What do you remember from your first few days in the United States when you arrived? What did you do on your first day?
Very confused. The whole airport system was a little bit different where I'm from, like the LAX one or at Texas airport. Actually, both of them but [the] Texas one very much. It was hard trying to navigate it on my own. I came with my twin sister and my cousins. We got to the airport. And I was very, very confused, because I had never traveled anywhere without my family before. So traveling to America was very, very scary. In fact, on the way here, we actually missed our connecting flight. So it was like, what are we gonna do, this and that. I mean you got sorted out at the end but it was kind of a scary moment. Yeah, finding luggage was a hassle too. And then finding my uncle, he came too, but that was also a hassle.
Because I didn't know where to go. Because I've never navigated an airport on my own before. International one. That's even more complex than local flights. So yeah. And when I asked for help, my accent was very, very strong. So nobody understood, like, a single word of what I was saying. And it was like, I'm speaking English. So I didn't know what you wanted me to do. I was speaking really, really slow so people could understand what I was saying but yeah, that didn't work either. So yeah, that was hard. But then my cousin. She has like a British accent. And I don't know where she got it from but she just manufactured it out of nowhere. So she was able to help us to communicate with flight attendants and everything. So that was the saving grace. But before, I'm not flying in an airplane today, because nobody understood what I was saying.
We arrived late at night. So once we got back to my uncle's house, it was just straight to bed. Like you just slept, oh. That was just my first night. Next day was surprising that I woke up early. I did not experience—what’s that called—jetlag. Yeah. Wow. Like my body kind of shifted immediately towards the American time. I mean, I was so surprised. My uncle and my aunt were also surprised. It does happen just like that. I guess that day, the next thing [I] just went grocery shopping. Because I just came here. So obviously, I don't know much about like American stuff, food and a lot of things. I was very sensitive to local American food. You know? Like the milk for one. Crazy, like, I didn't know I was lactose intolerant until I came to America. Because in Nigeria, the milk we drink, nothing ever happens. Like I drank milk probably twice a day in Nigeria because that was one of my favorite things to do. But here, geez. All of a sudden, my stomach was upside down topsy turvy. I was like, what is all this? I feel like, American food, there's something in it that we just don't know about.
How did you feel during your first few days in the United States?
I remember we went to the park once. And where my uncle lives, it's very, like, we have a lot of good people there. But then, even with that crowd, I still felt very like, alienated. Because I don't feel like I really blended in with culture at that time. And also their accent too, like, they couldn't understand me, I couldn't understand them. So I was like, everywhere I went at that period of time, I was very, very closed off, because I just didn't want to experience not being understood by people. So I would practically not even try like to have conversations, speak with anyone because it was getting frustrating at this point, like, I'm speaking English, why can't you understand me? I don't know what else you want me to do. Like, I can't switch my accent like this, I just keep my job, you know. Very weird a lot of things like, that I'm not used to like, cultural wise, dressing wise, in Nigeria, we're very, very conservative about how we dress. So when I, you know, have to go have like parties and these dress codes and this and that I'm like, Oh, I don't know if I necessarily agree with what, you know, somebody is doing or somebody's asking me like to wear and this and that kind of stuff so it was very, I was very, very, to myself, and a little bit angry. I was like, Oh, I've been dreaming so much. Like, I've been dreaming so much of coming to America for such a long time with my sister. And then the experience of the first week was really not the best, I won't even lie.
Music is very much, I think, a big part of African American culture. And that's not something I really fit in much with because even the music I listened to was more cultural, like pertaining to my language, things like that. They didn't understand either. So it was very hard for me to try and immerse myself within that community that I expected to. At least that would have been the community that I would have first gotten along with. [But] I was just trying to search for other Nigerians who grew up in Nigeria because they were probably the only ones who understand me. So I kind of really stuck with my sister and my cousin because only the three of us could understand our own situations and others.
Who met you when you arrived?
What made you immigrate to the United States?
School, career opportunities and career. So my parents were like, oh, they want my sister and I to have better opportunities. That's why there's always been the dream of going to [the United States] like, even before, the reason why I was born in America was just to get maybe financial aid. That was the only reason why I was born in the United States, that was their main goal. So being in America was like something that I just knew was going to happen, regardless of what I thought, regardless of how I felt. Yeah, I think like, as I grew up, and began to, like, understand the system, like what's going on in Nigeria, I actually believe that going to America would be a better option for myself and my sister if you want to, you know, have good lives. And you know, in the future it helps because it's a really huge struggle to survive [in Nigeria], to be very honest. So yeah, it's always been the dream. Because I felt like all my other family members or friends who had people that lived here, they always had success stories. So you think that once you enter America it is like landing a jackpot. Well, that's actually not the real case, you have to actually work extremely, extremely hard to get what you need. But then, what I realized is at least the opportunities, the opportunity just to be successful. Rather than in Nigeria, where like, you really never know what you can get, like you can go to school and come out with like a law degree, medical degree, and you will still be out of luck, you won't have a job for years, it's possible to be like that. But then for here, like I'm doing medicine, I am very much assured. Most out of medical school, like I would have, I would have [a job], rather than in Nigeria, where like, you know, I've worked so hard for such a degree and I'm not sure like, if I'm going to get a job or not.
What was your first impression of the place you arrived to?
No gates. Everywhere in Nigeria has a gate. Even an abandoned building. Maybe security? I don't know. It's so funny how people see gated communities as a luxury. But I don't think it's supposed to be like that, especially just a gate. I don't know. But in Nigeria, it's normal. Regardless of your status, if you have a house, you have the gates. So yeah, [here] was like, oh, you know, no gates, not many, [and] defenses are very low. I was like, oh, maybe, you know, the communities are safer here than in Nigeria. Like my house we have really high fences. Like, it's not even a fence, it's like a whole wall around all four corners of my house. Then we have barbed wires that line the wall then on top of those barbed wires, we have an electric fence. My house is very secure—because I feel like, I don't know. There's like a lot of security detail that goes into people's houses, we even have like security dogs and all that stuff. And it's not like it's something that is luxury or [if it] costs like, oh this much money, [then] you have this [much], and if you have that—maybe for some people yes, but then, it was kind of normal if you have a dog for security, if you have barbed wire or something like that around your house, that's just the way it was.
Did it feel "extra" to you to have an electric fence?
Never. Never. Maybe it's just because I grew up like that. I've never moved from my house before, like that's the house I've seen every day, every year, so you know, having all of that kind of security was just very normal, and my neighbors had that too. So everywhere kind of had that—maybe not the electric fence—I don't know what my dad was thinking, but like, you know, we didn't have like those wooden fences that people can just punch through, we had walls, like brick walls. That's like, what guards our house.
I remember when like, I had my mom and my sister, we'd watch ID (Investigation Discovery) in Nigeria and we'd see all these psychopaths and stuff. No wonder people are entering your people's houses and killing, because you guys, one, don't have a gate. That's why people enter your house. Even the windows, I was so surprised. The windows have something called burglary defense [in Nigeria] on every window. Like steel [bars], we just painted it white so it doesn't look like ... It [was] something that was so shocking when I came here. Every window is just clear and open. Like all you have separating yourself and the window is a curtain. Like, for us we have the window, we have like the burglary [defense], and then we have like the curtain and everything like that.
Have you ever been out of Nigeria when you were living in Africa?
Yes, I went to Ghana.
What were you most excited to see during your first days?
Like the people. You know, you don't really know people, you never like, you know. Nigeria is very Nigerian, you see Nigerians. Everybody—only once in a while you see someone from China or things like that. Yeah, [here] it's very like multi-cultural. I've seen so many people from different parts of Africa here, more than I've ever seen in Nigeria. I was just surprised that people from Burundi, people from Eritrea, so many people from different parts of Africa I have never seen, like you never get—I've never gotten that kind of experience in Nigeria, like even Ghana. Ghana is actually right next to you [in] Nigeria. We are such a close country and I never really got to see, I don't think I met a Ghanaian when I was in Nigeria.
What were some of the biggest cultural differences and similarities you noticed between the United States and your home country during your first days in the U.S.?
For differences, I will say that, I don't know. Americans are more laid back with where you live. That's something I've—that's something I actually would like Nigerians to emulate. Because sometimes we take life too seriously. But here, people really value rest, vacations, mental health, that's very key. A lot of Nigerians don't believe in mental health. I didn't believe in mental health, until I came here. Like there's nothing too serious and that, there's no issue that you should have that's affecting you. Like if you have—my parents believe if you have a roof over your head, if you have food on the table, you have clothes on your back, you have nothing to worry about. Like you say, oh, you feel depressed? What is "depression"? Like how can you be depressed when you have food on the table? How can you have depression when you have a roof over your head, like, people have rain essentially pouring on top of their heads. So you cannot be coming to me and telling me you're depressed, that kind of thing. My parents did not believe in that. And it kind of made me also not believe in it too. I guess I was like oh, I guess I have food, I have this, I have that. So like, mental health was not like something really focused on. People [thought] it was ridiculous, like a joke. Like, Jesus Christ, it was a joke in Nigeria, like, [if you say] you're depressed, they will laugh at you. Like why are you lying, this kind of thing. It wasn't something people really looked into. If you're depressed, they'll think you're joking, that you just want us to laugh, or people will see it as a joke. Like, oh, Mom, I feel so depressed, just to make your parents laugh, you know.
Did you face any challenges or barriers in your first days in the U.S.?
Well, yeah, one, language or accent or whatever, because I can speak English, but people just didn't understand what I said. Because of my strong Nigerian accent. So that was the first barrier. And also, like, buying things that I needed was very hard, because I didn't have like a bank account. Or an American phone number. So it was hard trying to, you know, call other people. Like, I had to make sure they had WhatsApp, because that communicates with my parents.
Did you have any presumptions about American culture that were challenged during your first days in the United States?
To be honest, I'm not sure. I don't think I really thought about it … I just believed like everything in America was just more free. Like everything in America would be more like—I feel like there's a lot of liberalism in America, so I don't know. Maybe, like, something I felt was challenging was just the idea of all this, like freedom of speech, freedom of speech. Like, anybody can be what they want to be, say whatever they want to be. So like, even if I'm against a certain thing, it shouldn't really affect people. But then I came here, and I realized, that's the opposite of the case. Like in reality, freedom of speech is just freedom of speech based on who we can trust. Based on like, you know, what people want? [How they] want to be affected. What people want to hear, basically. Even if you said something that nobody wants to hear, you're going to get backlash. Cancel culture was something so serious and I found it so annoying.
What advice would you give to other newly arrived immigrants in the United States?
Don't be surprised if people can't understand you. It doesn't mean anything is wrong with you. You're just different. Be open to trying out new things. Don't be afraid to show your culture and where you're from, like, as much as you want to fit in. It's something you should be proud of, to be different in America, to be honest. You have a different perspective. Your brain skills. Exactly. You have a lot of things to offer to America, not just America, like, oh, opportunities, opportunities. You also can give back as much as America can give to you.
* The contributor of this story has asked that their name be withheld.