By Adanna Obinna
I was born in the Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, in August 1996 during the waning years of the Abacha regime. At the time, my father was a rising young diplomat. I had just turned two when we left the bustling streets of Abacha for Tokyo, Japan. Two years later, we returned back home to Nigeria for a brief stint before moving to Windhoek, Namibia. Before the year had passed, my father was promoted yet again and we were off to Europe where I would spend my formative years in Paris, Vienna, and Budapest.
Growing up in Europe had its many challenges, and having to return back to Nigeria every four years and back again to Europe every three years did not help! I was approximately seven years old when my African-European—“Afropean”— life started. I was not just an Afropean but also a TCK, aka a Third Cultured Kid. As a Third Cultured Kid, you find yourself growing up in an environment completely different from that of your parents. Knowing that I would leave eventually, I did not allow myself to have real and strong friendships.
As a child, the biggest struggle I faced was trying to fit in—something I still struggle with now as a young adult. I was constantly surrounded by people who simply did not understand how it feels to navigate two different identities. While I attempted to assimilate into my new surroundings, I did not want to abandon my Nigerian roots. In the fourth grade, I recall singing and dancing to a popular Nigerian song only to receive a look of scorn and barbed compliment from a classmate who claimed that the song I was singing was annoying, and that I should sing something “less African.” In retrospect, these comments were ignorant and racist, yet at nine years old, I desperately wanted to fit in—to be “less African.” I had to be “less African” by not having long bold braids, or speaking with a more audible American accent. More painful was the fact that this rejection came not only from Europeans, but from fellow Africans as well. While my European classmates told me that I was too African, the Africans thought I was too European. They mocked me for my inability to speak my native language Igbo or cook any of the traditional dishes.
Despite the difficulties of navigating the in-between, my upbringing across France, Austria, and Hungary exposed me to beautiful, rich, and varied cultures. I still remain awestruck by the architecture of Paris, where, as a child, every building seemed to resemble a storybook castle with their imposing facades and decorative accents. In Paris, I would picnic in the park adjoining the Eiffel Tower, tour the world’s top museums, or watch talented street artists perform. However, my life in Paris was not always sunshine. I was made fun of for my African accent, one that my African “friends” claimed I did not have. Vienna, where I spent most of my primary school years, is the city of classical music and art, of rhythm and order. Austrians may not be the warmest people, but their propensity for cleanliness and organization lead to it ranking as the number one city to live in in the world. I did enjoy it and my friends even made it better, because they accepted me for who I was, whether I was too African or less. They enjoyed listening to my music and how I spoke was definitely not a problem, as long as it was English.
Compared to Paris and Vienna, where my circles primarily consisted of people who felt the same way as I did, they accepted me and taught me how to not care about what people might perceive of me. Budapest was a mecca of diversity with people from myriad backgrounds. Even within the city’s African population, there was a considerable amount of diversity from across the continent: Nigerians, South Africans, Ethiopians, Somalians, you name it.
When I moved to Hungary, with a wide range of Africans and a wide range of non-Africans, to be honest I was really scared. I was not ready to try and fit in. Believe me I tried to escape; I tried to look for other medical schools in Europe that had fewer Africans and probably more Europeans or vise-versa. I was not quite ready yet to try and fit in, but I still found myself where I am today, here studying medicine in Hungary. I finally made my decision, I finally decided that I was not going to be flexible for anyone, they were not the ones living my life for me, but I was! It was me who mattered and not anyone else. I made the decision to be “too European” and “too African” because I am an Afropean!
Life as an Afropean is amazing but just like everything in this little universe of ours, it has its positives and negatives. It is definitely a life I would not give up for anything.
Read more on Adanna’s blog