Coming To America: Fresh Perspectives from a Recent Immigrant

??????????????????????????????????????????????????As a first generation child born on the U.S. mainland, I pride myself on having a unique perspective of America and our global reputation. I’ll spare you on my soapbox (for now), but we’ll just say that my beliefs are quite different from other U.S. citizens. For that reason, I love talking to people who are new to America. I always attain some new insights whenever I hear a recent immigrant’s views on America.

I recently had the opportunity to interview a recent immigrant. He relocated here from Lagos, Nigeria, to attend graduate school. His first six months on U.S. soil was spent in San Francisco and the latter part of his first year were spent in Georgia. Here’s what he had to say about his time in America.

Me: What was your initial impression of the U.S?

Lanre: When I first came to the U.S., the first thing I noticed was the massive infrastructure. I’ve driven on roads in Africa before, and here there are like 8 lanes. It’s like, ‘really!’

And another thing that amazed me was self check-in at the airport. Back home, you can’t do self check-in. When I arrived at the airport, I was talking to one of the airport personnel about checking in my luggage, and she says, “No, just do self check-in.” I just went to the machine and it was pretty easy. And I was like “Wow! That’s really cool. It’s different here, in terms of infrastructure.

The culture here is different too. San Francisco was very multicultural, so I didn’t really feel like I was in a different culture. There are so many people from different places, races/ethnicities, so I didn’t really feel like I was in the U.S.

Whenever I would go to the grocery store, the warmth and excitement I’d get from others took a bit for me to adjust to.  In Africa, we don’t display so much emotion, so when I’d go to the grocery store and the lady who worked there said, “Hi! How are you doing? What are you doing tonight?” I was a bit surprised and thought to myself, how is that your business? Why do you want to know what I am doing tonight? Then, I thought well maybe she’s interested in me. But now, I realize it’s just the American way.

Me: (laughs). Maybe she wanted to take you out tonight!

Lanre: Yeah, in my country you don’t ask such questions unless you have something up your sleeves.

Me: So, tell me what’s the culture in Nigeria compared to here.

Lanre: Africans like to be in groups, like clans and families. So if you are leaving in the same complex with others, then you guys are cool. You say “hi” to each other. You can knock on each other’s door. It is a family like environment. But what is different is this. If I go to a store, there is no one that is concerned about customer service. No one is going to greet you like, “Hey! How are you doing? What are you doing tonight?” You need to know the person to be able to do that. But that doesn’t mean we are cold. We show our affection in different ways.  You’ll probably say hello to a total stranger, but there is something else probably bringing you together. But you don’t say hello to someone on the street that you don’t know. That doesn’t happen back home.

We’re kind of like family people. You are warm to your own but not to everyone else. But we are very kind to foreigners. We will go an extra mile to make the person comfortable. It’s Nigerian hospitality. But if they don’t know you are a foreigner, then they won’t do anything for you.

Me: What’s the thing you miss most about home?

Lanre: There’s always something going on, some drama of sorts. The music industry, for instance, there are new songs, new slangs. That’s the good thing about Nigeria. They are always evolving and evolving fast. Slangs change constantly.  I miss the food back home also. The food is quite different back at home.

Me: What do you mean? What’s the difference in the food?

Lanre: Here it’s all about bread and chicken.  Bread and chicken. And bread and chicken. I mean, it’s just weird. Who does that?

Me: (laughs) What do you eat back home?

Lanre: We like stew. We like something spicy. We need to touch one part of the food with the other. For me, the food here is dry. It’s bland. There’s cool stuff, however. I used to like the sandwiches in San Fran. There are a lot of Italians and Asians in San Fran and I used to like their sandwiches. It’s not like that here. You don’t get veggies in sandwiches here unless you request that.

Me: What’s your favorite restaurant here so far?

Lanre: The best place I’ve been to is Cliff House in San Fran. It started in early 1900’s. It faces the ocean on a cliff. The ambience is nice and the food is great.

Me: Any other things you want to share on the differences between here and Nigeria?

Lanre: There’s so much freedom in the U.S. You can be whatever you want to be. And it’s painful to see people who don’t take advantage of it. Where I come from, you struggle for everything. You literally have to jump hurdles to even make a decent living.

One thing that I like is that there is dignity of labor here. No one looks down on you if you work at McDonald’s or you sweep floors. You do it with pride and joy.  But back at home, people look down on you if you are doing menial jobs. You’re not really taken seriously.  You can’t even try a Tokunbo car (secondhand car) if you work in a menial job. But here, you find people working at McDonald’s and driving a brand new car! It’s kind of awesome.

And that’s the good thing about life here. As long as you work hard, you can still have a decent living: good water, access to electricity, good roads, drive a decent car. But you don’t do that back at home. You have to have a very good job to even afford a used car.  So that’s the good part.

But the other part is that you can take out loans, like educational loans. You can be whatever you want to be. But people don’t take advantage of it. If I took this system back home, people would dive in and  do extremely well.

Me: What made you come here?

Lanre: I came here for business education. Everyone knows U.S.has the best schools. The U.S. is where you can have a new startup today and in a couple of years it’s a big business. That’s why I came. There are so many opportunities here. I want to learn from the best.

Me: Thank you! I don’t have anymore questions. Anything else you’d like to share?

Lanre: U.S. is a great country. But I’m not sure if the people here fully embrace the freedom and opportunities available at their fingertips. I would advise the people here to travel more. So that when they come back here, they’ll make better decisions.  And U.S. citizens aren’t very knowledgeable about the world. So I’d encourage them to travel more and learn more. It’ll help them make better decisions and protect what they have.

Me: Amen. I agree. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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