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.

CHS Birthday Bonus Pack

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.

CHS Birthday Bonus Pack

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

If you interested in being featured in the We Are Abroad section of BMV, send an email to

Continue Reading

A Small Guide to Moving Around Japan

Over the past month, I quit my old job and started a new one. I am so happy to be free from my previous position. I did not like working there. The hours were horrible and the pay was just okay. I am glad that I met the people that I did, but it’s great to have a life again.

Anyways, I started a new job and I’m enjoying it. I’m able to learn new things, my work hours are way better and the pay is better too. Before I started my new position, I had to move from Tokyo to Shizuoka. This was the sixth time I’ve moved in my life, and the second time I’ve moved within the same country. The first time was when I moved from Longyou to Nanjing.

Moving was a process. Two peoples worth of clothing, shoes, kitchen appliances and other miscellaneous items had to be moved from Tokyo to a small city in Shizuoka. Before doing some research, I had no idea how we were going to do it. Unlike China, the fast train here is mainly used for travel. In China, people will move large suitcases and boxes on the fast train.

All of this to say, if you are trying to move from city to city in Japan, here are some tips on how to make your move smoother.

1. Yamato Transport

Yamato Transport will save your save your neck, literally. They will pick up your boxes and suitcases and ship them directly to your new apartment for a reasonable price. Also, they have an English helpline where you can schedule your pickup. The day before we moved, we were able to ship 4 large suitcases, 1 small suitcase and about 10 boxes for $180. The amount is based off of the weight and size of the items. You can expect to spend about 1500 yen per item, about $15. Below is a photo of the numbers you can use to set up your pickup and a link to Yamato Transport’s website;

2. Nitori

Nitori is like Ikea, however, they have more options that are suitable for a Japanese home. Most items are fairly priced at Nitori. However, some items are a little overpriced. Nobody needs to pay 600 yen for a small trashcan for their bathroom. We were able to get different organizers for the closet, living room and kitchen, as well as a few appliances. To set up the whole apartment, beds included, we spent about $700.

3. Registration Paperwork

When I was moving, I had a limited amount of time to get all of my paperwork finished. Something that you will have to do, especially if you are changing jobs, is to go to your local city hall and tell them that you are moving. If you don’t do this, you won’t be able to register in your new city. Then you will have to wait up to two weeks to get your residency removed from your former city and registered in your new city. Trust me, try to do this before you leave.

4. Make a Friend at Your Bank

The bank that I use is great and foreigner-friendly. The majority of the staff speaks English and are quite helpful. If you do plan to move and keep the same bank account, make a friend at your bank. One of the bankers is someone I spoke to often and she was able to send me important documents that I needed for my new job. Make sure to get their card and ask them the best people to contact in time-sensitive situations.

That’s my small guide to moving around Japan. If you have any tips, please feel free to mention them in the comments below. You never know who you might help!

Continue Reading

An Inviting Coffee Shop in Nanjing, China

China is best known for its tea, but in recent years, a coffee culture has developed in cities both small and large. Most of the coffee that is consumed, is mainly by young professionals working and living in major cities, such as Shanghai and Beijing. However, some of the major stores, such as Starbucks, are viewed differently here than they are in the U.S. Starbucks is popular, but smaller shops owned by young entrepreneurs are paving the way for coffee shops.

Buying coffee in Eastern China can vary from drink stands to full-blown cafes. The major difference between them is the atmosphere and the convenience. A drink stand can run the same amount that you would pay in a regular coffee shop, and you receive the same quality, if not better, of coffee. These drink stands

One coffee shop that I frequent is called Shawn’s Coffee. The cafe is hidden beside a busy mall, but the bright yellow sign invites you as you pass by. When you enter through the black picket fence, you usually see Shawn making drinks or chatting with friends. There are always customers relaxing by themselves or with others. At night, candles flicker on the patio while conversation and laughter fill the air. Upon entering the cafe, you see Shawn’s certificates hanging on the wall, random pieces of coffee equipment and succulents placed throughout the shop.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I had the opportunity to talk to Shawn and ask him why he opened his coffee shop and what inspires him to make his coffee. He told me that he wanted to create a cafe that made Western style coffee but was tailored to meet Chinese standards. To achieve this, he studied with the SCAE ( Specialty Coffee Association of Europe) for seven years and researched online. Through practice and education, he learned how to craft signature drinks, roast coffee beans and create latte art.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Shawn’s coffee is very popular in the Longjiang district 龙江小区 of Nanjing. Due to his popularity, I wanted to know whether or not he could see his coffee shop becoming a chain. He informed me that if he ever decided to open other locations, he would want them to be in China. Shawn wants to keep the authenticity of his coffee shop and introduce coffee to other Chinese consumers.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Coffee is becoming more popular in Eastern China. There are a variety of cafes, both franchised and not franchised, with different drinks to appeal to local tastes. Thanks to small business owners like Shawn, both Chinese and Western consumers are able to enjoy quality coffee.

If you are ever in Nanjing, check out Shawn’s Coffee. His shop is located at the intersection of 横六路 heng liu lu (6th Cross Rd.) and 龙园西路 longyuan xi lu.

Like it? Pin it!

Continue Reading

The Top Ten Songs on My Travel Playlist

If you know me, you know that I love music. Thanks to my parents, I’ve been exposed to all different types of music. Years of choir, musical theater and randomly learning how to play instruments have led me to enjoy the majority of different musical genres.

When I travel, I only like to listen to certain songs. I think it’s because I’m always thinking about what’s about to happen next and what I did to get there. I made a list of my top ten songs on my travel playlist. I listen to these songs whenever I travel. You can find all of these songs on Spotify.

Continue Reading

A Week in Japan

In June, I visited Japan. It’s taken me a while to write this post because I didn’t know what I wanted to say. I came in with very few expectations, not because I didn’t expect my trip to be great, I always try to keep an open mind when I travel. All of my expectations were exceeded and I absolutely loved that trip. It has to be one of the best trips I’ve ever been on.

Before I went to Japan, I created a list of foods that I wanted to try. I didn’t want to miss out on any good foods, even if it meant that I had to miss out on some attractions.For me, I understand a culture through it’s food. I’ve really been able to do this in China, since every city has a local dish that may be popular in one area but not the other. I think the food in Japan told a story. A story of it’s history and culture. Where it has come from and where it hopes to go.

Below are the foods I had while in Japan.


This a  fish shaped cake with sweet fillings. I tried one that was filled with sweet potato. It reminded me of a semi-sweet sweet potato pie, but portable and crispier. This taiyaki place was located near my hostel, Guesthouse U-En.

Kobe Beef

The is the best steak I’ve ever had in my life. The cut of meat was handled with care while it was being cooked in front of me. The steak was savory and mouth-watering. If you have the chance, eat Kobe beef. Pay the money for it because it’s well worth it.


Yakitori are meat skewers topped with a sauce and grilled. The restaurant that I went to is called Torikizoku. The location that I went to was in Osaka, but you can find them in other big cities in Japan. They have a large menu of different types of skewers, both chicken and pork, and they have dishes that aren’t on skewers, such as tofu and fried fish.

Udon Noodles

Udon noodles are my favorite type of noodles. Usually, I enjoy them steaming hot in a bath of broth, but I wanted to try something new since I was in the birthplace of the noodle. I ate at  Tsurutontan Roppongi  in Tokyo. I really liked the restaurant and they served both hot and cold noodles. I tried a cold noodle salad served with warm chicken. The dish was layered with flavors, both sweet and savory.

Tsukiji Fish Market

This was a very bittersweet moment for me. As a person who considers themselves a foodie, I really like to see what happens to the food that I eat. I was able to visit the Tsukiji fish market before it’s historic closing on November 2nd of this year. Luckily, it will reopen on November 7th, but in a different area of Tokyo. You can read more about it here.

I still remember that day as if it were yesterday. I went to my hostel and slept for maybe two hours. I woke up at 2:30am and left for the fish market. I didn’t tour the market around 5:00am. During the tour, I was amazed at how fast-paced the market was and how passionate people were during the auction. I don’t know if there will be tours going on until the market closes, and after the new one opens, but if you are able to take the tour, I suggest you go there. It sucks to wake up early, and you may not appreciate it when your there, but I can honestly say that I have more of an appreciation for what goes into my sushi after that experience.

Sushi at the Tsukiji Fish Market

After my tour at the market, I went to a sushi restaurant. I don’t know the name of the restaurant, but I took a picture and it is the sign on the far left. I waited in line for an hour and a half, not because they were slow at making the sushi, it was because there were so many people waiting to eat at the restaurant.

The restaurant is set up omakase style, meaning that the selection is left up to the chef. There is no menu and all of the fish served was raw. The only thing I had to do was sit, eat and pay. The cuts of fish were incredible. I have never eaten fish, or sushi, that was so naked and had so much flavor.

Other foods and drinks I tried while in Japan



Continue Reading