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Expats Share What It's Really Like to Live and Work in Africa

By Zaina Adamu

Leaving your comfort zone to move to a country in Africa is a prospect many would never give a second thought, while others would jump at the chance to experience cities like Accra, Lagos, and Cape Town. Demand Africa spoke with five expats living on the continent to find out the ups and downs of making Africa home, so read on to find out what they have to say about experiencing Africa as an outsider.

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Kaylan, Founding Editor, African American in Africa

Kaylan Reid Shipanga left New York and moved to Namibia in 2010 with the intention to teach English at local schools. Since then, she married a Namibian and has given birth to a son. “What an unexpected turn of events, huh?” she wrote in a blog about her experience.

Kaylan said that while her experience has been mostly positive, she admits meeting some Africans who didn’t embrace her in the beginning. Misconceptions about culture and unfamiliarity made for some inevitably awkward encounters, she recalled.

“I wish I had kept my high expectations in check. It would’ve helped me avoid the blues that can come with adjusting into Africa as a Black Westerner,” she said.

Overall, she describes her experience in two words: absolutely inspirational. She had no idea that her move abroad would resonate with so many who show gratitude “for simply sharing my experience.”

Kaylan Reid Shipanga

Nadia, Founder and CEO, Moodboard

Nadia Balogou is an American brand specialist who left her job and moved to Ghana where she founded Moodboard, a creative company that specializes in brand experience, content creation and social media marketing services.

“There’s quite a lot to observe and absorb here. I’m captivated by the creativity and the people that make up this unique country,” Nadia said. “Being an expat has been challenging, insightful, and affirming.”

She added that she is hopeful that Africa will continue to prosper because of the buzz surrounding entrepreneurial spaces on the continent.

“More than anything, I see the possibilities and ways in which we can become a part of the ecosystem within our niche,” she said.

Nadia founder Moodboard

Richelle, Social Media Manager, Shadows of Africa

For Richelle, becoming an expat in Africa was filled with trials and errors.

“To be honest, not only is it disheartening and depressing, it’s also embarrassing,” she wrote in a blog post last year.

Richelle made the move to Tanzania from Asia to be with her husband, Chris, who owns a safari company in Arusha. Initially, she thought it would be a great experience, but she quickly learned that the adjustments were tougher than she would have ever thought.

Unstable WiFi, getting scammed and seemingly endless torrential downpours were some of the frustrations, she said, but in hindsight, she realized that making the move was one of the best decisions she could have made, adding that the last thing she wanted to do was offend “all of the amazing people who have worked so hard to help make Tanzania a home for Chris and I.”


Terry, Creative Consultant, TIDAL

“Being an expat is interesting,” said Terry, a creative consultant at TIDAL who hails from New York. He said that the move to Ghana worked in his favor because he felt he had an advantage of being an outsider while also feeling like a local.

He continued: “[In Ghana] I like to be a fly on the wall and try not to prescribe solutions because what I found is that the solutions already exist. It is about having the will power to implement the solution. That’s how we can improve in the future.”

Terry “highly encourages” people to make the move if their gut tells them to. He advises that once the move is made, avoid coming to the continent thinking you have all the answers, and instead, simply listen.

“As you listen, you start to understand the psyche of the people you are trying to help. Then you realize that sometimes it’s not about trying to help, it is about empowering people to notice what they already have.”

Terry Tidal

Babette, Copywriter, Freelance

Babette van Aalst is a freelance copywriter who admits that in the beginning she felt stuck when first moving to Ghana because the culture was extremely different from what it was like in the United Kingdom where she is originally from.

“I felt like I was stuck in a glass ceiling and I didn’t feel like I was progressing,” van Aalst said.

Things began to sort itself with time, she said, but she does not advise making the move until visiting the country for a week or two to get an idea about the pace of the country. Other factors to consider before moving include savings and having a clear idea about what line of work you want to pursue, she said.

Although she does not characterize her time in Africa as the best, she encourages people with the thought to try it for themselves because everyone’s experience will be different, she said.

“If you know what you want to do and you have enough saved up then it isn’t a bad idea to move to Ghana. But know what you’re getting into before you do.”

Babette van Aalst

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