Photo Credit: Courtesy of Shaunda Jay
The Black Expat: 'I Set A Goal To Live Abroad For 15 Years'
Atlanta native Shaunda Johnson, aka Shaunda Jay, decided to move abroad just one month after graduating from college. That was in 2015.
She initially started out teaching English but has now ventured into running her online boutique and doing some freelance writing.
In just 4 years, she has experienced several highs and even some lows while navigating life in South Korea. We spoke with Shaunda to learn more about her journey and what initially led her to move.
Travel Noire: What inspired you to move abroad?
Shaunda: My sister moved to South Korea in 2014 and invited me to visit when I graduated the following May. She kept telling me how unique it was and that I should experience it. My mom was supposed to come and help my sister with her new baby, but she passed away before my niece was born. I came in place of my mom to help my sister and I never left.
TN: How has life improved for you since moving abroad?
Shaunda: I have more financial freedom since I don’t have the expenses that I would in the States (I.e. Car, housing, etc.). I have learned how to survive in a foreign country and have become more knowledgable about the world. Most importantly, I gained self-development that have expanded my wisdom of life that I could only learn from living abroad. Plus the travel benefits of being in Asia didn’t hurt.
TN: What obstacles or struggles have you faced since being in South Korea?
Shaunda: As a Black woman in Korea I am often identified as African, poor, or dirty because of the color of my skin. On the other hand, I am fetishized or seen as an exotic beauty. Either people want to be far away from me or too close for comfort. I have even had an elderly woman caress my leg on the subway because she was curious about my skin.
Even though some Koreans are racist, I still feel safer living in Korea than I would be living in the States, because my life is not in danger for being black. I also get to properly educate my students and co-workers about Black Americans and our culture.
TN: Tell us about your recent health scare.
Shaunda: I was recently hospitalized for 5 days with fatal blood clots in my lungs. I am currently in Korea on a tourist visa visiting my family, so I do not have national health insurance or travel health insurance. The hospital initially refused to properly treat me until I paid them a ridiculous amount of money (10 million won which is about $10,000). Once I had a US citizen advocacy group remind the hospital that what they were doing was illegal, then I received treatment. But they tried to hold me hostage at the hospital until they received their money in full. I had to raise money from friends and family to get discharged from the hospital. My bill was over 7 million won (about $7,000). It was the worst week of 2019 for me.
TN: How did you launch your business from South Korea?
Shaunda: I launched my blog in February 2018 after much research online. I was able to do all of the set-up online on my own. I also have a background in written, visual, and technological communication which helped me create my blog.
In September 2018, I launched my clothing line. I saw a need for pro-black apparel in Korea and decided to try my hand at it. I was able to purchase a wholesale order from a former college colleague and then I retailed the orders in Korea online. I first started selling items in-person and on Facebook. I never imagined that the line would take off the way it did.
TN: Do you see yourself moving back to the States?
Shaunda: I have wanted to live abroad since my junior year in college. I set a goal for me to live abroad for 15 years and so far I’m only 4 years in. As of now, I plan to finish my 11 years abroad and have many more countries that I want to live in.
TN: What advice do you have for other Black travelers wanting to move abroad?
Shaunda: My advice would be to go with the mindset that the universe is always working in your favor and to be flexible to have your entire world changed. Living abroad can be very challenging on an emotional, physical, and mental level. However, it can also be just as rewarding (even more rewarding) in those same areas if you can see that your grass is green no matter where you are.
TN: Where can we find you online?