- Autumn Swain
Interview: Seun Ayanniyi
Some would say I have an adventurous spirit. I love traveling and meeting new people. I love making friends, and depending on my travel destination, it can be more difficult than expected. Part of this is because of me; I can come across as quiet as I often observe a situation before opening up. Part of this, I believe, is because of what has become the norm in other cultures. I experienced evidence of this in my most recent adventure as I found myself moving from my home country of Nigeria to the United States to pursue a graduate degree abroad. Despite many challenges I made this happen because I was excited for the opportunity to explore a new country and culture.
What I discovered was that I had a bit of culture shock upon my arrival because I witnessed that this “melting pot” of a country was actually quite an individualistic society. It was hard to get people to warm up to me and to really get to know others. In my efforts to meet new people some would say, “Let’s grab coffee soon.” and when it rarely actually happened I grew to feel this was an American’s friendly way of ending a conversation. I did end up meeting some wonderful people and I did greatly value my time in America, submerged in a new culture; however, I didn’t quite overcome what was so prevalent in Nigerian culture, the desire to host people in your home and live in a more communal way.
Like all people, I am multi-faceted and dynamic. I have lots of interests and passions. I am passionate mostly about helping people and my faith. However, many only knew me by what they saw, “She’s African.” I wanted people to see that putting me in a box labeled “African” was like identifying a Texan and a New Yorker as coming from the same “American” experience and culture. You see, Africa is a big continent with 54 countries and different cultures, and I am proudly Nigerian. Additionally, it was interesting to find out that people were surprised I spoke English well. But you see, I was brought up speaking English as that’s the lingua franca in Nigeria.
When asked about misperceptions I feel exist about my culture and background, I can only think about my hope that people would grow in their passion for other people and getting to know them. I wish that people won’t generalize but get to know each person as an individual and not label people by their skin color, religion, country of origin or culture. Living in the US helped correct several misconceptions I had and that was possible cos I was open to listen, ask questions, read and learn. As a result, since moving back to Nigeria, I have been able to educate others with the hope that I can help correct their own misconceptions.
There are so many things I hope to continue to learn and experience about other cultures. But from one proud Nigerian to you, whatever beautiful culture you identify with, I leave you with this, next time you tell someone you would like to meet for coffee, surprise them and actually do it (wink wink) AND you MUST experience a Nigerian wedding celebration! The dance is filled with joy and authenticity. Just like our Jollof Rice is infused with tomatoes and peppers and laced with chili heat, our dance and culture is infused with its own flavor of community, celebration and joy. Get to know us and I would love to get to know you! We are better together!