Episode 73 │ Every Place a Possibility (VALENCIA/BARCELONA)
Updated: Mar 9, 2021
"Every single place, for me, was a possibility. Every single place seemed fascinating and like I wanted to go... I just had this feeling of wonderment and possibility, and nobody could stop me. Ever." (Christine, Episode 73)
It's Black History Month! And this week's guest is passionate about telling Black expat stories. Christine Job is a business strategist living in Spain and is not only an expat herself, but she also has a podcast called Flourish In The Foreign where she features all kinds of fellow Black women expats. She initially reached out to me about being on Young, Gifted and Abroad back in autumn, and when I followed up with her again after my break ended this January, I was glad to find that she was still very enthusiastic about being a guest. We chatted about her history with travel, as well as her experience studying in Valencia and living in Barcelona.
While the Atlanta area is Christine's stateside home, she started moving around to other places from a very young age. She was shuffled between loved ones fairly often, given that she was the child of divorced military parents and her dad and his folks were from Trinidad. Her dad was also stationed in Germany for a number of years, and during that time Christine spent summers and holidays exploring Europe with him. Being exposed to international life in this way was incredibly formative for Christine, and this experience coupled with her dad's example influenced her desire to move abroad. This was a dream that she began fostering as a teenager and carried on through her post-college years.
Christine entered the University of Georgia determined to study abroad, but she didn't really have on-campus support to help her do this. In her words, " I didn't have anyone champion me." Many of her friends wanted to stay at UGA and take advantage of the party culture that the school is known for, her academic advisor didn't understand how serious Christine was about studying abroad, and there was no on-campus study abroad outreach targeted to Black and Brown students at the time. She had to take it upon herself to attend every study abroad fair she could, pore over every brochure and catalogue, and figure out where she was going to go and how. Ultimately, she chose a program called UGA en España which had her spending the spring semester of 2007 in Valencia, Spain's third largest city known for its Mediterranean character and centuries of pyrotechnics skills. Based at the University of Valencia (Universitat de València), the program offered international business as well as Spanish courses which would align with Christine's business major, plus a Latin American literature course that would help complete her Spanish minor.
Prior to university, Christine had been studying the Spanish language in school for years, and her mom even gifted her with a trip to Spain (including Toledo, Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Málaga, and Cádiz) as a high school graduation present. She had a fantastic time on that trip, and it helped her see how speaking Spanish was applicable in real life beyond the classroom. She took this idea with her to UGA, and assumed living in Spain would be even more romantic and "crazy amazing" than her two-week trip had been. Unfortunately, it was not.
Christine was shocked to witness the ways that many of her fellow students treated the program as a blow-off semester: being stereotypically obnoxious Americans, showing up to class drunk and purple-mouthed from drinking sangria the night before, disrespecting professors during lectures, and so on. She realizes in hindsight that as a "nerd" and "Type A" person who'd expected college to be full of studious and sophisticated people, perhaps she was naive to expect her classmates to take the "study" part of studying abroad as seriously as she did. She also questions whether the program was worth the investment from an academic standpoint, and figures that doing an actual exchange as an international student might have been a better fit for her—as opposed to a program that largely just replicates an American college experience in a different country. Furthermore, as someone who was used to being over-scheduled in the States, it took time for Christine to adjust to additional free time, the practice of midday siesta, and the lack of hard and fast rules for when establishments opened or closed.
However, not everything about that semester in Valencia was a disappointment. Christine sought out community and different ways of living by exploring Valencia outside of campus, and she enjoyed excursions to other cities (including professor-led trips to museums). She witnessed the Valencian festival tradition of Las Fallas firsthand, with lots of drinking, chaos, fireworks, and ornate art sculptures that got set on fire at the end. And she even got to visit Lanzarote, an island off the coast of North Africa that's part of the Spanish-held Canary Islands. As she mentioned in an email to me, her bubble was "burst, but not broken" when it came to studying abroad, and she was in no way deterred from wanting to move abroad or engage in more international and cross-cultural experiences. If anything, her time in Valencia actually helped her come to terms with issues she'd likely face later on—such as global anti-Blackness and her personal need to avoid solely fraternizing with Americans while abroad—and gave her an understanding of the world and herself that she might have missed out on otherwise.
After returning to the States, Christine graduated from college in 2009, which was quite the inopportune time to be a job-seeking new graduate. She spent a year doing odd jobs until she did "like people do when they're desperate" and went to law school, specifically at the University of Miami. During her time there she joined the university's entrepreneurship incubator (The Launch Pad) as a legal fellow, and that's how she got started in business consulting. This was an exciting time because although she absolutely was not enjoying law school, she'd discovered a new passion through helping both new and already-established businesses thrive. This led to her working for a mentor's tech start-up accelerator program after law school, and that work included going on a trade mission to South Africa and Namibia (where she got to meet Wanda Nesbitt, a Black woman who was the U.S. ambassador to Namibia at the time). A loss in her family later caused Christine to move back to Atlanta, where she started her own business consultancy.
All the while, Christine was still feverishly seeking a way to move abroad and had been applying for jobs in other countries since graduating from college. After preparing to move to Malaysia for a job offer that was reneged at the last minute, she was devastated and hiked Kennesaw Mountain in search of solace and solutions. She asked, "Universe, what do you want me to do? Where do you want me to be?" and felt a calling to walk across Spain on the Camino de Santiago. Hiking a 500-mile-long trail didn't sound like Christine's idea of fun, but she couldn't shake the feeling that she needed to do this, and she didn't want to be shown up by the 80-year-old women she read about who'd walked the Camino multiple times. So she spent 33 days walking from the French side of the Pyrenees mountains to Fistera on the Atlantic coast of Spain. During that time she saw Spain in new and intimate ways and felt empowered to do anything paso a paso (step by step). The journey brought out the best and worst in her, and at the end her next life decision was clear: it was time to move to Spain!
As an assistant English teacher (auxiliar de conversación), Christine moved to La Rioja in northern Spain. Before arriving there, however, she spent two months in Barcelona and was almost immediately confronted with the reality that living abroad means dealing with another country's politics. The 2017 terrorist attack on Las Ramblas happened two days after she arrived in Barcelona, and a contentious referendum for Catalonian independence was reaching a fever pitch just as she left for La Rioja.
Political unrest aside, it was refreshing for Christine to experience a culture where people didn't let work dominate their lives. Although Christine enjoyed the ample leisure time that teaching for only 12 hours a week afforded her, after a year she was eager to find a way to work for herself while still enjoying the Spanish lifestyle. She moved to Barcelona to be with her then-boyfriend and found a remote business writing gig which evolved into a full-time business strategist position. Eventually she left both that job and that relationship, while succeeding in establishing an online consulting business through which she helps Black women and other women of color create viable businesses of their own. Christine believes everyone can find a side hustle in them even if they're not interested in being full-time entrepreneurs, and she encourages people looking to thrive abroad to consider how monetizing their skills can help them do just that.
"We've been doing this forever."
A similar ethos motivated Christine to launch her podcast. As she gradually formed connections with other "dope" and incredible Black expat women, she increasingly wished that she could've known these women and their wisdom sooner. She finally had tangible and accessible proof of something she'd intuitively known for a long time about Black people traveling, "We've been doing this forever". This revelation sparked her desire to create a platform that would help others realize the same thing, in addition to countering whitewashed narratives about immigration, who lives abroad, and how they manage to do it. That's where Flourish In The Foreign came in, and since Christine launched the podcast in May 2020 the reception for it has been outstanding. She derives immense joy from exploring how living abroad can be a path to wellness for the Black women she interviews, and while certain themes are common, she takes pride in illustrating how vast and varied her guests' experiences are.
Today Christine appreciates Barcelona for all the opportunities that are attached with living in such an international city (including entertainment options and flight deals). And ironically, with the coronavirus causing tourism to drop, there's more space to breathe and enjoy the city now that fewer tourists are crowding the streets and beaches. However, as certain as she is about continuing to live abroad for the majority of her life, it's unlikely that she'll live in Spain forever. At some point, she might go seeking "more flavor" in a less homogeneous place. In the meantime, as far as future travels go she'd like to visit Portugal and Rwanda, explore more of Scandinavia (she's been to Copenhagen), return to Bali, and spend time with her mom who's now in Mexico. It would be even more delightful if she could go to all the countries her guests reside in and hang out with them too. Christine can be found on Instagram (@flourishforeign), YouTube (Flourish In The Foreign), and flourishintheforeign.com.
Be sure to listen to this episode, "Every Place a Possibility (VALENCIA/BARCELONA)" for more! And don't forget to check out the resource list below!
Flourish in the Foreign episode about Christine's journey
UGA en España (homepage / program description)
North American Language and Culture Assistants Program/NALCAP (website / FB)
Other auxiliares de conversación info (link 1 / link 2 / link 3)
Danielle G. is the creator, host, and producer of Young, Gifted and Abroad. You can find her other writings at DeelaSees.com.