Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Melissa
The Black Expat: 'I Moved Abroad Because I Didn't Know Anything Else'
Meet Melissa who is 25 and hails from Northern Virginia. She grew up bouncing from country to country with her family. She attended school in Swaziland, Japan, South Africa, and South Korea. She graduated from high school in Korea, went to college in Texas, and then went overseas to work right after graduation.
She worked as a special education teacher in Stuttgart, Germany and Bucharest, Romania. Now, she is living out her passion by teaching drama at a bilingual school in Milan, Italy.
We had the chance to speak with her about her life as a black expat.
Travel Noire: What does being an expat mean to you?
Melissa: Being an expat is all about duality– you have two homes and two families. You have your home country and culture, which you take with you everywhere, with your home family that supports you and welcomes you back any time. Then you have your home abroad, which fills you with experiences you might not otherwise get, and connects you with a “chosen family” of people who love to travel and experience life the way you do.
TN: Why did you choose the “expat life?’
Melissa: Because I didn’t know anything else! I grew up experiencing different cultures as frequently as my own, and it was never a question that I wouldn’t stay still for long. It was important to me that I was able to go to university (college) in the US, but after that I was ready to go! I’ve never once regretted that choice.
TN: What challenges do you face while being black and abroad?
Melissa: The refugee crisis in Europe definitely shaped people’s first impressions of me, as many assumed from appearances that I was coming from a war-torn country in Africa or the Middle East. I’ve also experienced more men telling me outright that I don’t look “European enough” and therefore were not interested. But more than anything, there’s just a lot of people who have little to no experience with black people, and don’t know where to start with their interactions.
TN: What do you enjoy most about living abroad?
Melissa: I think the best part about living overseas is the network you build. After living abroad as a child and as an adult, I have so many friends in so many places– I never pay for hotels anymore! It’s also so special when you get to connect with someone because of a mutual friend on another continent. It really drives home that the world isn’t really all that big.
The best part about being a black woman overseas is that you find an immediate connection with the other black girl in the room/workplace/bar… it’s magnetic. My best friend and I met that way in Germany!
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TN: Do you plan to move back to America?
Melissa: I don’t plan to, no. Until teachers are given the same dignity and pay as teachers in other countries, I don’t think I could be convinced to move back. I also feel much safer overseas, particularly with the increase in violence in schools. But I love America as a place to visit (and eat)!
TN: What advice can you give to our readers looking to do what you are doing?
Melissa: International school teaching is an incredible opportunity for teachers already licensed in the US, and I couldn’t recommend it more! However, I’ve seen many teachers take the plunge without seeing if they would actually like being overseas first. I would recommend spending at least a few weeks overseas to make sure it’s the right life for you. Try it before you buy it.
TN: Where can people reach you if they have questions?
Melissa: I’m on Instagram as @wilde_one_