The Expat Experience Link-Up: My First Moments.

My dear expat and blog friend, Molly, over at The Move to America is hosting a weekly Expat Link-Up and the first one is today! I must admit; she was a bit of a lifesaver for hosting this link-up because I was definitely having a strong case of writer’s block and, while I had the desire to write, I wasn’t feeling inspired. But then, this happened:

The Move to America

“‘My First Moments’ – write about the first thing that struck you about your new life living abroad or differences you noticed / what happened in your first week/weeks. End with three tips you have learnt from that experience that you can share with future expats.”

Well, for starters, going from my birth country of Nigeria to Canada was no easy task. And upon touching down from my Sub-Saharan African country and arriving in Victoria, British Columbia, I found the first, most obvious difference between Nigeria and Canada.

Now, mind you I was about 5 years old at this time in my life. And I had seen my share of white people on TV in Nigeria, especially in the countless times I watched The Sound of Music. But my first impression of them up close was that they were happy people. TOO happy. Actually they made me very uncomfortable with their happiness. I remember them hugging me and smiling and was thinking to myself, Why are they smiling so much…and why are they all up in my face?

Clearly my brother and I were thrilled

I had no idea that all of these people were my dad’s new friends and they reunited to welcome my mom, brother and me. Obviously, I learned very quickly that they are people just like me and I had nothing to be scared about. 

My happy Dad, my beaming Mom, and our family friend Uncle Paul

After moving to Canada from Nigeria, the next move was to America. Moving from Canada to America wasn’t too dramatic in regards to culture change initially. But one of the things that really affected me and still affects me today was not having closure with my dear school friends in Canada.

I left Canada after living there for over three years during the summer and I was not able to let my friends know that I wouldn’t be attending our primary school the following year. I never got to say goodbye. And not saying goodbye affects me till this day. Of all the places that I lived in, Canada felt the most like home. Moving to Canada allowed for the outdoorsy adventurer in me to come alive. Going camping, hiking, and visiting the lakes and beaches was normal to me, something I never experienced in Nigeria (although Nigeria does have beaches). My Canadian best friend, Tiffany, was another reason why I loved Canada so much. I remember her straight dirty blonde hair with her adorable fringes that sat above her eyes. I remember her cheery face and the cute lisp she had too whenever she made “s” sounds. But since I never got to tell her bye and exchange numbers at the end of second grade, she’s only a distant memory. From time to time I think of her wondering how she’s doing which often translates into hopeless Facebook searches. Till this day, I miss her. I wonder if she even remembers me…

Mon passeport canadien

With Canada behind me, my family was in America I was now an inhabitant in a Southern state called Kentucky. While here, my first day of third grade happened to include one of my peers asking me where I was from. At this point, I had no idea I was a third culture kid but I simply replied, “I’m from Nigeria but I moved from Canada”. I remember also being asked if I rode on the back of a cheetah and I wondering how this kid made it to third grade. I didn’t say it out loud because that would be mean but I’m pretty sure my face showed it. And then there’s the whole thing about America being very racially aware, experiencing racism and realizing that it will never change, and seeing the Ku Klux Klan in person years later but that’s another blog post.

For my brother who was in 1st grade at the time, well, he noticed how Americans call each other food items. These include words like pumpkin, honey, and baby cakes (which sounds frightening if you really think about it). Apparently this is a form of showing affection and homeboy was just trying to follow suit when he called one of his classmates “tomato chicken” but said classmate didn’t like it so much. He opted for telling on my brother. 

Man I’m telling you, this expat life is a round trip on the struggle bus. It can easily be whirlwind of emotions and experiences. But they are experiences that give you a three dimensional perspective of our very diverse world and honestly, I wouldn’t trade my 16 years of being an expat for anything. But even so, I know there are ways to make the expat experience a bit easier:

 

1. Research the culture and people of the new country you’re plan on moving to prior to arrival.

Google, magazines, and books are your best friends. I especially recommend following expat blogs written by people who live as expats in those countries so you see what to expect. Most of the time, expat bloggers are eager and willing to help others so don’t be afraid to ask questions. I recommend doing this when you have interacted online with the expat’s blog to the point that you two are familiar with each other thus making the advice you receive more personal and authentic.

2. If you have kids and you plan to move, allow for them to have closure with their friends.

I can’t stress this enough. Bits of familiarity center us in new places and that definitely includes the familiarity of good old friends in the home(s) we have made before the new country. This is especially true for kids. Throw your child an “until next time” party and make sure you include a guest book where the kids can sign their names and their contact information. Culture changes will be quite dramatic for your kids and its important that they still have friends to connect with back home while also being encouraged to make friends in their new home. 

3. Don’t be afraid of making a fool of yourself.

Living in a new country and making a fool of yourself are practically the same thing. But don’t let that stop you from taking the plunge into a new culture! Culturally embarrassing moments allow for growth and lessons learned that you’ll help you later in life. It’s not all bad, I promise. I mean, imagine my now college-aged brother trying to use that “tomato chicken” line on a girl he’s interested in. Yeah. Also, making a fool of yourself makes for fantastic stories in the future. It’s not all bad, I promise. 🙂

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