The content of each post is solely written by that contributor and only expresses the contributor's personal views. Each post does not represent the views of all the contributors or Women of Color Living Abroad as an organization. Each contributor is speaking from their own person experiences and/or perspective.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Giving It All Up…To Get So Much More…

By: Brittany S

As a Black American, I cringe whenever I go abroad and hear other Americans and non-Americans alike describe what it is like in America.  Almost every description I have ever heard describes mainstream America, not its subcultures.  But who is at fault for this?  Is it A—the non-ethnic American that reports their culture as if it represents the (approximately) other 31.3 million of us?  Or is it B—the non-American that takes the opinions of one or a few and solidifies their perspective of the entire group?  By all standards, that is not a large enough sample size to be statistically significant.  Answer?  A, B, and C.  What’s C?  ME.  Because I let my own assumptions about going abroad keep me from going, I let A be the only representation for B, who might only know what they’ve been told.  When I sat and thought about my assumptions and realized that’s all they were, I opened my heart to new possibilities.  So here is a piece of me, from my heart to yours.  Hopefully this will help you give up your assumptions, whatever they may be.  Ultimately, my decision to go abroad stemmed from the fact that the majority of my hesitations were just assumptions and nothing more.  I shared a few of them here.

1—I’m broke and should be at home working to pay off debt, not out playing in another country.
I’m an educator by trade, an English educator at that.  What am I doing abroad right now? Teaching English.  I’m definitely not over here playing.  Also, the amount of money that I make here compared to what I would make at home is less, but so is the cost of living.  In fact, it is so much lower that I have money left over to pay off student loans, credit card bills, send money home for emergencies, AND travel to different COUNTRIES (not cities, but countries).  For those of you who are not interested in education professions, there are other options.  I know several people who are engineers, auditors, etc and they are expat women of color, too.  Don’t let this thought be a hindrance for you the way it was for me.  I could have been traveling earlier when I took a break from school to try and sort some things out.

2—I can’t pack a lot of stuff, I’m going to look sloppy the whole time I’m there. L
The biggest part of this one was my HAIR.  All of you Africana women out there know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.  For the most part, the only people who understand our hair are our people.  What in the world was I gonna do with my bra-length relaxed hair in Korea?  Also, my size 10 feet do NOT fit Korean shoes.  I had 1 suitcase filled with four seasons of clothes.  Not nearly enough to be fierce!  I will say, however, since I’ve been abroad, stuff that I usually wouldn’t wear it America I wear over here and feel a lot more carefree and confident about my fashion choices, even down to my hair length and texture.  The Koreans keep calling me a fashionista!  I even cut all my hair off a week before I came here.  My hair was longer at birth.  I’m not saying you have to 
My hair now. It survived! My friend straightens her own hair.
do a big chop and mix & match a bunch of rags, but what I am saying is being abroad makes you appreciate living in the moment, not being seen as a moment passes you by.  People remember their encounters with me for the witty/silly things I said, not the way I was dressed.  But don’t fret.  If you really feel naked without all your accessories and MUST be able to shop, trust me, there is plenty of shopping available!  You can shop til you drop almost anywhere.  All I am saying is that for me, being abroad has helped me detach myself from a lot of the materialistic things I once felt dysfunctional without.  I am glad I finally forced myself to stop thinking that way and I hope to be able to continue to develop this new outlook wherever I am.

3—If I go alone, what will I do?  I won’t be able to go anywhere/do anything, especially if English is not an official language there.

Cool things happen when you go exploring.
When I lived in America, I never went anywhere alone.  Yes I went to work/class or to run my errands, but a social event or setting, never!  If I had to arrive solo, I was soon to meet someone else.  I finally worked up the courage to go to the mall alone, but even then I texted or chatted with someone almost the entire time.  I was overly dependent on group interactions.  Being in another country can break you out of that.  There are times that I go eat, shopping, or take trips to different countries or cities with me, myself, and I.  (Don’t worry, even if English isn’t an official language, there are tons of tourist-friendly resources available that have made all my travel pretty simplistic.)
For some, it can be out of necessity, but in many cases, I have chosen to do these things alone because I wanted to.  To me, living abroad is a chance to have a clean slate if you so choose.  A lot of my assumptions extended beyond what is there for me in another country all the way to what is there for me in life.  I felt I was expected to be in a societal mold that I dare not escape.  Being over here has allowed me to not only step out of the mold, but reshape it so it is pleasing to ME first, not others.  So who cares if some people think it is socially awkward to do X,Y,Z alone?  I’m learning to think otherwise.  Why let others keep me from my happiness?

I encourage you to think about your assumptions, and if you know in the pit of your stomach that you want to go abroad, seek out concrete evidence on them.  Don’t be your own hindrance.  You could be living your dreams!  I know I am.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Purpose and Passion: An Interview with Dr. Nicole Monteiro

By:  eternitysojourner

Several months ago, I met a new friend on a mothering forum.  Both residing in the Gulf, we began chatting about our mutual love for travel and the excitement of being new mothers.  The more we conversed, the more I realized that the humble soul I befriended is a seasoned traveler and accomplished psychologist.  Go figure! 

In this interview, Nicole shares her adventures abroad and experience of mental health on both sides of the hemisphere.  Her experiences left me so spellbound that at times I dropped my pen to simply listen!  I hope that you, too, will enjoy this glimpse of life as a mental health professional abroad. 

You describe yourself as a “world traveler, global observer, and culture connoisseur”.  Please explain.

Well, I guess those are the threads that connect both my personal and professional travels.  I’m a clinical psychologist, and I’ve been traveling since the age of 13.  Travel is a way for me to explore other cultures, people, societies, and individuals; so it’s a way to connect all of my passions which include studying the human mind, human development and human relationships.  I do a lot of international consulting work and I sought those opportunities because of my love for travelling and how important I believe it is in my field to understand the range of human behaviors and cultures.

In your profession, how similar or different is health care abroad when compared to the U.S.?

I earned my doctorate in the US and, much like American mainstream culture, the western philosophical tradition of psychology is rooted in individualism.  I did my dissertation research in Ethiopia and saw a different approach.  I was there for about ten months and observed a more holistic understanding of the individual and how psychological or mental health is defined.  That’s because the society is more communalistic.  There’s a spiritual understanding of the causes, contributions, and most aspects of health.  I found the same to be true when I was in rural Senegal and when I worked in Haiti after the earthquake of 2010.  If you don’t acknowledge spirituality or religion in your conceptualization of mental health, you won’t get far in most places around the world.

At the same time, I don’t want to romanticize the situation because you also notice that many mental illnesses can go untreated due to the stigma and limited health care resources.   This is a downside because, for example, when a mental breakdown is attributed solely to spirit possession there may be cases where the individual and family are ostracized and there aren’t alternative treatments options available to address their suffering.

More and more women of color from the West are getting out and seeing the world.  What unique opportunities and challenges does this reality pose?

I think that whenever you’re in the forefront of a movement, you encounter numerous opportunities.  When I applied for fellowships or jobs abroad, people were really interested in me, my stories and experiences more than, say, those of a white male.  You can really sell yourself as having a unique perspective and understanding of diversity.  As far as the challenges- people don’t exactly have an accurate perception of women of color and assume, because they don’t know anything about us or have been misinformed by skewed images, that we are promiscuous or uneducated.  Folks have said some crazy things to me!  However, this means we have an opportunity to enlighten and open that conversation.   

Last year you added yet another credential to your CV…you became a mom!  How has mothering changed you, your view of the world, and traveling in it? 

I notice a lot of responses, reactions, and projections that my daughter receives as a young, black baby.  Most of them are positive, some neutral, but I’ll also get negative comments about her complexion or hair, even from my own friends and colleagues.  Having a baby with me abroad has elicited so many responses.  At first, I found it annoying and irritating but now, I look at it as another opportunity to understand people’s anxieties, conflicts and biases.  I had to take these comments towards myself and baby as my responsibility to enlighten.  It also shows me that I need to equip my daughter to be able to operate with confidence and openness- to be so comfortable with herself that other people’s misunderstandings won’t shake her or cause her to retreat.  Also, I’m going to Botswana next month, so I have to think of my daughter’s safety in terms of vaccinations, access to health care, nannies, babysitters, etc.  These are matters that I didn’t really worry about before. 

Can you share your most fascinating experience abroad?

Okay, let me see…honestly, it would have to be when I went to Haiti in May 2010, four or five months after the big earthquake.  I volunteered as a psychologist and led a mental health team.  So, to have confidence in the fact that we were able to help and had something concrete to offer was really something.  When you’re out in the world, you can feel so insignificant but in Haiti, though it sounds cliché, all of the medical volunteers were really like a global community working for the greater good.  I interacted with a people and culture that are so resilient.  Even though there was so much sadness, a collective trauma, and limited resources, the faith and spirit of the people was so strong- it was humbling.  It was a learning experience that really helped me as a professional. 

What about your most frightening experience abroad?

Riding on a small ferry boat for an hour-long trip across the Atlantic Ocean between two islands in Cape Verde (Fogo and Brava).  The ocean was rough, the boat was unstable, people were getting sea-sick, I was by myself and I didn’t speak Creole/no one spoke English.  I seriously thought the boat might capsize.  Obviously, it didn’t!  But during the ride, I made subtle eye contact with an older man on the boat who had clearly made the trip numerous times.  We were able to communicate with the few words I did know and he rubbed my back and comforted me as he saw my motion-sickness and the shear fear on my face.  I couldn’t help but imagine the horrible journey our ancestors made across the Atlantic during the trans-Atlantic slave trade!

What advice would you like to offer a young woman of color, setting out for her first experience living or traveling abroad?

I would say just tap into your inner strength and the essence of who you are. Be confident and be open.  I would also say not to put up barriers; use the opportunity to explore and learn.  Why travel half way around the world if you’re not going to engage with others. Also use the time to learn and develop yourself.  It’s like the saying goes, “no matter where you go, you always take yourself with you”.   Don’t think you can escape all of your problems just because you travel or move abroad.

I also think that traveling builds your confidence.  There aren’t many situations that can make me give up or make me feel helpless.  A smile and a nice tone of voice go a long way.  Learn how to build relationships with people.  Be confident, be open, and…be charming.  J

Read more about Dr. Monteiro’s travels and insights at Global Insights and Neneh Fati.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Being of color in Georgia

It is important to do research and network with others that have or currently live in the country that you are considering moving to especially as a woman of color. Speaking with past and present teachers that are of color, as well as, the intercultural training that my program provides about the reactions of Georgians to people of color was quite helpful. Georgians don't see people of color often, so here are some things I've experienced living here.

Curious stares: Most of the locals are curious about seeing people of color for the first time in their lives, so everywhere from my village to the town and even the capital city I have experienced this. For the most part, people simply stare and/or slow down as I pass while others (especially children) may smile and say hello. The staring can be a bit much sometimes, but I usually don't pay attention to it. I think in any place where locals see an unfamiliar person they will be inquisitive; on the other hand, Georgians do seem to be the most obvious with their gawking. To say the truth, it's as if no one learns that it is rude to stare at someone. Sometimes I'd stare straight at them to give them a taste of their own medicine and they would look away quickly. Since I've become quite oblivious to the stares, my friends that are not of color are more bothered by it than I am.
Pics and more pics: Everyone wants to take pictures with me from children to adults to even my colleagues at school. I've even had the pleasure of being in a few bridal party pictures while visiting a few historical monasteries around the country. I don't really mind so I just smile for the camera for the most part. 
Invitations: In my village, neighbors are always stopping by my host family's house to greet me. Neighbors and teachers invite me to their homes often especially for Georgian dinner parties known as 'supras.' The funniest thing is that some people in my village continue to look at me as if they have not seen me a day in their lives and I've been here for 3 months.
21 Questions: People always want to know if I like the village, Georgia and the culture. They also ask about my nationality, age, family, profession and even marital status (always trying to marry me off to a nice Georgian guy). Questions galore!!! 
Although people of color get many stares, Georgians are always hospitable and happy to have us as guests. I have visited with a few Georgian families including co-teachers and friends and they are always been ecstatic to have me as their guest.
It is quite interesting how much they like Rap/Hip hop especially Tu-Pac! They also love Whitney Houston. By the way, some teachers of color got condolences and bereavement days off from school when Whitney Houston died! 
Many teachers of color have some interesting stories about living in Georgia, but we simply take it as a part of the experience and not let it bother us.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

If You Get A Man, Make Sure He’s Rock Hard

May 2012-Brittany S.

While my friends back home were “celebrating” Cinco de Mayo, (and by celebrating, I mean taking advantage of the drink & Mexican food specials haha), Koreans were celebrating “Children’s Day.”  For this day, many Koreans took their child(ren) to (amusement) parks, museums, theaters, and other child-friendly places throughout Korea.  Because I knew everywhere I went would be extremely crowded on this day, I chose to stay at home…that is until my오빠 (pronounced “Oppa”)or “older brother” texted me in broken English to ask me if I was free. (To read more about "Oppa" and what it is like to have one, click here.) I felt honored that my Korean family wanted me to celebrate a holiday with them, so I agreed to tag along.
My Korean family consists of a husband and wife, their son, and their son’s friend (and occasionally, his mom joins us, too).  Out of the group, the kids speak the best English and the adults barely speak to me (until the소주/soju (vodka-like alcohol) gets to flowing) because they feel embarrassed by their low levels.  My Korean is far worse than their English, but I try to speak Korean to them as much as I can.  That helps them to loosen up because we are both trying).  Before I thought they just wanted me around to improve the kids’ English, but then I started being invited to dinner and they would cook/buy Western food just for me when the kids weren’t even around.  So fast forward from January to now and that’s how we arrived at the text to come out for Children’s day.  My 오빠 said he’d pick me up at “13 o’clock, O-K?”
When I got in the car, I saw there was a full picnic spread in the back seat.  There was plenty of delicious Korean food for the trip, including kimbap, a cheap, filling, Korean snack.  I like all of the food he packed so I couldn’t understand why he asked me if I was hungry then made a pit stop at a chicken place to buy me something because I said yes.  I’ve been with them for over 4 months, but they STILL think I can’t/don’t eat Korean food (or use chopsticks when I do eat it).  I just smiled in gratitude and he reciprocated with a smile of satisfaction that he had taken care of his동생 (“dongsaeng”=younger brother/sister).

Originally I was told we were going to “see many flowers” by the kids.  I assumed they meant a botanical garden.  Somewhere between driving to the botanical garden and arriving at our destination, they decided to change the itinerary because there was a lot of traffic.  (We also ended up making a random pitstop when he shouted “Brittany…McDonald’s! You like?  We go.” Haha so yea, I got chicken AND a burger before we even made it to our picnic site.)  Instead, we ended up at “Art Valley.”   

Sounds museum-like doesn’t it?  Well, it was a MOUNTAIN.  We ended up walking up a mountain!  OMG.  I was all kinds of sweaty and out of breath while EVERYONE ELSE (as I was the only foreigner out of the 100+ people we saw there) went flying past me.  I wish I would have known we were going to do that.  I would have worn different clothes!

When I finally made it to the top (where everyone else was waiting for me), the view was breathtaking (or maybe I was already winded?).  They told me some people drilled holes in part of the mountain and put dynamite in it to remove part of it.  When they did, water eventually filled in the holes and now there is a natural lake at the top of the mountain.  Cool!  There were fish in it and everything.  We sat down and had our picnic (with another family that caravanned with us) and the kids went around terrorizing everyone and shouting that they are “The Hulk” (I took them to see “The Avengers” the day before).  When we finished, they offered us children (yea, apparently I’m included in that group) some ice cream before we resumed walking.

That's a whole lot of rice wine bottles. O.o

At the bottom of the touristy part of the mountain, there were plenty of statues and exhibits (I guess this was the “valley” part).  My (“un-nee” or “older sister”) teased me and another woman for being single and told us she knows EXACTLY how to get us a man.  Oh boy.  She waited until the men and children were away then grabbed our hands and went running.  So while we’re running and she’s pulling me along, I’m thinking maybe she is going to take me somewhere to touch something for good luck, or maybe she actually saw some attractive men she wanted us to meet.  I was so wrong.  She took us to a rock statue of the bottom half of a naked man that has been smashed by the mountain.  She tried to get us to go sit on his crotch so she could take pictures, but the most she could get out of us was a shy pose near the feet.  The other woman (who speaks English) told me she’s not satisfied because it’s too small.  Later she even tried to get one of the kids to go and sit up on the crotch.  Wow.

It's called "The Sound of Wind" or something misleading...
I couldn’t help but laugh and blush at this moment.  Laughter is universal.  It was also fun to participate in the same type of jokes I make with American women with Korean women, even with the language barrier.  Body language speaks volumes.  My encouraged us to look for a rock hard man in the future, and if we can’t find one, remember where we left that one.  I guess that goes for all of you single women out there, too.  The statue is located in Pocheon city (in Gyeonggi province) in South Korea just in case you get lonely. ;-) 

 Who knew—on Children’s day, it is the adults who will play!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

From English Teacher to Foreign Service Officer

May 2012—Cha Jones

Have you ever wanted to know what goes on at an Embassy or imagined being invited to an Embassy party to rub elbows with a diplomat? Well, if any of that interests you, then you may want to think about a career as a Foreign Service Officer.

Foreign Service Officers are diplomats employed by the U.S. Department of State. As a Foreign Service Officer you could work at any one of the 265 U.S. embassies and consulates around the world working on the implementation of foreign policy, insuring the interests of the U.S. government abroad, as well as assisting American citizens who are living and working in foreign countries.

As a Foreign Service Officer, there are five different career tracks that you may enter: Consular officer, Economic officer, Management officer, Political Officer, and Public Diplomacy Officer. If you are interested in learning more, please click on the link below. 

From English Teacher to Foreign Service OfficerJoia Starks, U.S. Consular Office in Barbados 

Joia Starks is a 2005 graduate of Hampton University. During her studies, she had an opportunity to study abroad in Mexico with a Spanish immersion program and after graduating from college, she spent 5 weeks studying abroad in Paris. Shortly after she graduated  with a degree in Marketing she moved to New York City and worked in corporate America for a couple of years, but after waking up in tears with no desire to go to work, she realized that she was unfulfilled. She missed being abroad and being in another culture experiencing new things.

So, in October 2007 she actually moved to South Korea to teach English as a second language for a year. It was nothing like the stories that she read in her youth, which is what began her adventures abroad, but it was the beginning of what would actually change her life forever.  

Teaching English in Korea

Joia, describe how you felt when you moved to Korea?
“I was super nervous. I had a lot of anxiety because I had never been to Asia and I didn’t speak Korean and I didn’t know anyone other than one person who I met on Dave’s ESL Café. I think my friends and family were more worried than I was, but because they were so nervous it made me not as nervous. I was really excited because I was embarking on what could be the most amazing adventure of my life.”

What was the best thing about living in Korea?
“There are so many great things about Korea. I really developed a good core group of friends, both expats and Koreans, which felt like family. We just clicked right away. That made the experience good. I love the food, and the vibrancy of the city. Seoul is a pretty safe place to be and I liked going out on the town eating all night and drinking. If I wanted to go to museums, I was able to do that as well.”

Was there anything negative about being abroad or being in Korea?
Yeah, I think anywhere, there are going to be some downsides. I would say the hardest thing about being and living anywhere abroad is the transition when you are trying to get settled and comfortable in this new place and it’s not yet clicking. So, my first four or five months it was a little rough because I didn’t have my core group of friends, I was missing home, I couldn’t read anything and I could barely go to the grocery store without having a melt-down. So, I think that adjusting in a new place can be a bit of a negative experience if you are just not use to it.”

What was the biggest difference from living abroad and being back home in New Jersey or was there a difference?
“I would say the biggest difference would obviously be the language. I moved to Korea not knowing Korean. Yeah, I had my little travel guide, but when you try to use it, you sound really silly. Another thing is not driving and still trying to get around the city and my little neighborhood and not that I was ever the majority in America, but in Korea I was really a minority and that was kind of difficult at first.”

When you left Korea what was the biggest thing that you took away from Korea, as far as your experience?
Basically, living in Korea is when I decided I wanted to join the State Department. So, it gave me a sense of purpose. I went to Korea wanting to challenge myself and discover new things about myself.  I think I realized that I was cut out for this type of lifestyle and I really wanted to live abroad as a career and find ways to make a difference in people’s lives in a non-traditional way. So, my biggest takeaway was building my confidence and feeling like I set out to do something, I accomplished it, and I have come out with a better sense of who I am and what I am capable of doing.”

Transition from Teacher to Consular Officer

Let’s talk now about you working for the Department of Defense State as a Foreign Service Officer
“I am a Consular Officer, and that basically means that I help out American citizens abroad.  As a Consular Officer we do immigrant and non-immigrant visas and then American citizen services, which is probably the biggest thing we do.

How did you actually get a State Department job?
It’s actually an interesting story. When I was living in Korea I was on my way to house warming party.  I’m standing in the middle of downtown Seoul and I have really no idea where I am going. All that I had was a sheet of paper with some directions and I was about to take a bus when  I see this other black woman on the bus stop. I’m kind of looking at her and I am thinking, “She’s black and I am black and she is probably a teacher too.” Well, it turns out she is not a teacher, she actually worked for the U.S. Embassy there, and ironically we were both going to the same party. So, we became friends and through her guidance I applied for something called the, “Rangel Fellowship,” which is a program that really seeks out talented minority students for the Foreign Service, and it has a sister fellowship that does that same thing called the , “Pickering Fellowship”. I applied for that and it was a lot of hard work, and luck and really great people and mentoring and some disappointment, but I got it and it set me on a path to go to the Foreign Service.

So, did you still have to take the Foreign Service Exam?
“Yes, the program basically sends you to graduate school and you have to study International Affairs., You do that for two years, complete two internships, take the Foreign Service officer exam (both the written and then the oral assessment), and then once you graduate ,you can join the Foreign Service.”

What is the biggest difference, and I know it’s a BIG difference, between when you were traveling and living abroad as a teacher and now, traveling and living as a Foreign Service officer?

“This is like my dream job and so that to me is worth giving up a sense of privacy.”
It’s totally different. When you are a regular Joe Smoe traveling around, you have a lot more leeway with your private and personal life, but now that I am with the State Department, you know you are never really off duty. The things that you say and do, people are watching you. Even in our training they tell us “You are the face of the government all the time and you really have to be careful.” It is a different level of responsibility to be the face, the eyes and ears of the President and the Secretary of State and at end of the day the American people. It’s really a very humbling and daunting challenge, but I guess the trade of f is that I am doing my dream work. This is my dream job and so that to me is worth giving up a sense of privacy.”

Did you ever foresee this coming? Had you not had the chance encounter with the young lady on the bus stop, do you still think that this would have happened for you, being in your dream job?  Do you think you would have followed down this path anyways?
“I would like to think I would have ended up on this path anyways. As I was preparing to leave Korea I was studying for the GRE’s and I knew I wanted to go into International Relations. State Department was at the top of that list, but I also knew that it was a really difficult thing to do, and it’s hard to get into. So, I was trying to build up my skills and my resume so that I could be a good candidate. It might have taken longer, that’s for sure, but I think eventually I would have ended up in this career.”

What are the benefits of actually working for the State Department?
“Oh, there are so many. I’m still pretty early on in my career, but first of all your co-workers are all these really smart people, really fun to work with, and to m e that makes all the difference in the world. It doesn’t really matter what you are doing usually, if you work with people that you like that makes your job better. So, all of my co-workers are pretty ambitious and they speak many different languages, they are traveled and we already come from a place of common ground. That is definitely a great benefit for me, being able to just relate to people off jump.

“I ended up in Barbados for my first tour, but next I could be in Russia or Venezuela. I like the fact that I get to move and do a totally different job every two years.”

The other benefit is that you are living abroad, and there is something for everyone out there. I ended up in Barbados for my first tour, but next I could be in Russia or Venezuela. I like the fact that I get to move and do a totally different job every two years. For me, that is exactly what I need, because after about two years I am antsy and ready to see something new. And then of course, there are the perks of them covering your housing. So, that is something you don’t have to worry about being abroad. Also, the money is good, you get to do work that is making a difference every single day, and that may sound really cheesy, but it’s nice to see that. Because I have been in jobs before that I really didn’t see that, and it makes a difference. “

Great, that brings me to this question; did you actually enjoy teaching when you were living in Korea?
Actually, I really did. Of course, I had days when I was not the best teacher and I know I struggled, but I really loved my kids. I actually have pictures of them hanging on my refrigerator now, because they really made my life interesting and exciting. I got to work with kindergarten all the way to high school kids, and they were all really sweet. I always said, “Even the bad kids in Korea are still really good kids.” So, I enjoyed teaching and I think it would be good, maybe when I am older.  I wish I had known a little more about teaching, I took a 6 month TESOL course, which did an okay job, but doesn’t really prepare you for when you are in front of students. But I loved teaching and I’d do it again. “

What advice would you give another young lady who is trying to make a decision to go abroad, based on your experience, what would you tell them?
If someone is on the fence on whether to do something or not. Well, this is kind of going to sound reckless, but I would say, “Just do it!” Because whatever is holding you back from doing it, probably feels much scarier in your head, what you built up something to be, usually it’s not as bad as you think it is. The mind is so powerful, and you can search the internet and be looking at pictures, listening to stories and reading blogs and whatever. You’re trying to piece together what you think this place is like, but truthfully you’re not getting the full picture. You are only getting snippets. So, if you are on the fence about going, then you just have to do it. Because if I let what people were saying about Korea stop me from going, like i.e. they don’t like black people, you are going to have a terrible time, or you can’t date there as a black women. All of these things that you hear will prevent you from going and experiencing it for yourself.”

What advice would you give to someone who is teaching and is content, but not actually following their passion at this time, but would like to be in their dream job? 
I would say to really reach out to people who are doing what you think you want to be doing. What really matters is making connections. So, if you know someone, have a friend of a friend, or there’s a forum, such as, Women of Color Living Abroad, then make connections. For one, that provides motivation for you to do what you want to and maybe step out and take that risk, and two it keeps you connected to what is happening in that industry. So, if you want to be a Master Scuba Diver, then get on a forum and talk to people who are doing what you want to do. I can’t stress that enough. It is really important that you maintain contact and connections with people who are doing things that you want to do. So, throughout my travels I would talk to people and ask them, “What are you doing, what do you want to do, do you know about this, or can you tell me about that?” I think you have to just stay inquisitive and stay connected to your passion even if you are not doing what is your passion from day to day.”

What are three adjectives that you would use to describe your Expat Experience?
“Comical- I have some funny stories living abroad, dynamic, and exhilarating”

Ok, finish this sentence. Living abroad has…
“Living abroad has been the best decision I have ever made.”

Monday, May 7, 2012

I’m Homesick, Well Maybe Just Sick Away From Home

May 2012—Cha Jones

picture from wisegeek.com
Is there anyone feeling the “I miss home blues? “  If you are a newbie to expat living, then that can be expected. However, I would venture to say that even those of us with a few years of jet stream drifting behind our journeys can identify with the feeling as well.

Expat living can be exciting and challenging all wrapped up in a pretty little luggage.  But as we all know, some of the best luggage can be misdirected from time to time, especially on an international flight! And if you are traveling solo thousands of miles away from home it can become very overwhelming and the adjustment may take some getting used to. So, here is some advice that I hope can assist you when you are having one of those, “Why the hell am I doing this again?” moments.

I would first like to say that being homesick doesn’t make you any less fit for the journey; it just means that you miss home. However, it’s not the time to pack your bags and return, but rather a good time for you to find comfort in searching your soul. Most likely when you are experiencing being homesick you are feeling the disconnection of your extension to your family, friends and familiar environment. But if you find ways to extend home into your new environment, then most likely this will ease your feelings of being homesick and you can get back to the business of expat living. 

 When the excitement has worn…

picture from google images 
Get connected
It’s easy to be excited about the new trip or journey when you are preparing, but what happens when all the newness wears off and you are in your new environment wishing for the old? Well, it’s time to find some happiness right where you are. Maybe you meet some people who like to do some of the same things you like to do, or maybe you find another expat in your area who can at least understand being away from home. Look up www.meetup.com, it’s a great way to get connected to people in your area that have similar interest.  I am sure there are other ways to meet expats and natives that share your interest, you just have to ask the Universe to send you signs (newspapers, commercials, or a little eavesdrop on a conversation), and you know Google is always your friend in times like this, too. Google knows you better than your mother, I’m just saying.

picture from Huffpost Tech

One of the first things we miss about home are the people in our lives. You begin thinking back on what you use to do or you visit the calendar and realize you’re missing something that is going on at home, but the reality is you aren’t in Kansas anymore (or wherever you are from Dorothy).

First, stop making yourself miserable thinking about things that can’t be changed. If you miss the people that you adore back at home make time to video call them. It may require that you stay up later or get up earlier, but that is the price you pay to see the people that you love. If you are missing a big event at home such as a wedding or birth, then ask your family or friends to Skype you in, most places have wifi now days. You may have to think out the box and get the people at home to think out the box as well.  However, I’m sure that you seeing the birth of you new niece or nephew will be worth all the hassle it took to Skype you in.


The next thing that makes people homesick is the lack of having things around them that give them a sense of familiarity. Maybe you miss driving your car, taking a bathtub, the ease of grocery shopping or going to a hair stylist. For me, it was a lack of having a normal (American) shower that made me miss home on a daily bases, but I learned to come up with a system to cope with my shower blues. However, something as simple as not having a bathtub or a normal shower can send you into emotional panic on that one day that you really wished you could be home. So, try to find something that can take the place of the thing you long for, that could be difficult, but it’s worth trying.

Now, you may not be able to replace something like a bathtub, but you can come up with a new way of using what you have and creating a whole new experience. If you want some familiar food, then you may have to find something that is totally different but made in the same or a similar way. Remember, you mostly likely moved abroad because you wanted to have a change, so take this time to do so and start creating a new experience.

picture from google images
“When you can change the way you look at a thing, the thing you are looking at changes.”Wayne Dyer
Sometimes we find ourselves homesick because we or attracting negative things into our lives through a negative outlook. We arrived on our new journey all excited and ready to take on the great experiences that came along with moving abroad. However, now we find ourselves homesick because we walked into a store with an, “I can’t find anything” attitude. How is that you can’t find anything when you are in a store with thousands of items? What you meant was, you can’t find anything that meets your requirements, but there are several things in the store for you to find if you change how you see things. I know how it feels to have an expectation, especially on the day when you woke up and wanted a nice American (or whatever your home country would be) style breakfast, and you have no means of actually making that happen. But look on the bright side; you can still have something wonderful to eat even if it’s not what you desire to have.  Sometimes we make ourselves homesick when you think about or dwell on things that we can’t change, and all we have to do is change how we are perceiving things and the things we are experiencing changes.

The journey is to be traveled…

Don’t let being homesick ruin the journey. It’s normal and happens to the best of us, but the best way to fight through it is to find the excitement again and live there. Being homesick will come and go, and in time it happens less and less, especially when you get into a routine and find friends and extended family where you are. We all deal with our experiences of being homesick a little different, but remember that no matter what you are dealing with, “This too shall pass!” So, enjoy the journey and learn to be in the NOW of every experience, and home will start to look like the place you are in. 

Other links to articles that may help: