The Black Expat: Ijeoma Kola Shares Her Journey As A Mom-To-Be And New Resident Of Nairobi, Kenya
By Kelsey Marie
Ijeoma Kola is a blogger, public health researcher, and overall content creator, sharing her daily life and recent move with her 75k Instagram followers. Kola describes her blog as her corner of the internet where she combines beauty and brains with style and substance.
Born in Port Hartcourt, Nigeria, Kola moved to the U.S. as an infant and was raised in New Jersey where she lived before making her move back to the motherland. She met her husband in 2008 during her freshman year at Harvard University.
After graduating and dating long-distance for a year, Ijeoma visited her partner’s home country of Kenya for the first time.
Fast forward to 2019, Ijeoma is married, a mom-to-be, and recently moved to Nairobi, Kenya with her husband.
We had the chance to talk to Ijeoma and find out more about her reasons for moving, the cultural adjustments she had to make while settling in, and her top 3 reasons why you should visit Kenya!
Travel Noire: I know you’ve shared your reasons for moving with your audience, but for those that aren’t aware, what inspired your decision to move to Kenya?
My husband and I decided to move to Kenya for 3 main reasons.
First, he had a business school fellowship that required him to work somewhere in Africa shortly after graduation. Secondly, he’d been away from home (he’s from Kenya) for a long time, and wanted to be closer to family, especially as we prepare for the birth of our first child. Third, I was flexible in my career and adventurous enough to entertain the idea of living in another country. I’d visited Kenya several times before moving and felt comfortable enough to create a life here – or at least experiment for a few years!
Travel Noire: What was the most difficult part of your move to Nairobi?
Having to recreate a social circle in Nairobi has been difficult. I’d made some friends on previous visits, but I still don’t have “my girls” here who I can grab brunch or drinks with over the weekend to break up the monotony of the week. Luckily my best friend in the U.S. and I have done long-distance friendship before when she lived in the Dominican Republic, so we’re already used to finding ways to keep in touch across distance.
Travel Noire: How has your move changed the way you create content and what you share with your audience?
Before I moved, my audience consisted of mostly U.S.-based women of color either in graduate school, aspiring to graduate school, or working as professionals. Many of them were first or second-generation immigrants like myself.
Since I moved, I’ve gotten far more Kenyan followers, who consume social media slightly differently than Americans. On the one hand, my social engagement is way up because people watch a lot more YouTube here than in the U.S., but Nairobi is also much smaller than NYC so I’m finding myself thinking more about privacy and personal boundaries than I did when I was creating content in the U.S.
I will say though that my goal remains to create content for women of color across the diaspora, so I still post with my American audience in mind, while brainstorming how I can also cater to the Kenyan audience.
Being Nigerian-American, what are some culture shocks you experienced since living in Kenya?
Kenyans don’t eat spicy foods! Nigerian food is really spicy, and before exploring other parts of Africa I didn’t realize that spice was a uniquely West African thing. I regularly have to add pepper to my food. Ripe plantain also isn’t widely eaten in Kenya, much to my dismay.
Travel Noire: I read that you and your husband dated across continents for about four years, can you share tips on maintaining a long-distance relationship?
Make sure that you are both on the same page about communication expectations! Are you going to video chat every day? Once a week? Do you want to share calendars? Communication is the key to any relationship but with long-distance, I found that it isn’t so much what you guys talk about but friction about when, how, and how often you guys talk.
Travel Noire: What challenges have you faced being married to someone from a different country/culture?
Honestly, not many. Jonathan’s family has been incredibly welcoming, and we have very similar social and religious values that make us more alike than different. He has a couple of other family members who have married non-Kenyans (and even non-Africans) so it wasn’t like our marriage was groundbreaking on that front.
The only challenge is language – between the 2 of us, we and our families speak 3 languages that aren’t English, so we can feel a bit lost when hanging out with each other’s families and they’re communicating in their native language. We just try to translate and teach as much as possible.
Travel Noire: Can you share any major changes in your daily routine from when you lived in NYC to now living in Nairobi?
In addition to moving continents, I also have had a career shift from being a Ph.D. student to being a full-time entrepreneur so some routine changes are a function of the latter rather than the former.
One of the biggest routine changes has been having to call an Uber to get anywhere rather than hopping on a subway. We’re getting a car so that should mitigate the frustration of waiting on Ubers all the time, but I’m a bit nervous about driving (they drive on the left side of the road in Kenya) so I don’t envision being behind the wheel too often.
Travel Noire: What do you think people’s biggest misconceptions are about Africa?
That Africa is synonymous with poverty, malnourished children, and HIV. While there are economic, social, and healthcare issues, there is a lot of prosperity, promise, and opportunity here on the African continent.
Travel Noire: Do you have plans to raise your children in Kenya, why or why not?
To be honest, I don’t know enough about the education system in Kenya to definitively say whether it’s a better or worse environment to raise children, but I do know that if we raise them in Kenya we won’t have to have the same discussions about growing up black that we’d have to have in the U.S.
You’ll have to keep following along to see what we eventually decide!
Travel Noire: What are the top 3 reasons why someone should visit Kenya?
1.The safari: even though I’ve now seen them a dozen times, I’m still in awe of the beauty of zebras, giraffes, and elephants in real life!
2. It’s affordable: roundtrip flights to Kenya can get as low as $500 from NYC, so it’s one of the cheaper African countries to fly to.
3. It’s tourist-friendly: most people speak English, there’s Uber, Burger King, and other very familiar landmarks so it doesn’t feel that different from America, and there’s so much to do even if you can just come for a few days. It’s a great choice for people who’ve never been to Africa!
Kelsey-Marie is an NYC girl who currently lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. You can keep up with her on Instagram at @kelseydashmarie