Girl Gone International (GGI) interviewed Rosemary to discuss her experiences in finding love abroad and outside her comfort zone.
Meet Rosemary Ajuka, a former radio host, activist and innovator. She currently works in International Marketing. Although she lives in the USA, Rosemary is originally from Nigeria. Recently she found the love of her life (of the four-legged variety, his name is Gouda) – who happens to come with a human who’s also pretty great.
You’ve found love ‘abroad’ and ‘at home’ – what are the differences?
Dating at home was a piece of cake. When you’re at home, you let your guard down and are more relaxed. It’s your hometurf, after all – you know the rules and what to expect. I held “my people” to lower standards and was more likely to make excuses for any unpleasant experiences. I felt like I had a pretty good idea how the “dating game” worked and was less judgemental, putting things off as “that’s just how it is”.
I’ve caught myself being more judgemental of people’s behavior when dating abroad. I’ve had to remind myself to be more open and flexible – and to not compare everything to “home” so that I could embrace the unfamiliar things coming my way. I’ve learned to communicate my needs more clearly when I meet a new person to avoid complications. There’s also that cultural/language barrier that exists when finding love abroad, so things easily get lost in translation.
What was different about the partners you found abroad?
People generally tend to feel like they have more to prove to you when you are in their country. We like to present the best versions of us and of our culture when meeting someone who’s “not from around here”. Back home no one had to show me the beauty of my own country. Whereas abroad, people are always looking to introduce you to places and aspects of their culture that they hope might impress you. They also seem more excited – probably because you are different and new. The way you speak, your culture, your thoughts and opinions – it’s all very foreign and very exciting.
What was different about you when you moved abroad?
When you move somewhere new, you’re more guarded because you’re in uncharted territory. You have to be more careful and I have found that I’m more likely to look someone up on the internet before I go on a date or even just meet a potential friend. Even though I’ve found myself more guarded abroad, I also feel more free when away from home. There are no pressures and expectations because no one knows me in whatever strange place I am. I found myself dating outside what I thought was “my type” and to my surprise, I enjoyed the variety and it was a very freeing experience. Also, because I enjoy meeting new people, whenever I moved abroad, I went on a good number of dates to get a “lay of the land”. I have come to realize that no matter where you go in the world, some behaviours are universal – men are just men! This is of course not disputing that some stereotypes have shown themselves to be true.
What can you do to find love abroad?
Be open. Mix with the locals. Immersion is key. Take advantage of the internet and be prepared. Put yourself out there, find a local Girl Gone International community or join a Meetup group. “Curate” your people by thinking about what you like or would like them to be interested in (books, live music, sports, etc.) and go places where you will find like-minded people.
Self awareness is important; know what you want and put yourself on the path to find it. Dating apps can be a hit or miss but it’s a handy tool these days, so try different ones to find one that is suited to what you want. Of course, do be careful. Maybe don’t just go to a bar and start a conversation with random strangers – but hey, for some people that works, too!
How do you make sure you navigate the cultural hiccups?
Again, openness and self awareness are key. You should know local dating customs and be open to differences. For example, in Nigeria, most times, guys pay for everything when on a date and some guys even feel insulted when you try to pay. Whereas, in many other places, a guy might be ticked off if you are not prepared to pay your bill on a date.
My advice is to talk to other women in the city where you are and learn these differences and avoid potential pitfalls. Respect other people’s boundaries and culture, but don’t compromise on what’s important to you. Make sure you know your boundaries and stick to them. Don’t bend yourself into shapes you don’t like.
Communicate – Talk about these cultural differences and how you feel about them. Be honest from the start. Don’t be afraid to mention things that surprise you or make you uncomfortable, but be respectful. They might have similar questions for you.
In addition, I have found that it is often easier to interact with internationally minded people. If they’ve never left their small town, what will the two of you have to talk about? Internationally minded people are more likely to be open to ideas foreign to them, just like you are open to cultural ideas different to yours, because you have been to places other than where you were born. These kinds of people are the most flexible and are more likely to understand you when you say you want to move – again. Find someone curious about the world. We are GGIs after all!
Extra: How was dating foreigners in your home compared to their home?
When I dated foreigners in Nigeria, I felt more in charge somehow and I was always very curious to know how they perceived my country and experienced the culture. There’s something refreshing about seeing familiar things through a stranger’s eyes. When abroad however, I was more curious to learn about their culture. Something else I found was that, when at home, I knew they would leave and I would stay, because that was my “home”. I never had expectations of “happily ever afters” and I was also unwilling to go away with them when asked as I had my life here and didn’t want to have to go start over somewhere else at a man’s behest. So at home I was expecting them to leave, but when abroad it was me who might leave again, which meant I had to keep asking myself the question: “Could this be home?”
Is finding love abroad worth it?
There are many potential pitfalls when dating abroad, but in the end we are all the same – humans trying to find another human to make our favorite. Love is everywhere and it can find you at home or abroad. Your person is looking for you just as hard as you are looking for them and when you find each other, you’ll know. It will feel right and you’ll both make it work, no matter where you are in the world or where you are going next. It might make things more complicated of course, but what is life without some adventure.
Come at life with openness and curiosity, but as GGIs, that is already a part of our DNA. All you have to do is go out there and keep your eyes and heart open.
By Rosemary Ajuka
Rosemary is a Marketing and Communications Strategist with an insatiable appetite for books and love for both cats and dogs.