expat stories

Written By Paula Barreca Barnes


Expat stories

Menya Jefferson


Seoul, South Korea

Tell us a little about yourself

1 Where do you live now and how long have you been there?
My name is Menya Jefferson and I’ve been living in Seoul, South Korea for the past 14 years.

2 What do you love about where you live now?
I love the school I teach at (Seoul Foreign School), my church, the food, the shopping and the overall flavor that Seoul has.

3. What brought you to this location?
I came to Seoul in August of 2005 to teach at an international Christian school (now known as YISS - Yongsan International School of Seoul) and I’ve tried to leave several times - Korea was just tough for me as a black foreigner - but God gave me the strength to stay and the capacity to love this city and its people.

How it all began

4. Where was your first assignment, how long were you there?
 My first overseas “assignment” was to Moscow, Russia and I was there for 2 years (2000-2002).  I was an EFL teacher for a company there called “Language Link”.

5 What was your reason for moving abroad in the first place?
 My first time abroad was in 1997 when I did a year of study abroad with the University of North Carolina in Montpellier, France.

6 Did you travel alone, with kids or with a partner? How would you describe your first experience?
I travelled alone as a student.  My first experience of living abroad was amazing!  I loved all of the traveling I was able to do and for someone from a small town in southern Mississippi, I was in awe of this world that was so much bigger than what I thought.

The expat adventure

7. Where have you lived so far?
I have lived in Montpellier, France (1 year), Moscow, Russia (2 years) and Seoul, South Korea (14 years)




Advice to give others​​

8  How were you able to meet people when you first arrived?
When I first arrived in each of those locations, I met people in different ways:  with Montpellier, I met people because of my study abroad program (other students); with Moscow, I met people through work and through church; and with Seoul, again, I met people through work, church and dance classes that I was involved in.

9. What are some other ways to meet people when you first move abroad?
I think if you really want to meet people when you first move abroad, it’s crucial to find a like-minded interest group.  So if you’re into hiking, research hiking clubs that exist in your new locale. If you’re into food, see if there are cooking classes or other clubs that revolve around food in your new locale.  And there’s always language-exchange classes that you can be involved with that will allow you to connect with the locals and everyone benefits with those classes.

The Now

10 How has being an expat changed you?
It has made me more self-aware.  I know what my triggers are and I’m way better now at problem-solving and having to be creative with what I’ve got.  Learning to make things “work.” It has also made it easier for me to travel because I’m not so stressed about being in a place where I don’t know the language.  Being an expat has taught me how to communicate creatively with others. It has also helped me to appreciate my home culture even more.



Kristen Hobby

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Homesickness

How do you overcome homesickness?

I'm not really one to suffer from bouts of homesickness. Of course, I miss friends and family but the world is a smaller place and only ever a Skype or FaceTime call away. I do feel the distance when there are big life events that occur.

What causes your homesickness? 

I do feel the distance when there are big life events that occur, I lost 2 young cousins over the past couple of years, both in tragic circumstances and being away is very hard.

The Now 

How has being an expat changed you?

I've always loved travel and experiencing different cultures so the accessibility to travel is one of the best parts. I like to think I've become more open-minded, more hospitable and appreciate diversity more in my time as an expat.

Someone once said to me 'appreciate all the experience of being an expat, then bow out gracefully when it is over' I'm trying to be grateful for every moment knowing at some point, it will be time to head home.

Singapore

Tell us a little about yourself

Where do you live now and how long have you been there?

My Husband, 15 yo Daughter and I have lived in Singapore (beach rd) for the past 3.5 years

What do you love about where you live now?

We love living centrally; we feel like we have the city in our doorstep and love walking everywhere. We have no car.
So far the experience of being an expat has been overwhelmingly positive for all of us. My Husband enjoys his role, my Daughter is very musical and enjoys opportunities to perform in all sorts of settings, NZ balls, IB conferences, British High Commission events. I have recently completed a PhD, and that was good to have. I've also set up my own company, running retreats to Bhutan with a colleague who's a photographer. There is a great community of expats here, and I've been involved in Golf groups, lectures at the museum, Mahjong, and ANZA tours.

What brought you to this location?

We are from Melbourne, and we moved here with my husband's job. 

How it all began

Where was your first assignment, how long were you there?

It's our first overseas assignment, and we are on a local package. 

What was your reason for moving abroad in the first place?

He worked for Cisco and was trying to do a regional role from Melbourne, but the travel was crazy.



Patricia Qhobela-Molapo

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA

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The expat Adventure

7. Where have you lived so far?

Sierra Leone, Namibia, South Africa (Johannesburg & Cape Town), Lebanon and now the US. 

Expat life

8  If you could sum up your expat life in 3 words, what would it be?

Travel, personalities and culture 

9. How would you define your experience as an expat? 

 A slow roller coaster. 

The Now 

10 How has being an expat changed you?

I've learnt so much about myself. I also know that I can be put anywhere and I will find people I can connect with. I now know it takes longer than I first thought to make friends, but it will happen. I’m more willing now to be proactive in welcoming new people to place. I have more faith in my abilities since starting and growing my business. I have become a lot more self-reliant but also more open about my feelings. Being away from loved ones is not easy, and all you have are your words, so I try to choose them carefully and not hold back. 
Tell us a little about yourself, 

1 Where do you live now and how long have you been there?

I live in Arlington Virginia, and I’ve been here for about two years. It’s the first time I’ve been to the US, and I like it. I want to travel a whole lot more when I’m here, so I have a few road trips planned.

2 What do you love about where you live now?

I love the food. I like how easy it is to find restaurants that serve food from all over the world. I am ruled by stomach so being so close to DC the food scene is great, and there are so many places to discover. I’m bad at learning languages, although I do feel you should make an effort wherever you are; so I’m glad it’s easy for me to understand people and to be understood. I do understand basic Spanish, but you have to speak slowly. I love the fact that there’s a community of expat women around me that I try to connect with once a month. 

3. What brought you to this location?

So I’m a Trailing Spouse! (My tongue is firmly in my cheek) My husband has always country-hopped for work, and his job brought him to the US. Before coming here, we were in Beirut, Lebanon and for the first few months, I did feel like a Trailing Spouse. I wasn’t equipped to find work there, and I had no grasp of the local lingo.  So being in Lebanon was the push I needed to create a business that lives online. 

How it all began

4. Where was your first assignment, how long were you there?

So, I prefer the term “Accompanying Partner” so the first time I was an accompanying partner he’d accepted a job in Sierra Leone. It’s was a hard place to be, rebuilding from the war has taken a long time and when we were there the infrastructure to make life easier just wasn’t adequate. I met some great people and wherever you are part of this lifestyle is making the best of it and making it work, however, I did find it hard. I think I was there for about nine months. 

5 What was your reason for moving abroad in the first place
 
Love!  If you are considering it, I would say go for it!   Do your research. If you are the accompanying partner, and you won’t be able to work. How will you fill your days? What are you interested in? Can you move your skillset online?  Then jump! 

6 Did you travel alone, with kids or with a partner? How would you describe your first experience?

I travelled with my husband, my kids were in boarding school, and Uni and they were settled.  They had no desire to come with us, so it was me and the hubs. My first experience was sensory overload. I’d never felt true humidity like I did when I stepped off that plane. The airport was chaotic, and I like to figure out what to do an where to go to new places on my own or by just following the crowd. In Freetown, the airport didn’t have much signage, so I felt a little bit lost.  When we made it through Customs and all of that I physically felt like a piece of wilted lettuce. That humidity is no joke.  I’d flown from Lesotho, so I’m used to the “look” of a developing country, but it was interesting to see when we were driving to our house a different “style” of a developing country. I’d thought that it would be the same across the board, but you see differences in the way people stand together, tones of voice. A raised voice in some countries means joy, not anger. The differences in the way the marketplaces worked.  I’m struggling to find a word to describe how it felt. 

Repatriation

What was the hardest thing about repatriation?

There were many thing that were hard about repatriation. It was reverse culture shock. We lived abroad for almost a decade. Life went on - in our absence- in the place where we returned, and we all had to re-enter and find our ways. This took a lot more time than anticipated. And it was an uneven re-entry, one member of our family would be feeling good and another was homesick for our life abroad. Our children felt out of the pop culture, and out of the loop. People are interested in your experiences, but not everyone wants to hear about how you have changed on a deeper level. It is hard to leave behind the awesome friends who are still expats, and also the travel opportunities. Every member of our family would jump at the opportunity to live abroad again.

What do you love about being back at home?

Proximity to family. Opportunity for our children with sports and art. Professional opportunity is also greater at home.

The Now

How has being an expat changed you?

Being an expatriate changed our lives entirely. We are completely different people. You have a profound understanding that different is just different, and that most people around the world have similar goals; in that they have pride in their children, want to be safe and have some daily joy. You are a global person. You don’t see the world so concretely. That is a profound lesson to understand. We wish more people could have that opportunities we have had.

Megan Cooney

Darien, Connecticut

Tell us a little about yourself,

Where do you live now and how long have you been there?

We live in the United States in Darien, Connecticut. We have been here 2.5 years, prior to that we lived in Michigan, in the Detroit-area.

What do you love about where you live now?

We love being on the east coast and proximity to New York City.

How it all began

Where was your first assignment, how long were you there?

Singapore 1.5 years

What was your reason for moving abroad in the first place?

Jay’s work.

The expat adventure

Where have you lived so far?

We lived in Singapore, Shanghai and Seoul.

Expat life

If you could sum up your expat life in a 3 words, what would it be?
Mine - Enriching, exciting and diverse Jay’s - enriching, exciting and happy

How would you define your experience as an expat?

We loved each place we lived - Singapore, Shanghai and Seoul. While expatriates, our children grew up from early childhood to upper school-age for one child and middle school-age for the other. We were very fortunate to experience very special times, meeting wonderful friends and gaining invaluable experiences about daily life in other places. Regardless of our counrty location, it was a very happy time for us all on many levels. We embraced all the new experiences and people who came our way.