Lessons from Being a Black, Female Expat and Entrepreneur in SE Asia
Three key lessons of being location independent abroad
I walked away from my job, started a company, and decided to live nomadically. This was a risk I never thought I would take! It is also a risk not often embarked upon by many black professionals living internationally. For the black community, leaving a job without a job is frowned upon by friends and family. So, for me to leave a job while abroad without another one in hand took courage.
This, however, is nothing new to me. But as a black woman, living and working abroad for ten years just for the sake of doing it, I was also being a rebel!
Being location independent, taking a sabbatical between two career positions for several months, and drifting between two countries reinforced lessons in resilience, determination, and self-motivation.
I packed and left the comfort of Singapore and headed to Bali, Indonesia. Yes, the obvious response is that Bali is a vacation location. Therefore, I would be chilling on the beach and sipping some fruit cocktail. Well, quite the contrary! I made my home and office in this familiar place for 25 days. I spent that time building a plan, developing a better website, writing content for the course, designing presentations, plus working with clients.
I learned that it was okay to take a sabbatical from my career and pursue other dreams, including entrepreneurship. It was challenging at first to get a rhythm to my day. I like structure and organization, so I needed to find new systems that worked with my now more flexible days. I broke my day into three parts: operational matter, content writing, and working with clients. The morning was dedicated to operational tasks like website development, refining services, financial matters, job searching, and more. My afternoon was for content writing of quotes, articles, and promo pieces. I then took a break, had a late lunch, and went to the gym. The evening was reserved for meeting with clients and could run into the late hours, depending on the difference in time zones. An important takeaway for solo and digital entrepreneurs is to create a workflow for your day.
I have been bouncing between two SE Asian countries, living out of two (2) suitcases wishing it was one.
As I move from country to country, my suitcases have been my reality testing point — for having two, for them being heavy, and just having things I have not used in 6 months of being nomadic. I have had taxi drivers and hotel staff comment on the weight of my suitcases, plus my carry-on. I have been asked about having lead, gold, or stone. One person even asked if I had a “body” in my suitcase! My consistent reply is that my whole life is in two suitcases as I travel the world. I love the looks of shock and amazement.
Really, it is not my entire life as I have personal belongings elsewhere, but it makes for a good “stop being nosy” response. I think a part of the underlying reason for some of the inquiry was that I was a black woman. It was a way to strike a conversation to learn about what country I am from and why I was in their country. Black women are not commonly seen bouncing from country to country, particularly in SE Asia. In my defense, I am a newbie to the world of digital nomads. I am a career professional expat. I moved and settled into a location for years. I was now on a journey of moving around every 30–90 days to avoid immigration issues for myself.
After the first four months, most of the items I used were from one suitcase. It consisted mainly of business clothes and shoes for my next regular income-based job. I realized that being location independent requires a minimalist thought process, especially since being on the road, changing hotels, and countries taught me that not much is needed. We can live with less, even if it is for several months. In hindsight, knowing now the headache and ridiculing, I would have packed lighter and more intentionally.
My hotels in both Indonesia and Malaysia were excellent. The staff allowed me to turn a table in their restaurants into my virtual office. There, I ate at ‘my desk,’ made phone calls, and even had breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Other hotel guests had puzzled looks. Some brought me meals or just had a conversation with me as it looked like I was working too hard. In the process, I met some interesting people and shared about my business and career. Yes, I got the opportunity to practice my “elevator pitch” since I had a captive audience.
I learned to appreciate the kindness and generosity of others, in this case, the hotel restaurant, which let me capture a table for a whole day’s work. I did eat some meals but certainly not enough to occupy a table day after day for weeks into months. The kindness of strangers when you travel is genuine. I was able to share my story, journey, and company’s concept to others. The interactions on any given day gave me inspiration, motivation, and reassurance of my sabbatical decision. This lesson was a reminder that kindness goes a long way.
These few months of leaving my regular income-based job, working for my company/myself full time, and bouncing between the two countries helped me grow. I learned a few lessons and stepped fully into my new role as an entrepreneur. For anyone thinking of or starting this journey, know that you have what it takes to monetize your knowledge or a product.
Lastly, remember why you are doing this… it is your passion! You have the expertise. There is a market and an audience. You will see the fruit of your labor, earn an income, and help others in the process. It may take just a bit more time than you initially anticipated but trust the reasons why you started your company.
Now, I am an Expat Career Strategist and the Founder of Roseapple Global. I have a degree in International Affairs plus expertise and experience in expat living. I work with career professionals in Education who want to transition their careers and life abroad. I do this by providing individual or group coaching. I stand out in the market based on my ten (10) years of experience in five (5) vastly different countries. I have helped primarily higher education professionals accomplish their planning and preparation for a smooth transition of their careers and lives abroad.
While building my company, I continue to pursue opportunities in my 20-year career field of higher education, as I still love many aspects of it. I did a job search for my next full-time, income-based position in my field of higher education. Offerings in my career field are typically limited during the summer, and throughout the middle of the academic year, so my company got 90% of my attention. I eventually landed a job in my career in Bangladesh in January 2020. These days, I balance running a business alongside my full-time career as a university senior administrator. Both require long hours and lots of energy. However, both give me satisfaction.
As a career professional, if living nomadically is a risk you are willing to take, then seize the opportunity to take your career break abroad. Contact me and let's explore your options.
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—Karla A. Fraser, Lessons from Being a Black, Female Expat and Entrepreneur in SE Asia, Roseapple Global, LLC. Originally, published in the Expat Chronicles on Medium.
Roseapple Global provides expat coaching and guidance for individuals or groups. We serve all aspiring or continuing expats and specialize in assisting higher education professionals. We also offer to consult for student-facing units of higher education institutions internationally. Our services focus on developing or improving the administrative and operational areas of your departments. We help you unlock your potential, maximize your ability, and equip you with resources and tools for your journey or your student-facing unit. Contact Us to help start your expat or student life improvement journey.