Throughout history, human development has been marked by sweeping waves of migration. People have moved from one country, continent, or state to another in pursuit of better opportunities, fresh experiences, thrilling adventures, and more.

In Nigeria, this trend has seen significant growth in the past five years, driven by factors such as financial constraints, the lure of greener pastures, and promising opportunities. Nigerians are seizing the chance to explore new horizons beyond their native Nigeria.

However, amid the excitement and high expectations, there’s a crucial aspect that many people often overlook or have limited knowledge of – the culture. This is particularly crucial when relocating to Westernized societies like the UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and various parts of Europe. These regions boast rich tapestries of culture, norms, and behaviors that are markedly distinct from Nigeria and many African countries. Those who hold traditional and conservative values close to their hearts may find the transition to be ten times more challenging than the adventurers.

To help prepare you in advance and reduce the potential culture shock, I have curated a list of the ten most significant challenges and essential tips for thriving during your first six months to a year in these diverse and culturally distinct environments.

  1. You’re on Your Own” (OYO lo wa):

As you reflect on your upbringing, you might recall instances when you were told, “OYO lo wa,” meaning you’re on your own to handle whatever comes your way, whether it was in jest or a serious context. But trust me when I tell you that this saying is going to hit you a lot harder when you embark on your journey abroad. The stark reality of relying solely on yourself, be it in school, the workplace, or even at home (unless your family and close friends are present), will be a fact you will need to embrace. Abroad, you will often find yourself in a position where you must keep to yourself and manage your own affairs.

  1. Straightforward Communication (No Sugarcoating):

Another cultural shock you will encounter during your transition from Nigeria to the Western world revolves around their communication style. In Nigeria, we frequently employ tactful, less offensive, or indirect ways of delivering truths.  However, overseas, there’s generally no time for sugarcoating facts. People tend to express their thoughts and opinions directly and openly, which may come across as blunt in comparison to Nigerian communication. Embracing this frank and forthright communication approach will soon become your new normal.

  1. The Quest for Nigerian Foods and Ingredients:

While this might not initially seem like a significant issue, the reality sets in when you realize how challenging it can be to prepare a simple dish like Jollof rice or your favorite vegetable soup with eba. Depending on the number of Nigerians or Africans in the country or state you are relocating to, sourcing Nigerian foods or ingredients can be a real ordeal. Prepare yourself for an adjustment period in your first few months abroad, which may involve a shift towards consuming more Westernized foods as a practical measure.

  1. Navigating the Reality of Racism:

One striking aspect of moving abroad from Nigeria is dealing with racism, both in direct and indirect ways. In some European countries, especially when taking public transportation, it’s not uncommon to notice empty seats around, even during peak hours. Many people seem reluctant to sit next to you, leaving a noticeable gap. While this doesn’t happen all the time, it’s crucial to be informed and prepared for such situations as you plan your journey.

  1. Confronting Loneliness:

Closely related to the first point, one significant challenge that many individuals fail to brace themselves for is the loneliness that often accompanies relocation.  With few individuals to interact with, aside from work colleagues, coursemates, and occasional housemates, you may find yourself dealing with homesickness and solitude. As you prepare to move abroad, be ready for stretches of solitary days.

  1. Evolving Social Norms: Paid Dates and Self-Sponsored Parties:

In Nigeria, it’s customary to attend events like birthday parties and gatherings without the need for direct financial contributions, except for customary gifts. Similarly, when it comes to dates, it’s often expected that the man covers the expenses. However, when you move abroad, these practices might not always apply in your new environment. If you receive an invitation, it’s wise to clarify expectations regarding expenses beforehand. Alternatively, it’s a good practice to have some funds available and be prepared to only eat what you can afford to avoid potentially awkward situations.

  1. Reevaluating Religious Beliefs and Financial Success:

Nigerians often have a deeply ingrained church-going culture, with many churches holding multiple services throughout the week and on weekends. Many of us grew up with the belief that prayer was the key to obtaining the necessities for a good life. While this perspective doesn’t invalidate those beliefs, you’ll come to realize as you relocate abroad that people don’t attend church as frequently as we do in Nigeria. However, they still lead fulfilled lives and may not necessarily face financial struggles or any visible punishment from God. 

  1. Gender and Sexuality Openness and Acceptance Culture:

Here in Nigeria, same-sex marriage is deeply frowned upon, rooted in our indigenous cultural norms, religious beliefs, and legal system. It’s even considered a crime, with a potential 14-year prison sentence. Consequently, many individuals in same-sex relationships don’t openly express their love in public spaces. However, when you eventually move abroad, you’ll discover a different world. Many countries legally allow same-sex marriage, granting these individuals the freedom to openly express their gender and sexuality. As a result, you must prepare to adopt an open and accepting mindset on these matters and, most importantly, learn to embrace people for who they are.

  1. Respecting Diverse Greeting Cultures:

Growing up in Nigeria, many of us were taught to kneel, curtsy (for females), or prostrate (for males) to greet our elders, especially in Yoruba culture. For Igbos and Hausa, a simple nod and courteous phrases are used to show respect to older individuals. You wouldn’t dare call your older siblings by their first names, address your seniors at work, or refer to your lecturers or teachers in school by their first names – all of these were considered essential aspects of good home training. However, when you move abroad, particularly in Western countries, you will notice that the respect and greeting culture is more reserved. It’s common to address your university professors by their first names, even your superiors at work. Another cultural adjustment you’ll encounter is the absence of a traditional greeting culture. A simple handshake often suffices. So be prepared for children to address you by your name and greet you without kneeling, curtsying, or bowing.

  1. Heightened Social Responsibility Abroad:

In Nigeria, it’s not unusual to encounter people who display little regard for those around them from blaring car horns to disregarding traffic rules and noisy public gatherings. However, when you move abroad, you will discover much stricter regulations governing everyday actions. Excessive car horn usage might be deemed unacceptable, and playing loud music in residential areas could lead to legal consequences. As a result, you will need to be more mindful and considerate of your actions, as social responsibility expectations are significantly heightened in your new environment.

As I have highlighted these ten points, please bear in mind that your journey might bring even more surprises depending on your destination. Life has a way of throwing unexpected twists, even when we think we’ve got it all figured out. So, keep these essential survival tips close to your heart and rely on them as you navigate your new home.

First and foremost, learn to mind your own business. The majority of these cultural differences underscore the importance of staying in your lane. If you’re not invited, don’t intervene. If you’re not called upon, don’t become entangled in matters that don’t directly or indirectly concern you. Most importantly, safeguard your peace and sanity, and remain dedicated to your reasons for relocating. In a new working environment, it’s easy to get distracted and lose sight of your goals. Avoid distractions, stay focused, and remain on course.

Secondly, foster an open and accepting mindset. Upon your move, you’ll find yourself immersed in various unfamiliar cultural norms in your host country. Refrain from passing judgment and be open to understanding these new practices, especially if they impact your daily life. Furthermore, embrace people for who they are. If you find yourself in the company of those with differing practices and cultures, be understanding and accept them for who they are rather than being critical or dismissive of their choices. Building on the first point, remember to stay focused and dedicated to your goals.

Regarding the challenges of finding Nigerian foods or dealing with racism, use your social media platforms to connect with Nigerians and Africans in your area. Seek information on local African markets or stores. These communities can be a great resource to combat loneliness and homesickness and maintain that connection with Nigeria. 

Lastly, strive to learn and respect the cultures, traditions, beliefs, practices, rules, and laws of your new home. Following the age-old adage, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” steer clear of breaking laws and consistently endeavor to remain on the right side of the law.

In conclusion, as you embark on this exciting new chapter in a different country, embrace the diverse cultural values and traditions that may differ from what you’re used to in Nigeria. Approach this journey with an open mind, a willingness to adapt to new practices, and, above all, a strong commitment to respect and adhere to the local laws. 

I wish you the best of luck in this next phase of your life.