November 16, 2011
"I have this skill, I have a degree and I have the right passport, and that’s all you need."
I had the pleasure of doing my very first interview for Women of Color Living Abroad with New Zeal native Lileko Lishmwa.
Lileko came into this world prepared to travel. She received her passport as a baby and can’t remember when she first began traveling. She took her very first trip abroad on her own when she assisted some friends with a move to Australia from New Zealand.
Lileko is currently living and working is South Korea. She is a professor at Hanseo University, which is located in Chungcheon Province about an hour and a half SW of Seoul. Lileko has been living in Korea for the past three years. However, Korea was not her launching pad for living abroad; she actually lived in Perth, Australia after graduate school. For those of you who are like me and have no idea where Perth is, it is in Western Australia. Perth is actually the capital and the largest city in the Australian state of Western Australia and the fourth most populous city in Australia. (www.wikipedia.com)
A real free-spirited nomadic chic, Lileko left stability to enjoy the fancy free lifestyle of an English teacher. Here is the interview.
Women of Color Living Abroad: What about living abroad interested you?
Lileko: It really is about seeing other things. I have no interest in having a mortgage lifestyle. That is what many of my friends are doing at this stage, but I have no real interest in that at this time in my life. I like that I can just get up and go, and I am not tied down. If I have the time and I want to go to China I can just say, “Let’s do it.” There is so much flexibility in my life. You don’t have that when you have a mortgaged lifestyle. Also, there are the people. I won’t say were all like minded, because some are not, but you just meet so many different people. There are people who I wouldn’t even be friends by choice with at home, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing, but it is nice that I get to meet people I wouldn’t otherwise meet.
Women of Color Living Abroad: Can you describe how you felt when you first moved abroad, did you have any anxiety?
Lileko: (Laughing) It was when I moved to Perth in Australia. Yes, because I was trying to finish my thesis, move out of my flat (an apartment), and my dad was giving me grief. It was full of stress at the time and all I wanted to do was move to a warmer climate. It was stressful, and even though it was like what you would consider moving from the US to Canada, no big difference and not that exciting, some things are a little different and actually annoying, but it was the packing that got me. I didn’t know what to take.
Women of Color Living Abroad: What is the one thing that is really, really important that you would tell someone else thinking about living abroad?
Lileko: Do it! Honestly just do it, because the mortgage is going to be there when you get back, and if you have the opportunity, why on earth not? These contracts are only a year long. What’s a year? Just go and do it. You don’t even know what you’re missing out on; you have no idea until you’re here.
Women of Color Living Abroad: What is the most challenging thing about living abroad?
Lileko: I don’t know the language, and choosing to live in the country means that you don’t have access to cheese. You have to go hunting for cheese, or at least that’s what it feels like. You have to track 2 hours to Seoul just to get some cheese. But the most challenging thing, with other than finding food, is not knowing the language. However, I definitely have had it worst living in more rural parts of the country.
Women of Color Living Abroad: What made you decide to come to Korea?
Lileko: When the economy went kaput I didn’t have a job in Perth. So, I said, “What else could I do?” So, I googled jobs and found information on teaching in Korea. Korea was one of the only countries that didn’t require you to have a CELT or TESOL, so that’s why, because I didn’t have one of those certifications, and I didn’t really want to get one.
Women of Color Living Abroad: What made you want to be a teacher living abroad?
Lileko: Honestly, it was a prayer, because I would be in a different place if I were still living in Perth. Because all the places just stopped hiring, it was at the end of my contract and I thought, “I think I’ll find something.” Then a couple of months went by and I knew I had to get serious, I had to do something else, and I was thinking, “What can I do, really, what can I do?” I have this skill, I have a degree and I have the right passport, and that’s all you need.
Women of Color Living Abroad: What’s the biggest thing that you miss about living at home in New Zealand?
Lileko: I think the biggest thing that I miss about living back in New Zeal is the convenience. I live in a small town, and everything is a ten minute drive. If I had that now would be gorgeous. Oh, and of course the food. Umm, I would say a real size refrigerator with food. (Laughing)
Women of Color Living Abroad: Is there something that you realized about yourself, sort of an Aha! Moment, where you really came to understand yourself after you had moved and began living abroad?
Lileko: Umm…maybe how lucky I have been. When I was like younger, maybe high school or university or even younger than that, I had gone on heaps of holidays compared to my friends. I don’t think its heaps because to me it’s just normal. But compared to meeting people here (in Korea) who get excited about being able to travel during vacation to places like China or Malaysia, then I guess it would be heaps. It amazes me because most of these people have only been on a plane internationally to come to Korea. So, they don’t know anything about anything, and yet I think some things are quite simple. You can do most arranging yourself online and you don’t need a travel agency, unless you choose to have one, which can be headache in and of itself. Just knowing things like that, which are rather simple to me, I’ve taken that for granted. So, I guess I am quite grateful for that. I had never really thought that before, and I certainly haven’t bothered to tell my mum that either.
Women of Color Living Abroad: Has anything changed in your life, maybe your thoughts or lifestyle, because you live abroad?
Lileko: Absolutely, I was thinking very seriously, kind of still am, about moving back to Australia, but Sydney this time. I know that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to travel, at least, as much because of work. So, it’s easy to just go ahead and carry on. I don’t know the answer to that and I don’t know if I should take the plunge or go backwards. I don’t know, and I think that is what has changed. Because now, I really enjoy this and there are some really good things about being away, the teaching and flexible hours, are nice too.
Women of Color Living Abroad: So, are totally happy being free and kind of nomadic?
Lileko: At the moment, yes, it might change, it might not. At the moment I’m in a bit of a sex drought and it’s terrible, but it’s going to be remedied. When I think about my other friends at home, they are in their little droughts too, but mines not going to that last long because I’m in Korea and it’s easy. (Laughing) So, that’s part of it. But I don’t desire, in Korea, living in the country to be in a relationship because I don’t want to travel to go and see a person, and I certainly don’t want them to come see me living in this square box.
Women of Color Living Abroad: So, is it safe to say you have a better sex life or a better chance at having a relationship living in Korea?
Lileko: I think of the few friends who are still single living in Australia or living in London, because those are the common places for graduates to live coming from New Zealand. Umm, yeah they don’t go out as much as we do here in Korea. Either they can’t afford it or it’s not as nice. Think about it, you can just run up to Seoul and run amuck and its fine. I don’t know, looking for a relationship in Korea, besides the travel, I think it would be hard work and what if he came from a different country, let’s say I met an American chap, even if it went fantastically, I’ve got to be realistic at the end of it. Then what? Yeah, there are some success stories and some people make it work, but it’s just …umm…no, it’s a bit more effort than I even want to put in now.
Women of Color Living Abroad: What was the best adjustment that you had to make when moving abroad?
Lileko: Umm… despite the fact that I still complain, complaining about things that I just can't change is useless. You have to realize that some things just are. You have to be the one to adjust to these things. I think it took these three years here to deal with that. I complained about anything when living in Perth, but now it’s ok. It’s just adjusting to new things, I think.
Women of Color Living Abroad: Ok, give me three adjectives that would describe your Expat experience.
Women of Color Living Abroad: Are you living your dream, your passion or purpose in life?
Lileko: Umm…yes and no, because I have always traveled my whole life, I love that part, definitely. If anybody asked me, “What is it that you love to do?” its travel and unfortunately I have that on my CV, which apparently is a bad thing, but I can’t help it, it’s what I like to do. Then I must say, if you look at what I do every day, I am not utilizing my brain. So, that side is really shit-ish, but I try to overcome it by taking correspondence courses through a university, and that has been really good. So it’s nice to do that to help myself.
Women of Color Living Abroad: Finish this sentence, living abroad has…
Lileko: Living abroad has opened up some incredible windows in terms of how I see things, how I approach other people, and my attitude towards getting things done in a timely matter.
Women of Color Living Abroad: Thank you very much Lileko, for sharing your insight on living abroad and we applaud you for having the courage to do what you love with your mortgage free life-style.