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.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Passing the Expat Baton...STICK! (Part 2)

By:  Brittany S

THE COOL SIDE OF THE PILLOWNow I know after reading the last post, I may have come off as a bit snooty, unapproachable, or full of attitude to some, and to others, I may have just been keeping it real.  But whatever your response to my initial post was, here is the softer side.  I offer you the cold side of the pillow; this is what happens when I am able to help someone become an expat, or at least an international traveler, for the first time.

First, a little about me:
(For the avid readers of my posts, you have probably read this once before, so you can skip to the next section.)  I'm a mid-20s, single, childless Black American living in Korea.  I grew up in several multi-generational households, with an average anywhere between 5-9 people in one 3-bedroom home.  Can you believe my mother was a single parent and I was an only child with those numbers!?  Let's just say "life for me ain't been no crystal stair."  My predominantly Black high school lost its accreditation the year after I graduated and what I learned (at a different high school) my freshman year was repeated over the next 3 years, ultimately putting me far behind my collegiate classmates.  My counselor tried to prepare me for a community college or the military.  She never even mentioned a four-year university and beyond.  My school's expectations for me were clear; I won't go far in life.

When I went off to a predominantly White institution, I noticed how different I was from them in life experiences and preparedness.  They all went on Spring Break trips around the country in high school (You mean you didn't just go to grandma's?) and around Europe as a senior class trip (My school allowed us to sell candy bars to go to DC, but that's as far as we got).  And in college?  They came in their freshman year with almost enough credits to make them sophomores.  They studied abroad and took family vacations out of the country.  Their two-story brick homes were renovated to add an additional room (Sometimes we lived in one-bedroom apartments with 3 people).  They knew about when they were going to get married, where they would live, and what they would do for work.  Some of them already had job offers before they even applied (Why don't I know anyone who can offer ME a job?).
You know this situation:
Seriously?  Am I the ONLY one who doesn't have this all figured out?  (redsuspenders.tumblr.com)

After I got over my self-pity, or even past the blaming institutional racism for my plight, I realized that I was now in the same classrooms and same school as them.  I had a lot of the same resources available to me, and I had the power to change my situation.  Granted, there was a little more of a struggle financially (so I worked three jobs every semester), but I now had a CHOICE.  I could determine my future, or blame my past for my present.  I chose the former.  In 2007, I studied abroad in London for 6 weeks over the summer, as the only person from my state in the program.

Here I am six years later, living in South Korea.  People ask me questions all the time, but my favorite is when people just want to know my story.  Everyone likes telling stories, especially the ones they were able to author.  I have told people about my experiences before and after I became an expat and in doing so, I have planted a seed and/or nourished a dormant curiosity within them.  I think the best part about my story is when people tell me they can't do what I'm doing, I say "Why not?  I did it.  What makes you so different?"  When they sincerely consider this question and come to the realization that our differences aren't too many, then the real conversation begins.

Since I have been abroad, I have been able to help people find jobs abroad, and leave America for the first time, visit a foreign country for the first time (strictly as a tourist and not on military orders).  I must say I absolutely LOVED sharing in their expat "firsts".

27 Things You Had To Deal With As The Only Black Kid In Your Class
Yep, that about sums it up. (kyssthis16.tumblr.com)

Finding a Job Abroad:  College Friend

My second job in Korea was a 6-month appointment to a rural elementary school.  I thought this was the perfect time-fill as I graduated from college in December and planned to teach in America in the fall.  Well, being in Korea as an employee instead of a student changed my outlook on expat living.  Six months is too short!  So, I decided to stay.  My friend from back home was in the same transitory state in her life, so I suggested that she came to Korea to do the same program I had just completed.  After a few conversations back and forth, she took me up on my offer and we got started on her application.  Because I had already gone through the same program, I was able to give her insider tips that helped her make a smoother transition than some of her peers.  I also was her reassuring voice, as she quickly saw how few people like "us" were expats and how intimidating this new form of solitude could be.
I remember the many times of her being lost in translation and navigation, not understanding the currency conversion or the language, and struggling to figure out something (seemingly) as simple as what to order from the menu.  And then I remember her traveling to three different countries with me in the same week, making friends with the locals, speaking and reading Korean, and telling people back home about how this could be their life, too.  She was an expat.
I was sad when it was time to see her off, but I was glad that not only did this experience change the lives of her students forever, but it has forever made her aware of global citizenship, expat living, and ultimately made her a better person.  I am so excited to see what the future holds for her.
She CONQUERED Asia...now all of her thoughts are global.  I'm so proud of her!

Traveling as a Tourist:  Sorority Sister

One of my favorite things about being in a Sorority is that I will be able to find another Soror just about anywhere I go.  When I moved to Korea, I joined one of our International Alumnae chapters and connected with my Sorors across the country.  Many of the chapter's membership consisted of members of the military.  I planned a trip with one of them to Japan.  She had never traveled abroad as a tourist before, only as a soldier.  She was so excited!  Even though both of us lived in Korea, I was able to teach her something new about expat life on this trip.  There were a couple times she found herself being surprised (disappointed) that everyone didn't speak English and/or that USD were not accepted everywhere.  But after a while, she got the hang of things and was able to communicate with the locals in a more effective way and master public transportation.  After this trip with me, she planned a SOLO trip to a couple other Asian countries.  Man, even I haven't done that yet!

Welcome Abroad:  Old Flame

There's something exciting about being able to share something you really love with someone you really love.  A blast from my past decided that he wanted to come visit me in Korea and I couldn't have been happier.  He was my first and only visitor abroad from back home.  There was so much I wanted to show him but only had a short amount of time!  And it didn't help that he came in the middle of Korea's winter.  HARSH.
I took him to meet me Korean family and even though my "brother" and one of my "sisters" don't really speak English, we were able to speak enough broken English and Korean to each other to communicate.  They wanted to get a feel for my friend and see how much he could drink (actually, they offered him their homemade raspberry wine, which Koreans believe aides a man in um...well...you know...).

It was really great that we were able to visit a Fire Station and interact with everyone, even the Chief (can you tell which one is the chief from the picture?  Look at the clothes.)  He is a fireman in his hometown and wanted to see how similar and different his profession is abroad.  They were honored to have him and he was honored to have had that experience.

This was his first trip abroad.  He purchased a passport and traveled 24 hours by himself into a country whose native language is not English.  Now that's brave.  My first trip abroad was to London!  I hope that through this exposure, he now feels the world is bigger than his neighborhood and country and that it is his to explore!  I'm glad I was able to awaken in him a new curiosity.

Ultimately, it is moments like these that won't allow me to throw in the towel on travel guidance for others.  I hope the three of them continue to travel throughout their lives.  If not, at least their perspectives on life and the world will forever be altered at least somewhat.  I know they've altered mine.  I'm glad someone was able to take my baton and keep the travel bug alive.  Have you inspired someone to travel lately?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Passing the Expat Baton...But They Aren't Catching Up! (Part 1)

By:  Brittany S
My face when the interviews begin...dude, I just wanna enjoy the ride sometimes!

We've all experienced it:  the moment when someone asks you questions about the expat experience and you cringe.

You cringe not because you are unhappy abroad or with the person, it’s the question that unnerves you.  I'm sure even now, you are sitting there reading this nodding, pursing your lips, and saying "mmmhmmmm..." and immediately at least 5 questions come to mind  (and the  responses that occur in our minds):

What do you do over there? ("Just anybody can go over there?")
  • Nothing.  I sit in a temple and am writing my own "Eat, Pray, Love".  ("I'm not trained, educated, or certified at all so since they chose me over the chimp and the robot they were considering, I guess they really DO just let anyone over here!)

Where exactly are you?  ("Are you in North or South Korea?")
  • Seriously?  Even if you don't know the difference between Dhaka and Dakar, or Liberia and Libya, how could you NOT know about BOTH North AND South Korea right now?!  PSY has made everyone look at South Korea, North Korea’s nuclear threats made everyone look at North Korea.  Both of these countries, if they were not on your radar before, 2012-13 should DEFINITELY have put them there.  So why do you keep asking me which Korea I'm in!?  Or worse, if I'm in China (a place a lot of Koreans consider old, outdated, and dirty) or Japan (Korea's sworn enemy...well...outside of themselves)?  Wild card, I'm in Indonesia. 

Did you really just ask that?  Look at my face.  C'mon son...


Do they speak English there?  (And/or "Can you speak [Korean] fluently yet?")
  • Hmmm...the only language that I speak IS English and I have a job TEACHING ENGLISH...at the very least...the people around me speak at least enough English for me to have a job and comfortable lifestyle. (And how many years did we study Spanish and/or French in school and still can't speak it?  How many Americans do you know that can't even speak English?  So why would I be fluent by now?)

Are there Black people there?
  • OMG...they must think I'm Michael Jackson now. O.o

Wait, you mean I'm the only one?  So who are all these Brothas&Sistas of South Korea?


What do you eat? ("Do they really eat dog?" or "What else do they eat besides sushi?" -_-)
  • It's funny how people feel "cultured" when they can use chopsticks, go to a Chinese Buffet or have sushi, but they think when you are actually IN these countries you are eating dogs beat over the head with a rock.  I have actually become a scavenger and I eat whatever I can find on the ground.

We get asked these questions so often, that I'm starting to think expats need to carry an information card as a courtesy to pass out when we spark their expat curiosity.  If somehow you were able to answer the above questions through your teeth and they are still attentive, they fire off another line of questioning:

"Sooo...I've been thinking about doing what you're doing (even though the previous questions I asked let you know that I don't actually KNOW what you're doing...), so how do I get started?  I wanna try and move there in like a month."

  • I give a list of websites to start job searches in different countries, recommend that they submit the fingerprints for the FBI background check and go apply for a passport as soon as possible to get them started.  However, when I try to talk about timelines and hiring patterns with people, I swear it goes in one ear and out the other.  I guess this is a good thing because they don't waste their money on that paperwork when they change their mind about their sporadic decision to move abroad.  For those who show a little bit more promise, I help them consider different countries and some resources (including people) there.  However, it seems like people don't make it past this step.  You can lead a horse to water...

"Do you like it there?"

  • I'm not sure if the fact that I've been abroad for more than 2 years, write for a travel blog, keep a separate blog solely dedicated to the awesome moments that happen at my job,  and post tons of pics and funny posts on Facebook is enough to say I like it.  I need to stop having people think I'm so miserable.

"Do they have (xyz product, food, or business) there?"

  • I want to say "let me Google that for you" or hit them with the actual link.  I mean, must I spell out EVERYTHING?  Almost all of these questions have already been answered by SOMEBODY, SOMEWHERE.  They are all just as sick of these questions as I am, so they’ve created blogs, documents, web pages, etc so that you...the one who wants to do what they are already doing...can show some initiative and do some research!  Granted, it is easier for you to ask us directly (and when the moon is full, we do actually genuinely enjoy being your source of info), and even more trustworthy in your eyes, but you are not the only person we know who wants to use us as their resource.  Think about how many times we have had to say the SAME thing.  And it becomes even more frustrating when...

"Mmm...I decided not to do it.  I mean, I don't wanna have to live in a whole 'nother country...so I'mma just stay here...you have fun with that."

  • #(#*%(@&@$(&!!!!!!!  Seriously!?  After picking our brains, and in the rare case that we think you might 
         A--be serious about coming over
         B--be able to handle expat life and blossom abroad and
         C--not be an obnoxious embarrassment to our race and/or nationality
         and decided to fully help you, you back out!?

Are you KIDDING ME?!

I know some of you agree with me and share my frustrations, while others are questioning why I’m so bitter towards these questions.  "Didn't someone help YOU out?" you may wonder (No, but that isn’t the point).  I cherish this experience and as the expats these people know, we are gatekeepers in a way.  We are their lead into this world.  It’s an honor to have people look at me and become at least curious about a whole new world.  And as someone on the other side, I’d love to help others and share this world with them.  But, I’ve also seen countless people that have no business being abroad, and it makes me take the gatekeeper role a bit more seriously.
I’ll never tell anyone they SHOULDN'T go abroad, but I definitely won't spoon-feed someone who already feels entitled to everything from the beginning.  If you feel I MUST help you, must answer your every question in detail, directly, and immediately, and that the country MUST have this, this, and this, or you will NOT stay, and that you already "know" what it’ll be like (including what the people are like), then you don't need my help.  In my opinion, you want this life for the wrong reasons, and if you plan to pursue it, do it without my guidance.  And for those who I do fully offer guidance, it’s frustrating when you don't take some ownership over your own curiosity.  I don't have a side gig as the "middle man" to expat life.  And as much as I would love to see you abroad, it is tiresome and burdensome to have to KEEP reinventing the wheel for one person at a time, for the duration of my life abroad.  Please earnestly do your research and look to me for GUIDANCE, not INSTRUCTION.

'D' is for DO some homework...and DON'T pester your expat friend!

For those abroad, how do you handle these questions?

Here's how a couple of my friends have handled it.

Check out Kaylee's detailed blog on  how to become a teacher in South Korea.

or Perl's video series on how to get a visa.

For those wanting to go abroad, what are you doing yourself to make that happen?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

One Restaurant, One Table, Two Happy WoCLA

By:  Brittany S

One of the things I love most about Korea is the random acts of kindness that occur between Koreans and expats.  The other day, I was waiting for my friend to meet me at 7-11 so we could pop fireworks for 4th of July.  Korean 7-11s have patios with patio furniture on them.  I sat in one of the chairs near a family that was enjoying a meal they brought from home (picnic at 7-11?).  They saw me and immediately tried to get their timid toddler to say "Hi" to me in English.  I smiled and waved at her, then the family started trying to include me in their picnic!

In the same week, my ["Woman of Color Living Abroad"--WoCLA] friend, Perl, told me that her former employer wanted to take her to a very special restaurant and wanted her to bring a [WoCLA] friend to share in the experience.  Up until this very day, I had never heard of this woman, nor her of me.  But, she drove to my apartment to pick me up and take me to this unique restaurant.

I've said this before and I'll say it again--Love knows no language.  My Korean isn't as great as it used to be (thanks to 6 wks in America), but Koreans are very patient with my attempts and they put forth the little English they may know.  Meeting new people is no longer intimidating because of a language barrier.  We always work it out.  Even silence is now comfortable.  On our 30 minute ride up the mountain, the silence allowed us to take in the breathtaking view.

The city I live in is considered a somewhat rural area.  However, there is a rather thriving city life here, so you can avoid the countryside experience if you so choose.  This restaurant was up in the mountains, therefore placing it on the outskirts of town, on a lot of back and windy roads without street signs or signals.  If someone where to ask me today how to get to that restaurant, I'd have nothing to go off of except the more green you see around you, the closer you are getting.

When Perl first told me this restaurant only had one table, I thought either something was lost in translation between her and her former employer, or this place was extremely exclusive and required reservations months in advance.  Neither was the case.  I jokingly said "are we just going to someone's house for dinner?" but when we arrived, that was exactly what it was!  This particular family had chosen to split their home into two parts closed off from one another.  One part served as the restaurant and pottery barn (as all the dishes they use there, from bowls to serving trays to mugs, etc, they make and sell) and the other the residence.  The restaurant was designed with traditional Korean paper all around the interior, and hundreds of hand-crafted items lining every wall and shelf.  The low table was handmade as well.

Our waitress/chef/host was very friendly and very curious about the WoCLA who came to visit her on this day.  We were her first expat visitors!  We spoke as much Korean as we could and filled in the blanks with English.  They did the opposite for us.  When the food arrived, we were given two different kind of salads.  The most interesting part of this was we were served a salad with FLOWERS in it!  I was very surprised that the most satisfying part of the salad was a petal!  My friend and I devoured this part of the meal, thinking this was the main/only course.

Soon, lightly fried eggplant, pumpkin, and mushrooms arrived, as well as a plethora of side dishes.


The side dishes looked like different shades of green of the same plant (with a few other variations).  We tried them all.


As if that wasn't enough, she brought out a soybean stew and traditional (purple) rice.


We wrapped up the meal with omija, a traditional tea that is famous for having "5 flavors" on your tongue.


There was so much food leftover and I couldn't believe that we had a 100% organic and vegetarian-friendly meal that was completely satisfying and delicious!  The best part about it was that it cost 10,000won per person (about $9 USD)!

The owner was so happy we came that she gave us our choice of pottery to take with us.  I was so glad Perl invited me to take part in this experience.  Below is a video she made of our experience.  Check it out!


(Perl's comment about eating the dog is because we passed my restaurant that I ate dog at on the way here.  That is another story...)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Five Reasons to Love Summer in the Gulf

By:  eternitysojourner

These days in Oman, it’s hard to have a conversation without some mention of the heat.  Sometimes it’s the answer to a question:  “How are you?” “Hot.”  Sometimes it’s used as a reprimand:  “Don’t touch me!  I’m hot and sweaty!” And sometimes, it’s a random exclamation:  “Oh my goodness, it’s so hot!”  You think you’re getting used to the heat until it still sneaks up on you and smacks you on the back of the neck.  My general mantra is “mind over matter”.  I try to stay calm and think cool thoughts when the temperature rises, but facing the reality of peak summer heat requires the kind of mental acrobatics that leave you baffled.  So, we’re going to turn our sun-scorched frowns upside down and look at the ultra-sunny side of life.  Here are a few benefits to the summer heat that will hopefully shift your perspective and help you bear life above 100oF (38oC) a little easier.

1.        You don’t need to use a drying machine.

Line drying your laundry is the best way to maintain the quality of your clothes and naturally bleach hard-to-clean stains.  Rain is so scarce in the Gulf that you hardly have to worry about your laundry catching a downpour.  Even if you save all of your laundry for the weekend, you can do back-to-back loads.  Most of my laundry is dry in about two hours, so you can wash and dry laundry as long as the sun is up.  Such an eco-friendly alternative will help compensate for the tremendous amount of energy consumed by running your air conditioners.

2.       Your health could improve.

The simple act of standing outside is enough to break a sweat, which burns calories.  Walking is optional but running in this heat could be risky.  With all the buckets of sweat you generate, there must be some detoxification and cleansing going on internally.  Also, the almost consistently clear skies will give you great doses of Vitamin D which is essential for calcium absorption and boosting your immune system. 

An additional benefit is your obstinate desire to avoid cooking at all costs.  While some may try to subsist on frozen desserts, many will admit strong cravings for salads—green salads, fruit salads, leftover salads.  Anything that doesn’t require heating suddenly becomes the most appetizing dish for your palate.

3.       Your tap water is never cold.

No fears of a cold shower in these parts.  The water is tepid after sunrise, lukewarm at night, and scorching in the mid-day.  You won’t need to use a water-heater (or a kettle) to warm your water for the entire summer--yet another way to conserve energy and save your money.

4.       You can experiment with outdoor cooking.

I don’t eat eggs but if I did, I wouldn’t waste gas frying them considering how hot the ground is.   When I lived in Algeria, I heard about a type of bread that’s baked under the heat of the desert sand.  I couldn’t believe it then but my Omani friends tell me about how meat is roasted underground for special occasions. It’s all quite plausible to me now.   Roasting, dehydrating, and baking outdoors are all options for conserving energy and testing out your solar-powered cooking skills.

5.       You gain a profound appreciation for all things cold.

An icy drink, a cool breeze, and a cold room all attain a new level of significance in your life.  Your gratitude for such relief reaches new depths and it’s good to pause and think about those who have no escape from the heat, no refuge from the cold, or live their lives under the elements all year round.  While this post was intended to be light-hearted, I hope we can all take a moment to pause and reflect upon how fortunate we are in our given circumstances, even if they’re inconvenient.  A temporary power outage or water shortage always brings me back to a reality that people face on a daily basis.  Thankfully, the heat is bearable for most of us and by the end of the year, we’ll be enjoying sunny days on the beach while others are shivering from the cold.

Serious Tips for Coping with the Heat

·         Hydrate yourself liberally, generously, and often.

·         Plan your outings early or late.  Preferred times would be before 10 AM and after 4 PM.

·         Stay indoors during peak heat.

·         Use hats, sunscreen, and long loose clothing to protect your skin from sunburn. 

·         Use windshield visors in your vehicle and driving gloves for handling your steering wheel and shifting gears.

Thankfully, many jobs in the Gulf offer generous summer vacations, so use your month or two (or three!) of paid leave wisely and plan accordingly.

Any other tips for staying cool in the Gulf?

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Joys and Challenges of Learning Japanese

by Stephanie McCreary

Soon after I arrived in Fujisawa, Japan, I took a walk to familiarize myself with my new surroundings and happened upon Tully’s Coffee. I popped in and as I stood in line, I mentally scrolled through my newly acquired list of words and phrases that I could say to the cashier to communicate what I wanted. Hello? No, I didn’t want to be the dumb American who expects everyone to speak English. Arigato?  No, that means thank you in Japanese and would finish the interaction. Konnichi-wa? Yes, that's a good start, the Japanese greeting for hello. But when the person in front of me walked away and my turn to order came up, all I could muster was a polite smile. I had only recently arrived and I didn’t want to sound foolish, so I handed my chocolate chunk cookie to the girl behind the register, gave her 170 yen, spotted a table and quickly sat down.

 I had called Oman home for a year and a half before reaching the Land of the Rising Sun. There, highway signage is written in both English and Arabic, and I could easily navigate my way through the supermarket because every aisle was labeled in the two languages. The locals could speak solid basic English, and many English speaking Indian expatriates lived there. Although Japan is a modern country offering the best in information technology and highly efficient public transit systems, English education in the country has been designed so that students finish secondary school not with proficiency in conversational English, but only as perfect English grammarians.

While munching on my cookie, I remembered that my program coordinator had mentioned that a free Japanese class for foreigners was being offered on Sundays from 10am to noon starting in early May. I was a little reluctant to do it because of the weekend time slot, but then thought about how verbally handicapped I felt once I stepped out of the ESL bubble of work and friends. I decided it would be a good opportunity to begin to break down the language barrier and to use my brain in a different way.

On the second Sunday in May, I went with my two colleagues to the first Japanese language class for Foreigners at the Fujisawa Youth Center. When we arrived, the woman at the front desk handed us cards and told us to write our names, addresses, and phone numbers on them. She spoke to us in Japanese and even though I could figure out what she wanted, I felt a bit bewildered and intimidated by the fact that I was going to be forced to listen to nothing but Japanese for the next two hours. I knew then what my Japanese student counterparts must feel like everyday in my class. After filling out our cards we were taken to a table inside a big room cushioned with white mats where we were asked questions in Japanese to test our level.

"Where are you from?" The assistant teacher asked the question slowly, and my friend helped me with the translation, as he had studied a bit of the language before he arrived. I could feel my brain trying to slowly absorb and retain the words. At the end of our evaluation, we were put in the beginner group.

Our class consisted of myself, my two colleagues William and Don, a nine-year old girl from China, a young man in his 20s from Vietnam, and an El Salvadoran-Canadian from Toronto.  Our teachers helped us write our names in the Katakana script, which, along with Hiragana and Kanji, make up the three systems of writing in Japanese. They made me write, write, and write it again until I arrived at some semblance of correctness. It took a great deal of focus and concentration to write the characters, which were like little pictures.  When we finished, we went around the circle and said our names.
“Watashi wa Stephanie desu,” I said haltingly.

We drew pictures of our country flags, and then Mizuki, our pert teacher with a shiny pixie hair cut wrote the words Watashi no kuni wa on the whiteboard. She sat down on the mat, held up her paper, pointed to the flag of Japan she had drawn and said,  "Watashi no kuni wa Nihon desu." She looked at William, my colleague, and asked "Okuni wa?" He replied, “Watashi no kuni wa Ingurando desu."
When my turn came around I said, "Watashi no kuni wa Amrika desu,” gradually getting a feel for the rhythm of the language.


In the following weeks I learned more practical Japanese, including words for different hobbies and activities: televi for television, ryori for cooking, ryoko for traveling, and jova for horseback riding. We reviewed the basics, and added new phrases. I learned to say Watashi no, shigoto wa, eigo no sensei desu or, I am an English teacher. My birthday is December 2nd, or Watashi no tanjyoubi wa junni gatsu futsuka.  During the last class our teachers set up various shop scenarios in which one class member played the cashier and another the customer. When that class concluded I popped into Doutor’s Coffee in downtown Fujisawa and when my turn came up to order I boldly stood in front of the cashier and said “Café au lait arimasu ka?” Do you have café au lait? I waited for my order, and after receiving it, turned gracefully around and sat down, feeling very pleased with myself.