing the right person to proffer a more affordable solution.
It was not the case of being afraid to ask for help. It was more that I thought I had it, when I didn’t really have it completely. I would say for anyone coming to the US or anywhere outside your home zone for that matter; guidance is important. Find someone that knows someone that knows another someone that has done what you intend to do before; and can guide you accordingly. It will save you a lot.
Has leaving Nigeria been everything you dreamed of or has it been a different reality?
Ade: I had been to South Africa before coming to the US. Therefore, I had prior knowledge of what the western world was like; so I knew some of the things to expect. In terms of opportunities, I would say a big yes. I am not exactly the best at everything; however coming here has given me more than I could have asked for.
I have been to places like Google, Dell, etc; for interviews. These are some of the things I looked forward to, that matched the reality I met. They give you the chance to come; showcase what you are capable of even if they may not hire you. I look around at my circle and see everyone in top places, even the ones with mid potentials. The land of opportunity, as it’s often called, is really what it is. There are chances everywhere and especially if you look in the right places.
What was different?
Ade: A huge difference for me has been the issue of social awareness. I have had to consciously teach myself; to become aware of these things that ordinarily do not affect me as a Nigerian born male. There are a lot of subconsciously made assumptions about black people in general and; how they live their lives but; being able to experience these scenes have changed perspectives and; made me more attentive not only to issues that affects me as a Nigerian but also as a black person. It’s a different environment and obviously, one where people have been raised to believe in different values. You see a 19-year old person being a homeowner; meanwhile at 19, I was in uni and still receiving pocket money from my parents. You come into these sort of realizations when you get here.
Did you struggle with anything in particular?
Ade: Apart from the weather, which is inevitable to not struggle with at first, there is the educational system. In Nigeria, we rely solely on memorization and as a result, don’t really put a lot of value on comprehension. It’s of course different here because, they actually want you to get the gist of the story. Imagine someone like me; used to cramming formulas without necessarily understanding their applications. Now faced with the reality that I actually do need to know these things? It was a bit of a struggle. There are engineering equations that you will know offhand; but you will not even bother why they are what they are. Because in Nigerian schools, that’s not what they grade you on.
I got an internship with Tesla; but it was a rude shock for me, when I was asked to apply the things I knew. In my head, I was like, “we don’t do that where I come from o, we just cram the formula”. Whereas, you do not need to memorize anything here. Even during exams, they let you bring in cheat sheets for formulas and everything. You are not meant to bother your head with any of that. Because, it’s useless when you don’t know how to apply them.
Do you think that leaving Nigeria has been the right move for you?
Ade: Yes. The situation is even far worse than it was before I left. I have been to Nigerian twice and I can see how further down the hill the economy has gone. Most of the people that I graduated with, brilliant minds, have been forced to choose different career paths. Many biochemists and microbiologists are either now selling cream or sewing clothes. Because of how those are the ventures that pay the bills. Dreams don’t survive in that country and it’s a sad reality to continually watch. I have had significant progress since I left; and for that alone, I know that it has certainly been the right move for me.
What do you miss in Nigeria?
Ade: Food, my family and friends. Although, I can get local food but it’s often different. Also, my friends. However, like the adage which says 20 kids can not play together for 20 years, I understand that people will come and go in one’s life. Although, technology has made things easier and you can talk to people via video calls, it’s still different sometimes.
Do you have intentions to move back home?
Ade: Yes. At the moment, there is no strong incentive to do so. You are wired to live solely for the future, in Nigeria. There are no plans to enjoy the present because you are always thinking of how to secure the next meal. Moreover, we spend too much time thinking of survival and I don’t want to go back to that just yet. Even future investment plans, I am thinking what is the point if posterity may not even take over? Therefore, it’s a lot to think about when factoring those into plans. Currently, I think my going home plans are in the far off future. However; I know at the back of my mind that I owe some things to Nigeria; and I don’t take that for granted. Therefore, I will definitely go back later.
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