Today’s edition of the Black American Expat series interviews Myeisha! Mrs. Benshemesh is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, former director of an international volunteer organization and shares her life as a “global citizen”!
If you have any questions for Myeisha, please leave them in the comments below!
1. Please introduce yourself.
My name is Myeisha Benshemesh and I am a 35 year old African-American woman. I have been happily with my husband for 15 years, and we had our first child last year. Before having my son, I was the Director of an international volunteer organization based in Amsterdam, focusing on youth initiatives in Asia, Africa, Europe, Central and South America. My greatest passions are literature and nature adventures such as hiking and caving. And yet, it is my wanderlust that consumes me the most!
2. Why did you decide to move abroad?
During my undergraduate studies at USC, I somehow ended up in a group of friends who were exclusively international students (besides me and one other American girl); they hailed from Brazil, Argentina, India, Israel, Lebanon, Germany and France. This opened my eyes up to the outside world, and I credit those friends for ‘giving me the world’. By my sophomore year, I had taken my first trip abroad, as well as made a pledge to travel abroad twice a year, each year. Which I did, on my poor student funds, for 4 years straight, before making the longterm plunge.
And the more I saw, the more I realized that there was so much more to see. So I decided to make the leap after graduating from USC with my Bachelors. I joined the Peace Corps and was moved to the island of Nevis in the Caribbean. Having now lived abroad for over a decade, I know that I will continue to leave the life of a global citizen, the world hasn’t gotten any smaller and there is still so much to see, live and learn!
3. As black American expat what advice would you give to others inspired to live abroad?
First, realize that I, like so many other black expats abroad, grew up poor, black and with little to no resources too. We started where you might be. And let me tell, you I am not one ounce better of a person than you. So really, if this poor black girl from the wrong side of tracks could do it, why not you?
Ok, so now that we realize anyone can make this happen, including you, get a passport. Even before making any plans, get it and put it in a visible place. Let those empty pages be your inspirations as you imagine it filling with exotic stamps from around the world.
Now pick a few places that you dream of living, keep in mind language barriers and job opportunities. A move to Japan may sound nice, but Japanese is not an easy language to learn (I speak from experience!)
Then you have to face the hardest hurdle, a visa. Research all the ways you might qualify for a visa, teaching English, working an a US military base as a civilian, etc. The Peace Corps was my first way out…then I went the military base route in Germany, then I was fortunate to be able to get a visa through my then boyfriend when I moved to the Netherlands (and when we went to the UK).
Now, write out a checklist and work it out. May take a few months, may take a year or two. But if you work the checklist you will get through the checklist, and if you get through the checklist, well then you are living abroad right?
4. What was the most difficult part of planning the move?
The most difficult part of the move was obviously the visa. When I first decided on moving abroad, I was graduating from college with no real work experience and lacking qualifications for most visas. That is why I went the Peace Corps route…so look at ALL options. I am sure there are websites dedicated this….
5. Favorite experience in your new country?
Meeting other expats from around the world. It takes a certain amount of daring and free spirit to take the plunge and leave home far behind. Finding other kindred spirits from around the globe has been such an adventure…they open the world up further than my travels ever could (and I have been to over 30 countries!).
6. How do you self identify?
I consider myself an American by birth, a Californian by love and a Dutch resident for now. But when asked, I simply say “I am a global citizen.”
7. When teaching others about your culture, what is the most important thing you want them to know?
The hardest thing to do is try and show someone a different reality from the one they have always been taught. So when you grow up watching American tv and movies, without knowing the context or subtleties behind it, you create a distorted view of American culture and Americans in general. The amount of times I have been told all Americans are ignorant/aggressive/loud/obnoxious/etc, but then told, “but you’re cool”, I just want to scream.
American culture (e.g. tv, music, fashion, politics, ideology, religions, etc) have been streamed into the homes of people all around the world, so you never meet anyone who hasn’t summed up what it is to be American, and trying to change that perception is a heavy burden to carry for me and all my fellow expats.
8. Do you plan on moving back to the U.S.?
I dream of being back in sunny California often, but I doubt I would ever move back. First, hubby doesn’t want to and his reasons are valid (police brutality, school shootings, etc). But also, I could not go back to living in a country where higher education or long-term illness could put me or my child in poverty. I don’t understand the judicial system in the US anymore, where prisons are growing and getting more funding than schools. And there is a pace to the US, that I no longer can handle. Working 40-60 hour work weeks, with little to no holiday, is a foreign and scary concept to me. In the Netherlands, a typical full-time job is 36-38 hours a week; and 5 weeks of paid holiday a year is law (for EVERYONE including Mcdonalds workers). Can I am so over being bombarded all day by advertising, which is driving a consumerist society; all the while Fox news tell me each night that there is something in my home slowly killing me, “more tonight at 11:00”! It all drives me insane when I visit.
So no, I would not move back to the US.I am proud to be American, but my lifestyle and values no longer match those that are running rapid in American politics. And I have found other places where politicians mirror my own pragmatic, if not socialist leanings. So, although I would never give up my American passport, I would also never give up my global citizenship.