One of the things I experience in writing the digital nomads column every week is a reluctance from some of the subjects.
Many times, this reluctance isn’t because they don’t want to share their story, it’s because they sometimes feel like there’s nothing to share.
“I don’t think my life is interesting enough for a column,” is a sentiment people sometimes express to me.
Yet, in the end, our conversations show that you don’t need to be a rockstar to have a rockstar story.
This week, I spoke to *Beauty, a Nigerian woman who lives in Fargo, a city in North Dakota, United States.
If you watch a lot of TV shows, Fargo must sound familiar. It is the title of a critically acclaimed TV show that is now in its fourth season.
Movies and drama aside, here’s Beauty’s story:
“I was born in Lagos, Nigeria and from when I was about 3 years old, we moved to NEPA staff quarters in Ijede, Ikorodu. I never really had to go out for anything; even the schools were in the estate.”
At the time, the NEPA staff quarters, a residential estate for employees of the now defunct unit). Unlike most parts of Nigeria, the estate enjoyed constant electricity and was well planned.
It’s why Beauty says, “While I was growing up, I lived in a bubble. It was small, quiet and peaceful so unlike most people, I don’t have that chaotic Lagos experience.”
If her world was a bubble, there was no travel to expand its boundaries. “I did not travel a lot; we probably went to see my grandparents once or twice a year. The only cities I visited in Nigeria are Lagos, Ibadan and Abeokuta.”
That changed when Beauty’s mother decided that she should study in the U.S.
Today, thanks to the internet, traveling comes with a ton of research. What’s the weather like? What should you wear? Are the people warm? The questions are endless.
But seven year ago, she didn’t have any of these options. “I didn’t Google anything. I was just a child. My mum handled everything, even up to packing and on the day of my flight, I traveled, that was about it.”
In a few weeks, it will be seven years to the day Beauty first left Nigeria. What she remembers from the flight that left from Lagos to Atlanta is that it was long. A quick Google search says the flight time from Lagos to Atlanta is 13 hours.
“I didn’t go straight to my school. Instead, I first visited family in Cleveland, Tennessee which is about thirty minutes from Atlanta. I spent the rest of Christmas there before school resumed in January.”
The first shock in moving from Cleveland to Fargo is the weather. While Cleveland is hot most of the year, Fargo is cold.
“It generally doesn’t snow in Cleveland and it’s up there in the south. When I first got to the Fargo Moorhead area, I would see people walking around and they would look so casually dressed, I would worry they would die from the cold.”
At the time of writing this article, the weather in Fargo is -6 degrees celsius.
How cold does Fargo get? In Fargo, the summers are long and warm; the winters are frigid, snowy, and windy; and it is partly cloudy year round. Over the course of the year, the temperature typically varies from 2°F to 83°F and is rarely below -18°F or above 90°F.
“Before Fargo, I had never seen that much snow and I had never experienced that much cold.”
Beauty’s note: My first semester here was one of the worst winters we’ve ever had. There were constant blizzards. I would cry on my way to school, not because I was sad but because of the cold. Nothing prepares you for winter here.
Despite the cold welcome, Beauty says she soon got used to it and of course finding the appropriate clothing for the weather was a big help.
How does a city work around such extreme weather, especially with people needing public transportation? “People work overnight as soon as it’s winter; trucks roll out to plough the snow and to salt the roads. We’re well equipped to deal with it and everything works.”
“Unless there’s a bad blizzard, people go out every other day during winter.”
Despite the cold, Beauty says the people in Fargo are warm. “It’s a small, white, Christian, pro-Trump state. They’re very kind people here. It’s a small town and as much as people mind their business, they are friendly and warm.”
That warmth is why she says that before she got a car, she often hitched rides with friends, used Uber or took the bus. If you’re worried about freezing to death before the bus comes, fear not, bus stands are often like shelters and are equipped with heating.
As we talk, I can’t help but wonder how it must have been for a teenager to make the switch from Lagos to a small city in North Dakota.
“If we’re being honest, I didn’t make any transition. I lived in NEPA estate, which is small, peaceful and very quiet. It is exactly like where I live right now. It was moving from a small town to another small town.”
The only difference is in both small cities is that, in Fargo, she now has to pay for utilities like electricity and water.
But one place there was a big difference was in education. It’s a common theme with people who study outside Nigeria to point out the ways Nigeria’s educational system could be better.
“Here, learning is easy. You’re not asked to cram a lot of information and that’s one possible reason why people often do so well here. It’s easy to find your learning materials online, stay ahead of your class and catch up with school work on an online portal.”
It’s in contrast to Nigeria where university students have been home for nine months because of an industrial strike. Yet, in the end, Beauty says she would like to return to Nigeria at some point in the future.
For now, she’ll sidestep rating Lagos and Fargo, mostly because her life in Lagos was a lot different from the average Nigerian.