The idea of being an expat meets many needs for Black women worldwide, offering a myriad of benefits from access to nourishing cuisine, beautiful landscapes, enhanced safety, cost-effectiveness, and an improved quality of life. Many are called to the expatriate life because of work, love and education opportunities, but others seek it out simply for a needed change of pace. Although there may be benefits to life abroad, moving to a new country is not like going on vacation. Living outside of your home country requires a major shift. Preparation is key.
As a global citizen originating from North Philadelphia, I’ve taken the expat leap more than once, making a home on five continents. Throughout my 25-year journey as an expatriate, nomad and globetrotter, I’ve gained valuable insights and learned important lessons as a Black American living abroad. These experiences have shaped my perspective and helped me to heal and grow. Here are things that every Black woman should know before looking for a place to call home internationally.
Take Time to Heal and Do Things Differently
Taking time to heal and embracing different perspectives has been transformative for me. Many of us carry deep wounds from microaggressions, racism and violence, often perpetuated by societal structures. Stepping out of the American context and immersing myself in new cultures has allowed me to make space to judge each experience individually. While anti-Blackness exists in many places, it’s not a universal reality as we know it. American passport privilege is also a thing. Being humble, taking pause and listening to the people and culture in a place you’re drawn to can go a long way.
Prioritize Self-care As You Settle in a New Place
While living in Europe, I made it a priority to embrace things that reminded me of home and my culture. In Paris, I walked in the footsteps of James Baldwin, immersing myself in his story and connecting with my African-American identity. I visited his favorite cafes, like Cafe De Flore, and dove into his classic book, The Fire Next Time. Additionally, I made sure to stay connected with my loved ones back in Philadelphia through scheduled phone dates, combating homesickness and nurturing my mental well-being. Before leaving home, I also created a collage of family photos as a reminder of the love and support I carry with me, no matter where I am. These intentional acts of self-care have been instrumental in helping me stay rooted while adjusting to new environments.
Seek Community and Connections
Building connections has been a blessing throughout my journey. Finding a sense of community can be a challenge. I’ve discovered that seeking out expat and local communities is essential for a fulfilling experience. Attending an expat cookout in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I celebrated Black AF potato salad, smokey baked beans and sweet tea with other multigenerational African Americans, felt like home. The familiar cuisines, soul hits, and shared experiences created a sense of belonging. Also engaging with local groups, initiatives and events is instrumental in bridging cultural gaps, building relationships, and immersing yourself within the local culture.
Do Your Best to Adapt to Big and Small Changes
Let’s talk hair. I know our crowns are important to us. In my 25 years of global living, I’ve learned to keep it simple, fresh and adapt. Natural hair has been the easiest option, as it requires minimal products that are accessible almost anywhere. During my time in West Africa, I maintained my locks using black soap and shea butter, utilizing natural ingredients readily available in the local markets. In Thailand’s hot and humid climate, I rocked a little fro, which I styled and maintained using organic coconut oil, shampoo, conditioner and water. While some countries may have limited product options or lack expertise in styling Black hair, I’ve learned to adapt and find alternatives or specialty stores catering to an international market. But be prepared for these places to not have your specific products for hair, skin, makeup and more.
While violence can happen anywhere, it’s important to remember that not every country operates with the same level of normalized violence as in the United States. During my travels, I’ve been able to accept help from strangers in Mexico and have taken shortcuts through dimly lit alleyways in Bangkok to enjoy street food. However, being aware, trusting intuition, and taking responsibility for our behavior is crucial. Researching customs, laws, and potential risks in each destination is essential. How we conduct ourselves can have an impact on our safety and the way we are perceived. By respecting and adapting to the culture, we can navigate new environments with confidence and security.
From performing to speaking to teaching around the globe, my journey has been a tapestry of cultural exploration, self-discovery, and resilience. I’ve gained valuable insights that I believe every Black woman should be aware of for her own international adventures. Prioritizing self-care, building connections, embracing healing and new perspectives, adapting hair/skin care routines, and staying mindful of personal safety are essential elements for a fulfilling expedition. May you be fueled by wonder, curiosity, and a deep sense of empowerment.
Lacey C. Clark! is a living story who writes and performs about her inspired life around the world through her project, Phenomenal Everywhere. She has lived on five continents and is the first Black person to put the world through a Black woman’s eyes on stage. Join her community and journey here: https://laceycclark.substack.com