Photo Credit: Photo by Paul Michael
The Black Expat: 'I Now Know What It Means To Live'
Detroit native and school teacher, Katrina Sunnei Samasa, has been living abroad for the last 8 years. She spent one year in South Korea, 7 years in the United Arab Emirates, and shorter stints in a few other countries.
After her former principal made working conditions nearly unbearable, Katrina knew that packing up and teaching for a school abroad was the best move. She now works as a teacher leader in an international school and provides educational consulting and professional development in her spare time.
What makes her journey unique is that she made this move as a single mother of 2. Now, her family has grown and she met the man of her dreams.
We spoke with Katrina to learn more about life as a Black expat.
Travel Noire: What led you to move abroad?
Katrina: My former principal, with his history of four-hour-long evaluations that left people in tears, was a paradigm shift for me. I had never seen anything like it in my previous school. That type of toxic behavior was enough to motivate three teachers to move to Abu Dhabi and I was one of them. I refused to allow that type of environment to become my new normal. The decision to move would forever change my life in ways that I
TN: How did you prepare yourself and two children to move to a new country?
Katrina: I knew that moving in silence was best for us until it was time to go. Some people mean well, but their unsolicited advice and opinions can easily be an unnecessary deterrent. Instead of making a grand announcement of my move, I focused my energy on locating people who could help me understand this transition better.
My former colleague and her husband served as a valued resource sharing the pros and cons of their experience with me. I also searched the unofficial online forum of the recruiting agency looking for brothers and sisters to inundate with questions. They responded with kindness and answered me without hesitation. The best preparation for me was asking the right questions to determine what I needed to make a smooth transition.
TN: Tell us about life abroad now? Do you love it?
Katrina: I love living abroad. It allows my children and me to travel more often because of our location. On one of our trips through Europe, I met my husband. He was an expat there, so we both understood the struggles of being expatriates.
As I reflect on this journey, I realize it is akin to marriage. It is an exhilarating roller coaster ride with hills and valleys. We decide if it’s worth the fight, or to walk away. If a person can overcome the valleys, it can be one of the most life-fulfilling experiences. This move has allowed me to dine with royalty. I’ve watched camels cross the desert on the way to work as the sun rose. I live on one of the most beautiful islands in the world. I have a new abroad family of people from cultural backgrounds that I would have never interacted with had I remained in America. Most of all, I now know what it means to live. For me, the pros have definitely outweighed the cons.
TN: What struggles, if any, have you faced abroad?
Katrina: The biggest struggle that I’ve had abroad is being without family when there is an emergency. My son had a life-threatening injury in the UAE and had to have surgery in 2013. Thank God for my abroad family because they helped me through this.
Three months into my stay in Korea, my husband was airlifted from our island to the mainland for immediate medical treatment. There was no one to care for our children and I did not have an abroad family. As we flew to join my husband, my son bawled for his daddy for the entire hour. No one was sympathetic. In fact, I was chided by locals and the flight attendant for not controlling my son, even after explaining my situation. For the first time in years, I felt alone abroad and almost lost hope in humanity.
TN: Do you see yourself moving back to the states?
Katrina: Returning to the states is an internal struggle that I have often. The longer I remain abroad the less it feels like my only home. Who knows what God has in store for me and if the blessing is in America, that is where I will return.
TN: What advice do you have for other families looking to move abroad?
Katrina: My best advice is to roll with the tide. There is no reason to get upset with a culture and people you can’t change. Be culturally aware and competent. The job search should not only consider your career path, but your family (if you have one), and your personality. Will this move help or hinder your career long term? Are you open to the possibility of a career change? How much money will you make and is it enough to live the lifestyle you desire? How will you educate your children? Will your spouse have opportunities? What is the social scene? Do I need to be around other
members of the diaspora to survive? How do I feel about this particular culture?
Some of us have glamorized living abroad with our beautiful Instagram photos, but it can be an isolating experience if you are unhappy.
TN: Where can we find you online?
Katrina: I created an online platform specifically for Black Americans who live and are interested in living abroad, Black Americans Living Abroad. You can find us on Facebook at Black Americans Living Abroad or