Growing up in St. Petersburg, Florida, Rachel Kandji always envisioned herself traveling the world and living abroad. It wasn’t until she was a student at Clark Atlanta University that the now-28-year-old teacher decided to take the leap and move overseas. She was inspired by a Black guest speaker in her Educational Studies class.
“She spoke about how she traveled the world teaching for the Department of Defense schools,” Kandji told Travel Noire. “I was instantly intrigued. She looked like me, and she was living her life aboard.”
Right after college, Kandji began looking into teaching overseas, but she discovered most of the schools required at least three years of experience. As the years went by, she got married and had a son.
“Over those years A LOT happened socially in America. Having a son really changed my perspective on the world. I had to ask myself, is this the world I want to raise my son in?”
Rachel and her husband began to discuss moving overseas and before they knew it, Rachel had secured a teaching position at a school in Dubai. They moved to the United Arab Emirates eight months ago, during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was a very difficult time to relocate because a lot of government offices were closed or working at reduced capacity,” she said. “I had to get documents authenticated through the Department of State and the U.A.E. Embassy, which were moving slow.”
Kandji was also worried about whether the U.A.E. would be open to non-residents. At the time the country was coming off of total lockdown and the airport was slowly reopening to some non-residents.
Luckily, Rachel’s job decided to fly her and her family out early before the government announced any more restrictions. Next, she had to worry about the logistics of moving.
“We packed up our lives into four suitcases and had to sell everything else. Moving abroad really puts into perspective what material things are important. I left only a small amount of sentimental items with my mother.”
It didn’t take long for Kandji and her family to get settled into their new life in Dubai. She says their lives have changed for the better since the move. They enjoy modern conveniences such as having almost anything delivered and having services done in the comfort of her home.
“Our quality of life has definitely improved,” Kandji explained. “The UAE is a relatively new country, so everything here is very modern and futuristic. We are able to afford a nanny. She not only watches our son, but cleans as well.”
Kandji says she has found Dubai to be an extremely safe and child-friendly city where you can feel secure taking your child anywhere at any time of day or night without a fear of crime or violence.
“There is a high standard of civility here with heavy fines for cursing people out or acting crazy in public. Every public place is geared towards families. Children are very innocent here because of the Islamic culture that censors a lot of inappropriate things.”
“The way children are treated here is very different from in the States. You will see children riding their scooters everywhere, indoors and outdoors, running around, and basically living life with no boundaries–not in a disrespectful way, but in a free way.”
With a diverse population that includes people from all over the world, race has not been an issue for Kandji or her family. She says they are treated much better in the U.A.E. than in the U.S.
“I do not have to worry about people following me around a store because they think I am going to steal. When we are out with our son on the playground, I don’t have to worry about parents not wanting their child to play with my child. And I definitely do not have to worry about police brutality. Living in the States, I was in constant fear that a wrong encounter with the police could turn deadly at any moment.”
In Dubai, Kandji is part of a tight-knit Black expat community full of friendly and helpful women that has helped make the transition easier. In fact, at the school she works in, 90% of the teachers are Black American women.
“We have a great sense of community inside and outside of work. During Thanksgiving we cooked our soul food, laughed, and gave thanks. The Black expat community is very inspiring. We all travel during breaks or find something fun to do on the weekends.”
But the biggest benefit has been the way the move has strengthened Rachel’s family bond.
“Moving to Dubai has been amazing for my marriage and my son. We are closer than ever because we are all we have overseas. We explore new places, try new things together, and discover new things about ourselves together. We go on adventures on the weekends. Sometimes I have to remind myself we are not on vacation. We live here.”
Rachel’s advice to other Black people looking to move abroad is to research the country extensively, especially the laws, because you will have to follow their rules even if you do not agree. She also recommends using Facebook groups to meet other Black expats in that country and ask them questions.
“Make sure the move will benefit your family economically and socially,” she said. “It is not easy being away from friends and family. You will miss important events in their lives. But you have to remember to live your life.”
“It is very feasible to move abroad with a family and I highly recommend it. Black children deserve to see the world. They deserve to see other children that look like them that live abroad. I believe showing children the world cultivates them to be open-minded critical thinkers.”
Rachel’s next trip will be home to the States to visit her family. She will also continue to explore Dubai and the other Emirates, as they offer so much to see and do. You can follow Rachel at @__mamarach__.