Photo Credit: TN
Traveler Story: Living Abroad As A Family With Disabilities
Nicole Ratliff began living abroad as a child because her mother was in the U.S. Army. They were stationed in Germany and Japan. Fast forward to 2018, she had an epiphany. After living in Clayton, North Carolina, where she was working for the USDA-APHIS-Animal Care as their Fleet Manager, she made a decision: “I will live abroad with my kids.” Then, this single disabled mom of 8-year-old twins become an avid lover of the nomadic lifestyle. Ratliff experienced living abroad as a family with disabilities in Colombia, Scotland, Portugal and South Africa. Now, she is living in France with her savings.
“I have always been a nomad ever since I moved frequently as a military family. I loved moving to new places after 2-3 years because it was an opportunity to meet new people and learn about new cultures,” Ratliff told Travel Noire.
Having Spina Bifida, Ratliff is paralyzed in her lower left leg and walk with an AFO (leg brace) and a cane. She suffers from chronic nerve pain as well. Her son Ross has autism and her daughter Phoebe has ADHD. In April 2018, she almost died because of her stressful job and her micromanaging boss. “I was in the ER bed that I decided enough and we would be leaving the US to live abroad. So I put in my notice and we spent a month clearing out our rental, the goal for the piles was: to sell, donate, take, and trash. We only took what would fit in one suitcase and one bookbag each,” Ratliff said.
Living abroad as a family with disabilities is challenging. However, Ratliff commented she has no regrets about living overseas. “I always preferred living abroad, I felt happier there versus living in the US. My kids do love living abroad! Mostly they like trying new foods and when we get to travel via Qatar Business class (spoiled kiddos lol). They actually prefer schooling abroad versus in the US, where it was extremely stressful for them.”
She revealed that her kids have adjusted fine each time they have moved to a new place. For her and her infants, Colombia was the best country for a Black Expat family. “We felt welcomed and never felt like we were being targeted. We could walk around safely and I wasn’t on edge all the time like I was in the US. Now no place is perfect and has zero racism, but Colombia is a place that felt like home for us. We loved living in Scotland, but it was very isolating as a Black Expat family. We felt extremely safe there, but again isolating.”
The only places where they all did not adjust were Cape Town, South Africa and Lisbon, Portugal. “In Cape Town, it was very isolating for me and my children. We lived a life behind a gate and my kids missed being Independent and walking around by themselves. We also experienced a lot of racism that I was not expecting and I had a terrible experience with a shady landlord, who I am still fighting to get my security deposit from sadly. In Lisbon, it just was not the right fit for our family. We felt more at home in Porto.”
How about the kids’ education? Ratliff explained that when they first started their world schooling journey in Mexico, her children did online schooling through www.powerhomeschool.org. “They first started going to an international school in Scotland where they thrived. The school was amazing. They did learning pods where no child felt left out and could learn at their own pace, in their own style. The focus was on learning and not tests.”
Now, her kids will start going back to an international school in France. “That is going to be a challenge because it’s a public school where they are taught in French, but the school will teach them.”
For her, the biggest challenge of living abroad is making sure the country had the medications that both her son and she needs as well as ensuring that medical costs are not very expensive. “The other big challenge is making sure that the housing is going to work with my disability. Not too many stairs, a walk-in shower, and parking. Now since we have a dog, when we move I have to ensure that my dog is compliant with the animal import laws for that country.”
As for the future as a family living abroad, she said that the family is planning to live in France for the next 5 years in order to obtain French citizenship so her children can attend college for free or at a low cost anywhere within the EU.
“As a single parent, I cannot afford to send my kids to college in the US. After obtaining my 2nd Master’s degree in the UK I see that education abroad is actually much better than in the US because of the added bonus of experiencing another country and culture. After my kids go off to college, I plan to live on a houseboat with our dog so I’m not tied to one place and I can freely move about the shores of Europe.”
You can follow Ratliff and her experience on her Instagram account.