The Black Expat Mom: I Had To Live The Life I’d Dreamed Of
By DeAnna Taylor
Kelly and her son Andrew are from Oakland, California. A year ago they traded their California life for a life in Las Terrenas, Samaná, Dominican Republic.
Kelly initially took a job as an English teacher at the school her son attended, to help with his transition to his new home. Now she works full-time as a remote Entertainment Attorney.
We spoke with her via email about her and Andrew’s life in the Dominican Republic.
Travel Noire: What initially led you to move to the Dominican Republic?
Kelly: As my 50th birthday approached, time took on a different meaning. I had to step up my game and get to living the life I’d long dreamed of, really setting up a residence overseas. I did a little research and was led to a summer Teach Abroad opportunity at a university in Santiago. My first impressions of the DR (dirty, disorganized) did not lead me to consider the country as a place I’d consider for longer-term residence, but at the end of the summer, we spent our last 5 days in Las Terrenas. I instantly knew I wanted to live here.
Las Terrenas is stunningly beautiful with gorgeous beaches and lush hills and seemed cleaner than many other parts of the country. I saw kids and families and people from a wide variety of cultural, national, and ethnic backgrounds here.
TN: How did you prepare your son for the move?
Kelly: As I considered the move I floated the idea nonchalantly with my son and once I accepted the teaching position in Las Terrenas, I began to share specific details about the school and the town (he’d enjoyed our visit before). We talked about the benefits of living in another country and how changing our lives in that way didn’t mean that we’d be losing our friends and community but that we’d be gaining new friends and community to broaden our circle. Finally, as the last days at his school approached, I purchased a large yellow posterboard. As a project for his class, to create closure for everyone, Andrew and I made a collage of pictures we’d taken during our Summer 2016 trip to present to his classmates and teachers. It was a little bittersweet, particularly as we left mid-year, but he was ready. Also, given my lifelong dream of an international life, preparing my son to thrive internationally was something I planned for. By second grade he was fully conversational and could comfortably read, write and understand Spanish.
TN: How is he adjusting to his new life there?
Kelly: I asked Andrew about this. In his words, his adjustment has been “good”. Some days he complains about his current school and at first was mad that I was “making” him learn French. He struggled at first in this new school, mainly I think because of the enormous additional change he was having to make, to a third school within a year, in a language he didn’t speak or understand. He was used to being at the top of his class at home, and became very frustrated and even despondent at not being able to keep up or be recognized for his brilliance as he had been before. Now, after only a few months, he says that French is a favorite class and he’s able to read, write and speak some French. It’s a good life and we focus on that. He says he’s happy and his smile and energy convince me that this is true.
TN: Can you offer any advice for small families looking to move abroad?
Kelly: Begin to pare down what belongings you have and will hold on to. Let go! You don’t need much to live comfortably, and most of us have accumulated far more than we’ll really ever use or need. Research your destination, thoroughly. If possible, visit first to really get a sense of the culture, the pace, the neighborhoods, schools, how business/banking/leases/medical care, etc. are done. Release your American (or other) expectations.
If you are traveling with children, prepare them early by talking about what is to come. If you can’t visit the new place together, find resource material about your new home and learn together. Show them pictures of kids doing what they’ll likely be doing there. Find out about sports, camps, dance classes, etc. Read whatever you can find, watch videos, visit exhibits or attend cultural events that may offer a glimpse into what life is like in the new place. See who you know that may be from there who could share some perspective.
TN: Where can our readers find you if they have additional questions?
Kelly: Check for me at #freeislandgirl on YouTube and stillgolden1 on Instagram.
DeAnna Taylor is a criminal defense Attorney turned travel blogger, author, and writer. While Charlotte, NC (her hometown) is her base, she's always somewhere on a plane. Catch her on IG: @brokeandabroadlife.