Return of an expat: concerns and opportunities

 

There are many blogs and YouTube videos showing what the rest of the world gets wrong

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Source credit: http://www.generationcedar.com/main/2013/02/the-true-meaning-of-home-lies-in-our-true-identity.html

about our beautiful country, some of it funny, some of it quite horrifying. As a young African explorer and traveler, I have been asked all the clichéd questions… “Do I have pet lion?” or even worse – “Have you walked to Nigeria?” Because you know, it’s all in Africa. Here, I want to give you a

taste of the cultural clashes and surprising culture shocks you might experience should you start using your student passport seriously.

Firstly, I think we South African are more prepared to travel the world, because we are regularly exposed to multiple cultures and languages back home. When I did my MSc degree in Korea (the “good” one!), I discovered quite the language barrier. English is not an official language over there, and very few schools use English as a medium of instruction. But, when I mentioned that South Africa was multilingual society and the average South African speaks more than 3 languages, people were flabbergasted. It made me realise how much of a mono-culture Korea was, and I missed our crazy diversity. I became involved with the South African Students(?) in Korea group – not to cling to my past, but to find people that shared my ‘rainbow nation’ mind-set. It was here that we had a space to discuss our academic concerns and speculate about opportunities that existed back home. It was during our meetings that we laughed and swapped stories; we used humour to mask the pain and ridicule that we felt being outsiders in this mono-cultural society.

Source credit: https://kr.pinterest.com/pin/109001253456956116/

When I later moved to Canada, though, I was not ready for the whole new set of expectation and questions that I’d face in North America. Here, academics were generally concerned with the life quality of South African university students (the #feesmustfall movement has captured the world’s attention). I must admit it was refreshing to converse about the status quo in south Africa – even though I admit I’m not an expert on the topic.

I find there are major differences between the east and west- notably, in the east it is often asked, “When are you going back to your country?” and here I get asked, “ So, have you decided where you will settle in Canada?” It is always shocking when I tell my colleagues that I have every intention of going back home (why would I stay in a place that gets over a metre of snow on random Tuesday- THAT is another story).

Source credit: https://kr.pinterest.com/pin/109001253456956116/

There is a lovely mix of people within the South African diaspora community: some who have no intention of returning home and those of us who recognise the potential impact/significance of our contributions to the South Africa academic landscape. Those of us wanting to return often share similar concerns- Have we been gone too long? What opportunities exist for someone with a foreign qualification? What is the academic landscape like now and how is it evolving? Is there a niche for my work? Would we be able to integrate back into mainstream south Africa? What challenges await us? When you have been gone for as long as I have, these questions are enough to give you mild anxiety and keep you up at night.

My people, our food

I only have one word to describe Africa, DIVERSE. In this continent there exists more than eight thousand dialects spoken among three thousand tribes that to me is diversity defined! In the past three months I have had the pleasure to experience a bit of that diversity through living with housemates from Zimbabwe, Uganda and of course the rainbow nation. Come to think of it even the chickens had a bit of diversity (in terms of behaviour)… I mean there was one naughty cage. I tell you, those birds would even poke my pants! And then there were my sweet babies, always well behaved (laughs).

Food production in process

Food matters at house no. 24

Anyway, my housemates and I have a lot in common, maybe because we are all students or it could be that our similarities emanate from the fact that we are all nourished by the African sun and our history is stained with the rich soil that produce precious stones. Nonetheless there is a significant difference in the food we eat. Believe you me in this regard (p ˂ 0.005). My house mates from Zimbabwe prefer SADZA (pap) on any day to most dishes. To them it’s their thing and without it they are “food insecure”. On the other hand there’s me, I always feel “food insecure” when I have no vegetables and of course meat. We sometimes explore each other’s meals but what I realised was, though I may like how each dish tastes, I may not necessarily regard it as food for nourishment. Same goes for the rest of the house. I never though diversity would be evident even in food. A simple meal (well, simple in my view) is complicated and sometimes unacceptable to some of my housemates because they didn’t grow up eating such foods and it won’t fulfil their hunger.

There is always hope

Yes, our food is different, but there is beauty in it. I guess as researchers we are trying to find an answer to the same question in different ways for various communities; these ways based on the environment, availability and acceptability of the foods we are so desperate to produce. The quest for food security in Africa is not new, neither is it impossible to attain. I believe food security challenges on our continent can be solved through our diverse strategies to make Africa better — research being one of them. For that reason I will continue to pursue excellence and appreciate diversity in even in food. It’s only been a year into my research about animal production and already I’m thinking it’s too late to quit now. There must be something I can do to redefine the state of our continent… (Sigh).

Food and more food is what I’m striving for.