When you immigrate to a different country, you have three choices when it comes to how you interact with your new environment:
- immerse yourself completely in your new surroundings and culture, and adopt it as your new way of life
- immerse yourself in your new culture but cling to those aspects of your own culture that you don’t want to lose
- 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?