Expat Life in Cape Town

What’s it like being an American expat in South Africa? Mostly awesome, actually! This Q&A I recently did with the site BlogExpat sheds some light on my transition as a New Yorker in Cape Town.

1. Why did you move abroad? 
It’s pretty cliché at this point, but who cares — I came to South Africa on vacation, fell in love with Cape Town and with a guy here (in that order), then married him and moved here a year later.

2. How do you make a living?
I’ve been a journalist for a decade, and was an editor at a travel magazine in New York before I moved, so the transition into full-time freelance travel writing was incredibly smooth. I’m doing what I love, getting tons of work, have a flexible schedule, and I’m my my own boss — it’s been great.

3. How often do you communicate with home and how? 
The six-hour time difference to New York and Boston, where most of my friends and family are,  makes keeping in touch a bit of a challenge. I have What’s App groups with different circles so I keep in touch with everyone every day, and I FaceTime with my parents several times a week. The nine-hour time difference to California, where my brother lives with his wife and two adorable kids, makes regular FaceTime dates more of a challenge — by the time they’re all home, it’s way past my bedtime!

4. What’s your favorite thing about being an expat in Cape Town?
I love exploring this gorgeous city with the wonder of a newcomer — things that locals might take for granted, or are bored of, are so exciting and intriguing to me! It also helps that I constantly have to keep tabs on what’s hot and what’s new in Cape Town for my work, it’s a great way to really get to know the place.

5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Cape Town?  
Sometimes people don’t understand me. Not so much the accent, because everyone’s familiar with an American accent, but more so when I’m at the grocery store and asking for zucchini, and no one has any idea what I’m talking about — it’s called baby marrow here. I also really miss having friends I’ve known for years, and also knowing where I am all the time. I’m still trying to figure my way around.

6. What do you miss most? 
The people. I’m lucky enough that I’m going back about twice a year, so I haven’t been away long enough for serious homesickness to set in, but no matter how warm my in-laws are and how friendly everyone I’ve met has been, you can’t replace your family and friends who know you inside and out — starting over in your 30s is tough!

7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I know how lucky I am that I married a local — his existing circle has been beyond welcoming, and I feel like I moved in with an existing network already in place. But it’s important to me to make my own friends too, so I’ve been trying to network with other writers and people in the tourism industry that I would meet through work, so I feel like I have “colleagues” too. Being home alone in my study all day get really lonely!

8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
Strange has a negative connotation, so I wouldn’t use that word for this, but I find some of the local slang absolutely hilarious. Robot means traffic light, tekkies are sneakers, bakkies are pickup trucks, and slops are flip-flops.

9. What is a myth about your adopted country? 
Well… I wouldn’t say it’s a myth, but I think the crime rate is exaggerated in foreign reports, at least as far as tourism is concerned. As a resident I’m definitely really concerned about potential crime in my day-to-day life, and that’s the biggest negative about living here. But I think tourists often fear coming here thinking they’ll be shot dead in the streets, and it’s definitely not like that at all. If you’re coming to the tourist areas and staying in hotels, you won’t really have to worry about anything that wouldn’t happen to you in any other tourism area. Petty crime happens in Times Square and at Piccadilly Circus too — you just need to keep your guard up and be aware.

10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
Haha – I moved here from New York. Few cities compare to New York as far as cost of living goes! Cape Town is overall very affordable, especially as far as food and entertainment goes. Even though I’m making less overall now than I was in New York, for the first time in my life I feel like I actually am making decent money!

11. What advice would you give other expats? 
First of all, make sure you figure out the new immigration rules before you get here — they apparently have changed a lot. Second of all, be prepared to be homesick. It’s OK. It’ll happen. But don’t let your homesickness cloud your experiences, because you’re having an absolutely amazing experience and once you move back, if you do, you’ll be homesick for your time abroad. Keep an open mind and say yes to every opportunity!

12. When and why did you start your blog?  
I’m a writer, so it was inevitable that I would start a blog to chronicle my transition. It’s since evolved a bit into a resource for visitors to Cape Town, since I found I was getting a lot of email inquiries about what to do here. I also post all the articles I write, and snapshots of all my travels. I need to give it some more love and hope to add a mix of my travels overseas as well as local observations.

Published http://www.southafrikhan.com/2014/09/12/expat-life-in-cape-town/

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