Photo Credit: Karina Henry
What It's Like For Black Women Dating Abroad
So, what’s it like for Black women dating abroad?
New York native Karina Henry is an English teacher and author of a children’s travel book series. She is also the founder of Karina’s Virtual Learning Academy for ESL Learners and Karina Worldwide LLC, which provides assistance to individuals of color who are interested in living and teaching abroad.
Karina is a three-time expat who has lived in Thailand, China, and now, Mexico. In 2018, while still employed with her job in the United States, Karina convinced her employer to allow her to work remotely from Thailand for a few months. With her company rarely approving requests of this nature, Karina was doubtful. Nevertheless, she submitted her seven-page proposal, and it was approved.
“While in Thailand, I met a young lady who had been living and teaching in Vietnam,” she told Travel Noire. “Once I returned home, I wrote down a list of things I wanted to accomplish through a moved abroad. ‘Travel more’ and ‘save money’ were my two top goals.”
After researching, Karina discovered that teaching in China would allow her to save more money because her employer would pay for her flights and rent. And with China being close to many of the countries she wanted to visit, its location was ideal.
“It also seemed like the universe had been working in my favor; my apartment lease was ending in a month, I had paid my car off, and I didn’t have kids, pets, or any other real responsibilities. Three months after returning from Thailand, I put in my two weeks notice and headed to Suzhou, China.”
Karina stayed in China for two years before returning to the States. She says transitioning back to life in the U.S. wasn’t easy.
“It was very depressing trying to reacclimatize myself to the U.S. and life back home. The lifestyle I had become accustomed to had been stripped away, and I felt weird discussing my feelings during a pandemic when people were losing their jobs and lives, as I was fortunate to continue working virtually with my school in China.”
After nearly a year of missing her lifestyle abroad, Karina knew she had to leave the U.S. again. She had friends who had relocated to Mexico and were enjoying their lives there. While visiting for her birthday, she fell in love. Karina began to research and found many Facebook pages for Black people living in Mexico.
“Though there are many groups for expats who are living and traveling abroad, I typically seek out groups for people of color, because the harsh reality is that a white person’s experience when abroad and a Black person’s experience when abroad are usually completely different,” she said.
The day rioters stormed the Capitol, Karina purchased a one-way ticket to Mexico, and soon packed her belongings and left. She says moving to Mexico was relatively easy.
“Once you’ve lived abroad, it is quite easy to relocate to other countries. There was no visa required. My friends told me it was pretty easy to find an apartment, so I rented an Airbnb for a week and found my apartment in Playa del Carmen on my third day here.”
Karina loves living in Mexico and is truly enjoying immersing herself in its vibrant culture. She likes that it is close enough for her to be able to visit her family when she wants, and with the low cost of living, she is able to stretch her dollars further and save more. Karina is also part of a thriving community of helpful and resourceful Black expats, which hosts frequent meetups and gatherings.
“I feel very welcome here, and I feel appreciated and respected! Black Americans living in the U.S. have a huge weight on our shoulders. When you’re living in a country like Mexico, that weight is lifted. The media often portrays Mexico in a poor light while normalizing domestic terrorism within our own borders, but I feel much safer in Mexico than I do walking into a movie theater or Walmart in the U.S.”
One thing that Karina hasn’t found any easier than in the States, however, is dating. Although she finds dating abroad to be one of the easiest ways to learn the language and immerse herself in the culture, she says it can be difficult.
“Most of the countries I’ve lived in weren’t as diverse as the US,” she explained. “You go from being ‘normal’ in the States to being stared at every time you leave your house. In my experience, when you’re different, men go above-and-beyond to get/keep your attention. However, for Black women, dating abroad often means being fetishized, and sometimes it’s quite difficult to tell if their feelings are genuine. They see us in music videos and, because most don’t often have interactions with us in real life, they assume most Black women want to twerk and act aggressively.”
Karina recalls experiences in China where men on Tinder would message her saying things like ‘I like big booty girls’ (no ‘hello’ or anything!) She’s also had an experience with a Chinese man eager to show her off.
“The entire time we were eating, he wanted to take pictures and share on WeChat that he was hanging out with his ‘Black American foreigner girlfriend’ (that’s what he wrote on WeChat before I made him delete the picture). Never mind the fact that we had only been on one date prior to the one we were on when he posted the picture. I also noticed how he wanted to make sure people knew that I was both BLACK and AMERICAN.”
Now that she is living in Mexico, Karina notices how the local men interact with tourists of different races, and she has even initiated conversations on the topic with other Black women who are also living there.
“I’ve noticed many times while walking downtown on 5th Avenue, that the guys at the tour stands and male vendors would whistle at and make comments to me more than they would to the white female tourists. Now, I noticed that they did their share of staring and whistling with certain white women, but they definitely had no shame when approaching me.”
A Mexican native that Karina has become close with explained that it’s likely that Mexican men feel more comfortable approaching Black women than white women because most Mexicans view white tourists merely as ‘dollar signs’ while they feel more familiar with Black women due to their love of Black culture. Karina says she has in fact noticed how much Mexicans, like the rest of the world, love Black culture.
“If you take a walk downtown, you’ll see hair braiding shops lined up and down the street as white people wait patiently for a Hispanic woman to braid their hair. After, these white women will parade around the city with their culturally appropriated braided mane without a care in the world. Them loving our culture does not mean they know us, but I agree that it probably makes it easier for them to approach and converse with us. I’ll admit it though, when I’m approached by local men, I do often wonder if they assume I’m going to bust into a random twerk.”
While hesitant to categorize all men under one heading, Karina simply says that men will be men; there are good ones and there are bad ones.
“My preference would be to come home to the States and marry a nice young, Black man. Unfortunately, I lived in the U.S. for 28 years before moving abroad and that didn’t happen, so, for now I’ll take my chances with the men abroad. One day I’ll settle down and get married but right now travel is my first love!”
Karina is currently vacationing in Guatemala. You can check out her latest travel content at @karinaworldwide.
Related: The Black Expat: ‘We Woke Up One Morning And Said We’re Moving To Mexico’