Don’t assimilate; don’t segregate

When you immigrate to a different country, you have three choices when it comes to how you interact with your new environment:

  1. immerse yourself completely in your new surroundings and culture, and adopt it as your new way of life
  2. immerse yourself in your new culture but cling to those aspects of your own culture that you don’t want to lose
  3. refuse to integrate with your culture and cling to the culture you were born into

I personally think it’s best to go with option 2, and I’d even support option 2 with a leaning toward option 1, but we’ve all met people who are devout option 1 folk (speaking with the accent of their new home within weeks of landing there and denying their true origins) or option 3 (regularly trash talking or criticizing the new home, whether it’s temporary or permanent, and refusing to interact with anyone who isn’t from their home country or area).

I live in Canada and while the country is not perfect, it is in my opinion fairly accepting of immigrants (though like many countries the immigration process is getting more rigorous) and maybe my experience is not the norm. Yes you will get people who say “pardon?” every time you speak because your accent differs from their own, and you can tell they’re not even trying to understand what you’re saying. But to be fair, not all of them are trying to be rude: they are just learning your accent and once they know how you pronounce certain words they won’t misunderstand you again. I sound fairly “Canadian” and I find that when I’m speaking with some Nigerians (on the phone especially), I sometimes ask them to repeat themselves and they sometimes ask me to do the same. Funke can confirm that we “Canadians” kind of slur our words, so the city I live in, Ottawa, ends up sounding like “Odawa” when I say it, and Toronto, another city sounds more like “Teronno”.

But the reason I like Canada is that it allows immigrants to have the best of both worlds. My parents feel completely comfortable wearing their ankara and lace to oyinbo weddings or to our (primarily oyinbo) church. They and their Yoruba friends were able to start a Yoruba association and meet in a community centre where they are free to discuss things in Yoruba, if they want to set up a festival or event to celebrate their culture it is welcome and could even be supported in part at least by the city or province. Some smart entrepreneurs are selling Nigerian food here and we’ve never been told that we can’t eat pounded yam or ogbono soup or anything else we enjoy. Because of this, I feel that as an expression of appreciation fo the country you have chosen to immigrate to, you should respect at least some of the things that make your new home unique (which is why option 3 above rankles me).

For example, my parents took us skating, and even though I am terrible at it, I have been exposed to it. I’ve also had several opportunities to go skiing, play in the snow, go camping, eat Canadian classics like beavertails (not what you think) and poutine to name a few. While my mom can’t skate she is the biggest ice hockey fan, and to hear her screaming at the television on game night, you’d think her own children were playing. It’s amazing how well she knows the names of the players and their stats. My dad is a much quieter fan but he’s the same. I remember a few years ago the local hockey team went quite far in the play offs and come see Yorubas at the end of year party listening to the game on the radio and sharing the score with one another.

Another thing I really appreciate about life here is the freedom to practice our religion. Canada is/was a Christian nation so maybe because I’m also Christian, that’s why I feel there’s religious freedom. But I can go to a Redeemed Church if I wish, and I can even plant a new church if I’m so inclined. The city will rent out rooms to me to hold my religious services; I don’t have to lie and say it’s something other than a religious organization to get the space. And although there can be tension between different religious groups, I haven’t heard of Canada targeting a certain religion unless it’s known for encouraging violence toward another group.

Every now and then, a crazy story makes the news. For example, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is an old and established institution here. There was a story about a guy of a certain religion who wanted to be an RCMP officer. No problem. But rather than carry the official weapon that RCMP officers carry, he wanted to carry the ceremonial dagger of his religion instead and I think he was suing the RCMP over the matter. It angered me because the RCMP is a uniquely Canadian institution: if you are not prepared to follow the rules, there are hundreds of other jobs that you can take. I didn’t agree with those saying the guy’s rights were being somehow denied because he can carry his dagger practically anywhere else and I think he could even carry it in addition to the official weapon of the RCMP. I worry sometimes that in some ways Canada is being too tolerant and could lose its own identity by being too accepting: if you leave your country for better opportunities and you’re able to find yourself in a country that doesn’t care what you wear, what religion you practice and what you eat, where you feel relatively safe and can keep yourself fed and sheltered, the country should be allowed to hold on to certain things that it feels defines it as a country.

But don’t let me get too impassioned. My point is that if you’re in a different country for school or to live, take the time to immerse yourself in your new surrounding and meet people from a different background or walk of life than you. Don’t pretend the whole country sucks and has nothing to offer because if you really believed that you’d head back home. Enjoy connecting with people from your homeland too; that’s a part of you and hopefully you don’t feel like you have to run away from it. But please don’t go to either of the extremes…we should be proud of our origins and seek to be good ambassadors of our country. Some bloggers who I think are embracing these principles especially well are Olaoluwatomi and KTravula.

Have you assimilated into your new country, segregated yourself or are you somewhere in the middle?

27 thoughts on “Don’t assimilate; don’t segregate

  1. Fantastic post! I can definitely relate on many levels.

    I lived in the US for 16+ years and now live in Sweden, and my accent still remains the same Naija tone (much to the surprise of many people actually).

    Integrate; learn; respect, but never forget who you are.

  2. I would say the middle is the place to be, appreciate the ways of the country you've moved to and always be true to your origins.

  3. Hey GNG,

    Thank you for the shout-out. How're you and yours?

    About the topic, it's usually hard enough to be far away from home. To complicate that with a deliberate distancing from one's own remaining emotional attachment to the faraway home can only be dangerous at worst, and silly at best. It is hardly worth the loss of one's identity.


  4. â–ºOlaoluwatomi

    You're welcome! And it's true!


    Who knows where God will take you, or who you will be able to help as they immerse themselves in Nigerian culture :)


    I definitely agree with your philosophy!


    Yes…it's important to not forget one's origins.


    My pleasure…me and mine are very well indeed.

    Imagine losing one's identity? Scary thought!

  5. Yeah, another proud eater of beavertails! Have you been skating on the canal this winter? It was open last weekend from bank street to pretoria. I think they'll open the rest of it this weekend.

    But back to your post, I definitely agree with your going with option 2 – I consider myself a true patriot so I concur. Learn & understand the ways of your new environment, but never forget heritage.

  6. Totally agree with you; Blending the best of both cultures & still able to retain one's IDENTITY is the best. And one is bound by the laws of any country he/she is staying. When people live long in a particular country, they would naturally pick up some words & pronunciation, without really losing their accents unless they ,make the conscious effort to.

  7. Option 2 all the way. Yes, Canada should be wary of being too tolerant, the UK is learning this lesson the hard way. What are beavertails? Your last paragraph sums it all up accurately. Well written.

  8. But what is "integrating/assimilating" and what isn't? In my culture, it's quite common for children to take piano or violin lessons. So is a Chinese Canadian assimilating if he/she is playing Chopin or Mozart? Or does that not count because the composers mentioned were European? What about playing tennis or golf? As for people NOT assimilating, I think older people have a lot of trouble doing this. I mean, you can't teach an old dog new tricks, right? What DOES bother me, however, is the utter ignorance of some immigrant communities on other immigrant communities. I once worked with a young woman of South Asian descent born and raised in Scarborough (a very diverse part of Toronto). She gave me a weird and funny look when I told her that my parents did not have an arranged marriage. I know some overly PC multigenerational Canadians who "think it's sad" that some immigrants "choose" to adapt. For example, an admin assistant at my grad school commented on how so many Chinese Canadian brides wear white (when white is a colour of mourning). What she probably DID NOT KNOW is that people in the "old country| also wear white, and have been for at least five decades!

  9. Option two works for me. There values that one will want to keep from ones background and it is good to be openminded to embrace new useful values from a different culture as well. Aftrall, no culture is superior but many are still work in progress.

  10. First off, Happy New Year GNG!

    Overall, i think this is a good post and your main point is very important for people to understand. I do think there are more complex sides to the topic, along the lines of Cynthia's comment but then immigration and integration are topics that can be discussed till the cows come home.

    What i'll add to the comments so far is that i don't think the 3 choices you listed are actually exclusive. I think they are on a spectrum and at some point, most people that go to a new country or emigrate will find themselves moving through one or more of these stages of transition.

    I think by the time a person gets to option 2, they are at a stage where they are achieving a balance between their old life and their new life and are usually well on the way to establishing themselves in their new country. At the beginning, when everything is foreign, you don't know how the system works in the new place, you feel out of place and everything feels difficult etc, it is natural to cling more to what you are certain of which is the identity and culture that you already have. Unfortunately people can also get stuck and never really move on from that point.

    However, the more comfortable you become in the new place, the easier it is to let go and allow new influences into your life or culture. This is why tolerance is a good thing (even though the concept also has its limitations) because at it's heart, it is about encouraging people to feel part of the community in the understanding that the more they feel welcome, the less they'll feel the need to hold on to the past forever.

    So basically, my point is that adapting to life in another country is a process and people need to learn to be patient with themselves and with others who have not reached the same point as they have.

    On accents (since some comments raised this), i think It's not correct to assume that a person is being fake because their accent has changed. How easily a person's accent changes depends on what they had to begin with. For ex, children change accents more easily than adults, because it is not as ingrained. Similarly, some accents are stronger than others, a person who's grown up in a city speaking English will likely change accent more easily than someone who's grown up in a small town speaking their native language.

    Sorry for the extra-long comment. Like i said, this is a topic i could go into forever.

  11. ahhh…#1 folks make me laugh..I find it funny when i meet a Nigerian that has been in this country less than 5 years, faking an accent and pretending to have no association to Nigeria. I love when they then ask me where i am originally from and i say Nigeria, then adding that i was born and mostly raised in the states,but my blood is 100% Nigerian.

  12. â–ºAnya Posh

    I haven't been on the canal yet this winter (the weather certainly has been cooperative though!). I have to admit I don't skate much…but I do like walking on the canal every now and then. I didn't know you were in Ottawa!


    I like what you said about naturally picking up words and pronunciation from the new country; I totally agree with that. To me, that's part of the process of engaging with your new culture.

    Thank you for your comment.


    Oh thank you for your kind words and for commenting. I need to learn more about the UK being overly tolerant…I've heard that before but I'm unaware of the details.

    Beavertails are a yummy pastry-like treat…definitely worth trying!


    Thanks for sharing your perspective. I believe we all have in our heads what constitutes as assimilating or not and as long as you feel you have a balance of being open to your new surroundings while keeping the values of your culture that you feel are important, you're fine.

    Instances of ignorance or incorrect impressions can be used as teaching opportunities. If the person is receptive to your explanation that brides in the "old country" also wear white, for example, she will realize that her information is out of date and hopefully not make the same misstep again.

    â–ºmyne Whitman

    Happy New Year to you! Thanks for weighing in; it's much appreciated.


    "After all, no culture is superior but many are still work in progress." Beautifully said! That is the crux of it all, isn't it? No culture is superior to the other and those of us who are lucky to be exposed to another culture have an opportunity to take the best of it and share the best of our culture!


    (I've always loved your nickname!)

    Happy New Year too and thanks for taking the time to leave a very well thought out comment. I enjoyed reading it.

    Hmm, your theory is interesting and I think for many people this is precisely what happens. I especially love your point about how people need to exercise patience with themselves and with others, understanding that the process to achieve a good balance may take a different amount of time for different people.

    Oh, I know what you mean about accents. In my entry I was referring to adults whose accent has completely changed within weeks of arriving in a new country. Children are amazingly adaptable.

    â–ºChizzy D

    I guess all you can do is laugh! I just hope that we can all get to the point where we are proud of our origins and allow it to inspire us in our new country. Thanks for commenting!

  13. I totally agree with ya!

    Btw, I've tagged you for the Stylish and Versatile award.

    Please visit my blog to know what you are expected to do!


  14. I love this post. I recently relocated for school and have had some internal struggles with culture clashes and all. Especially with food and the Nigerians' easy demonstration of affection etc. But I've got an adventurous spirit and with God on my side I will graduate to a more balanced perspective.

    As for accents, I've noticed (with surprise)that my pronunciation of some words have changed without me consciously making an effort. guess that's part of assimilation. lol

    You've got an award on my blog…

  15. first time here and I absolutely love your posts…nice blog

    I think Culture is always going to be a major player in our world…where ever….we adapt simply by living in an environment over a period of time….

    (pardon me initial error)

  16. hmmm dint know u live in canada! This post just makes me miss canada even more—moved a year ago to the US and really I feel like I havent even gone half way in adjusting. To me, I really try, like I do make that extra effort but sometimes I get tired. I miss Canada jor!


    happy new yr GNG

  17. Hi GNG

    I also live in Canada, have been here for a while now, but I have to admit, I've been a little bit of everything, accent wise, I have a chameleon accent, the N.American accent just comes out from no where, lol, I've also been #3, when things were super difficult here, but now i'd say i'm a 2 i guess,

  18. I get really passionate about this topic. I hate it when people say that children raised abroad are "bad" if they have behavioral characteristics of people not living in Nigeria.

    WHAT GIVES??????

    If you don't want to surrounded by another culture and assimilate, then keep your ass at home. Period.

    I hate being called Americanized. What else am I supposed to be? Chinese-anized??????

  19. â–ºStandtall

    Thank you kindly!


    Oh…you're very kind…thanks for the award!


    Amen! I know you'll end this adventure with a nice balance…you'll certainly never be the same.

    I'll be checking your blog…thank you for the award.


    Thanks m'dear!

    â–ºChic Lounge

    Thanks for your kind words…I appreciate it.

    You're right about adapting…though some resist for quite a while (if not forever!).


    I'm a Canuck, yup! Where did you live in Canada and why on earth did you leave? (lol)

    Happy New Year to you and we promise to welcome you back with open arms if you ever decide to come back here! ;)


    Hello hello to another Canadian resident! Hope you're doing well.

    Accents can be easy to mimic but there's a difference between absorbing or integrating certain pronunciations into your own way of speaking and flat out mimicking the accent. I like different accents; maybe that's why those who switch their own to adopt another irk me…because it makes me want to say "there's nothing wrong with your accent!"

    I'm glad you've found your balance.


    "If you don’t want to surrounded by another culture and assimilate, then keep your ass at home. Period."

    Agreed. There must be a reason why someone chose to come to the new country…let's not pretend that the new home country is all bad!

    lol I never thought of being called Americanized as a bad thing; just as a different thing. I always tell those who say that what do they expect, given that I was born and raised in North America!

  20. No 2 is definitely my choice! You can integrate, but you shouldn't forget where you're from. Going to a new country means learning new things and meeting new people. It should be an exciting and pleasant experience!

  21. I know exactly what you mean my mom and dad, especially my mom are no. 3 alllll the way. shes always complaining about how america is "bad". and she doesnt want me to act american which makes NO sense. does she really think nigeria is safer than here america isnt the only coutry with bad things in it EVERY contry does stop bitching. she doesnt have any friends other then here igbo associates, she used to have a somali friend but she got pregant and moved away well that concludes my little rant

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