Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Mariam Addish
The Black Expat: 'I Never Imagined I'd Find A Sense Of Belonging In China'
First generation Ethiopian-American Mariam Addish is an English teacher living in China. She is also a travel and lifestyle blogger and owner/artist of Dash of Gold.
Growing up, Mariam traveled within North America with her family. Her first international trip overseas was in 2003 to her parents’ home country of Ethiopia.
“This was the first time me and my sisters had been there, and we met many of our extended relatives,” she told Travel Noire. “A particular memory I will always cherish is being at my maternal grandmother’s house and watching her prepare for the coffee ceremony.”
“In Ethiopian culture, the process of brewing, roasting, and serving coffee is a long and sacred tradition. We would all gather around my grandma as she would say long prayers blessing everything under the sun before serving the coffee.”
“Traditionally, the coffee is served by age (eldest to youngest), but she always insisted the children be served first. It was an overall heartwarming experience to witness, especially at a young age. Now as an adult, I also engage in reviving the tradition.”
In 2018, Mariam relocated to China. Surprisingly, she says she never expected to end up there.
“After graduating from university, I was in the process of looking to move abroad and most of the opportunities were in Asia. My first choice was South Korea, but I quickly realized my chances to find a job weren’t as high there.”
“I then started applying to companies in China without expecting much luck. During one of the interviews I had to make an introduction video, only to find they didn’t want to continue with the hiring process.”
“I’m a visible Muslim woman and many of the companies who reached out required a photo as part of the interview process. I definitely had my skepticism as to why I wasn’t contacted back by mostly all of the companies I applied to.”
“Eventually, I was contacted by a recruiter for one of the companies. He showed a great interest in me and recommended one of the school branches located in Hohhot. The school happened to be in the Muslim district of the city, and the manager was also a Muslim woman.”
“I honestly believe it was fate. I never imagined myself being in a situation where I’d find a greater feeling of comfort and community in China. It is my home away from home. The place I discovered a different layer of myself, and my greater love and appreciation for travel.”
Despite the positive aspects of living in China, Mariam says she has also experienced some of her most challenging life changes there, as well.
“The most challenging part about living in China has been trying to find a sense of belonging in a place I am constantly referred to as a foreigner. People don’t really care if you’re American unless you’re white. When you’re Black, people wanna know where your grandmama’s grandmama came from.”
“The way people here react to seeing a Black person and the amount of staring people do is something I have had to get used to. It’s very common to have random locals take your picture.”
Mariam says that while you won’t find large numbers of Black expats in every Chinese city, it is common to find them in some.
“There’s a large Black/African population in Guangzhou. It’s even referred to as the chocolate city in China, and I can attest to that. There’s also many Black expats in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai.”
For the near future, Mariam says her travel plans will consist of staying local and discovering more of China.
“Overall, I believe there’s something to be learned in every country and from the people we encounter. We live in a very rich world, and it’s worth discovering if you have the chance.”
“Traveling, whether domestically or internationally, gives me a deeper appreciation for life. It constantly teaches me to choose experiences over anything, and as a result I have endless stories of life lessons, love, and self-awareness.”
“I feel more grounded as an individual when I learn to navigate different parts of the world and apply what I learn to my daily life. I also learn more about my identity and how it empowers me to live in my truth.”
You can learn more about Mariam and her travels by following her at @boundlessmindofmine.