Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Jash
The Black Expat: 'Of All The Countries I've Lived, I Felt Most Uncomfortable In The US'
Serial expat Jash’s love for travel began long before she was old enough to afford a plane ticket. Before she became a teenager, the Hamden, CT native had traveled all over the U.S., cruised to the Bahamas, and been to multiple countries in Africa.
Now 23, Jash works as a nomadic teacher and blogger, and currently lives in Gunsan, South Korea.
Her first time living abroad was also her first solo trip.
“I lived with an Italian host family and worked at a local language high school. During my time in Italy I fell in love with the work and the expat lifestyle.”
“Being able to fully immerse into a different country for an extended period of time largely contributed to my preference of slow travel. Short vacations are fun and often needed, but being able to stay in one place and go beneath the touristic surface level of a culture is an unmatched experience.”
After returning from Italy, Jash knew she wanted to take that leap again and explore another country. This time she was headed to Dakar, Senegal to teach at a private boarding school.
“Living and teaching in the Motherland was truly an indescribable experience. Constantly being surrounded by people that look like me, outside the campus of my HBCU, Tuskeegee University, was an unprecedented experience for me. Returning home was definitely a must-do on my list and, mark my words, that was not the last time I’ll be living on the continent.”
Next, Jash was off to Korea, which she relocated to last year.
“At the time, Korea was number two in the world as far as COVID-19 cases, but it was actually the best time to come with the current circumstances.”
“I did extensive research into how Korea was handling the virus and was able to come early enough to avoid all the testing and quarantine requirements that went into effect soon after my arrival.”
Jash says living in South Korea has been amazing. One of the perks of slow travel, for her, is being able to adapt to smaller cultural differences that you may not encounter during a shorter stay.
“For example, in Korea having your shoulders exposed is seen as risqué. Wearing a t-shirt under my tank top in the middle of the summer just wasn’t going to happen. People were going to stare at me regardless of what I had on, so I wore what was comfortable for me.”
“Another thing that’s extremely different from American culture is taking leftovers from a restaurant. A lot of Korean restaurants are reluctant to give you take away containers for your food if you dined in. This became a problem.”
As far as amenities and lifestyle, living in South Korea is fairly similar to living in the States, according to Jash, with transportation, technology, healthcare, and basic necessities like groceries and household appliances, groceries being on par with those in the U.S.
Living in Asia as a Black person, however, means constantly being stared at.
“After a year in South Korea I can tell you that people aren’t going to get used to you being there. Even in my small city, people I see on a regular basis continue to stare.”
“Depending on the situation, it can sometimes be uncomfortable, but usually it’s out of genuine curiosity and the gag is, I stare back. I’m not being aggressive, but when I stare back people usually catch themselves and realize that I am a real person and not an exhibit in a museum.”
“Still, in all of the countries I’ve visited and lived in, I’ve always felt the most uncomfortable in the States. It’s ironic that my home country is where I feel the most unwelcome as a Black woman. Being pulled over by the police in America can turn into a life or death situation. Walking alone at night feels like an extreme sport.”
“Since the birth of the country, systems have intentionally been put in place for Black people not to be successful. From not even being considered people to mass incarceration to police brutality. The country we built continues to oppress and ignore us.”
“Every Black person knows that we have to work twice as hard to get half as far, and even then sometimes that’s not even enough. Deciding to leave was not to run away from the States, but to run to the possibility of a better life and opportunities.”
Jash says being exposed to the world outside of the United States at such an early age had a tremendous impact on her desire to live outside of the country.
“I knew early on that there were better places around the world for me to live freely and safely. As a Black woman, living in the States was not an option for me. Figuring out how I was going to become an expat and find a place that would welcome me for who I am was the goal.”
Living in South Korea, she has come across plenty of Black expats all over the country, from teachers to military to students to contractors.
“I’ve been able to connect with other expats through Facebook groups, Instagram, and other social apps,” she explained. There’s a big network of us that are here to serve as resources, offer advice, and connect in a way only we can.”
“South Korea also has Black-owned businesses, and you already know Black expats make sure to support. Having a network of people you don’t have to code switch with and who can relate to your experiences is definitely a source of comfort when living abroad.”
“There are people that have lived here for decades and established a life here. When I was preparing to move to South Korea I was connected to current and former Black expats who helped and guided me with the transition to Asia. I’m forever grateful to my Black network in South Korea, and I’m ready to pay it forward to the next person looking to make that move.”
One of the ways Jash hopes to pay it forward is through her platform, Joyriding With Jash.
“I launched Joyriding With Jash because I saw that there was a lack of representation in the expat community. Finding authentic information related to living abroad as a Black person was few and far between, especially in more uncommon locations. The platform is a place where other aspiring expats can read about the ups and downs of life abroad and connect with other current, former, and aspiring expats.”
Jash hopes to be able to showcase other Black expats establishing a life for themselves all around the world in an array of different ways, such as teaching, working as a digital nomad, retiring abroad, etc.
“There are so many people that want to take that leap of faith, but just don’t have access to the information or points of contact to do so. Joyriding With Jash is working to close that gap and show people that living abroad is possible and that you won’t be alone when you get to your next destination because we’re waiting for you.”