Nigerian Australians make up one of the fastest-growing migrant groups in Australia, and 25-year-old pharmacist Funke Adesanya is one of the many contributing to the country’s growing economy and cultural diversity.
“Australia is where I’ve spent the majority of my life. It’s a laid-back society, which is slowly getting exposed to different cultures,” says Funke. “As we know, it’s a well-developed country so the way of life is generally convenient as it has things like a good healthcare system and good education.”
Funke was born in Nigeria in 1995 before her family moved to Perth, Australia the following year.
“Growing up in Perth, there were only a few other Nigerian families around. In my whole school which was from year 1 to year 12, I was the only black child,” she says.
This created an isolating experience for Funke, who grew up amongst a proud Nigerian family but struggled with her identity and relating to other Australians who didn’t share her cultural heritage.
“Growing up I was told I’m Australian – Australia was all I knew. However, it was strange because I barely saw any other Australians that looked like me, ate the food that I ate at home, and they didn’t know how to say my name.
“It made me think: am I truly Australian?”
This question surrounding her identity was further heightened due to the racism she faced during her childhood.
“I remember a time I went to my friends 16th birthday party which was hosted at their house. I got to the door and the mother opened it and said ‘who invited you here?’
“It left me in shock. Then my friend came out and said ‘Hey Funke’ and welcomed me into the house,” she recalls.
“The whole day her mother was monitoring my every move, probably thinking I would steal something.
“I constantly have to remind myself that I am not inferior in any way, especially when the society around you wants to make you feel like that.”
In 2005, Funke along with her family returned back to Nigeria for five years – a move which she describes as pivotal.
“Nigeria is definitely my motherland. It’s a land filled rich with culture and my people,” says Funke. “Even though day-to-day life might not be as stress-free compared to living in a westernised society, I definitely connect more over there.”
Funke’s connection to Nigeria is strong and she frequently visits the country yearly – but over the five year period, she once again faced difficulties with her identity.
“Moving to Nigeria was a struggle at first. I was around fellow Nigerians, but the Nigerians said that I was not ‘fully Nigerian’ because my accent wasn’t the same and I acted a bit different.”
This experience presented a similar challenge to her earlier years in Australia and is something that many second-generation migrants can relate to.
“It was confusing because I was around people that looked like me, that understood my culture, food, knew how to pronounce my name, but I couldn’t properly pronounce all their names,” she reveals.
“I felt like I was at home, but in the beginning, I didn’t feel accepted and I wasn’t sure where I belonged.
“But over time I adjusted, my accent changed, and even though I got teased at first, they welcomed me and accepted me.”
Following five years in Nigeria, Funke and her family made their way back to Australia in 2010, but this time settling in Sydney.
As one of the most diverse cities in Australia, Sydney provided a space for Funke to come across more Nigerian-Australians and other migrants whose experiences bore similarities to her’s.
“When I got to Sydney, I was really able to connect with other Nigerian-Australians. Even though there are not as many, I have met a lot of Nigerians that have come to Sydney for education. Some stay and start families and some go back to Nigeria.”
At the age of 15, Funke settled into life in Sydney and turned her attention to becoming a pharmacist – a career path which she prophesied early on.
“When I was 16 or so, I actually made a YouTube video about wanting to be a pharmacist – It’s a bit embarrassing but it’s a good reminder that what we say about ourselves has so much power.”
As the daughter of a psychiatrist and a nurse, Funke has always been exposed to the medical field and she grew up loving science and the idea of helping others.
“After school, I did a bachelor’s degree in medical science because I thought it would give me a range of options. Then I took a year off after my first degree and applied to various master courses. I got offered to do a master of pharmacy and now I am a pharmacist.”
At 25-years-old, Funke’s career is going full steam ahead. As well as her career as a pharmacist, she is also embarking on a skincare range called FKLSkin.
“I love skin and taking good care of it,” she says. “FKLSkin will be skincare products filled with beautiful oils to help nourish and heal the skin, so keep an eye out on that.”
As a young, Black female pharmacist, Funke still faces discrimination in her line of work, both due to her race and age.
“Working in an area that is predominantly white means that some of the customers I serve do not want to accept that I am a pharmacist – some because of racism, and some because of my age,” she admits.
“I have been in situations where customers request to talk to a pharmacist, and I say ‘how can I help you?’, I’m wearing a white coat, I have a badge with ‘pharmacist’ written on it and they still doubt that I’m a pharmacist and request to speak to another.”
This discrimination is something that many Black medical professionals face – and is the reason why we need more of them in this industry.
“We definitely need more of us working in this field. It is not an easy career to get into, but I’d encourage those embarking on it to keep pushing through.”