A cultural learning curve

Children's Hands on a Globe --- Image by © Don Hammond/Design Pics/Corbis

Children’s Hands on a Globe — Image by © Don Hammond/Design Pics/Corbis

I arrived in Canada when I was just about to turn 18 on May 5, 2005. Things were not as I expected; maybe it was because I landed in Kelowna, a small city. I experienced a bit of a cultural shock, coming from a city of 14 million black people to a city of 150,000. Kelowna had a very small black population, maybe a total of 50. I was a bit disappointed, but not discouraged. I was born and raised in Nigeria and my only real experience with the outside world was a visit to London, England. Even then, I was always surrounded by Nigerians. So, I was a bit naïve about the outside world and how it operated.

I experienced a rude awakening my first month in Canada. I remember going to The Bay to look for shoes and came across a pair of Tommy Hilfiger runners that I fell in love with. I asked the cashier for the price, and she informed me they were $109. I went across the mall to my bank to retrieve cash and returned to pick up my shoes. At the point of sale, she told me it would be $122. As you can imagine, I was pissed. How did the price jump? I accused her of being racist and told her I wasn’t a fool. You have to understand that I had gone through certain things before this occurred. I was the only black person in school, and I felt out of place, like I didn’t belong. I received stares on the street, and people pointed at me. I once had a girl at college ask me if I wore shoes in Africa, or if I lived in a hut. These incidents just kept accumulating, so I took my anger and frustration out on the woman at The Bay. It took everyone, including the manager, to convince me that taxes weren’t included in the sticker price. You can only imagine how stupid I felt. Some nights I cried and wished I was back at home with familiar people. Some friends treated me like a new toy to show their friends up. That is not to say that it was all bad. I met some amazing people who were really interested in my culture, and I always got free drinks at the club.

My biggest challenge was not understanding the financial culture in Canada. I got my first credit card in 2006; I can say that was one of the biggest mistakes I have made. I spent my invisible money without care. I couldn’t believe I was given a card that would give me whatever I wanted with just a swipe. I was in heaven, but my debt wasn’t. I never paid any of my bills on time; I felt the interest rate wasn’t such a big deal. If only I understood the repercussions of what I was doing. Who knew what credit cards were in Nigeria? My ignorance cost me. I had this new found wealth that I didn’t know what to do with; my spending went out of control. My allowance then dropped from $3000 to $1500, and I was in trouble. I didn’t know how to curtail my spending, and my credit rating dropped as I stopped paying my debts. Once you start slipping it gets harder to get back-up.

Being an immigrant in Canada is hard without proper guidance. You always feel you have something to prove, that you are more than your skin color, and that you have to conform in order to be accepted. My accent had to change; so did my mannerisms. It’s like playing catch up; you are always likely to be behind. Canada is a beautiful place, but it still has a lot of work to do when it comes to integrating immigrants