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4 Women Talk Living Abroad And The Effects Of The Global Pandemic

Get the real deal on do's and don'ts of life as an expat.

Life & Travel

I've been in a long distance relationship with the love of my life for almost three years now, and my deepest wish is to see him for more than six months out of the year. I've had an even longer love affair with the country of his birth--Jamaica--having visited since I was 19 and having extended family ties there. I literally long for the day when the beaches of Westmoreland or Ocho Rios are my backyard and when I can jerk my own chicken and pick mangoes, avocados, and coconuts outside my front door.

Now, with global quarantine orders and borders closures in place due to COVID-19, many of us have had to put any plans of traveling on hold almost indefinitely. But no worries wanderlusters.

Below, 4 women share why and how they relocated abroad, how the current events have affected their everyday lives, and--when things are back to normal--how other women can realize their dreams of moving abroad, too:

China: Karina Henry, Teacher And Model

Image via Karina Henry

How have things been for you abroad, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic changing our way of life?

In January, I returned home to visit since I had a month-long vacation for Chinese New Year. Unfortunately, due to the airline restrictions and border closings related to Coronavirus, I've been stuck in the States. I'm hoping China reopens their borders soon and allows foreigners to reenter so I can get back to my life in China!

How did you transition into working in China?

In 2018, I convinced my job in the States to approve remote work from Thailand for a month by submitting a 7-page-proposal. (To this day, I am still shocked that they approved me working from another country because they rarely approved people working from home!)

While in Thailand, I met a young lady who was living and teaching there. She told me how easy it was to find a teaching job in Asia and that I should apply. Of course, I shrugged it off and returned home to my regular job. Weeks after returning home from Thailand and settling back into my normal life, I realized how miserable I was and how much I missed my life in Thailand. I was beyond depressed. I cried everyday!

That summer, I decided to begin looking into teaching abroad and stumbled upon an awesome opportunity in Suzhou, China. I nailed the interview (which wasn't very difficult) and began preparing my documents for my visa.

In September 2018, I boarded the plane with my one-way ticket to China to begin my life abroad. I've been enjoying my life abroad ever since! I am a foreign language teacher at a privately-owned kindergarten in Shanghai and this is my second year teaching in China. Though most people find international teaching opportunities via websites like TEFL.com or Teachaway.com, I truly stumbled upon both of my teaching opportunities.

Image via Karina Henry

What resources have helped in being an expat?

When I began to consider teaching abroad, I turned to social media as a valuable resource. I joined a Facebook group called Brothas&Sistas of China, and it's a wonderful group for people of color who live or have lived in China. I began asking questions about teaching opportunities and life abroad. Because China isn't known for being very friendly to black foreigners (you wouldn't imagine how many times I've seen "only interested in European teachers" when I was job searching), I was most interested in working for a school that had already hired people of color.

I received helpful leads and reached out to schools because of referrals I received from people in the Facebook group. One of the things I love most about living in China is that opportunities are easier to find and they often fall in your lap.

In addition to teaching, I also model for a wholesale company that is based in Shanghai. How did I land that gig? I was out with a Chinese friend, stuffing my face at a restaurant, when I was approached by two representatives who asked if I'd model for them! This has also opened other doors for me in China and back home.

I recently started a YouTube channel called Karina Worldwide to document my life as a teacher, plus-size model, traveler, and black woman living life abroad!

Ghana: Maame Adjei, Actress, Producer & Creative Entrepreneur

Photo via MsAdjei.com

Maame, who attended undergrad and graduate school in Philadelphia, has Ghanaian roots and decided to moved to Accra, Ghana to pursue a healthcare career in 2013. Her interests shifted when a friend suggested she try acting, and the following year she landed a starring role in the critically acclaimed show An African City. She also hosted a travel show showcasing the beauty and diversity of Ghana called Girl Going Places, and has since collaborated with other actors and creatives on the continent. Here's her story of moving abroad:

What led you to take the leap?

I've been moving "abroad" all my life. I've lived in the UK, in the US, and in Ghana. I was born in Ghana and I consider it home, [but] I left at a young age. When I finally decided to move back 7 years ago, it was like moving 'abroad' or to a new place. I had been living in Philadelphia for over a decade, so moving back to Ghana was a leap, however, it was something I had to do.

I came to Ghana on a quick 2-week vacation, and by the time I was heading back to Philadelphia, the mundaneness of my life hit me so hard.

I realized how unhappy I actually was with my life and my work and just felt an overwhelming need to shift the path and try something completely new. My family had all moved back to Ghana, and it just felt like if I was going to re-start my life with a goal to pursue happiness and passion, it was the best place to start. So I did.

What was the process to do what you love for work?

I'm a creative, and that's saying a lot in Ghana! My background is in healthcare finance and that's the field I was in before I moved to Ghana, but since I made a conscious decision to find my passions and pursue them, I took the first year of being here "off" and just traveled and lived an Eat, Pray, Love life. I had cashed out my 401k, so I had the money to just "figure it out."

In the midst of that, I started working on my own travel show. Then a friend reached out to me about a TV show she was working on, An African City, and really, my creative life began from there. So, my work found me and not vice versa.

What were the first steps you took to officially move?

Thankfully, I was moving to a country that I knew well. I had lived in Ghana as a tween, I had visited during Christmas holidays, and I had a family here, so the transition was certainly easier.

I do suggest that if you're planning on moving away from your home base, research, research, research. [Look into] work visas and how long you can stay.

Germany: Zoie-Marie, Tech Professional & Vlogger

Image via Zoie-Marie

Why did you choose to live abroad?

I am originally from New York and now living in the Stuttgart region in Germany. There are a few reasons why I decided to move abroad. During my college years I did two study abroad semesters, one to Austria and one to Germany. Those two semesters abroad really opened my eyes to travel.

Before that time I never went anywhere--never went on family vacations (outside of the country), never went on solo vacations. I was just a homebody. After those two semesters, I had a nasty bite from the travel bug.

It was so easy and affordable to travel from one place to another within Europe! To top it off, I had met so many amazing individuals, and I had the most romantic and exciting experiences which I will never forget. After that, I decided I wanted my life to always be an adventure. I wanted to make travel an essential piece of my existence which led me to the grand idea that I should move abroad officially and at least give the idea a try.

Image via Zoie-Marie

How have the quarantines and all that is related to COVID-19 affected your life?

The Coronavirus has hit me hard! My personal life is more affected than my work life. In my job, I am normally able to work from home once or twice a week, so I am not new to that. I am very fortunate that my job and my role was not affected by this virus. Outside of my job, my personal life has been halted. My main purpose of moving abroad was to travel, have experiences, and meet new people. The virus has eliminated all opportunity to continue to do that at the moment.

COVID-19 has canceled an important training trip I had to California and also a special mother-daughter vacation which I planned for Greece. I haven't seen my mother in-person since January. Further, since I moved to Germany on my own, I have no family here or nearby and due to social distancing, I cannot meet my friends or co-workers. I am home and alone 24/7. I am missing human interaction. It's extra lonely, and quite frankly all my travel plans for the year have come to a shattering and lengthy halt.

What do you do for work abroad, and how did you find job opportunities?

I am working in the artificial intelligence industry, and I was able to attain my job through LinkedIn. Before that, my two jobs in Germany did not challenge me for long and as a result, I was very unhappy with my situation. I went on LinkedIn every other week applying for jobs for over a year, and many were, in the end, not a right fit until I landed my current position.

My suggestion for anyone who wants to move abroad is to be vigilant, and if the social sites like LinkedIn are not helpful, you can try to network via Facebook groups or friends and friends of friends!

In Germany, there are numerous expat groups online where many people list or forward job openings from their companies. I even applied to one or two jobs via that channel.

Image via Zoie-Marie

What are the first steps you took to move?

First, I needed to find a job. I did extensive research on what I could do in the field of English in Germany (which is an easy field to find entry work anywhere abroad). Once I secured a job abroad, I needed to save enough money to support myself for the first few months abroad. I worked two jobs in the States, 7 days a week, and saved every penny (literally).

Before I officially moved abroad, I did research on what was needed for my work visa. Since Germany is included in the Schengen Agreement, Americans with a U.S. passport are allowed to enter Germany for a maximum period of 90 days. This allowed me to enter the country without a work permit.

As soon as I landed in Germany, my immediate task was to apply for my work visa as it was now time sensitive and the clock was ticking. I could not start my job without it [so] during that time I just relied on my savings.

My advice is to be very vigilant in getting this process started as soon as possible because the processing time could be anything from 1 to 2 months. On top of that, you will need to consider the additional tasks that must be completed before you can even apply for the permit. This includes signing up for health insurance, opening up a bank account, and finding accommodation which could take up a chunk of that 3 months.

France: Latrice Shepherd, Educator & Travel Consultant

Image via Latrice Shepherd

Latrice is from California, and after working in New York, decided to act on her dream to live in Paris. She launched her own travel site, Penniless in Paris, where she shares insights on places to go, live, and shop and where expats can find support and community. She also helps others reach their expat goals and feed their travel bugs. Here's her story:

How has life changed for you as we all face the issues of a global pandemic?

I am currently abroad in Paris and the Coronavirus has affected my life tremendously. More than ever before I wish I was home with my family. I know that I live far, but these past few weeks on lock down, I actually feel far. Additionally, as an expat, your friends become your family. Being separated from friends during the quarantine is also very difficult.

I consider myself to be an avid traveler and I'm usually exploring a new place every 90 days. Due to the lock down, I'm also unable to pursue my passion of travel. Nonetheless all is not lost.

My French neighbor and I have forged a bond during the quarantine. She's around 55, and like me she's single and lives alone. She's across the hallway, and she and I shoot the shit over a bottle of wine every other day. We remind each other that this too shall pass and talk about all the things we intend to do when the quarantine is over. We get 6 weeks of vacation in France---one of the many reasons I'm still here! When this is all over I intend to frolic in the South of France as I do every summer. There's a fabulous jazz festival in Nice in July---the largest of all of Europe. I'm also looking forward to spending the month of December at home with my family.

What sparked the final decision to move to France?

I'm originally from the [San Francisco] Bay area (yeeeeee!) but before I moved to Paris, I was living in New York. Fun Fact: The day I moved to New York, I told myself that once I was finished with New York I would move to Paris. I believe that my move was literally a stepping stone to prepare me for my relocation to Paris.

While in New York, I had been laid off from my retail management job. It was the middle of a recession and finding a job with a comparable salary was impossible. As a result I returned to university to finish my bachelor's degree since I already had an associate's.

I studied international relations, and as part of my degree program I was required to learn a second language. I chose French and studied abroad in Paris for two months during the summer to help me master the language.

After returning from Paris, I decided to pursue a second degree in French and embarked on a one-year study abroad program in Paris. I moved to Paris January 2014 for my program, and I literally never returned!

Image via Latrice Shepherd

What were the first steps you took to officially move and enjoy life in a new country?

Because I moved to Paris with my university I had to obtain a student visa for a year. I argue that a student visa is the most hassle-free visa to obtain for anyone looking to move to Paris and have the ability to work part-time.

I also significantly downsized my life before my move. I rid myself of unnecessary material things because I knew I would be gone for at least a year and I didn't know what my future held. I wanted to be able to transition to any situation smoothly and that's difficult to do when you have a lot of things in tow. Parisian apartments are very small and there's no way they can accommodate the things that we Americans tend to acquire in the States.

I arranged for all of my financial responsibilities to be managed online. I set up a checking account with Capital One 360 which is basically an online banking account with no foreign transaction fees.

I also prepared myself to integrate to another culture. Paris is not the U.S., and French culture is not American culture. It's pointless to compare the two. If I want to maintain a positive experience and a happy life, it is necessary to adapt.

What do you do for work in Paris?

I'm a tenured English lecturer at a private university. I acquired my current position through a liaison that my university uses for study abroad students in Paris. Before becoming tenured, I was working under the table (or 'au noir'), and making roughly 300 euros a month (about $330 today).

My first two years in Paris were very bare bones. I was literally surviving on scholarships and grants received from my university. Additionally, I taught English on the side. I also started a small business helping people plan trips to Paris or move abroad. That small business has since turned into a full-fledged website aptly named "Penniless in Paris." If anyone is interested in moving or even traveling to Paris, please check out the website. Au Revoir!

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Featured image courtesy of Latrice Shepherd

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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