I remember summer vacations with my family–my sister and I in the back of our parents’ station wagon. We traveled from Washington, DC as far and as wide as Canada, Mexico and many states in between. But I never left the continent until I was an undergraduate and joined a group of African American students on a pilgrimage to Dakar, Senegal.
I made a point of kissing the ground after deplaning. And I will never forget how thrilling it was to see Air Afrique’s all-black flight crew, to hold currency with a black person’s face on it, to meet the legendary Ousmane Sembène, to participate in a naming ceremony, to cry at Île de Gorée and to hear “welcome home” from the many friendly people I met.
Not long after my pilgrimage, I visited London for the first time. I was a guest of Mad Professor who owns Ariwa Records and has the largest black-owned recording studio in London. I fell in love with the coolness of the music, art, club, pub and theater scenes, the vibrancy of Brixton and the freedom one feels when being an American abroad. I decided then that I wanted to live in Europe.
It was during graduate school that I discovered Brussels and how affordable it is (at least compared to Paris). I moved to Brussels, practiced my French, worked at the American Chamber of Commerce, earned a second master’s degree, joined a small communications agency, and four years later moved to Sweden.
Then, a fellow black expat introduced me to Reginald Smith. Reggie is a smart Chinese-speaking brother who wanted to start an online magazine for black expats. We both understood how living abroad forces one to grow and stretch and discover news things about one’s self.
So, together, we launched BlackExpat.com and set about finding black expats around the world to interview. Through that work, we have found that the reasons for moving abroad are as diverse as the individuals who have done the moving, but that there often is the common element of self-discovery.
While living abroad, I have discovered how adaptable and resourceful I am and also what it actually feels like to be an American. In my experience, I get treated like an American first and foremost. When I was in Brussels, that meant being met with hostility caused by the local’s extreme dislike of former President Bush. But now that pendulum has swung wildly. Instead of being asked menacingly if I voted for Bush, I am often greeted with, “Yes we can!”
Adrianne George is an award-winning blogger and a Washington, DC native who has lived in England, Belgium and currently in Sweden. She has been published in AnAmericanAbroad.com, Black Meetings and Tourism, The Scandinavian Insider, Afro European Sister’s Network, Boston Technical Recruiter and The Turnip.