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.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Just Get Over It!!!

By Breian S. Brockington

You've finally made the decision. You got on a plane, walked through immigration, collected your bags and stepped into your new journey. Welcome, to living the expat life.

Fast forward a few months and the euphoria has worn off. Your neighbors have grown accustom to your loud music. You've gotten acquainted with the local food and you can even ask for what you want in the local language. But for some odd reason, EVERYTHING IS PISSING YOU OFF. You can't ride the subway without unwanted eyes always trained on you. You're thinking "Haven't you seen a ... person before?" I get it; you just want to blend in. Well I'm here to tell you, unless you've moved to a country where the majority looks like you...tough break. You may as well Get Over It.

I loved living and working in Bucheon, South Korea, it was an awesome experience. This is where I discovered "walking neighborhoods", partying until 7a.m., and my neighbors were the best. They never complained about my loud American music (I'm certain they were rocking along with me). They even rode in the ambulance with me when I took ill. However, there was one thing I couldn't stand while living there. Someone always wanted to touch my hair. Do I look like an art exhibition? Have you never seen a Black woman's hair before? Well, actually yes, and no. Depending on your ethnicity and where you decide to go you will be considered an art exhibition. The only difference being you're alive and they are allowed to touch (if given permission). Humans are curious by nature; it’s a part of who we are. When you want to see if something is real, what's the first thing you do? You touch it, smell it, or taste it, stare at it. If you've chosen a country or region where slanted eyes are the norm and here you are with your big round American eyes, let them stare, point fingers, even laugh. This is how culture barriers are crossed. Every now and then, let them touch your hair or skin. Don't get mad, just Get Over It!

Traditional Moroccan wedding attire

I've found that there is one thing Natives love. Natives love when you can speak their language. Yes, learning Arabic, French, Lingala, or Afrikaans can be difficult but that's an assignment you signed up for when you decide to live in said country. You'll find that your journey becomes less intense once you've begun learning the language. Now, nobody said you had to become fluent but making an effort is better than nothing. The people who live around you want to feel like you want to learn their ways and who they are as a people. Not everyone will be sensitive to your lack luster attempt to speak their language. Show a little effort and enthusiasm and you’ll see how many people are willing to assist you on your journey. I would suggest taking a class or brushing up on common phrases before arriving in your new host country. Yes, learning a language can be time consuming, but pointing and grunting just looks stupid. Get a book, a study buddy and hey.....Get Over It!!

Before embarking on my new journey my wardrobe was all over the place. Long dresses and a lot more revealing ones, high heels galore, and sheer tops, were the bulk of my wardrobe. But all of that changed. It had to because I was moving somewhere with a different set of norms. Firstly, I moved without transportation, which means I walked everywhere. Women who can walk all day in heels I salute you (and secretly laugh at you...Girl stop!) Those were the first to go. I am a cute, comfy flats girl all day. Also, in some places it’s cool to wear a short skirt but your upper half must be covered. In Morocco it's deemed OK to show "a little" skin and by little I mean your neck, maybe an ankle. Sometimes depending on where you live (big or small city), locals could be more or less tolerable to individual expression through dress. Has my wardrobe changed? Yes. Do I like it? Not all the time. But you have to find middle ground, and sometimes that middle ground is accepting what is expected of you so Get Over It and move on. Make friends with the locals, find out where everyone likes to shop and see if you can find a few staple pieces for your wardrobe.   

So many of us ESL teachers (and others) are diving head first into Arab and Asian countries for the money, then regret sets in because we have to change so much of ourselves. Do your research; decide if accepting someone else's norms and expectations is what you want to do. Whether you're moving to Asia, the Middle East, Africa or any of the other 4 continents, make sure it's the right move for you. Understand that if you're open to living as an expat, then you must be willing to change your mindset. Stop expecting a society that has functioned for century’s without you, to conform and accept your foreign ideals. To them you're just another over enthusiastic, arrogant, narcissistic, foreign douche. Check your self and (say it with me) JUST GET OVER IT!!!!!  


  1. even living in a culture where people look like you, you still experience the same issues. people notice when someone is different from them, even if similar. reading this took me back to my life in Ghana. thanks.

  2. That is very true Travel Worthy. I just think adjusting to a new culture would be easier if we accepted that we are on display. The same way we want to study their language and norms they want to discover the same with us. Plus a lot times we think we can still act as if were at home. We still try to push our own ideals while in another country.

  3. This is great Bre! Love this;) I keep putting off my blog smh

  4. Ms. Kay, you do enough traveling for 5 people. I say you need to get started. :-)

  5. This is fabulous! I am going to send this to my sister Shanta who is in month 16 of 24 of her Peace Corps assignment in Botswana to see what she has to add. I do plan to live abroad at some point in time, so this was a nice eye opener. When people from foreign countries come to live here, we expect them to begin the process of blending in and learning our language, therefore we should expect the same of ourselves when abroad.

  6. Yes, I was just having that conversation with my father today. I was explaining to him how we expect people to come here with knowledge of our language but we don't extend that same courtesy when we travel. I say try your best to assimilate while maintaining you national identity. And Thanks!!!!! Let me know where you end up, I can always use another vacation. Ka-O

  7. I love it! Yes, you must be willing to GET OVER IT if you want to make a living as an expat. I remember when I first moved to Korea it was different, but as you said, "You know what you are getting into." They say when in Rome do as the Romans and anyone who thinks that they can go to someones country and change them must know they are headed for self-destruction. Thanks for the piece I think newbies really need to read this when they start to get homesick for sure!!!!

  8. Thanks Cha! That means a lot coming from you. And let me say although I wrote this piece I still struggle with some of these issues. As a seasoned traveler I should know better but I'm only human. I just hope others understand that everyone has a bad day, week, and sometimes month when it comes to living abroad. We should complain, evaluate, improve and move on.