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.

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  Or worse, if I'm in China (a place a lot of Koreans consider old, outdated, and dirty) or Japan (Korea's sworn enemy...well...outside of themselves)?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?


  1. Thanks for this post! I'm currently contemplating a possible move overseas, but I'm worried that I won't be able to make ends meet if I were to do so. Unfortunately I have student loans that will go into repayment if I were to stop going to school...and I owe A LOT!! The monthly payment would be substantial and from what I hear, finding work overseas isn't the easiest thing in the world, let alone work that pays well or that is comparable to my American salary (which isn't much either, sadly! LOL!). And OF COURSE I want to go to Europe, and Italy in particular, where the cost of living is high and apparently it's hard to get a job as a non-European person! =) I'm actually looking for a new job, which is partly what prompted me to look at other possibilities. I hate to let my debt load stop me, but it's hard to ignore.

    I've been looking at TESOL-type programs and reading online about teaching English and earning a living overseas, but it seems like more of a live-to-teach than teach-to-live situation, aka, your love for teaching outweighs it being a lucrative business decision. I've found so many people online talking about how they love teaching so much that they would gladly do it in the middle of a bog if they had to...I'm like, anyone do it just for the money, or to go somewhere else for awhile?? LOL! I guess I'd ideally like to find a company where I could transfer overseas. The idea of just having a contract term is a bit unsettling to me. My dad was in the Air Force and I have a travel bug for a mom who is now retired overseas as well, so traveling abroad isn't foreign to me, but actually living abroad as an adult on my own would be quite the leap! I'm glad that I found this blog as I'm particularly interested in the experiences of expat women of color. Sighhhhh. Guess I'll keep on applying for jobs & continue weighing my options....kudos to you for your courage! =)


    1. Dear Anon,
      Defering your loans is an option. You defer for 6 months at a time. Also if you have federal student loans you can apply for the income based repayment plan. So your payments can be quite low as you pay based on what you earn. There are tons of expats in South Korea paying OFF students loans. It's possible and doable. The world is your oyster. As the author suggests do your homework. All will be fine. Take one step at a time and have a positive attitude.

    2. I agree with this reply. There is hope!

  2. i LOVE this article. Thank yo so much. And AH-SSAH, thanks for the shout out to bssk! <3

    1. Thanks! And you are welcome about the shout out. I love BSSK!

  3. This is an excellent article. I'm an expat woman of color too, and it's amazing the type of questions you get. Being an expat is fun, and for Anon, sometimes finding a job isn't as beneficial as taking the transition time to start your own business.

    1. Thanks! I am glad you enjoyed it. Happy travels!