For the past 18 years, Juanita Ingram and her family have embraced living abroad and all the cultural and personal growth benefits that come along with it.
The Tennessee native first moved to London when her husband’s job promotion in 2011, followed by Taiwan and their current home in Singapore. “Singapore is such a melting pot and it’s like London; everybody is here. It’s so refreshing being here and being African American because nobody cares.”
With a true passion for travel and experiencing life through diverse cultures, Ingram is about exposing others, especially African Americans, to a global lifestyle while providing tips, information and resources to help navigate through challenges and opportunities that come along with doing so.
Receiving a New Vision
Before there were planes and trains to exciting international destinations, foods with distinct flavors and cultural norms outside her own, Ingram was a successful corporate attorney, having earned her law degree from the University of Memphis and previously a bachelor’s in accounting from Tennessee State University.
Being a lawyer was all Ingram imagined herself to be, and she worked hard to bring that vision to pass. However, a seed was planted early in her marriage when she and her husband decided to go to Italy for their honeymoon, both leaving the United States for the first time.
“When we got married, we had an option of where we wanted to go on our honeymoon. And we were looking at Florida or Punta Cana…And I remember feeling in my spirit, ‘I think God is going to have us have an international life.’ I had no reason to think that. Neither one of us had ever left the country. So I told my husband, ‘I think we need to go aboard. I think God is going to prepare us to have an international life. So we went to Rome for our honeymoon. Then every year after that, committed to taking one international trip,” says Ingram, who is also a travel show host.
Her intuition proved correct, with her husband’s job offering the opportunity to permanently leave the U.S. Ingram also decided to leave her practice as an attorney. She said her family thought she had lost her mind leaving such a lucrative career, but Ingram knew God was preparing her family for something bigger.
However, once in London, Ingram says, “I had an identity crisis because my entire existence had been wanting to be an attorney.” She says she began to reach back and explore parts of her life that took a backseat to law, such as writing and participating in pageants.
Taking the time to embrace a new vision for her life, Ingram celebrates this part of her journey, using it to inspire others looking to create successful lives for themselves by expanding her platform and work with the global organization Dress for Success, which she first started working with in 2008. She is the founder of the Tennessee and Greater London affiliates and shares that she is the only woman in history to own two affiliates.
Ingram’s new vision also included revisiting her pageant days. Prior to moving abroad, she was the first Black woman to compete and win the title of Mrs. Indiana in 2007. Continuing to wear her crowns, she captured the title of Mrs. Great Britain World in 2011, Mrs. U.K. Universe in 2013, Mrs. UK International in 2014, and last year in 2022, the world saw the Singapore-based entrepreneur be crowned as Mrs. Universe.
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Plants, Coke-Cola and Bird Spit
During her collegiate and law school years, Ingram —a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority —often battled digestive issues and eventually stopped eating pork. She switched to a vegetarian diet before eventually going plant-based, and today says she is always striving to make healthy choices.
She shares, “For those of us who are dealing with health issues, look at the possibility. Look at things in a healthy way, in a tasty way. Start having a relationship with food. Have a positive or new relationship. I tell people all the time I don’t eat just to eat. When I do, I engage with food as opposed to just eating it.”
However, being intentional does not mean limiting yourself, especially when surrounded by amazing culinary experiences. One of the things Ingram is passionate about is experiencing foods in a different culture in a way that you can taste similarities and differences in products. This also includes drinks and condiments you get used to in your home country. “You have to explore other cuisines and opportunities, and to each its own. But before you decide to live abroad, you must navigate different cuisines. You just can’t eat at McDonald’s,” says the mother of two.
When asked what country makes her taste buds sing the most, without hesitation, she says Taiwan due to ample vegan options. At the top of the list is Uncle Q’s, a vegan soul food spot in Taipei opened by professional basketball player Quincy Davis.
Food is definitely a family affair, with both her son and daughter having the benefit of experiencing diverse and authentic cuisines all their lives and her husband —an Alabama native with a stomach of steel — likes to get just as adventurous as Ingram herself.
“My husband has eaten more interesting things than I have. One time he ate bird’s nest soup. Neither of us knew what it was. It is bird’s spit. Had he known it was made of bird phlegm regurgitated into a nest, he probably wouldn’t have eaten it. But my husband enjoyed it. They say it is found on one side of a particular mountain in Malaysia and can only be harvested one time a year. [It is] supposed to be extremely good for you and help you live a long time. Apparently costs $800 [US] a bowl.”
Representation Through Travel
Living abroad may not be for every family. Still, for families who want to give it a shot, Ingram created the perfect show, “The Expats – International Ingrams Smart Reality Docuseries,” now in its second season.
“I created a show to showcase how you navigate through change, whether it be through culture, through food through experiences, so that we would know we have options,” Ingram shares.
“I was already an entertainment lawyer, and I had some clients who were in the reality space doing their deals and being on set with them. I thought there was a need and a niche that wasn’t fulfilled for family-friendly, positive content for Black-led cast,” she says regarding the inspiration for the show.
Traveling the world is not something new to Black people, but expat living is for most and watching a loving, funny and successful African American family as they travel the world and experience opportunities is a show that the world needs to see.
And others agree with one viewer writing, “The entire Ingram family is fun to watch and relatable. I love seeing each of their own personalities shine through. But what I liked the most is seeing how this All American family keeps it real and how they handle and deal with real life situations.”
Ingram stresses that the show is about both representation and helping others navigate through unfamiliar situations while living the life they want for themselves. Most importantly, not letting anyone tell you what you can or can not do. You have options. You have possibilities and opportunities.
“People will put a box around you and dare you to step outside of it and put a lid on it and dare you to pop it off. And be [mad] with you for stepping into what they consider their lane.”
Her reply to such a reaction is to do what feels right and, most importantly, listen to the spirit within and just go it.