Frank Onasanya, originally from Nigeria, recently sat down with the Immigration Partnership staff and shared with us his story of how he came to live in North Grenville. Frank spoke openly about his childhood, the challenges he faced and overcame as an immigrant, and how these experiences have shaped him into the person he is today.
Tell us about your childhood growing up in Nigeria.
Growing up in western Nigeria, Frank learned the value of money at a young age. He remembers ‘street trading’, “I was allowed to go 6 or 8 streets in my neighbourhood and sell whatever my parents had,” he said. Frank shared that it is not uncommon for young children in Nigeria even at the age of five or six, to know how to manage money, prepare food, and even how to take care of their younger siblings. “Here (or even in England) that’s called child abuse, over there [Nigeria] that’s the way it is. Once you get to that age you need to know how to take care of yourself, what happens if mom and dad don't come home? You have to know how to survive,” he said. Frank said he is glad to have had lived those experiences.
How did you come to live in North Grenville?
Frank left Nigeria in his mid-twenties and immigrated to England, where he pursued his post-secondary studies. These studies eventually led him to play semi-professional soccer in Cambridge. Thirteen years later Frank moved to Toronto, through a transfer with the company he worked for in England. As a District Manager of a chain of restaurants, Frank travelled and moved a lot within the Greater Toronto Area.
In 2000, Frank was transferred again through his employment to Ottawa. After living the fast-paced city lifestyle for many years, Frank and his wife, having young children at the time, decided they wanted to live a more rural life and made the move to North Grenville. “I wanted to be able to go to work and come home and hear the birds sing,” said Frank.
Today, Frank works for the federal Department of National Defense and commutes to Ottawa for work. Frank continues to be involved in his community through coaching soccer, volunteering, and in 2014, he made history when he was elected the first black councillor of North Grenville.
What is one of the most challenging things about moving to a new country?
“So much of the unknown is challenging,” said Frank. When Frank first moved to England, he didn't know much about the country. “What I learned in school was the history [of the country], how people lived and how people did things was different, you can’t learn that from a textbook,” said Frank. “The way people expressed themselves, their tone and body language was different than what I was used to,” he said. Frank had to learn to adapt and not take things as insulting or demeaning, “I just had to understand that people express themselves differently,” he said.
What advice would you give to other newcomers moving to Leeds Grenville from another country?
“Perseverance and determination are important as is really listening to people to understand where they are coming from,” said Frank. He said to be respectful, listen to others and acknowledge what they are saying. Often, disagreements and even racism and prejudice come from a lack of understanding.