Jul 29

‘The transition back to Nigeria helped me clarify my interests’

Folake Owodunni, a strategy consultant, non-profit enthusiast, writer and soon to be mom, returned to Nigeria after studying a Bachelors in Biology from the University of Oregon, USA and a Masters in Global Health and Development from University College London. Here’s her homecomer story.

When I left Nigeria for studies, it wasn’t for the first time. What I do remember is arriving at my school in a very small town in America – Eugene, Oregon. The school grounds were lovely and people were generally nice but I was quite apprehensive about not knowing anyone except my brother, and an uncle who lived two hours away. I noticed immediately that it seemed to rain EVERY SINGLE DAY. I arrived in the middle of winter in January and instead of white snow, I got constant, cold rain. Coming from the hot Nigerian sun, I was miserable for a while. The upside was that it made everything green and beautiful.

The first few months were tough but very interesting. I was learning a completely new culture – even though we technically all spoke English. I learned that: “we should hang out sometime” was more of a greeting than an actual expression of interest in hanging out [laughs]. Shock No. 1. and Shock No. 2 was that I was in a very liberal society where almost anything – in terms of lifestyle, was acceptable, or at least unsurprising.

I think the greatest impact of living abroad was on my thinking. There’s something about the American higher education system that challenges you to not only be ambitious but bold, especially when it comes to charting the course of your career. I remember attending workshops at my university’s career centre to improve my CV and prepare to handle job interviews. It was such a detailed process involving personality tests, quizzes about your interests and mock interviews that by the time I was done, I felt really confident about pursuing jobs. I think the exposure also helped me take risks where others normally wouldn’t e.g. introducing myself and speaking frankly to people that are far more “senior” than me in the work place. Although one has to be careful in the Nigerian culture, it always paid off for me, giving me access to good relationships with senior colleagues.

My return to Nigeria was fairly dramatic and unplanned but I was fortunate enough to reconnect with old friends and make new ones through my church. I was also connected to a clinic where I could work as an intern and put my degree into practice. I already knew that lab work was not for me long-term, as I’d always loved writing and had taken as many literature classes as I could in university. When an opportunity came up to do some writing for the MD of my company, I jumped on it and transitioned from a core biology role to corporate communications. This helped a lot because I actually started enjoying my work. I got to help put a radio program together and coordinate a public health outreach event, which confirmed my desire to pursue a Masters degree in Public Health. I had a great time working at that company for almost two years before pursuing the masters. Overall, the transition back to Nigeria helped me clarify my interests and learn the basics of how to succeed in what can be a challenging working environment.

The biggest challenge for me about being back in Nigeria is the stress of living in Lagos: the traffic, the high costs, the bad roads and the lack of power. I think it’s calmer in other cities but Lagos is definitely where the opportunities are. My advice is: prepare your mind for the long haul because it won’t be easy. Know why you are coming back and where possible, establish contacts ahead of time. I’ve learned this from my husband. You are likely to have skills and experiences people are looking for back home. Barter relationships tend to be the first stepping stone to more concrete business relationships. Good luck!

Studying and living abroad are truly incredible experiences though I think we tend to value ‘going abroad’ in Nigeria for the wrong reasons. Many of the major cities we tend to go to are such melting pots that you interact with more cultures in one moment than some people do in a lifetime. The exposure helps you realise that there’s so much more to the world than we see from home; it also helps you learn to embrace differences and aspire towards a life where things work better. So, I’d say travel! Do everything you can (legally!) to step outside Nigeria’s boundaries and see at least some of the world, even within Africa – it’s totally worth it!

Source: Move Back To Nigeria