Becoming an Expat

By:Y. Shinnell Copeland

The first time I told my friends and family that I was moving to China many people were ecstatic. I’ve always expressed my desires for living abroad so when it came to my dad…he tried to deter my enthusiasm my recanting all the dangers happening in Asia at the time. However, after realizing that his efforts were futile he helped me book my tickets.

I think a big fear for people of color who decide to take the plunge into living abroad, is the idea that they’ll be alone. Many make the move to experience something new, find new opportunities, some even in the pursuit of a “less” toxic environment.

I’ve found one of the best resources for meeting like minded people, to actually be through Instagram. I’ve met alot of great women and have also had women moving to Asia (especially China) referred to me. It feels great being able to help someone. Three years ago, when I was preparing to move abroad, I didn’t have anyone to advise me.
Behind a lot of vivid pictures of beaches and life many seem not to need a vacation from, are genuine people, enthusiastic in sharing the good and “real” side of living abroad.

When I moved to Shanghai, China, I was pleasantly surprised to have another, black, female coworker. I didn’t expect to have one. She has connected me to literally hundreds of other black and brown expats and even other expats who are not people of color. They added me to groups that had people who could help me find hair products, great places to eat or even someone who were free during my random schedule to go shopping.

The Expat community, especially in Shanghai, is one of the densest and unique I’ve come across through my travels. I have truly made my transition into being a black expat here. It’s been one of the best decisions of my life.

If you are a POC and thinking about moving to Asia, here are some pieces advice:

1. Start decluttering your life & be open.
Don’t pack more than you can carry. For me, I use two checked bags and a carry on. Regarding decluttering that goes for your mental and spiritual well being as well. Don’t anticipate moving to another country and expect to have the same “luxuries” you would at home. Traveling in general is a very humbling experience, especially when you find yourself trying to order vanilla ice cream not knowing that “vanilla” doesn’t translate.

2. Do some research but don’t overwhelm yourself.
You can spend literally hours on the internet trying to find the most informative post on what to expect in your new city or new country. I did this but don’t do it! At the end of the day everyone has a different experience abroad. However, knowing whether or not you will need a VPN to access the internet and social media needs is something pretty useful to know. You don’t want to be scrambling at the airport before your flight trying to download one.

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3. Use social media to connect.
This is actually very important, like I’ve mentioned earlier. The best way to have your questions answered is to ask them directly. Many expats are still connected via Instagram and are usually willing to help “induct” newbie’s into the expat club.

4. Don’t skimp on grooming purchases.
Don’t expect to find all of your daily hair and body products abroad. I personally like to pack my favorite toiletries and hair products in “semi” bulk before traveling for long periods of time. If all else fails, and your nerves and anxiety begin to completely take control of your life, at least you’ll smell fresh and be well groomed.
Most importantly, keep your expectations low and your spirit and enthusiasm for life high. Moving abroad is a big deal so the best way to go into it is to enjoy the process as well.

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Follow Y. Shinnell Copeland on Instagram @elleisfab and check out her site Elle is Abroad.

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