ON CULTURE SHOCK, CHALLENGES AND ADJUSTING TO LIVING ABROAD.
Joanah Shares Her Story On How She Learned To Not Shrink Herself In A Foreign Country
Hey guys, I’m Joanah. I am that girl from Nigeria, who believes in social justice, feminism, human rights, diversity and I believe every human regardless of their gender, should be treated equally. I’m always asked how I got to adapt to living abroad, and honestly, I don’t know how to explain this but say I accepted the differences and I worked harder in difficult times.
In Nigeria French is not our official language. We speak English and our different local languages/dialects. When I first moved to Paris at 16, I constantly felt like I didn’t belong like I was lost. I remember being constantly reminded that I was that girl from “Somewhere in Africa.”
Coming from Africa, I had nothing to offer and the little they offered (back then to me in France) was the best I would ever get.
The schools always decided on what I should study considering the language difficulties. My French wasn’t good enough. I didn’t speak good enough to hang around some people and I didn’t dress well enough either. I would say something that I knew wasn’t the correct way to say it, and I would get awkward looks from around whilst I asked for the correct way to say it. It didn’t matter to them that I was making an effort because it was all a joke to them.
At this point decisions for my education were made without my concerns. It was assumed that I had nothing to say, and it was a great opportunity given to me. It wasn’t an opportunity. I saw it as a way of preventing me to shine. Haha! No, I don’t want to be kept under a shell! I shan’t be kept!
It wasn’t what I wanted, I knew/had an idea of what I wanted. I wasn’t going to allow anyone to decide on how and why I should shine, I worked harder and didn’t shrink myself to their decisions. I knew I had to do the extra work to be heard and that was what I did. I learned the language more and I got the best internships
This ‘stranger’ feeling was very present and I was convinced that it was because of the language barrier (which there’s a bit of) and I’d be fine after getting that barrier out of the way. Initially, I thought it would be sorted out in a snap. What I didn’t know at the time were the individual differences. The differences that make us who we are.
So, as the language became less of a problem for me, socializing became awkward. The younger me didn’t know how big, different cultures could be, and I realized that when socializing becomes awkward, you’re just not going to be heard no matter what. Sad, right?
As a result of my awkward socializing phase, I learned to Accept, Adapt, and Shine. I took the then regular ‘this isn’t how things are done here, we don’t do things like this here’ as a cue that this new country isn’t my home. I felt I had to do things people wanted me to do and not what I wanted to do.
This experience helped me realize that we must learn to accept challenges and not hide from them, even if one believes that they’re going to fail in the face of said challenges. We learn from our failures and thus success follows. One must learn to live boldly no matter where you are, home or away. we must live boldly.
Additionally, I accepted that things were different since I knew I wasn’t home, I had come to terms that there were going to be challenges along the way. You see, when we find ourselves in new places, we must accept that we’re in a different environment and accept the cultural differences.
However, we must not forget who we are and what our values are. There are going to cues that we are from somewhere else, which might make us feel the wrong ways. It is essential to note that we are all, each and every one of us, unique in the Universe. And, that uniqueness is what makes us valuable.
Now, I’m not saying that my inability to speak French correctly back then made me unique, rather the fact that I was actively learning a language I never thought I would EVER speak was just amazing and at some point, the jokes weren’t a problem to me anymore. With time obviously, I spoke louder with and without mistakes. Can’t hold me down!
I remember what someone once said about me: “she has her hopes and expectations too high hence why she won’t make it.”
People shouldn’t decide on how a person should live their lives because they come from somewhere else, let them live and thrive. Let us learn to learn from others, especially when they don’t come from the same place as you.
We will never be good enough for everybody, but let’s be enough for ourselves. Being open-minded is an essential survival skill in a new country. We should value our uniquenesses in every possible way, we shouldn’t shrink ourselves whilst trying to adapt to what is new. While is it important to learn and respect the unique cultures of others. It is paramount that we adapt without forgetting our own identities.
That is the thing with living boldly. By raising my voice to be heard louder, accepting my identity, learning and also teaching. I have adapted to life in Paris while still being that Nigerian girl.
It came to me in the process of making terms with my surrounding, including the ways of working with the location, the language spoken there and the culture that I didn’t need to try to change myself ( the core of my being ) to ‘belong’.
Joanah is a passionate feminist who is in love with Paris, passionate about communication and currently getting her final degree in web development. Considered to be shy and extra, she can go 5 hours with her phone battery on 1% and unbothered to charge it. She has given up her adventure on finding stylist clothes for tall girls.
Her favorite thing to do in Paris is get lost in the dreamy city.Her guilty pleasure is watching strangers pass by and creating stories for them. Follow her on IG here and check her blog here.