Written by Kelsey-Marie

If someone told me two years ago that I would be living in South Africa today, I would have accused them of lying. Not once while mapping out life goals and plans did living in Johannesburg, South Africa, come to mind. But here I am, six months later and I’ve started a new life.

April 2017 was the first time I stepped foot on the African continent and it all began through a trip to Johannesburg with Travel Noire. Little did I know that this trip would change my life.

In October 2016, I received an email promoting South Africa as a travel destination. I never had the desire to visit Africa before, but for some reason, this email pulled me in. After reading Travel Noire’s trip itineraries for Cape Town and Johannesburg, I became determined to make Johannesburg my next travel destination.

I chose Johannesburg over Cape Town after reading about their cultural renaissance, which included a resurgence of art, fashion and music from the South Africans of my generation. I immediately phoned my friend Bianca and begged her to go with me – she said yes.

I could not stop talking about visiting South Africa. Finally, in April 2017, I made it to Johannesburg. I remember stepping outside after getting my passport stamped and experiencing a sense of in awe that I’d finally arrived.

Photo courtesy of @kelseydashmarie

On the trip, there was a photographer named Lebo who documented our holiday so we didn’t have to stress about constantly getting photos – Travel Noire really wanted us to live in the moment. Funnily enough, I tried to avoid this photographer the entire trip (because I didn’t want him to take my photos), but unbeknownst to both of us, I wouldn’t be avoiding him for long.

I was in Johannesburg for about eight days and during that time, my mind was completely blown and my expectations were exceeded. The Africa that I saw in person is not the Africa that Americans are exposed to through media. I vividly remember being on a plane departing from Johannesburg back to NYC and while the plane lifted off the ground, I looked down and felt in my gut that I would be back to South Africa soon.

When returned to NYC, I began to unpack and remembered to check my email with the photos the photographer from the trip sent over. At the end of his email, he left his Instagram handle and out of curiosity, I went to IG and found his page. I followed him and told myself if he didn’t follow me back in 24 hours, I was going to hit that unfollow button and move on with my life. Less than 24 hours later, I got the notification that Lebo followed back. I knew I would never reach out to him via DM, so I just waited to see if he would say anything.

Days went by and then one day while at work, I received a notification that he sent me a DM. I won’t lie, I got excited, but knew that since he lived in South Africa, nothing would come of this DM.

We chatted for a little via DM and then he gave me his number. Our conversation went from Instagram DM’s to WhatsApp texting to talking on the phone. I usually hate talking on the phone when getting to know someone, but our first phone conversation lasted for about two hours.

During our conversation, Lebo told me that he would be visiting NYC in two weeks, but only for one day since it was during a layover before he traveled to Pittsburgh. He was planning on traveling across the U.S. on a journey of self-discovery, but life had other plans for us both.

Photo courtesy of @kelseydashmarie

Finally, the day came when he arrived in NYC and we met at a restaurant in Times Square after I’d finished work. Luckily, he was there with his friend Sibo – I was super nervous to meet Lebo again and his friend being there took away some of the awkwardness. We sat in the restaurant for hours with neither one of us saying much to each other and Sibo carrying much of the conversation. After dinner, we left Sibo and walked around Times Square for a bit and talked. The whole night was surreal to me because we didn’t really speak to each other during my trip to Johannesburg, but here we were together, two weeks after I got back to NYC.

The next day he left for Pittsburgh and then traveled to D.C. a few days later, but we kept talking every day. He had plans to travel to the West Coast, but decided to come back to NYC to see where this would go. Lebo ended up spending a week in NYC and during that time, we went on dates and got to know each other through conversations, dining, music, and the exploration of NYC – together.

We developed a true NYC summer love story which came to a pause.

Lebo booked a gig with Travel Noire, but this time in Italy. He left NYC and went back to Johannesburg with locked-in plans of being in Europe for two months. We talked about where we stood the night before he left and we both decided we would try to communicate long- distance even though we knew the odds of it actually working out were not in our favor.

I honestly thought that would be the last time I would see him and that our communication would eventually fade away gradually.

I was wrong.

During that summer, we talked every day. The time zone difference didn’t stop us from communicating. He told me he would try to come back to NYC at the end of August, but he wasn’t sure. We both took our budding relationship seriously and were determined to make it work. August arrived and he came through with his word and traveled back to NYC and stayed for two weeks.

This time was different – we were more sure that we wanted to make our relationship work and that we were committed to being fully devoted to each other. When he left NYC to go back home to Johannesburg, we decided to really give this long-distance relationship a chance despite the distance and time zone challenges.

We continued to communicate daily and got to know each other even though we were continents apart.

In December 2017, I visited South Africa again and spent Christmas with Lebo and his family. This really solidified our relationship for me. Once 2018 came around, and although we had been doing the long-distance thing for a while, it wasn’t getting any easier. For the remainder of our “long-distance relationship chapter”, we met up in NYC and Paris, but knew that the long- distance had to come to an end soon if we wanted to truly build together.

In March of 2018, we decided that one of us had to move and we agreed that I would relocate to Johannesburg. Not only would I be moving to Johannesburg to be with Lebo, but it was also a chance for me to explore my passions and establish myself in a new city. We discussed the pros and cons of me relocating, but in the end, the pros outweighed the cons tremendously.

In September 2018, I packed my belongings into two suitcases and traveled from NYC to Johannesburg. My parents were very supportive of my decision, which made things a lot easier. I am an only child and I really cherish the relationship and bond I have with my parents. They dropped me off at the airport and we exchanged tears, hugs and love before I departed.

After 15 long hours of traveling, I finally touched down in South Africa and knew the dynamic between Lebo and I would never be the same.

Six months later, we are still together and thriving. We went from knowing each other and loving each other long-distance to living with each other. Of course, like most situations of couples moving in together, it took time adjusting. We had to learn each other’s habits, dislikes and likes on a very intense level. We couldn’t just ignore texts/calls during times of conflict – we now had to face each other and our conflicts together.

Photo courtesy of @kelseydashmarie

I had to adjust to a new country, new customs, language barriers on top of living with my boyfriend, but it has been a beautiful experience of growth, laughter and love. I ended up finding and embracing my passions and living intentionally.

Who would have thought that my first trip to South Africa would end up in me finding my person, my passions and a new home? I certainly didn’t.


Kelsey-Marie is a freelance lifestyle, self-care blogger and content creator. She utilizes her blog as a platform to discuss her love of fashion, art, self-care + the exploration of Johannesburg, South Africa. She is truly inspired by the beauty of the world around her and displays that in her work through writing for her blog, curating photos on her Instagram, and in her paintings.