Hey there soon to be or current black expat!
So you are preparing to move to a foreign country. Maybe you are just getting used to one. Or maybe you are just going to be traveling for a while–not quite being a “black person expat.” But you will be spending at least a month or more away from home.
Perhaps you are nervous because foreign countries bring along an obstacle or two for your trusted routines.
You may be worried about where to get your hair done. You may be excited about dating abroad but don’t really know if the opposite sex will be woke enough to empathize with your experiences (spoiler: they never QUITE get it). You may be unsure of how to deal with lack of diversity in creating new friendships.
These are all things that are totally normal to be apprehensive about prior to moving to or traveling to a new country that does not have a significant black population. These countries will not have a large black expat community, so things can get… frustrating.
I have now lived in two countries with little to no black population. I lived in Australia which claims the “little population.” And now I am living in Serbia which takes the “no population.” I’ve learned so much from these two experiences and am happy to impart onto you some common solutions I have picked up along the way.
Here is how I have survived as a black girl expat, and how you can too in any country with little to no black expatriate community to turn to.
Issue #1: Getting your hair done
I remember the first time I lived abroad. It was in Melbourne, Australia. I followed my boyfriend there so I knew very little about the country before I went. Once I arrived, I realized very quickly that there weren’t a lot of black people and Australia wasn’t the best country to be a black girl expat in terms of aesthetic logistics. Sure they had a MAC store, because, duh! But five months into my time there, I was freaking out because I had to get my hair done—bad.
Here’s an embarrassing photo of how bad I was looking in Australia because I couldn’t get my hair professionally done. It got to a point where I just wore a bandanna and tried to look a bit rock n’ roll.
One day, I noticed these African immigrants walking down the street with beautiful weaves. I asked them where I could get my hair done like theirs, and they laughed and said, “What, you don’t know about Footscray?”
No! I didn’t know about Footscray. And there was no black expat community to tell me about it until that moment. Apparently, as the emerging hub for East African immigrants, Footscray was the suburb of all suburbs for black hairdressers. The reason I am telling this story is because this goes for every country. Just like there is always an Irish pub in every country, there is always someone or some place that does black people’s hair!
I live in Serbia where I see maybe one or two black people a month. But in less than two months into being here, I found a woman who does black hair on a Facebook group. She does not have her own salon, but she can come to your home and do your hair.
So trust me guys, black people are everywhere. If I were you, I would ask around. If you see a black person, strike up a conversation with them and find out all their secrets to surviving in the country as a black expat. A lot of people have been surviving before you arrived, so those people will have a lot of knowledge to unload onto you. Some of your white local friends might even know stuff as well. That was the case with me here in Serbia, believe it or not. And be sure to join African American expatriate community groups on Facebook, Internations, and other popular expat forums.
Issue #2: Getting your hair… if you are a weave or wig girl
If you are moving abroad and not sure about which products to buy in bulk before you leave, you are most-likely not going to find those products easily in your new country. This is inconvenient because buying things in bulk is not always the best answer, especially if you are on a tight budget before your move. And this issue is also in my opinion, one of the biggest gray areas with the lack of black girl travel reviews on the interwebs.
Rest assured that there is a growing list of online stores that ship internationally and don’t charge you a million dollars. The mecca of this has to be AliExpress. It is where I order my favorite hair bundle by AliQueen. It’s very inexpensive compared to buying hair at your local Asian store selling hair. On top of that, shipping is so reasonable, even here in Eastern Europe.
I also use ElevateStyles which has some of my favorite products for cheap, as well as pretty reasonable international shipping. I was shocked that the products I ordered to be shipped from USA to Serbia arrived in just 9 business days, which was less than the 15-20 business days I was expecting. They also mark a low value for the item(s) you purchase so that you don’t incur customs fees.
But really, there are so many websites even besides these two. I like to search for my favorite hair products on Google and see how many websites show up with the product. Usually there are a lot. Then I compare and contrast the price, the shipping, and the reviews and decide from there.
Issue #3: Awkward & Frustrating Dating
My favorite international romance situation person thing turned best friend for life. The reason we’ve worked so long as friends and more? He is from a Western European country–not an Eastern European one…
I’ve gotten requests from both black women and even white Eastern European men to address this topic. So reluctantly, I guess I should. I say reluctantly because honestly, I haven’t enjoyed dating in Eastern Europe so far, and I don’t want to offend anyone because these are my experiences, and it sucks when people are offended by honesty. But I have a duty to be honest I suppose to other soon to be black female expats.
Before I continue to talk about my experience and advice learned from dating in Serbia and the Balkans, let me make one thing clear: I don’t think Serbian guys/Balkan guys are horrible people or evil men. So please don’t continue reading with that notion.
So here it goes.
When you look completely different in a country where everyone looks genetically the same, then you are going to meet a lot of people that just want to experience you because they see you as an extreme novelty. It’s a double edged sword because you will meet a lot of people, but you will meet a lot of horny people who suck. They see you as a foreign delicacy, an out of season foreign good, an imported ginger or avocado that they want to taste. This is my experience in the Balkans. I’m not saying every country with few black people is like this, but much of the Balkans is.
I often feel like people I meet just want to check off from their bucket list fucking a black girl.
Especially frustrating is that no matter how apparent I make it that I live here, I work here, I can speak the language, and I am emotionally invested in my future here as well as the country’s future which is why I promote it– despite all of that, everyone I meet treats me like a tourist that should be leaving in a few days.
I’ve even had some men be honest with me and tell me they went on a date with me because they wanted to fuck me and they had no intention of hanging out with me ever again. I have also been on dates with people that were really really really good actors and it was hard to see through to their true intentions until we got to the end of the date and they were either pressuring me or begging me to come back to their apartment.
Can you tell that I am a bit jaded by this stuff at this point? Do I sound like a scrooge? I have definitely become overprotective of myself here.
So what have I learned from all of this that I can pass on?
My advice to black women who will be traveling to or living in a country where there are no black people is to just be smart, stick to your guns, suss out the bullshit and go with your gut. The more bad dates you go on, the better your detective skills and spidey senses will be at sussing things out.
If you see some red flags or behavior that is not super sketchy but still worth raising an eyebrow, don’t make excuses for him because he’s so hot or so nice or so charming. He just wants to fuck you, okay. Not that there’s anything wrong with just fucking. Having a fling or a brief sexual encounter is something I totally champion. But because I know I am a conquest for many people here, I don’t want anyone to have the satisfaction of a fling with me so that they can go brag to all their friends and never talk to me again. In Western countries however, I’m not against flings at all because Western men are just more mature about it.
Another thing to be weary of is the type of guy who says that he “loves black girls.” I think some black women like to hear that. But I think there is a big difference between a man in a Western country that says that and a man in a country with no black people that says that. And trust me, so many people will say that to you, and it gets very old. Personally, I tend to not like anyone who says that, but I especially don’t like the people who say that here. The guys who have said things like that to me are always people who fetishize black women, usually to the point of a desperate, aggressive or pushy sexual conquest obsession.
The most passionate, intimate, and intellectually and emotionally stimulating romances I’ve had in all my time traveling and living in the Balkans have been with people who had either never experienced being with a black person before, or had never given it any thought. They met ME and they liked ME. I just happened to be black, which was the cherry on top. If someone is making a big deal of it that you are black, then, they might care more about you being black than they care about you as an individual.
Issue #4: Privacy to do your thing
What thing is that? It could be anything, but for me, it was changing my weave/extensions. When I travel for long periods of time and do things like going in the ocean or spending a lot of time outside in the sun, that takes a toll on the hair.
I’m also a stingy bitch, so I like to travel as cheap as possible. I tend to book hostel dorm rooms and sometimes do couch surfing. But of course you are not afforded so much privacy with that. Like I want to deal with my weave while sharing a room with blonde German girls?
When it comes to doing my hair along my travels, I always make sure to book an Airbnb single room or cheap apartment, or find a cheap, but nice of course, hotel room or guest house accommodation on Booking.com. If I know that at a certain point in my trip that I need to ditch the sharing spaces of a hostel and just be in my own space and do me, airbnb and booking really came in handy.
Issue #5: Living in a Country with no diversity is like living in a post-apocalyptic world and will affect your ability to make friends
Wow. That sounds really depressing. But I didn’t mean it to be depressing. I just wanted to paint a picture of what it’s like to know that there’s few of you where you live. Being the only black person you see for weeks at a time does at times feels very post-apocalyptic.
I completely took for granted how much diversity made me who I am. It’s the reason I travel. It’s the reason I learn languages. It’s the reason I have backpacked through more obscure destinations and it’s the reason I’ve lived in three different countries now.
I grew-up in a town that allowed me to have a diverse friendship group. My friends were Pakistanis, Indians, Salvadorians, white Americans, black Americans, Iranians, etc.. Then I went to university in Washington D.C. which is the most diverse city in the USA along with New York. In my time at uni, I developed friends with people from Korea, Serbia, Japan, Croatia, Curaçao, Lithuania, France and so many more countries.
Because I come from a diverse background, as do all of my friends, we could talk about and relate about diverse topics such as cultural appropriation, sexism, gender identity, institutionalized and systemic issues dealing with race, class and privilege. And yeah, those are more heavy subjects, but we could all also share inside jokes about being children of immigrants, gay jokes that don’t cross the line and various other self-deprecations that only an “other” friend would get.
But living in a country with no diversity changes that. Suddenly, conversations that are totally normal and necessary to have back where you are from become labeled as “annoying,” “too serious,” and “I don’t want to talk about this.” Also, here in Serbia, there is not really a black expatriate community to turn to.
I think meeting like-minded people in a country that has little to no diversity is honestly really hard. I don’t think there’s an easy solution for this.
I honestly don’t know that I could live here forever because of the diversity issue. But in the meantime, the people I have connected with are people who have traveled themselves. Even though they are Serbian, they have lived in other countries for long periods of time to experience diversity and have it affect their life experiences and perspectives.
If you can find friends who have lived abroad for long periods of time, you are on a good track. The best way to find these people is hang out with other expats occasionally and you will meet their local friends that like foreigners to be in their life on the regular.
Another suggestion is to connect online. Meetup.com is a great way to meet people who are like-minded to you. And even dating/friendship apps like Tinder are worth a try because you can read someone’s bio and see if you have things in common before you even meet and in effect, you don’t leave meeting compatible friends completely up to fate. You can also use expat groups and African American expatriate community groups on Facebook to find like-minded friends. A lot of times, locals of the country you are in will be added to these groups as well.
Issue #6: To buy or not to buy in bulk before you arrive?
One of my biggest regrets about moving to Serbia is that I didn’t buy a larger bulk amount of hair perm, nor did I buy my favorite Nars make-up foundation in bulk.
Hair perm in the US is only $5-$8, but because I was moving to a new country, and I was being really stingy on spending, I only brought two hair perm boxes. I told myself I will just order more online when I arrive. But it would have been cheaper to buy four or five products of hair perm before I arrived than to buy two online.
As for Nars foundation, it’s very expensive. But it’s also the best foundation for my skin and complexion. I was just so stingy though. And now I live in a country where Nars isn’t sold anywhere. I’ve been using stand-by products, but they just don’t compare to Nars. I wish I had done a 4-month plan with myself where I would buy Nars once a month, in order to avoid spending $200 in one sitting.
Long story short is that if you use a product religiously, do your research well in advance before your move. If it is not sold anywhere, I would buy it in bulk. If it is an expensive product like Nars foundation, I would suggest setting aside a certain amount of money each week or month to buy that product in bulk.
I hope this post helped relieve some stress you might have about making some adjustments to live in a country with little diversity. If there is anything I didn’t cover in this post, please leave a comment below! Also, feel free to message me on Facebook or Instagram! I’m happy to help!