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?