The New Class of ReturneesI have been thinking about this for a while, perhaps understandably, since I now fit into this group. The new class of returnees are people who studied abroad and have returned home to live and work. In my parents' generation, it was fairly commonplace to leave Nigeria to study abroad and return once you had completed your course. The 1980s and beyond, though, saw increasing numbers of people staying abroad once they finished school, getting jobs there and settling there (be it in the United States, England, Canada, or wherever they found themselves). This phenomenon grew worse in the 1990s, during the bad old days of Abacha. Now, however, as the country has settled into a democratically-elected government and the economy seems to be on the up and up, many of our 'studied-abroads' are now choosing to return home and capitalise on the fast-developing economy and consequent money-making opportunities to be had here.
I don't want to be glib and say that everything is honky-dory. It's not, because in order to take advantage of many of these opportunities, you do have to have a certain amount of personal connections. Money also helps, as does having that coveted foreign education, which all seems extremely unfair to me (although in many ways I will benefit from this - not yet though as I am still a lowly youth corper). I can only imagine how outraged I would feel having worked with an organization for several years and thinking that I was progressing the career ladder quite nicely thank-you, only to have some young pup hired as MY BOSS (!!!!!!!) just because they have that valuable degree from a foreign university, which I was unable to afford. Okay, I know I am over-simplifying things, after all there must be intellectual and leadership traits which companies look for in their would-be employees. Right?
One of the things I loved the most about my life in the States was that I was responsible for myself in everyway (and yes, this has its pluses and minuses). While I had to rely on myself for anything I wanted, I felt a strong sense of independence and pride in my ability to make things happen for myself, go out and buy what I wanted when I wanted, and make my own decisions without having to pay heed to what anyone thought I should be doing. As anyone who is familiar with the African culture, that independence pretty much goes out the window once you return home. At home, as a returnee, you definitely have access to the better jobs, probably a higher-flying lifestyle than you did in the West, as well as family support, but there are all the strings that come attached with these. There's still so much that I'm reflecting on and getting used to, and I wonder if I will ever be fully enveloped into the folds of the Nigerian society the way I once almost was (I've never thought of myself as fully integrated into any community that I have been part of anyway and maybe it's that outside status that makes me drawn to writing about what I observe).
The reason this subject of returnees is on my mind right now is because of an event I attended this weekend. It was an opening of a boutique/gift shop cum bazaar in a high-brow lounge in Ikoyi. Many of the people in attendance were obviously 'studied-abroads' and the air was thick with the sound of foreign accents (particularly British public school accents). There was the casual mention of flying to London for the Christmas and birthday celebrations, and vigorous assertions to how brilliant life was at home as long as you can get away every few months. I don't know …… I studied abroad too, but I’m not sure that I could relate to much of the discussion going on around me.