I was born and grew up in the city of Lagos, Nigeria.
My primary, secondary and higher institution of learning were all in the same city, Lagos. I was fortunate to have my mandatory service year in the eastern part of the country, Anambra, Nigeria. I also had the opportunity of working and living up north Nigeria, in Abuja for a few years. I later studied in the UK and had the opportunity of travelling for training and holidays to a few countries. I must say that living within your country and going out for a few weeks or months is not the same as living abroad.
How it all started for me
In my pursuit of career growth, I attended an interview for the post of Chief Financial Officer in 2015 which I was not successful. I requested for feedbacks because I thought I did very well at the interview. The main feedback was that I needed a multicultural experience. So, I started looking for an international assignment within the MTN Group. I saw MTN Liberia at the bottom of the group ranking regarding monthly reporting and requested to go there to help for six (6) months on secondment. My request was granted because my need for multicultural experience coincides with the need for my experience in the MTN operation. Within two weeks I was on the plan to Monrovia.
Initial shock and challenges
The initial shock was what was available on the internet when I searched for Liberia. Everywhere was full of the stories of ‘Ebola’ and the civil wars of the country. Families and friends challenged my rationale for exposing myself to go out there. On arrival at the airport in Monrovia and driving through to the city to the hotel, I must admit that I questioned myself a bit and rechecked my motive of coming out. I betted on my conviction that it was the right thing to do for my career development and my personal belief that my experiences could be useful to help the MTN operation do better kept me to stay and check this out. I was further shocked when I resumed at the head office and assessed the people and control the environment. This was understandable coming from the grandeurs of MTN Nigeria environments.
Stepping out of my comfort zone
Moving to Liberia is not just stepping out of my comfort zone – it was more like jumping. The challenges range from the change of environment, managing the rules of washing hands everywhere and not having handshakes because of Ebola, what to eat, a new team with different competencies, capabilities, etc. and the sudden surge in workload and work pressure. Luckily, the weather of Monrovia is much like that of Lagos, except that it seems to rain a bit more in Monrovia. The part I never anticipated was the language challenges. You will read up that 70% of the population of Liberian speaks English-based pidgin, also known as ‘Kolokwa’, but you will not know how much this affects their tongue even when they are speaking the proper English language. I needed to listen too carefully and always hanging to the lips of the speakers, and always seeking someone to repeat or clarify what was said. It was a whole new experience.
Developing more cultural awareness
It is important to know that we are different people especially in values, beliefs, and rules of conduct which impact the range of accepted behaviors from one societal group to another. Knowing this requires us to respect and pay attention to differences in culture when you live abroad. There is a dangerous temptation to belittle people or disrespect them because things are not the same from what we know or compared to where we came from. It is not advisable to fall into this trap because it may have bad consequences, especially how the people will react to us when we fall short. One thing that helps is good manners. I always practice good manners and ask plenty of questions, from the locals and those among them who have travelled out too, to understand the culture of the people of Liberia. My respect for everyone makes them accept and tolerate some of my cultural differences with them.
Better career development
Working in Liberia gives me an entirely new perspective after working all my life in Nigeria. I could bring to bear all my knowledge and experiences, and it gives me opportunities for new learnings as well. I came as a Senior Financial Operations Manager. After rotating through all the roles in Financial Operations at MTN Nigeria, I still had to learn how to streamline the processes, work with very small team size, and ensure that the control environment is fortified. It was a great opportunity to shape everything I met differently and learned new things altogether. It gave the opportunity to see, end-to-end, how the finance function works. The visibility opportunity that comes with the experience is enormous. Different teams within the MTN Group depends on my expertise to get things done and get things out of Liberia. The opportunity provided the opportunity of expanding my professional connections both within and outside MTN.
Of course, I left a whole life behind in Nigeria to come to Liberia. I am married with three children. I have families, friends, and work colleagues in Nigeria. It is a different thing when you work during the day and return home at night, and have the weekends for families and friends, from when you work and live abroad. Apparently, I could not enjoy the same level of closeness I kept with families and friends when I was in my native country but I mindfully set-up communication plans, including social media engagements, to ensure I still reach out to everyone and keep the relationship as refreshing as it could. For my immediate family, we talk several times a day. I planned our meeting up once every two months in the beginning. If I do not go visiting, they come to me. This is easy because we are on the same coast of West Africa. I ensure I spend most of the time with the family at every opportunity. My relationships reduced in quantity but I tried to improve the quality at every engagement opportunity.
What I love most about life in Monrovia, Liberia
What I love most about life in Monrovia is the people. They do not look any different from Nigerians. They are very good people. They are very accommodating and most of them have travelled around so much. There are sixteen (16) tribes in Liberia. They said my ways and approaches put me among the Kru tribe. Liberia has one of the longest coastlines in West Africa. This provides many beautiful beaches in the country, especially in Monrovia. The beaches provide havens for me to relax at weekends and holidays. They are beautiful beaches with good foods in their restaurants. I cannot get enough of Liberia beaches. I go from one to another.
Biggest lesson I have learned while living abroad
So many lessons I have learned living in Monrovia. The lessons range from managing myself, staying at home and minimizing exposing myself, managing different culture, different teams, different environment, to managing the work pressure and demands that suddenly increased more than double. The biggest lesson I have learned is to have an independent and open mind to the exciting and terrifying challenges of the new environment. It is much difficult to live and work outside my comfort zone, but I can empathize, understand, and manage other people, and manage myself and my expectations, better because I keep an open mind. I find excuses where I cannot find reasons for the ways people or things are. I always find ways to add values to things, add value to people and add value to myself. This works as I continue to create positive, forward-looking, and optimistic picture in the minds of others.