On August 9th, 2001, at age 15, I boarded a flight from Lagos, Nigeria, to Frankfurt, Germany. It was the start of my now 21-year journey of living abroad. It feels like such a huge milestone that deserves to be celebrated. My experiences over the past years have shaped who I am and changed the trajectory of my life for the better.
In this blog post, I will reflect on the pivotal moments in my life over the past 21 years of living abroad. Check out my other Her Relocation blog posts about my experiences living in Nigeria, Germany, and the US.
2001: Starting a new life
Moving from Nigeria to Germany was the start of my new life. I was excited and did not know what to expect. I had visited Germany the year before I moved for a few weeks, but everything was still foreign to me. Although I was born in Germany and spoke German in my very early years, I knew nothing about what it meant to live there. And to top it all, I was moving alone without my sister or mum.
2002: Becoming Homeless
One of the moments that shocked my system was not having my own accommodation for over six months in Germany. Luckily I was able to sleep on my friend's couch while I saved to be able to afford my place. I was babysitting to make ends meet and needed some time to move eventually.
2003: New beginnings
In early 2003, my sister moved to Germany, and we moved out into our own. I started working at my first part-time job in Germany to pay for my sister and me to live our lives. Although we didn't have enough, we were satisfied with our lives. I still remember us spending time in our tiny hostel room.
2004: Getting my footing
I felt like after my rocky start; I was finally making progress in my life. The first two years were spent learning German and setting the foundation to study in Germany. I was finally able to start studying for my official first degree. During my studies, I worked part-time.
2005: Living life as much as I could
Although things were better for me, I felt stuck. I was working part-time jobs to pay our bills and had my own small apartment, but I was not progressing in the course I was studying. I was trying everything I could to make it all work.
2006: Going back home
I returned to Nigeria for the first time in five years since I moved to Germany. In addition, I got to spend the summer in the UK. This led me to reevaluate where I was in life, and I decided to make a scary move. I moved from Saarbrucken, where I had lived for almost five years, to Trier. Although it was only an hour away, I left my social network behind and had to start afresh.
2007: Restarting my life
Moving to Trier was the 2nd time I had a fresh start in Germany. I remember sitting in my new apartment and crying. This was the loneliest I had ever felt in my life. I felt very frustrated that I had not achieved the goals that I had set even after six years in Germany. My determination to do everything I could to make progress, especially in my studies, was stronger than ever.
2008: Feeling a sense of normalcy and then not
After all the setbacks I had experienced, I finally felt I was making progress, but then I hit another bump in the road. I failed a class that made me have to change the course I was studying for the third time. With the learnings I gathered from the other pivots I made in my life, I could make a quick change and continue studying.
2009: Running to the finish line
Although I had to change my course again, this time was different; I could finally see the finish line. I had gathered enough class credits through the years and only needed a few classes to complete my degree. I am very grateful to the people who gave me the chance to complete an internship at a bank and an airline. My time there solidified my career path as a project and program manager. And to add a cherry on the top, I started a long-distance relationship with my husband.
2010: Graduating from university and earning my first degree
After nine years of being in Germany and seven years of studying, I finally graduated with a Bachelors degree in Business Information systems. It was a huge milestone and an achievement that I worked very hard for. After I graduated, I started my first full-time job as a project manager in a mobile agency.
2011: Experiencing my first medical challenge and becoming an aunt
For all my adolescent and young adult life, I experienced extreme pain during my menstrual cycles. And about 15 years later, I had to be operated on to remove multiple large fibroids. Even 11 years later, I still remember the horror on my doctor's face when she did the scans and immediately referred me to the University hospital for the operation within a week. Interestingly, one of the happiest moments in my life also happened at the time. My twin sister gave birth to my niece 11 days after my operation. In addition, my relationship was going strong, and I got to visit my now husband in the US for the first time.
2012: Planting the seed for my career growth
I decided to start my Masters while I worked full-time because I knew it would help me progress in my career. I was not in the financial place to pay full for my course, and I remember calling a friend to lend a part of my first tuition payment. I saved up for my upcoming payments and was able to pay my fees in full from then on. I really prioritized studying while I worked full time and made a lot of great progress.
2013: Finishing my masters degree
The sense of fulfillment I had when I completed my 2nd degree in record time cannot be described in words. Especially with the difficulty I faced with my first degree, it was huge to be able to get my new degree while I worked full-time successfully. I had accomplished another professional goal that I set for myself.
2014: Enjoying life and planning a new start
I got to go on vacation with my now husband; we spent time in Florida and on a cruise to the Bahamas. This was my first real vacation that was not centered around visiting family. I remember going back to Germany and feeling like the time had come for me to embark on my next huge adventure and move to another country.
2015: Moving to the US
I jumped on the opportunity to relocate to the US with the company I was working for then. This was one of the scariest moves I made and one that totally changed my life's trajectory for the best. I moved to the US in February 2015 and started my new life. Leaving Germany was harder than I thought after 14 years.
2016: Finding my footing in the US
Settling into my new home went very well. Having my husband, who had already mastered living in the US as an immigrant many years before me, made things easier for me. I focused on growing my career by investing in learning with classes at UC Berkeley and working with a career coach. It was clear to me that I had to learn other skills to thrive professionally in the US.
2017: Living my best life
After two years of living in the US, I was enjoying life both personally and professionally. I had the opportunity to take on a significant task at work that changed my career trajectory. Leading a Program Management Office (PMO) exposed me to people I typically would not have gotten to work with, and it also helped me develop new skills.
2018: Returning to Nigeria and Germany
I got to go back to Nigeria after 12 years after my last visit in 2006. We got to see family in Nigeria for a wedding and then go back to Germany for another. Going back to visit my two home countries helped me see how far I had come since I left them. Spending time with family after so many years was so much fun. I knew it was time for me to transition from my job to a new job and intensified my search. One of the challenges I had to navigate as an Immigrant working in the US was the dependency on my work visa. Things came together, and I started a new job at a great company.
2019: Trying to balance my success
With great success in my personal and professional life, I struggled with health issues while trying to find my place at a new company. One thing I had learned from the 18 years of living abroad was that I had to be in a place where my contribution was valued, and I could grow. Barely six months into being at this new company, I started looking for a new role. About another five months later, I found a position that aligned with my life's mission, and things started falling into place.
2020: Becoming a mother
Interestingly, 2020 was one of the most chaotic years in many of our lives. I found out I was pregnant in early March when the world started falling apart with the global pandemic. In October, our son was born, and my life changed forever. My journey to motherhood was smoother than I expected. I thought it would be more complicated due to the health challenges I had experienced nine years earlier. I am more than thankful for the opportunity to raise our son.
2021: Integrating motherhood and my career
When I got back from my maternity leave in February 2021, I was on fire. My desire to be a great mom and have a successful career was strong. I was doing a job that I enjoyed and was determined to continue growing. I had to learn how to integrate being a mother and thriving professionally. There were many ups and downs on the way. Thankfully the ups outweighed the downs.
2022: Living my best life
In my 21st year of living abroad, I am at a place where everything has come together nicely in my personal and professional life. There are still lessons that I learn and situations that I do not expect. However, I know that this is where I am destined to be. I have a great family, an amazing job, a sense of purpose, and amazing people around me.
Reflecting on my journey over the 21 years makes me very proud and appreciative of how far I have come. There have been many complex challenges that I faced and so many great moments that I have experienced. I am very excited to see what other countries I get to live in and where I will be in another 21 years.
Pictures speak louder than words - 21 years of my life