Irene, what is your background? I have a undergraduate degree in International Studies and Diplomacy from the University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria. Now I am a student at Royal Roads University in their Conflict Analysis and Management Masters program. Diplomacy has a connection with conflict because you have to negotiate and bargain on a diplomatic basis.
Tell me about your family. I am the first-born in my family. I also have two brothers and a sister. One of my brothers is studying at the University of Winnipeg—he travelled there alone from Nigeria at the age of seventeen! My other brother lives in Singapore and my younger sister in still in school in Nigeria, but I hope she will come here one day. My mother and father are both still in Nigeria.
Is Irene your birth name? Yes! But actually, normally, in the African tradition, when a first child is born, a lot of people come and give names. So, your grandma, your parents, everybody just gives names, and because we have such big families you can have, like, twenty names! My dad gave me my name because he was schooled in France and his best friend in France was named Irene. It means "peace".
My dad gave me my name because he was schooled in France and his best friend in France was named Irene. It means "peace".
What has your experience in Canada been like so far? You know some people say they face things like segregation but my experience has been awesome. I just feel so free here. I have a bunch of good classmates and I feel like I'm really integrated into the system, even my friends say I've integrated so fast. My best friend from Nigeria who has also lived here said, "Irene, do you know that you are just so integrated into this culture. You're going to the lake! When did you start going to the lake? Did you even go to the lake back in Africa?"
"Irene, do you know that you are just so integrated into this culture? You're going to the lake! When did you start going to the lake? Did you even go to the lake back in Africa?"
Who helped you the most when you first arrived? My brother came from
Winnipeg to help me get started but truly it was my landlady who taught
me how to do everything: how to get my MSP [Medical Services Plan], how
to use the bus, plus things around the house, like how to fan paper under
the smoke alarm when it goes off! She had me try all different foods and
introduced me to "traditional Canadian food", like turkey and mashed
potatoes. She made me feel just so loved. I really appreciate her.
My landlady had me try all different foods and
introduced me to "traditional Canadian food",
like turkey and mashed potatoes.
What do you miss most from home? The food! And my family of course. In
Canada, I don't really see the family culture. Back in Africa, we see my
uncles, uncles, uncles and aunties, aunties, aunties—oh, she's my auntie!—and
you trace it all back; you're all connected. But it's not like that here. In Africa, a community is family. For example, you are from Langford and everyone living in Langford would be your brother or someone from Goldstream would be family with anyone else from Goldstream. That sense of community doesn't happen in Canada, so I really miss that, that feeling of extended family. In Canada, family usually just means husband, wife, and kids.
In Africa, a community is family. For example, you are from Langford and everyone living in Langford would be your brother...
Have you picked up any Canadian habits? Sure! In Canadian culture you say "thank you" when you get off the bus; in Nigeria, you just get off the bus. And the little comments people make here, like "have a nice day" and "you're so sweet" have made me feel different. I've picked up habits like these!
Is there anything you find strange or funny about Canadian culture? So many things! Let me see. Well, what I personally consider funny is the style of dressing—there are so many different styles of dressing here! But that's not the strangest thing. The second thing is the idea that when you go on a date here, you each pay your own bill. That does not happen, would never happen, in Nigeria. The African man is going to foot all of your bills! But here! I can't believe it. I told my friends here that this "sharing the bill" culture must be changed!
When you go on a date here, you each pay your own bill. That does not happen, would never happen, in Nigeria. The African man is going to foot all of your bills!
What are some misconceptions people here have about Nigeria? Some people think Nigeria is a dangerous place because of the Boko Haram. I understand because I used to think that way about places like Afghanistan. But I have a friend from Afghanistan who told me that where she lives, she doesn't see those things [in the news]. Now I know how she feels. People think the whole of Nigeria is a dangerous place but back in Africa, I lived in southern Nigeria and Boko Haram is in the north, about a 16-hour drive from where I lived. It is unsafe there; I can't even go there. I will say that. There used to be military checkpoints in the south but the new president got rid of them. The south is very very safe. And very busy—with shopping and everything, just like Vancouver. Benin City is actually more like Victoria, very calm.
What have been some of your challenges here in Canada? My journey has been full of challenges. My classmates are very experienced, some of them are naval officers or government officials. I'm so young and don't have as much experience in my field. It was hard on my confidence. Another challenge I had was with "critical thinking". In Nigeria, critical thinking is not taught in schools. Here in Canada, people grow up with that knowledge, so you don't have to think about how to do it when you are reading but I had to learn how. And I had to learn a new writing style and APA formatting and all that was a huge part—another course on its own! With this fast-paced environment, I had to buckle up so fast and study extra hours, sleeping only a few hours a night, to make sure my studies went well.
Another challenge I had was with "critical thinking". In Nigeria, critical thinking is not taught in schools. Here in Canada, people grow up with that knowledge, so you don't have to think about it.
What advice to have for others who want to immigrate to Canada? You must have a goal and not just a goal, but know what you want to achieve from that goal and what's driving that goal, so that goal keeps you going. For example, I've come to Canada because I want my future to be bright, or I want to make money, or I want people to know of me—I want to make a name for myself. People have different dreams and goals. Once you have that, even when you are feeling down or something is going wrong with you life in Canada—it's not always a straight path—your goal keeps you going. If you don't have a goal when you come to Canada, you are screwed.
Once you have that, even when you are feeling down or something is going wrong with your life in Canada—it's not always a straight path—your goal keeps you going.
You should also not seclude yourself when you are here. If you want to seclude yourself, society will help you do that because, trust me, if you are not ready to interact, you are going to be on your own. You have to come out and see what's happening.
MEET IRENE OGBOMIDA
HIKING VANCOUVER ISLAND WITH RYAN LEBLANC
TRAILING SPOUSES: MARRIAGES-ON-THE-MOVE
Having arrived in Victoria B.C. in August 2014 to attend Royal Roads University, Irene Ogbomida is focused on achieving the personal and professional goals she set for herself before leaving Nigeria. Sitting down with Fiona Bramble on an early November afternoon in the Juan De Fuca Library in Colwood, Irene shares her enthusiasm for her new life.
hometown Benin City, Nigeria
languages English, Enwan, Yoruba, Benin
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