For young black professionals and recent college graduates, a semester abroad is no longer sufficient to make the team in corporate America. Recently, in the midst of his pre-hiring inquisition, an interviewer asked me if I knew the capital of Senegal. (I did; still didn’t get the job.) Technology has turned the world into that proverbial global village; employers want to know how big or how small we have allowed our world to be. These days, competition isn’t confined to national borders. Internships and undergraduate degrees aren’t enough to compete. You’ve got to have that international edge.
And today’s technology means that for my generation of twentysomethings, expat living takes on a completely different tenor from that of previous generations living abroad. They could only capture their experience through memoirs or scribbling in their diaries or in the letters sent back to the folks at home. But today, the next big travel blog or YouTube series or CNN Skype reporter will emerge from my peers.
Of course, these days, that same technology means that taking up residency in another country doesn’t require as much bravery as it may have decades ago. Family and friends are never more than a mouse-click away. There become fewer and fewer items on the cons list when deciding how much you want to sacrifice for the sake of furthering your career or personal ambitions.
I spoke with several young people who have uprooted their American lives and planted them in foreign soil; each experience is documented here. Their reasons range from better career opportunities and a devotion to global activism to a longing to connect with their roots in Africa. One thing in common: a desire to become part of the conversation that the rest of the world is having without us.
As for me, I eventually got that passport and took my first trip abroad just a few months ago. Granted, I visited Germany, a developed and economically stable country, but I was expecting our differences to be more pronounced than just my American accent. Most people spoke excellent English, every restaurant offered English-language menus, Burger Kings littered the streets and I heard the Top 40 U.S. singles more there than I do here. And there’s the irony: With technology washing globalization up on almost every shore, the digital world is more conducive for market expansion, but less exciting for travelers wanting to experience another culture. It gets even harder for young expats to cut the strings they’ve come to rely on that connect them to their American comfort zone, especially when those strings are now an endless network of satellites and wireless routers.
From a career perspective, however, this couldn’t be better. I traveled on a fellowship that introduced me to American journalists living in Germany; they urged me to learn German so that I, too, could write for English-language publications as a foreign correspondent and be a reporter in the host country.
I think they may be on to something. Right now, I am saving up for Rosetta Stone.
Jada F. Smith is a writer in Washington, D.C., and blogs about 9-to-5 fashion at CasualTuesdays.com.