Living Out Loud: A Truly Expat Experience

Sharifa has travelled and lived all over the world from the Outback of Australia to Africa, Latin America & Europe! Read as she shares her life lessons and memorable experiences as an expat.

“For me, when life becomes too routine I start planning my next escape. There is always an adventure on the horizon.

Let’s start at the beginning: Where are you originally from? When did you move abroad and where did you move abroad to?

I’m originally from Toronto, Canada and I first moved aboard when I was 17. I attended an American University on a soccer scholarship. I started working seasonally on a cruise ship when I was 21 for a number of years. I moved aboard again to live in Spain when I was 23. Then again when I was 27, I moved to Australia. From Australia I moved to the UK when I was 29.

How were you able to migrate? (Job, Visa, Spouse, Family or another channel?)

  • Europe, Oceania, Africa, Caribbean, Latin America – Job (Cruise Ship)
  • Madrid, Spain – Job
  • Gold Coast/ Northern Territory Australia – Job
  • Youth Mobility Visa London, UK – Tier 5 visa

Why did you decide to move and did you know anyone there?

Adventure! I did not know anyone when I moved to any other country but the UK. The UK was the only location that I had family or friends.

How did you find the job searching process? Was there anything about working overseas that surprised you?

The job searching process was good for every location but the UK. Australia I found a part time job right away and a full time job within a month in the Gold Coast and in Darwin. Not too much surprised me about working overseas. The one thing that I did notice is that if you are good at your job, people make special rules for you.

How was the experience finding a new home?

In the US, everything was pre-arranged for me because I was a student athlete. In Australia and Spain, I stayed in a hostel when I first arrived. It took me about a month each time to find a new home. Spain it was difficult because I did not speak Spanish and did not know many people who spoke English. I would literally dial a number say ‘hello, do you speak English?’ If no, I would hang up the phone and dial another number. I didn’t have many friends that spoke Spanish when I was looking for a place. Luckily I was able to find a flatmate that spoke English. We were in a tiny 3 bedroom and my other roommate did not speak English.

The experience in Australia was easy, everyone spoke English and I got a lovely flat across the street from the beach. When I moved to the Outback, my boyfriend’s friend found a place for us. In each scenario I had a local flatmate. Moving to the UK was by far the hardest because we didn’t want to live with flatmates and we wanted to live close to the city. In order to get a flat, you needed a job making 3x yearly rent. I was having a difficult time finding a job. It took us 3 months to find a flat. We stayed with friends and at AirBnBs until i was offered a job and moved into our flat. The documentation was easy to obtain once I had a job.

How is the social scene? What was your experience making friends?

In USA it was tough because I was a student athlete. I practiced everyday and traveled on weekends. My team were my friends. But their style of partying didn’t appeal to me, at the time. I didn’t make friends until the end of my first semester. Once I had friends it was lit! I miss those days. Cruise ships are amazing! The social scene is so much fun. Work hard, party hard. It was fantastic working seasonally, I came on board for 2 weeks to 3 months, and I had a fabulous time each time. I highly recommend it. Post-Covid, of course.

Spain was easy because I was working as an English teacher. There were other English teachers my age from all around the world. The teachers at my school were lovely. It was hard to make friends with locals because I didn’t speak much Spanish, but I did get a chance to make a few. Madrid is an amazing city. The night life is so much fun. Every night there was something to do, but I wasn’t making much money and I wanted to travel so my social scene was reserved for the weekend and a cheeky Sunday sesh. Australia was weird and fun at first. As mentioned I was staying at a hostel when I first arrived in the Gold Coast. The Gold Coast is like Miami, USA (but with only white people). People just come to party. The hostel had a lot of younger travelers so I was like the old lady. But I still partied and made friends lol, Once I moved out of the hostel, I partied with my flatmate, my boyfriend and my work colleges. I made lots of friends through work. People that I really enjoyed spending my time with.

When we moved to Darwin, it was a completely different feel. It was a small town, lots of pubs and live music. I made some really good friends in Darwin. Mostly through work, some through my partner. Some of the people that I met there will be invited to my future wedding. I miss them dearly. It was a small but dynamic group. We always had a lot of fun. Australia is a great place to live. I got to visit, all over. Aussie’s love a good time.

For the UK, I think it’s also great! After coming from a small town, with a main street with like 6 bars and 2 clubs, it feels like there are endless things to do. It took us a while to get on our feet and then Covid happened so I feel like we haven’t had an opportunity to enjoy as much as we should have. What is nice, is my partner and I both have friends here. I haven’t had to make too many friends to feel loved. I do not have a lot of English friends. The English friends I have, I met in Australia. The other ones, I have made through work.

Did you date overseas? If so, what was that experience like? Any memorable stories you can share?

Yes. It was great! I love international men. I’ve only dated a few Canadian men. My first kiss was an American boy and that was enough to turn me away from Canadian men for life lol. Memorable stories: I once dated a guy for almost 3 weeks (seeing him multiple times) and he didn’t speak any English. My Spanish was terrible, we just got along with gestures and Google translate. He was lovely and super sweet. He was a police officer and just wanted to hang out with a Canadian girl. It was fun.

My first love was a fun, crazy, adventurous Spanish man. We dated for like 5 months. He was a computer engineer that was writing a book. He loved to travel and loved to party. The day before I left Spain to go back to Toronto, he said he loved me. Although I was madly in love with him I never told him that I loved him too. To this day, I still dont know why.

Do you feel your race impacted your experience? If so, how?

Yes, it impacted it. Many people assume I’m American, they are not used to meeting Black Canadians. Sometimes it was great! Men being super nice to you because you are foreign and exotic. My cousin was living in France when I was living in Spain and we would sometimes meet up to travel and we were THE MOST popular ladies in bars and clubs. So many people trying to talk to us, buy us drinks. But on the flip side, sometimes when we were walking down certain streets in France/ Spain, some men would be inappropriate because they thought we were classy prostitutes. As the black women they usually see in that area were prostitutes. At times, people would say stupid things…but nothing crazy, usually after they got rejected. But I took that as being a part of the experience. I thought Spain was going to be bad for racism because of what you see at football matched but I didn’t have many negative experiences.

In Australia there is casual racism. Black people weren’t legally allowed to migrate to Australia until 1980! My mentor warned me about it before I went. She had worked on an event there and had a few encounters. I was happy that she prepped me for it. I heard people in authority say racist things. Not to me but about Pakistani and Aboriginal people. I was told that I was ‘safe’, because ‘black people’ are cool, like trendy. Black culture ‘hip hop’ culture makes us cool. I’m really happy that I had an opportunity to live in the Northern Territory (Outback) of Australia. If I hadn’t I wouldn’t have been able to witness the complex relationships between the various vibrant cultures.

In the Gold Coast I wouldn’t see another black person for days. At times, I felt people staring at me, but I had blonde hair at the time so I chalked it up to that. The United States is probably where I felt that race impacted me the most. I felt like I was put into a little box of ‘black people’. By both black people and white people. I was told by a few black friends that I ‘speak white.’ But I was able to get away with a lot because I was Canadian and I was a student athlete.

Growing up in Toronto, I always had a multicultural friend group. In the US is the first time that I had white friends (soccer team mates) and my black friends seperate. It felt very divided, like I would walk into some parties with my team mates and be the only black person. A lot of times, there were only a couple white people at some of the parties we attended. Syracuse is the first time I heard white people use the word NIGGER. And it was the first time that I felt race. Living in Toronto, I never felt race like that. Syracuse was definitely the most racially charged place. I learned a lot about myself and African Americans. Although it was tough at times, trying to navigate it all. I loved my time at Syracuse, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

What has been the most challenging thing about moving abroad?

Coming back home! I found that each time I have changed so much, met all these wonderful people, had all these wonderful experiences and then I come back home and nobody cares. Of course your friends and your family do. But they ask you a couple questions, you summarize your time over a cup of coffee and then it feels like you are never to speak of it again. It is difficult to go back to normal. But you do, you pick up a routine, a hobby and a new job and live your life… For me, when life becomes too routine I start planning my next escape. There is always an adventure on the horizon.

What has been the most rewarding?

Having an opportunity to build my career while travelling. I remember when I was 21 I was interning for a charity and this girl was 26, had traveled the world. I mean Asia, Oceania, Africa, South America, she had touched almost every continent. But she had no skills, no job experience and was having to start from scratch interning for free, like me, fresh out of uni. I didn’t want that to be me. From the time I started working on Cruise Ships I realized that you could travel and work. I made that my mission to travel and find opportunities that enhanced my resume. When I needed to develop my professional experience, I took time away from traveling and got full-time roles. I completed my Masters in something that was flexible so that I could continue to travel and work. I built traveling into my full-time work vacations or between contracts. But I developed my career along the way. I dont feel like I had to sacrifice professional development to travel.

Tips & Advice for the Her Expatise Community

What in your experience would you say is the minimum monthly cost of living? *

1800

Any advice on the visa/migrating process that could help someone else’s process go smoother? 

Take advantage of the work mobility visas. You can travel to heaps of different countries and live and work before the age of 30 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_holiday_visa I reference this site often and then check the official government website

Any insider tips on a place you enjoy going to or an activity you enjoy doing? 

A stroll through Hyde Park is delightful

Finally, If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice before you got on that plane to move abroad, what would it be? 

Invest your savings.

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