I can’t escape people asking me about my accent. When I was in America, people asked me where I’m from because of my accent. Now back in Nigeria, I still get asked the same question. This question always leads me to have to explain that yes, I didn’t completely grow up in Nigeria. I had the opportunity to move around because my father worked in the foreign affairs ministry.
When I usually tell the story, it’s always positive. It’s something for me to be proud off but the reality is that growing up in a diplomatic family is not easy. As much as I do feel appreciative and fortunate, there are somethings that I didn’t like. I want to be honest here and not only admit what I liked but also, tell the truth of what bothered me.
The Challenges of Growing Up in a Diplomatic Family…..
The Instability Heightened My Anxieties About My Future
Due to the fact that I had the opportunity to be educated abroad, I always felt internally pressured that I had to give it my all. This was because, at the end of the day, I was a Nigerian citizen. I was in the states because of my dad’s job and then because of a student visa. So I didn’t have that stability to say I would have a permanent stay in America. This really bothered me and made me depressed at a certain time. This is because I had lived in the U.S. for a while. I did my elementary school, a year of middle school and my university in New York yet I couldn’t call it my home.
The New Environment Can Make You Feel Alone
When my family moved to Mexico City, my experience there was not terrible. I had nice friends and met some inspiring teachers. However, I’d be lying if I said I loved everything about it.
In high school in Mexico City, I remember once this white American male student had made a comment when talking to his Latin friend. He used the N-word. He used it a lot of times like it was a normal word for him to throw around because it was fun for him. I confronted him once but he didn’t care. Moments like that made me feel uncomfortable and angry. I was angry at the fact that he used the word. I was also angry because I felt alone. I wished there were someone else to back me up. Someone that I could relate to but I was the only black girl in my class. My sister and I were one of the few black people in our school. I always wished there were someone else in my class that understood why that word stirred up anger in me.
Now in New York, when my father was posted there, I was in elementary school. I used to not enjoy it initially because I was known as the “African girl.” I didn’t like that I was always referred to that because of my accent. I also did not like that there were a lot of stereotypes that people had about my country. They would question how modern it was. They would question whether there were facilities available to live and learn there.
As I grew older and came back to New York for the university, there were different issues I faced. It was not just being the African girl but struggling to fit in to be Black and African. I used to feel uncomfortable with the expectations that some Black Americans had off me like wearing your natural hair or feeling a strong tie to the “motherland.” The truth is that I like having my hair straight and putting extensions and weaves. Also, I don’t have a very strong tie to Nigeria because of my experience moving around.
The Language and Cultural Barrier Makes You Feel Different
I attended an international school in Mexico City but a majority of the population did speak Spanish. At times, when people weren’t speaking English, I would feel lost and confused. It also made me feel disconnected.
There’s also the cultural barrier. In Mexico, people are intimate with each other with the way they kiss and hug. This is not what I’m used to as a Nigerian, as an African. I can’t speak for every African but most of us are not very intimate about the way we express our greetings. So I had to get used to the greeting culture in Mexico which was uncomfortable for me at first.
The Fun Part about Growing Up in a Diplomatic Family
Exposure to A Different Environment
What I’m most grateful for in growing up in a diplomatic family is that it exposed me to a different environment. I found Mexico City and Budapest to be such beautiful countries. I enjoyed living in New York because my college experience enabled me to interact with so many different Americans and I learned a lot from them. My view and perspective on the world is wider because of all the people I’ve been fortunate to have met outside of Nigeria.
In university, I was very hardworking so I interned and volunteered at numerous places from publishing houses to government agencies and NGOs. This helped me to build a list of contacts of people that I respect and admire. These are people that I view as great mentors to me.
A Diverse Group of Friends
I’ve been fortunate to have friendships with such amazing people. The people I’ve met in the U.S. and Mexico helped to shape my experiences. I had fun times with them. I laughed. I learned a lot from them. I have memories that I cherish because of those people that were in my life. It is my wish and prayer that I will reunite with them.
What do you think about the expat life? Do you relate to my experience?