Rachell was born in Fort Worth, Texas, USA, but is currently living in Abu Dhabi, UAE and is a New Yorker at heart. She’s been a Girl Gone International Member since 2017, and has since volunteered to host multiple successful events for the GGI Abu Dhabi community. Rachell shares her international life with GGI Magazine, what it means to be a Girl Gone International during a pandemic and the importance of home.
Why are you a Girl Gone International?
Well, I am a GGI because the world is a beautiful place full of beautiful people, places, and things. And I want to experience all of it! I’m a human who just so happens to have been born in Fort Worth, TX but I believe everywhere on this planet is my home and that I am welcomed anywhere. Of course, in practical terms this isn’t always the case but that’s man’s fault not the planet. I belong to this earth and it belongs to me. And not just me, but all of us!
What was the moment you realised that you wanted to ‘go international’?
I was 15 and on a Eurotrip when I realized that I wanted to “go international.” I visited Italy and fell in love with the culture, language and men! I still would love to live in Italy for a short period of time. Inshallah.
Wow, so since then you planned to live abroad?
I definitely planned to live abroad but I didn’t know when, where or how it would happen. But after a toxic relationship I needed to get out of NYC because everything reminded me of him. So I moved halfway around the globe! That was almost 4 years ago!
What is the biggest culture difference you’ve ever experienced?
Actually, my biggest culture shock — well there’s at least two.
The first was a transition from a predominately black middle school to a predominately white high school.
Our first stop was Paris. I remember the feeling of surprise and excitement when I saw black people speaking French! I
The second occurred when I was 15 on a Eurotrip. Our first stop was Paris. I remember the feeling of surprise and excitement when I saw black people speaking French! I know, you may be thinking, “What? That’s not shocking considering many black people live in France or live in a country that was colonized by France.” But for me, as someone who was experiencing the world as a black American speaking only one language, I was blown away. I realized how narrow my world-view and existence had been. Granted I was 15. And therein lies the beauty of travel.
As a Girl Gone International, were you brought up this way or is it in your genes?
It’s a bit of both. God put it on my heart to travel and learn about different lifestyles and my mother gave me the freedom to do that without guilt trips. We also took many family road trips to Louisiana and Mississippi and even once all the way to NYC!
How has the pandemic impacted you and your international life?
Goodness. The pandemic has impacted my life in so many ways. First, I’d like to acknowledge all those who have lost employment or housing. I empathize with them. And so, I have an understanding that even with the challenges I’ve faced in many ways I have been fortunate during this pandemic. I haven’t lost a job nor been forced to return to an unsafe work condition. I haven’t lost my home. I can pay my bills on time. I give thanks for these things.
With that said, I appreciate the time I’ve had to be by myself and to reflect on what I am doing now. I don’t want to live in the past nor the future but in the present. The pandemic has helped crystalize this for me.
What are your hopes and dreams and plans for 2021?
I usually have plans every year centered around health, fitness, finances, career, etc… which I do.
At the top of the list, is to love up on my body. And by that I mean love her with making conscious decisions to be more physically active. It will be a year in March 2021 that I’ve worked from home. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I never worked from home and by default moved my body much more due to the hectic workday of a teacher walking up and down the building’s stairs and usually standing for most of the time in the classroom. So, I got to be more intentional about my daily schedule and centre it around movement.
My plan is to leave my apartment at least 3 times a day! That includes morning and evening walks, doing the stairs (I live on the 18th floor) and making it to the gym! Sounds like a lot! But the walks can be short or long. I’ll go with the flow of how I feel. This leads me into my hope for 2021 which is to live with more freedom. Freedom from fear and habits that don’t align to the life I desire. My dream is to start a business. I’ll be reading, researching and writing a business plan. Cheers to 2021!
Tell us more about these dreams and passions. Are you currently ‘creating’ something?
I love learning about nature. Anything related to natural-living gets me excited. My dream is to live as closely to the earth as possible by consuming all things in their most natural state. I’m most happy when I have a balance between solitude and companionship. I have passion projects which currently reside in my head. This goes back to my 2021 goal of releasing fear so that I can have the freedom, confidence and courage to pursue my passion projects. Stay tuned!
What keeps you going and focused on these passion projects?
My mother, brother, grandfather — goodness, so many people in my family (those that I met and didn’t meet) are the ones who keep me going. I feel a responsibility in the most honorable way to live a life that allows me to sustain myself and hopefully my mother and brother. I feel a sense of duty to them but not in a burdening way.
Sounds like your family is very important to you. What does ‘community’ mean to you now that you are so far away from them?
Community is a lifeline. We need it to thrive in this world and to reach our highest potential.
Any advice on how to integrate into a new city, way of life?
I recommend joining a few meetup groups that you’re genuinely interested in. Follow local community and government social media accounts to stay up to date on local news and events. Of course, look for a local Girl Gone International community.
How has the Girl Gone International community impacted your international life?
I’ve met some of my best friends here in Abu Dhabi through Girl Gone International. Shout out to Fayna and Kelly who no longer live in Abu Dhabi but are surely missed. I attended a beautiful sunset wedding of a fellow GGI member. I’ve celebrated engagements and birthdays with friends I’ve met through GGI. It’s been a wonderful community to be a part of and an important part of my international life.
Rachell attends the wedding of a GGI in Al Khatam, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
What have you learned about life, the world, yourself?
Putting yourself in foreign situations will give you a steep learning curve. We need to be made to feel uncomfortable. It’ll help us to grow in so many ways especially in ways we didn’t even know we needed to grow in.
Girl Gone International believes that women go farther together. Do you have any examples of this in your own life?
At an early age, perhaps in my teens or early twenties, I decided that I would not compete with any women for the attention of a man nor compete in any other capacity.
Firstly, it’s exhausting. Secondly, why can’t we both shine? I believe this early declaration has allowed me to experience friendships with womxn based on authenticity and support. At one point, I found myself lacking black female friends. I sought out a meetup group in NYC called Trendy Twentysome, if I remember correctly. It was my first experience with being a part of a dedicated group whose aim was to foster friendships between black women. It was awesome. I met some amazing, fun and bright women. Actually, a small group of us got together to create a vision board before I moved abroad. I put on the vision board that I wanted to teach abroad in Dubai. And here I am, technically in Abu Dhabi, but I prefer it.
Girl Gone International empowers women to go anywhere and belong everywhere. Any wisdom or advice on this international lifestyle?
You belong. Period. Full Stop. Khalas. No ifs, ands or buts about it.
I belong wherever I go, and so do you. End of discussion. Of course, there are practical reasons for safety in which it wouldn’t be advisable to travel to a particular country or region. But again, this is a man-made situation that has no bearing on my intrinsic value as a human being on this planet.
Speaking of belonging, what brought you to Abu Dhabi and do you feel at home where you are?
I teach math and got hired here to teach at a secondary all-girls school. A friend of mine who I met through GGI said it best when describing what it’s like living here in Abu Dhabi, “Living here is like being on a permanent vacation.”
How long do you think you will stay in abu dhabi?
Well, I plan to move back to NYC this summer but this isn’t my last experience with living abroad.
What does ‘home’ mean to you?
Home is a state of being. I am home when I am with those I love whether that’s family, childhood friends, friends from college or friends I’ve made since living abroad. I can be “at home” anywhere in the world if I am surrounded by those I love and who love me.
How can you make a ‘home’ wherever you find yourself?
Firstly, your living space needs to invoke in you a sense of home, especially if you have a life abroad. Decorating and arranging your home in a manner that brings you joy is of the utmost importance. Secondly, bring your “old home” to your “new home” through art, photos, a favourite item, etc. But don’t bring too much!!
I find that having a few items that I love from my previous home(s) in my current residence connects the places I live and gives it a sense of continuity. Finally, make time to connect via calls/face time with family and friends who live in other parts of the world. You’re never truly alone.
What would you go back and tell your younger self?
Travel even more! You’re not better than anyone else because of the passport you hold and of course no worse. Yes, don’t be so arrogant about [things]. Listen and learn from everyone no matter where you are in the world. No one country has a monopoly on wisdom.
What is a book that changed your life? What other books do you recommend?
The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a book that changed my life. It had me questioning so many things about myself, society, the USA and the world.
I love learning about myself through reading. Many of the life lessons I’ve learned have come from reading and reflecting on my own experiences. This also happens when I travel which is why I love to do so.
I’m currently reading The Kremlin School of Negotiation which I would recommend to any woman. In the USA, women are statistically paid less than men. And so, learning how to negotiate in your career is a necessity. However, I love this book because it truly applies to all areas of our lives. We’re constantly negotiating with others or ourselves. Learning how to improve this skill is a level up. Other books of notable mention are Life of Pi, Half of a Yellow Sun, The Scarlet Letter and Dracula.
Ha, not sure how these last few books connect to women and our international lives, but they’re some of my favs!
What’s the best piece of advice you would give a sister GGI?
You’re no better or worse than anyone else. Treat everyone, everyone — regardless of what you think — with respect, dignity and kindness. That’s your responsibility as a human being existing in the universe. You can’t escape that!
By Kristyna Hoang
Kristyna is a Third Culture Kid by birth and the queen of living out of two suitcases by choice. She has lived on 3 different continents and in 8 different countries — sometimes due to studying and others through her work in the international security field. When she’s not working you can find her on the couch watching reality TV shows with her two rescue puppies and her first husband (did I say first? I meant “loving”).