America, This Isn’t Working for Me: An African-American’s guide to working and living abroad

Ok, Brothers and Sisters… I get it. America has completely showed out and gotten on your last good nerve.  You are now, officially, ready to go!

As our dear brother, Richard Wright, so eloquently put it, we are ready to “respond to the warmth of other suns and, perhaps, to bloom.” I am a living testimony that you can, in fact, do just that. However, we, Black people, must be strategic and thorough in how we choose to make this move. If this is something you really want to do, for at least a couple of years, then you must explore, analyze and then decide on the best way to make the move, and “how” you would like to show up in your new space. If you show up without a plan, and without a solid footing, there is a good chance you will be packing up your belongings and heading right back to the US of A within a matter of months. With this blog series, my aim is to help you avoid that situation. I hope to provide you with insights and a starting point for your entrée into your new country so that your experience is positively life-changing and, ultimately, worth the stress, hassle, and challenges that are sure to come.

You may be wondering what gives me the authority to speak on this issue. Well, while I am no certified expert, I have lived abroad as a Black American off and on since 2003. I have worked abroad with the US government, and with the private sector as an expatriate with a local company. I have lived overseas as a single woman with no kids, and as a married woman with children. I have lived in a five-bedroom mansion, shared a 2-bedroom home with a couple as an intern, and made a 3-bedroom apartment in a 4-story walk-up work with a husband and 2 school-aged children. All of that to say, I have been around for a while and have experienced life abroad under a number of circumstances. I hope that my experiences can be used as a learning tool for those of you who are thinking of doing the same thing. To be sure, “quitting” America – for whatever reason – is not easy. But sometimes, it is the only and best choice for your current condition. If this is where you are, in this moment, then know that I am here with you, and here to help.

As the saying goes, there are many ways to skin a cat, and the same can be said for moving abroad long-term. I will break down, in five broad categories, the ways in which you can go overseas with a job, or some type of role that will allow you to either earn an income or can provide you with shelter and provisions. Here is a sneak peek into what is to come in future blogs:

  1. Fellowships or Volunteer Work – e.g., Fulbright, Peace Corps, Doctors Without Borders
  2. International Development/Diplomacy with the United States Government – e.g., USAID, Dept of State, Department of Commerce, USDA
  3. International Development with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) – e.g., Save the Children, United Nations, Mercy Corps
  4. Private Sector
    1. Multinational Corporations – e.g., Coca-Cola, GE, Schlumberger
    2. Government Contractors – e.g., Chemonics, FHI360, Tetratech
    3. Local/Foreign Businesses – e.g., UBA, local finance houses, local telecoms
  5. Teaching – e.g., international schools (International School of Dakar, International School of Kenya) and local schools with a desire for American teachers

Each blog will do a deep dive into each of these options as it applies to US as Black people – because all too often the rules are different for us. Any of these options can work, depending on who YOU are, what you would like to get out of the experience, how integrated you want to be into the local culture, and your level of financial and/or personal risks. If the time has come for you to explore long-term options beyond the borders of the United States, I hope that my experiences and insight into what it is like to go “Black and Abroad” can be a starting point for you as you begin your own foray into living overseas. It can be a good life – but it can also chew you up and spit you out. Let’s make it be the former. ;o)

We got this!

About Mildred Olive

Olive Young is a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) with USAID. Most recently, she has worked in Dakar, Senegal on human rights issues. Previously, Olive served as a Consular Officer in Lagos, Nigeria and as a Cultural Affairs Officer in Yaoundé, Cameroon with Department of State. Additionally, her international experience includes serving as a Business Development Executive for a private equity firm in Nigeria, an Africa Program Manager for Vital Voice Global Partnership and a legal aid intern in Nairobi, Kenya. Olive holds a Juris Doctorate from New York University School of Law and received both her bachelor's degree in Business Administration and MBA from Florida A&M University. She is married with two children and enjoys reading, writing and all things Black folk.

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