Episode 5: Succeed living abroad while not losing yourself, with Aneesa Expat Panda

When moving abroad we face multiple fears: the fear of loosing ourselves, the ability to find our self-confidence and a new community. We run into communication challenges and often can fall into the trap of forgetting to establish ourselves as an individual who believes and trust in herself.

This is what we chat about in this episode with Aneesa from Expat Panda, a lifelong international teacher committed to helping women with weak passports move abroad and travel the world.

Aneesa talks about the fine line between not losing yourself meanwhile trying novel things and growing into a new person. Self-support is a key in this and we discuss how having the confidence and trust in yourself will help you to deal with all the circumstances and challenges you might experience, knowing that you will see yourself through any situation that comes your way.

We chat about the perfection and why women are put to the higher standard expectations as compared to men, and the ability to accept that failing is growing realizing it’s okay to make mistakes.

Aneesa touches on the importance of communication in case you live abroad as a couple or have a partner from different culture. She says communicating openly is essential right from the outset and there is no such thing as being “over-obvious”. When living abroad or being in an intercultural relationship, nothing is ever too obvious and should be taken for granted. The only mistake you can do is to think that he knows what you think.

We also dig into the importance of creating a community and creating a safe space for yourself wherever you are. Aneesa shares her tips what can make this easier and why is it important to think outside of the box when looking for your people. We also ponder on the fact, that establishing yourself as an individual rather than a girlfriend, wife or teacher, is a key starting point for you to build a life in which you feel happy.

So, if you want to feel more grounded, connected and confident in the midst of your life, even if it feels like a rollercoaster, pop in those headphones and choose to Screw Being Unhappy!

===This episode’s inspiration and action ===

What lifts Aneesa up? Try her strategies too:

  • When feeling down, accept your feeling and process it, while realizing you are not defined by this feeling
  • Do things that you enjoy doing, even if it is “just” reading or going out for dinner

Aneesa´s one recommendation what to do after listening to this episode:

  • Start looking for the joy within yourself, if you’re missing something you love doing, see what you can do now to get more joy in your life

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Zuzana Mukumayi  0:08 

In today’s episode, I am here with Aneesa from expat Panda, a lifelong International Teacher committed to helping women with weak passports to move abroad and travel the world. Hi, Anissa, I’m so excited to finally meet you. And I’m so excited that you invite that you accepted the invitation to the show. I am so happy to be here. And it’s so wonderful to be able to connect with you and to be able to contribute to your podcast. So thank you for having me. You are most welcome. And let’s start head on. So you have the South African passport, you. You have the South Asian heritage and you have your teacher’s license. Right now you are living in your fifth country in Qatar. So can you tell us how this all this adventure started? And why did you choose to focus on helping women with big passports to move abroad?

Aneesa (Expat Panda)  1:06 

Yes, so basically, when I first moved abroad, in 2011, there wasn’t a lot of information for people who wanted to move abroad. And remember, this is like pre Instagram, you know, blogs were really more like people’s diaries of their lives. It wasn’t really about providing information to people. So I felt when I first moved abroad, that I was mostly fumbling in the dark. And any information that I did find about people moving abroad was really aimed at Americans or people from the UK. And it was really specific information to them. And so when I moved to South Korea, at first, I dabbled with the idea of you know, starting something and sharing my experiences. But I was really nervous. And I was really hesitant. And I guess I didn’t have that kind of self confidence at that point in my life to put my life out there. And remember, you know, I was 21. At that time, it was really kind of fresh off the boat, so to speak. But then when I moved to the Middle East in 2016, I made the idea reality, I started a blog, I started the Instagram. And I started sharing information specific to people who look like me or who have passports from African countries, and really emphasizing that anyone can move abroad, you just have to find the right opportunity for you. And you have to put yourself in the right kind of mindset. And since I started the blog, and I started the social media, I’ve connected with a lot of people, a lot of women from a lot of different countries to like yourself, which is so awesome. And it’s really just been a very fulfilling and meaningful journey so far for me.

Zuzana Mukumayi  3:02 

Yeah, it’s amazing. And that’s one of the things I love about social media is connecting to other people without Instagram we would have never met. And actually, I saw as I was going through your website and the blog, and I saw something that caught my attention. And that’s when you say that you identify yourself as expat as opposed to the immigrant. So I was curious like to chat a bit more about this, because it’s been something I have been also thinking about, like how to identify myself, and I think I’m the opposite. I don’t like saying that I’m the expat. So I was curious, why did you choose to identify yourself as an expat, and if it has something to do of you being a female African teacher, when it comes to the thinking that usually expat, the word expat is connected with people from the countries of global north, let’s say, north with the countries of global south. So I was just curious about it. And how was your reasoning and your pros and cons in this?

Aneesa (Expat Panda)  4:12 

I think it wasn’t this like stringent thinking process that people always seem to associate with like, Oh, how did you come up with a name for your blog? I didn’t really put a lot of thought into it. But I will say that like the words immigrant and the words expats can, and often I use interchangeably, but at the same time, they can and often have very different connotations to their meanings. And historically, I think the word immigrant has been associated with people who move to other countries in the hope of changing their citizenship. And those people have traditionally looked a certain way and come from certain places. And in most cases, as you pointed out, they’re not aren’t from the global north and they’re not white. So by using the term expat, I feel like I can gain some control over taking back a term like that, that has been traditionally used for people from the global north for white people, for people coming from certain places and looking at certain way, but myself not fitting into that mold. So I can take control of that narrative. And I can give myself any name that I want to. And if I want to call myself an expat, that’s great. It doesn’t mean I need to look a certain way or fit into a certain stereotype. In fact, I’m hoping that we can change those stereotypes that do exist. And I think, you know, the whole idea of people moving, because they want a different citizenship, or they want to change their quality of life. I mean, I totally support that as well. And it’s not my my main goal, but um, I think both terms should be used free of judgment. And whatever people choose to identify themselves, I respect that. And I hope that we can foster that kind of respect by using both terms with respect.

Zuzana Mukumayi  6:11 

And this was exactly the reason why I asked and I love that you are saying that you can choose whatever term you want to be using you are comfortable using because we don’t want certain terms to be associated with certain cultures, certain skin colors. And I think that’s exactly the same reason why I don’t using expat for myself, because it’s from the other way around, like, I am white, and usually the term expat is associated with white people living in Africa, like when I talk about the continent I live on, and I didn’t like that. So I think we come from the same same way of thinking and doing it in our own way. And I am. And why I asked this question is because it’s you, we can see how the inequalities are showing, like just in terms like when a white person is in Africa, it’s an expat, but when an African is in Europe is an immigrant, right. And the connotation is not positive. If the board immigrant, they’re in Europe, while being expat in Africa, it’s considered positive. So so I love it. And I completely agree with you that like, we can choose whatever we want, and try to destroy the stereotypes in our own ways.

Aneesa (Expat Panda)  7:34 

Exactly, exactly.

Zuzana Mukumayi  7:38 

And Elisa, you have been living? Now you said more than more than 10 years abroad? Maybe 12. Right? You said 2011? In a while? Yeah, so I’m actually what I wanted to ask you, in your experience? What are the biggest fears women are facing when moving abroad?

Aneesa (Expat Panda)  8:02 

That’s an interesting question. And I think it comes down to each person and where they come from, and their, you know, cultural perspectives and their outlook on life. But I think there is always a fear about losing oneself, losing who you are, when you are taken out of your familiar environment, are you still the same person? When you are put in a new environment? To what extent do you assimilate? Do you take on aspects of the culture you now exist within without losing a part of what made you who you are? There’s always this loss of always a fear about the loss of self. And that’s, I think, something that every person who moves away from their familiar environment struggles with the concept of to what extent Am I allowed to change without losing the fundamentals of who I am? And what effect does that have, you know, when we move abroad, and we go back to perhaps visit family visit friends, there is always that disconnect, because your experiences are so fastly different to the people that have been essentially left behind. And it’s somewhat sad. But it’s also somewhat liberating to know that even though you may have different experiences, you can still connect with the people you love. But in some instances, you realize like, beyond the fact that I grew up down the road from this person, we really don’t have anything, you know, left in common. So I think the fear of losing oneself and losing everything that’s familiar to us, that is a common fear that a lot of women, a lot of people perhaps could share, and I don’t think it really matters where you’re from. You know, that’s just something that I’ve experienced. And it takes a long time to walk that line between both extremes of not losing yourself completely, but also trying new things and trying to grow into a new person based on the experiences that you have. I think it’s kind of a lifelong journey. And even though it is a fear, and it is a huge fear at first, you kind of grow into it, and you get comfortable with yourself, the longer that you are abroad, in my experience anyway.

Zuzana Mukumayi  10:29 

And you actually just answered my next question, because I was about to ask you, how did you deal with it like with this kind of fear of losing yourself, but also growing into the new, new, better, perhaps person? So you mentioned that it’s kind of a lifelong journey. That’s something else comes to your mind when it comes to how to deal with this, how to approach this fear of not losing our old identity, but also the desire to create a new one.

Aneesa (Expat Panda)  11:02 

I think self support is so important, and it’s so underrated for women who move, I feel like when men move abroad, they’re celebrated. They’re seen as you know, pioneers, they’re seen as ambitious, whatever. But when women move abroad, it’s kind of like all you know, are you sure this is the right move for you? How will you function without friends and family, it’s not really celebrated, it’s more really, perhaps cause for concern. But if you have self support, and if you believe in yourself, and if you stay true to the purpose that is propelling you to move, you can see yourself through any situation, you can support yourself through that shift between perhaps shedding your old skin and stepping into a new person without losing completely who you are, but embracing as well, all the changes that you, you know, have come to experience. So I think self support and self motivation, and just being true to yourself is the most important thing. It’s not easy, it takes a long time. And it’s filled with moments of doubt and uncertainty. But the more you try, and the more you work towards it, I do believe that it can be an extremely fulfilling thing for women to have.

Zuzana Mukumayi  12:18 

Yeah, I agree that you said it’s simple, but it’s also difficult. So um, and I completely can relate to what you were saying that it’s, you do it step by step, you learn you grow. And that’s what I always say that I feel the real progress in anything is two steps forward, one step back. And I think often, we have this kind of desire to be perfect to, to prove that we have done the right choice moving abroad. And when we experienced this one step back, like that’s when all the judgment or the self doubt comes in. But I want to just acknowledge that it’s completely normal that I believe that all of us experience this kind of two steps forward, one step back, and that’s part of the journey, and it’s okay.

Aneesa (Expat Panda)  13:12 

Yes, definitely. I like that you put it that way. And I think also, women have been held to a higher standard of perfection than men, historically. And that still continues, although differently today and women ourselves, we hold ourselves to a very rigid standard of perfection. And we need to give ourselves grace, it’s okay to fail, it’s okay to make mistakes, it doesn’t make you a worse person, it means that you’re growing from these failures from these mistakes. So we as women also have to allow ourselves to go through the negative emotions and process them as part of our growth.

Zuzana Mukumayi  13:52 

And when it comes to already living abroad, and you have lots of experience with five countries, what are the biggest challenges once living abroad? And maybe, especially if you live abroad, and have a partner from different culture, maybe from that country? What are the biggest challenges there? And should we kind of approach it in advance somehow, or how to prepare for it? Because that’s, I think, when we move in, things are new things are exciting. But then when it’s three years, three years, you really have your life there, it starts to be different.

Aneesa (Expat Panda)  14:40 

I think communication is so important, right from the outset, to be open about what the future goals are. And to be open about how flexible each person is about their goals, because for example, you might feel that you want to leave this place in three years, the other person might feel like oh, I have a good eight to 10 years left in this place. And it’s important to establish like, well, if this gets to a certain point, like, what could happen, what are the scenarios that we face? Of course, things can change. You never know what how circumstances can go. But it’s important to communicate all of those things and be open and upfront, right from the get go. And then to just keep communicating, you know, to keep letting the other person know how you feel how how the state of things, because as time goes on, circumstances change, things evolve, you grow, the other person grows, you grow together, you grow apart, like to just keep communicating and be open with the other person. So one day, you don’t wake up in like, Oh, I’m done with this. And the other person is just like, wait, what, like, where did this come from? So communication, I think is just so key. And also to understand and acknowledge that you’re different from each other, and that you may not hold the same things as important. So the other person might think that salary and professional success is extremely important. Whereas the other partner might feel like, well, my relationship with myself, my relationship with my friends and family that’s most important. So to understand that and to embrace it, and to accept it, and just keep communicating about how all of those things play a role in your relationship.

Zuzana Mukumayi  16:23 

And I often say that, it’s really, when it comes to communication about these things, we really have to spell it out loudly, that often we kind of suppose that it’s obvious that I want to live in this country for three years, it’s obvious that the salary is the important indicator of where I’m moving next, right. And we kind of expect that our partner is knowing it, but when we actually never said it, then we can be surprised when they

Aneesa (Expat Panda)  16:53 

have to be so explicit, we have to spell it out. I 100% agree with you, there is no such thing as being over obvious, like be over obvious and over, over obvious, you know, so there’s really no room for confusion, especially if you’re working in a relationship with you know, perhaps different cultures, different languages, different backgrounds, different religions, like there’s nothing can be taken for granted, nothing is obvious, you have to spell it out and spell it out again. And that’s the hard thing. And that’s why a lot of intercultural relationships don’t work out because we’re not willing to have those difficult conversations. It’s kind of like, Oh, she should know, he should know, how can you not see it. But you can’t expect your partner to be a mind reader, especially when there’s so many other obstacles preventing that. And I’m

Zuzana Mukumayi  17:43 

laughing the way you said that you shouldn’t expect your partner to be a mind reader. Because once it was a long time ago, we had some argument with my husband. And he sent me this video on WhatsApp, and it was two lions. And it says, How do you expect me to be a mind reader? Right? So and I love how you say we should be over over obvious in saying what we are expecting what we want. Because even if we expect something to the other person knows it, often it doesn’t. So over over over OBS, that’s maybe you can be almost sure that finally maybe the message landed.

Aneesa (Expat Panda)  18:25 

Yeah. And at the end of the day, you don’t you don’t think oh, maybe I should have you know, like I was clear. And then you can deal with the consequences of whatever the decision is, but don’t leave anything to chance and be confused.

Zuzana Mukumayi  18:40 

And let’s talk about community for a bit because I think it’s so important topic, which is often one of the biggest challenges for expats, people living abroad. And I right now, myself, and also I have lots of women around me who live in a country they are married to, to help like a man who comes from the country. And they are not part of that kind of typical expat community, we can say something like that, that you are not part of the expat life. And that’s when it becomes really difficult, I think to create the community. So I was curious about your experience, like if you are part of the kind of expat community or if you don’t see yourself as part of it, or it’s some kind of mixture. And if you have some tips, how to create community, even when it’s really hard.

Aneesa (Expat Panda)  19:38 

I think where I live plays a huge role in this concept of community. So to give you some context, I’m currently living in Qatar in Doha, and here we have an excessive amount of multiculturalism that, you know, most of the population here in Qatar, like let’s say, 80% it’s made up of people We’re not from here. So we have this huge portion of the population that’s essentially not local, and will never be local because there’s no path to citizenship. So that’s the first thing to be cognizant of. So within that idea of expat community, there isn’t just one in a place like this, where 80% of the population is an expat. There’s just so many different communities, there’s options to kind of connect with people, from your church, from your temple, people from your country, people who speak your language, not necessarily from your country. So it’s all about creating a safe space who you are. And that can be a huge group of friends with people who look like you who are from a place where you are, or it could be completely different people with whom you have something in common, perhaps you play tennis together, perhaps you play basketball. So I think the most important thing is to just put yourself out there and be open to meeting people. And it doesn’t have to be people with whom you think you will have something in common all who look like you who speak your language as a native tongue. But just being open to connecting with all sorts of people and seeing with whom you make those connections. If I look at my friend circle, I wouldn’t say I really have all my friends who look like me or come from the same place as me or that we have anything even in common. But what we have bonded over is the shared experience of being a woman living abroad in this particular country. So you know, to just put yourself out there and join different things and see what kind of connections you can form. And then from there, make the decisions that are best for you. We don’t click with everyone, we click with certain people and you know, just kind of move forward in that direction. But I will say that the Gulf countries UAE, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, it’s very different to being in, for example, if I think of an expat community in South Africa, that would be on a much smaller scale, you’re most likely no most of the members of that community. Whereas here, it’s just like, an explosion of different people from all over the globe. So yeah, it is a bit different.

Zuzana Mukumayi  22:24 

Yeah, I completely agree. It’s really different based on the country, like for example, here in Zambia, the expat community is not very big, because Zambia is peaceful, quite stable country. And most of the people who live here, even if they are foreigners, they live here like me. So I found it really difficult to connect, because it seems people already created their own lives, their circle of friends, and they are not dead. Maybe adventures are flexible to get new people in the circle. And also what I keep seeing is like lots of circles, like based on the nationality. So we have, because we have the South African circle, then we have the Peruvians. We have the Americans and like me being not part of any of those countries, it’s been bit tricky for me to find, like really reliable friends. But I like what you said that maybe you can connect with people over something, you wouldn’t even expect that it’s not the same country, or the same language or the same skin color, those kinds of obvious things you would think first, but maybe it can be something entirely different, like a hobby, or, as you mentioned, being a woman who lives abroad in the Middle East, right, so So I like that. And my takeaway from there is that really, we need to think out of the box.

Aneesa (Expat Panda)  23:52 

Yeah, that’s so true. That’s 100% True, and kind of lean into any and all interactions, because you really never know when you could meet someone and click. It’s kind of like when we talk about finding a romantic partner. It’s like, oh, you could meet your partner on the plane, you could meet your partner in the library. Well, you could also meet a friend on the plane, you could also meet a friend in the libraries, when you start chatting to somebody, take their number, follow up, you know, arrange to meet for tea, like you never know where it could go. When I look at my own friendships, a lot of them have evolved from very unexpected places. I met one of my good friends in the bank, the least interesting place in the world. So you really never know when you could form a connection with someone.

Zuzana Mukumayi  24:40 

I completely agree. And I remember I don’t remember the name of the lady who said it but I remember it was a TED talk. And she said How important is to go out of our comfort zone when we meet friends and she said, if you are in some meeting or some event, look around and pick the least interest The person, the one which like you feel like you would never want to talk to him or her and go and talk to him and her. And I love this, because it’s like, we always tend to kind of go to similar people we are. And it can be super interesting and eye opening when we go to somebody from completely different contexts with completely different background.

Aneesa (Expat Panda)  25:21 

Yeah, that’s exactly it. Like you really never know who you will click with. It could be someone totally unexpected. And we always say that about a romantic partner. But why is that not the same being said for meeting a friend? Like that’s an equally important and integral part of of life and human connection?

Zuzana Mukumayi  25:43 

And this is actually, I believe, a good bridge to the next question I have seen like you have been talking about safety when traveling. But what I wanted to I wanted to take it more to the context, safety, or safety nets when living abroad, especially as a woman living abroad, alone or with a partner from that country. So I was curious what you have to say about this, like, Should we be creating safety nets, how we should be doing it? What is important when it comes to safety? For us as women especially? Yeah, I would say also, when we are in a relationship, or even have kids and live abroad, maybe without anybody. So what’s your take on this?

Aneesa (Expat Panda)  26:28 

That is really subjective based on the person, but also based on the person’s circumstances, like myself, I don’t have children. So I could not possibly speak for a person who has one or multiple children. But I do think what is important, although this might be less or more difficult, depending on people’s circumstances, is to really establish yourself as an individual first, not just as a wife, or as a mother, or as a teacher, or you know, as a colleague, but establish yourself and build your life to a point where you feel happy about just being you outside or fulfilling any other role. And for each person, that can look very different, because the concept of fulfillment looks different to different people. So for me, for example, that mean, oh, I reach a certain level in my career, or for another person, that can mean, okay, I reach a certain milestone with my kids. So it’s really just about focusing and honing in on what’s important to you and working towards that, and creating the most meaningful and fulfilling experience for yourself beyond just where you are based, or what is around you what role you could play in relation to other people, because at the end of the day, you only have yourself to rely on and you never know what the future is going to hold. So you have to look out for yourself. And you know, I think that’s just the most important thing is to build a life that you feel proud of, that you feel happy with. And at the end of the day, you can go to sleep at night feeling good about yourself, you know.

Zuzana Mukumayi  28:08 

And yeah, I this is completely true. And I think we can’t repeat it enough that it’s so important to create our life as an individual not to depend on one role, be it mother, wife, a teacher or whatever, but like to really like we are not just one role in our life. And we I believe we won’t be never truly happy if we don’t experience all the roles we are having in life. But I know so many cases of women who move for love. And then they find lots of challenges with that, because they forgot about this aspect. Like they realize they hate the country, they realize that they’re alone, and they are asking themselves, like what the hell I’m doing here. Like I have no life. So I think this is super important to kind of consider this. And,

Aneesa (Expat Panda)  29:06 

you know, actually when I moved to Qatar, so I just wanted to share, like when I moved to Qatar, we actually moved because of my husband’s job because of his career growth. And when I first came here, the first six, seven months, I was unemployed, and you know, it was really twice as hard because that was when COVID hit, and everything was shut down. And my husband and I were just kind of confined to our house. Like we enjoy each other’s company. There’s a limit, you know, to two people who historically have had very independent lives. So I definitely hit that point where I was like, What on earth am I doing here? Like what is going to bring meaning and fulfillment my life so I’m not dependent on this other person who has a whole life outside of me. For me, that meant I needed to go back to work and I did and I’m quite happy with that decision. But for other people in that situation, it can mean different things. So you just have to find out what that means for you to be able to create a meaningful life.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai