As I began promoting my new book You Too! Can Live Abroad, I decided to speak with different women having the time of their lives living and working abroad. Over the past couple of weeks, I interviewed a State Department English language fellow, a future expat, and a physician traveling with her husband and young son. Now, I want to introduce to a single mother making a global impact by following her dream and living with purpose.
I originally met Kristen a couple of years ago through my networking group, Expat Women of Color, where she assisted me in an interview for my graduate capstone project. At that time, she and her son were living in the Middle East in Abu Dhabi. However, I’m currently interviewing her from an entirely different continent. She is now residing in Africa in the country of Uganda.
A New Adventure A New Way of Life…
First, tell my readers when you first moved abroad and what took you? I first moved abroad in August 2013 after accepting a job offer with the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) in the UAE. I have always had a desire to live abroad since my teenage years when I traveled to Spain with my uncle. Visiting Spain inspired me to keep pursuing my dreams of living abroad. Prior to applying for the position, I worked as a first grade teacher for 3 years in the Chicago area. I love teaching and all aspects involved but I was ready for a change of pace, a new adventure and way of life. I was tired of living check to check and I felt that my life was in a stagnant place. I was also ready to move on from an emotionally and spiritually draining romantic relationship. The desire was always in me to teach abroad but prior to that time, I felt very limited by my circumstances as a single, African-American mother with a limited income. How in the world was I going to be able fulfill this lifelong dream? Sometimes it takes those uncomfortable situations and moments of uncertainty to push you out of your comfort zone into a place of purpose and destiny.
I understand that you are not traveling the world alone, you actually have a gorgeous gentleman accompanying you. Tell us a little about this companion of yours, and how his life has been changed by living abroad? Yes, I am the proud mother of 8-year old Christion Nicholas Isaiah. He joined me in the UAE a few months after I arrived. I would highly recommend single mothers, who are considering a move abroad, to go alone for at least a month so that you can properly settle in before your little one arrives. He was 6-years old at the time and I was confident that living abroad would expand his ideas of the world around him through his intercultural experiences. Surprisingly, Christion adjusted very well to his new environment. I, on the other hand, was in a state of culture shock for over 5 months! While in the UAE, he was able to make friends from literally all over the world, learn Arabic and travel to various countries such as India, Oman, Sri Lanka, Qatar and Thailand within the span of 2 years. Furthermore, I made sure to keep him very busy by enrolling him in several after school activities including art lessons, soccer, basketball and swimming. I stayed connected with other single mothers and families, encouraging playdates and outings since community is very important when raising a child, especially as a single mother living abroad. Overall, Christion’s life has been enriched by this experience and he has become extremely well-rounded as a global citizen, allowing him many opportunities for growth and exploration.
I am still a little jealous that my mother didn’t take me off to see the world. However, what if any, are the challenges of living abroad and do you think your son will ever regret being a 3rd culture child? The challenges were plentiful during our time in the UAE. That’s why I absolutely encourage parents to research the country of interest, especially if you have children of color because in my opinion, not every country is ideal for raising them. Therefore, you must find a place that works for you and supports your morals, beliefs and lifestyle. Talk to other families who mirror your situation. There were imminent differences between the American culture and the very conservative Muslim culture we experienced in the UAE. At first, Christion couldn’t understand why Christmas and Easter weren’t being celebrated and why we couldn’t eat in public during Ramadan. After the first year, things were clearer for him but again, it was definitely a cultural shock.
One of the biggest challenges for him was being away from his father. Single moms, although I encourage you to consider life abroad, I also want you to consider the relationship between your child and their father before making a definitive decision. I had to take into consideration the existing relationship Christion had with his father prior to our relocation. In the end, I didn’t regret my decision to bring him and my intentions were meaningful, however, it was definitely a hardship.
I want the entire scoop on your move to Uganda. How did you decide on moving to Uganda? What are the differences between Dubai and Uganda, and what do you love about your new adventure? After two years in the UAE, I decided that it was time for us to move on, however, I wasn’t ready to return to the States. Therefore, I accepted a job in Kampala, Uganda. Seeing the hardships Christion had to deal with being away from his father, I decided to leave him in the States for 1 academic year while I continued to pursue my teaching career…abroad. This was one of the most difficult decisions of my life since my son and I are very close.
So how in the world did I end up in Uganda? Well, when I made the decision to leave the Middle East, I started considering other locations such as Asia, South America and Africa. I completed a profile on www.searchassociates.com (highly recommended if you’re in the education field) and applied for several positions to no avail. I reached a time in the job search process where I became very discouraged and figured that it may be best to move back to the States after all and settle with a teaching position there. Right when I made that decision, I received an email from an international school in Uganda. They were pleased with my credentials and wanted an immediate interview. Unbelievably, I was hired a week later. Wow! I was moving to Africa! Now, that I am here, I am very thankful that I made the decision to move to Uganda. It was a huge to say the least because my son is away but from an overall perspective, it has helped me considerably by widening my outlook and increasing my faith and overall confidence. What I love about my journey the most is being in the presence of progress. The country is growing, moving and developing at a rapid pace. It feels great to be a part of the movement by contributing in any way that I can. By the way, my school is amazing! The children love to learn and the school community is chock full of extracurricular programs and resources. In the UAE, it was a challenge because I worked in the local schools so naturally there was a language and cultural barrier. Furthermore, in Kampala, the lifestyle is more relaxed, friendly and full of life. On the other hand, in the UAE, the culture was a lot more conservative in terms of dress, lifestyle and community relations. Through this transition from the UAE to Uganda, I am learning more about self-identify, love and purpose. I am learning how to remain strong during adversity, although the distance between my son and I is very difficult, at times. Through my community involvement, consistent networking and building social relationships, I am aware that everything happens for a reason and Uganda was definitely in God’s plan for my life.
Ok, I want to talk to you forever about your new journey, but I don’t have time. However, I would love for my readers to know a little more about you and what your aspirations are as an expat. What would you like for my readers to know to help them if they contemplating moving abroad? What has been your biggest lesson? One thing that I will say is never give up on your dreams and interests because of your circumstances. God has given you a very special path and purpose in this life. One of my biggest lessons and challenges was to not let fear control my destiny and to simply trust the process called life.
If you want to live abroad, I advise you to research employment opportunities in your field. Find out which countries have the best opportunities in terms of contracts, salaries and living conditions. Additionally, build a network before you arrive. This is extremely important and will help during the adjustment period. Continue to push through any obstacles that come your way. Stay strong, positive and know that your destiny is waiting on you. Lastly, if you are a single mother, I encourage you to allow your child to live abroad at least once. Of course, take all factors into consideration so that you can make very wise decisions for your family. Believe me, moving abroad, if you decide to do so, is an opportunity that you won’t regret. Go for it! I believe in you! It was one of the best decisions I made and now my life will be forever changed. For further information on my journey as a single mother of color living abroad, please watch out for the release of my very first E-book entitled: Turbulence, (test)imonies and triumphs: Inspiration for single mothers of color pursuing purpose abroad. You can also follow my journey on my blog at www.msblackexpat.com .