I have to admit that given the current state of political affairs and frequent occurrences of social and racial injustice, the thought of living outside of the U.S. has crossed my mind. But my home is here and while I love traveling out of the country, there is always that sense of comfort when I return to what is familiar.
When you try to find out how many Americans living abroad, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an exact number. It has been noted that the U.S. government tracks people immigrating to the country but not those who are leaving. By fair estimates, some say it is in the millions each year.
Expats is the name they are referred to that Amanda Bates, founder of The Black Expat, says is simply “a person migrating from point A to point B.” However, when you look up the definition for expatriation, you’ll see the words “to banish,” “to withdraw,” and “to exile.” These words seem a little harsh to me since most don’t necessarily leave to denounce their allegiance to their native country. Instead, many are just looking for adventure and a cultural experience different from their own.
In 2016, Bates left the States to work and live abroad in Qatar in Western Asia. The daughter of Cameroonian parents, she had been exposed to the whole notion of expatriation as a child when her parents decided to move back to the West African country where Bates would attend middle and high school. She eventually moved back to the States by herself to attend college at North Carolina State University.
She says while in Cameroon, she struggled because she felt American but when she returned to the U.S., she felt conflicted because didn’t feel she fit in because of the years she spent away. “I was the black kid who just didn’t get certain things because I didn’t grow up here [U.S]. In college, there were just points where I went, ‘I literally don’t fit in. I sound like everybody else, but I don’t know what it is.’”
Eventually, she found a groove and went on to work as a college access director for about 10 years. Her work centered around minority students and assisting them to get into college programs. As part of her mentoring, she encouraged them to study aboard.
Sound exciting? For some students not at first as many shared with Bates that the only black people they knew who traveled abroad were the ones in the military. But those who took that leap soon caught the international travel bug and Bates notes that for many it was a life-changing experience.
She knew that Blacks often travel abroad as well as live outside of the country but there wasn’t a program or site that highlighted these cross-cultural living experiences. So, she created The Black Expat in February 2016 to do just that.“I called it black for one simple reason, I wanted black people to find each other. I love the fact that as black people, we can learn from each other’s stories because we have different points of privilege depending on where we are from,” Bates says.
If you currently go to the site, you’ll see a trailer page and sign-up box to receive future communications. Bates shares that she is about to “blow up” the site to make it bigger and better. Visitors to the site in the past enjoyed stories from other black expats and ways to connect with one another. “When I think about the mission of the site, it is about both being aspirational and achievable.” The big unveiling is scheduled for February 2018.
The Black Expat helps to break down stereotypes and allows black expats to share their own narratives about their experiences. Bates says that is another important goal of the site. “We are very intentional to have as many voices represented because I fiercely want people to understand, who are not black, that our voices are not monolithic. We have very different experiences and the media doesn’t always show that.”