I am a Black American Expat who has lived in both India and Morocco. My identity is something that stands out wherever I live and I have had some very interesting experiences because of it, which we will discuss in this post. Although these are experiences I have personally had, I know there are plenty of other black women and women of color who have similar stories. It’s safe to say that these experiences have shaped who I am and allowed me to grow! If you can relate, feel free to leave a comment below.
FEELING LIKE A STRANGER
As a black woman who is also an American expat, I often feel like a stranger when I first move to a new country and that’s because I am. Luckily, I have my husband by my side so I don’t feel completely alone. Feeling like a stranger doesn’t last for too long when you live somewhere versus solely traveling to a new place. Living in a different country gives you a chance to acclimate a little better and it also allows you to internalize your environment differently than you do when you travel. Meeting people is better too because you can cultivate relationships over time. Personally, I have been able to foster some really great relationships with people in both India and Morocco because I lived in both countries for two years. I never felt rushed to quickly break out of my introverted shell. I was able to take time to get to know people on deeper levels and make friends.
STARES AND QUESTIONS OF CURIOSITY
We can deny that as black women, we get stares and questions of curiosity when we just travel. So, imagine living in a place and getting those daily for at least 2-3 months. However, when you start frequenting places like stores, malls, specific modes of transportation, and your own workplace, you realize that you will start getting used to your surroundings. People will also begin to see you more often which means you will have less attention on yourself at all times. The questions of curiosity will definitely slow down too because you will become less of a novelty. Basically, you create a routine over time that allows people to get to know you better, which is always my favorite part of expat life. It’s the phase where you feel like you are finally included because I feel like people are interested in getting to know me as a regular person. Or un-interested enough to leave me alone and allow me to live a normal life.
Checkout my original post 7 Surprising Things About Traveling Abroad as a Black Women.
RELATIONSHIPS ABROAD: ROMANTIC & FRIENDSHIPS
Let’s chat a little about living abroad as a single woman. Although I’m not single, I think it’s important for me to acknowledge the struggles some black women face when it comes to dating or making friends. A couple of friends shared their perspectives on living abroad as black women and being single. They have said in some places more than others, dating is difficult. But overall, it really depends on where you live, the customs, and the cultures a community or society may have. In India, for example, it is a difficult place to be single as a black woman because of the way life already flows. To arrive in a place that has strong cultural ties to dating and marriage is difficult. Breaking through and finding someone who is looking for something other than what is deemed culturally appropriate and acceptable is rare.
Dating preferences as they relate to race are also important to note. Due to cultural and media portrayal of who black women are perceived to be by other cultures, finding the right mate while living abroad is challenging because we are oftentimes looked at as less desirable compared to women of other races. Unfortunately, these ideals are more often rooted in racism, white supremacy, and colonial ideation. So, it is harder to date in some places when the standard of who is typically preferred does not reflect black women. With that said, singleness and dating in some countries may be more receptive which gives black women more of a chance to find partners that truly desire them. It may just take some additional research to find these places and some trial and error of traveling and living in different countries.
Along with the points I mentioned, dating and even meeting new people can often be challenging because of the safety concerns we have as black women while traveling or living abroad. Overall, I have personally felt safe when it comes to my environment abroad and while interacting with new people. But, there have been a couple of times when my safety was threatened in situations because of my identity. I think that is why there is common knowledge of black women searching the internet for travel resources and safety tips for black women because we know that not everywhere is safe for us to travel alone. Let alone venture out to meet new people. So yes, dating in some places might be more difficult than in other places. And making friends with locals might be a little different in some countries compared to others. My advice is to go into your experiences abroad with caution but also with an open mind.
REMINDERS OF BEING A BLACK WOMAN
There are places in the world that remind you that you are black every. single. day. And there are people in cities around the world that remind you that you are a woman. It depends on where I travel to and what is more visible on my body that may or may not draw attention while abroad. If my hair is in an afro versus straightened, I may get people interested in touching my hair. Or, if my skin is showing versus covered, I may have additional eyes surveying me. My skin tone is also a topic that people like to discuss with me and it’s a reminder that I am different with every conversation on this subject.
Objectification is different from curiosity, especially when it is unwanted and coming from men. My appearance is often more of a topic from men I do not know in other countries than who I am, what I do, and what my beliefs are. Women are more fascinated by my hair and usually want to touch it. There is so much more to me than just my physical attributes but in some places, you are definitely looked at for your outward appearance first. As an expat, I have to be aware that there is always more that can happen after these interactions. I have learned to stand up for myself differently in certain situations and I sometimes educate people on why or why something is okay or not.
I have had a little over a handful of negative experiences with people but I have also had a plethora of really good experiences that do not stop me from traveling or diminish my desire to want to live abroad again. I am all for trying different countries that fit who you are and your needs, however. It’s okay to acknowledge when something is not working or serving you anymore. I know there are plenty of countries where our blackness is not on display as much as it is in other countries. So, if you can’t learn to live or deal with certain microaggressions abroad (similarly to the ways we’ve done in the US), I recommend you try a new place and keep trying until you find your perfect fit!
BLACK HAIRCARE ABROAD
When it comes to finding black hair products abroad, it has been really difficult for me. In India, I did not find any black hair products in local stores. There is an Amazon India website where you can order products like Cantu but to me, I felt like the items were overpriced and not worth the money. I have also found products (in Morocco), geared towards black women but they were expired. Granted, these were unlucky experiences that I had. To combat not finding products for my hair in stores abroad, I usually pack what I need before traveling and moving. Packing things like braiding hair and haircare products has been very beneficial for my lifestyle abroad. I also make a lot of the products I use on my hair from ingredients I find locally. With the help of my husband’s job, I am allowed to have some products mailed to me from US retailers. However, that’s not always reliable due to liquid and weight restrictions. So, pre-packing and shipping what I think I will need for at least a year in advance is my preferred method.
I do my own hair as well. So, I never have to struggle with finding a hairstylist in a foreign country. I highly recommend that everybody learns how to take care of their hair, especially if you are moving abroad. And I know that suggesting something like this is easier said than done but I recommend you utilize YouTube tutorials! I even have a few on my channel that will help you with some basic haircare principles and practices!
I would love to hear your experiences on this topic. Feel free to leave a comment so we can chat further!
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