Coming To America: If I Knew Then What I Know Now, Would I Have Come To America? Part One Of Two
The beginning of the year is a popular time to reflect on the past while preening for the future. I was doing that this January when I was overcome by the emotion of this now 30-plus year odyssey in America. As I strolled down that memory lane, I was interrupted by a question a reader once asked me: "If you knew then what you know today, would you have gone to America?" The key word is "today". And the short answer is a resounding, "YES"! As proud as I am of my Nigerian heritage, I am delighted I came to America, all things considered. However, this article is not about me.
Relocating is rarely smooth all the way. As Alayi people would say, "only when one chews (not just drinks) water does one realize water has bones". Living in a foreign land is not for everyone. Ask any candid person who has blazed this diaspora trail and that person will tell you it's not as easy as it seems. However, "difficult roads [often] lead to beautiful destinations'. If you have the dexterity, you too can make it.
There are four concurrent challenges capable of bringing Nigeria to her knees, if not to her demise: pervasive corruption, worsening sectarian violence, youth population and chronic unemployment explosions. Truth be told, both the ruled and the rulers have a hand in this mess. We all want a successful Nigeria but when the President's and Finance Minister's relatives and innocent citizens are victims of desperate kidnappers and other heinous criminals, you know Nigeria is truly on the verge of falling apart, pun intended. Nigerian short-sighted leaders are target-fixated on the precipice at national expense. Would you blame anyone trying to escape from what one feels is a burning house or sinking boat? This article is about that person in Nigeria who is eager to emigrate. It's for the young man or woman somewhere today who dreams of relocating tomorrow for a better life. If you are in that situation, this article is about and for you.
Success in anything hinges on good health, a plan, hard work and luck. The top priority is to take care of Number One: Yourself. It means eating, sleeping, exercising, and saving well. You will need your good health to achieve your dreams. A healthy you is a wealthy you. Be sure to have both health and life insurance, just in case. This essence is often lost in the minds of young people who are swift in sacrificing their bodies for short-term gains without realizing the lifetime consequences of their youthful exuberance. Plan by reading biographies of people who have gone through the journey you are about to embark and learn from their experiences. And follow up with hard work and determination.
Go For It! Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change, per Jim Rohn. The last persons you want to listen to are the society fat cats who cannot relate to your plight. They tell you not to "check out". They preach the virtues of toughing it out at home while they send their offspring overseas for schooling and go abroad themselves for medical treatments.
Sisyphean as it may be, don't let anything (not even the love of country, especially the country that does not love you as much as she wants you to love her) dissuade you from pursuing your dreams. They tell you to stay and perish in the toxic environment they have perpetuated. Heck no; rebel and go for it! Yes, the love of country is a great thing; working to better one's nation is a noble pursuit. However, don't be so desperate to emigrate that you attempt to trek the Sahara expanse to Libya and get on a raggedy boat or stowaway in airplane wheel well to reach the "promise land". Please don't take that chance; it is suicidal. Nothing is worth your life.
Come in legally through the front door, for example, by honestly asking smaller colleges for admission and scholarship, like Nnamdi Azikiwe did in 1920s. With the Internet you can apply to schools more efficiently. Seek help from people in your circle of influence. Have something to offer in return. Honesty is the key!
Make Fear Your Friend Not Your Enemy: Fear can be a prudent regulator that helps you save yourself from yourself. Don't dread it; accept it for what it is: False Expectation Appearing Real. FEAR. It's okay to be afraid of moving overseas or across town or country. Develop the courage to overcome that fear. Believe!
Per Henry David Thoreau, "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined". You just might attain those dreams. Be prepared to work harder than you ever imagined. Become your own ambassador. Spur others to judge you by the content of your character rather than by the color of your skin or your national origin, to paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr. Don't inherit anyone else's sins. And for your own sins, seek repentance and aspire for a better tomorrow.
A Different You: You'll never be the same once you leave. So soak in your current scenery, maintain your existing friends and family. Prepare to overcome betrayals along the road. If you are traveling abroad, know that there are people you will never see again and those that will not see you in this life. You need to learn to accept this painful fact. As Max Lucado stated, "to lead the orchestra [one] must turn [one's] back on the crowd".
Follow Your Mind.
Don't be like the professional caterpillars that mindlessly follow the circle of starvation when food is all around them, including inside the circle. In other words, dare to be different and don't follow others unless you want to be like them. No one has ever achieved greatness by following others. At times one might need to emulate others to get over a temporary hump but to attain one's true potential, one has to be unique.
Passion and Work hard
You have to immerse yourself in your sojourn prior to setting sail. Passion cost a little but it buys a lot! The other side of the coin is good old hard work. Experts say passion plus hard work are the twin ingredients for success. You can't have one without the other.
It's no small feat to move within town, state, country, continent, or across the world. It could be relocating from Nigeria to America or from the Bay Area to Austin or from Oakland to Pleasanton or from Atlanta to Houston. Better neighborhood and career advancement are top two reasons people relocate. Whatever your reasons are, be prepared to pay the price and reap the benefits of your decision. There's no guaranty of a successful outcome. Granted that anything can happen anywhere or any time, it still behooves us parents to raise our family in the best environment we can provide. If it takes moving, changing jobs, or adopting other measures to improve your family's future, consider making the change. If your children are keeping bad company, move them away from that negative influence before it is too late. Your children may complain today but they will love you for it tomorrow.
Relocation can be hampered by scarce resources and limitless challenges. In the endless quest to escape the current living condition, people often forget the comfort provided by being home or in a familiar environment. 'Move to a new country and you quickly see that visiting a place as a tourist, and actually moving there for good, are two very different things', according to Tahir Shah of Travel with Myself fame. Or to paraphrase Led Zeppelin, when you get there you would know all that glitters is not gold. Still it could be your stairway to heaven. Steer your own destiny before someone or society does it for you.
Don't be fooled by the 419, credit card, and medical scams image or news. Nigerians are making positive contributions across the globe. According to New York Times, "Nigerians make up less than 1 percent of the black population in the United States, yet in 2013 nearly one-quarter of the black students at Harvard Business School were of Nigerian ancestry; over a fourth of Nigerian-Americans have a graduate or professional degree, as compared with only about 11 percent of whites." Some of these overachievers abroad are the very ones Nigeria rejected at home. So if the conditions in Nigeria are coalescing to extinguish your future, you need to consider moving to a place that would reward your talent and hard work. After all one 'who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day." You have this one life to live.
Stay tuned for Part Two
Chuks U.C. Ukaoma
Email: [email protected]
Austin, Texas, U.S.A