The Black Expat: ‘I Left America With Nothing But A Backpack And Fearless State Of Mind’
Reis Armstrong is from New Orleans by way of Illinois. He worked in TV production in Los Angeles before deciding to pack up and move abroad to focus on his writing career.
We spoke with him about his new life as a black expat in Melbourne, Australia.
Travel Noire: Why did you initially make the move abroad?
Reis: I’ve done a lot of traveling abroad in the last four years. Each time I flew back to America, it would leave me with this sinking, nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach. I knew it was time to leave for good. Or at least for now. So I set the plan in motion and gave myself a year to get it done.
Once I finally decided on the country I wanted to live in, I simply researched online what needed to be done to make it happen. That’s when I came across the “Work & Holiday Visa” that Australia offers 18 to 31-year olds. All you have to do is have a passport, a clean record, and show a bank statement with at least $3000. I applied online and was granted my visa in 5 minutes. I gave myself 12 months to save up as much as possible. As the time crept near, I donated all my belongings to Goodwill, booked my flight, then booked a hostel until I was able to find an apartment. I left America with nothing but a humongous backpack and a fearless state of mind.
TN: Why did you choose Melbourne, Australia?
Reis: I didn’t choose Melbourne, Melbourne chose me. I’ve always been good at following my spirit and listening to my intuition. So when my spirit said, “Go to Melbourne,” I listened, and I went. Just so happens that Melbourne has been voted the most livable city in the world for the past seven years.
TN: What is life like as a Black man in Melbourne?
Reis: Being a black man in Australia, I feel free. When I’m in America, I find myself being in a constant state of fear and anxiety simply for being black. I don’t feel that here at all. That sense of freedom boosts my creativity to levels I never knew existed. But don’t get it twisted, racism is here. It’s mostly directed towards the native black Australians, called Aboriginals, who’ve been here for over 50 thousand years.
Their struggle goes hand in hand with that of Native and Black Americans. From being murdered, infected with smallpox, enduring slavery, and now being looked down upon as second class citizens, even though they are native to the land. They also suffer from higher incarceration rates. Sound familiar? In Melbourne, they are usually homeless. In other parts of Australia, they are integral members of their communities.
TN: What struggles have you faced thus so far?
Reis: Being in a country that’s predominately white, it’s definitely a struggle trying to find a good barber. I’m convinced that no one cuts hair as good as Black Americans. Period. I found an Arab guy who’s pretty good though.
TN: Do you have advice for the men (and women) looking to make the move abroad?
Reis: If you’re looking to move abroad, just do it. Work on your exit plan, then execute it. I gave myself 12 months to save up, and on the 12th month I got the hell out of America. With the proper planning, you can do it too. I know most people’s biggest fear is money, but if you save up enough to last you at least six months, the rest will work itself out. It always does.
TN: Where can we find you on social media?