‘So what’s Nigeria really like? How bad is it?’ asks my candidate who is flying out to Lagos for final interviews for a CEO role with an exciting new media company there. ‘I read on line that it’s 137th out of 140 worst places to be an ex-pat! What’s it really like to live there as a European?’
His concern seems rather comical when you know that he’s lived and worked in Afghanistan and Iraq. But then relocation to anywhere new in the world requires serious consideration and it’s not easy to always fully comprehend the realities of what that new life will look like.
As a South African, I actually considered the question from the other side; what is it like to move to Europe as an African?
Most of us leave Africa in search of better lives, higher education, the chance to explore the world, to find ourselves… The reasons are as varied and as numerous as are imaginable. Some are running away and some feel the allure of opportunity and adventure.
Picture – By Jula2812 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)
For my part, a three-month travel stint in Europe, with London as a base, turned into eighteen years. I never planned to stay, and so there was never a long term reason driving the initial trip, however, I still found that it wasn’t an easy move.
I’ve experienced so many things I’d never have been able to living in Southern Africa. I’m grateful for my English home, and I am happily settled. But, like so many ‘Scatterlings of Africa’, I found that relinquishing the ‘Third World’ for the ‘First’ wasn’t a complete step up and there have been many surprises along the way.
Packing for England, I prepared for life in the “First World”, fully believing that EVERYTHING would be better. I didn’t doubt that my horizons would be broadened and that the level of sophistication would be staggering. I believed I’d be embarrassed by the ‘simplicity’ of my roots and astounded by all the advancements.
Having striven for correct English grammar all my life, imagine my shock though when proper English people didn’t always know the correct time to use ‘lend’ or ‘borrow’. Daily life was just the same; apparently I hadn’t actually come from such a backwater after all. In fact, once I’d established a network or friends and support, life here was actually very similar to there!
Yes, the crazy hustle and bustle of Lagos does seem a rather harsher environment than suburban middle England, but, as ever, there is green grass and there are weeds wherever you go. In fact expats in Lagos have said to us that it is one of the best kept expat secrets out there. There is a vibrant social life, the schools are excellent and home life is often supported by a steward, cook and a driver.
Traversing between “First” and “Third” worlds, in either direction, replaces one set of norms with another. In some respects, the difference between the two sets is stark, but in others, there’s hardly any difference at all. It takes an adventurous spirit to give up any known life for a totally different one. But that spirit will observe, embrace and learn, and will be stronger and enriched for the experience.