This is the 5th article in our ongoing Expat Series. In today’s article we take a look at Sabeeha’s journey from Johannesburg to Seattle.
- What is your name?
- What country were you born in?
Born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa
- What job did you have in your home country?
I am a Chartered Accountant. In South Africa I worked for a large corporate in the Financial Services sector.
- How long have you been living in your new country for?
We relocated to Seattle, Washington in October 2019. As of 10 August 2020, it’s been 9 months and 22 days to be exact, of which 5 months and counting have been during the Covid19 pandemic 😊
- Did you immigrate alone or with your family and kids?
I immigrated along with my hubby.
- How are the schools in the new country?
I don’t have personal experience, but I hear most schools are great. The schools are zoned and based on which area you live in. Some school districts are better than others of course. This plays an important factor when families are choosing an area to reside in.
- What is your job in your new country?
(I’ll joke and say a home executive for now 😊 I came across to the US on a spousal VISA tied to my husband’s work VISA. I needed to apply for an EAD (Employment Authorization Document) before I would be eligible to work at any organization. Alhamdulillah (All praise to God) I received my EAD, however it was at the onset of the pandemic. As most companies are on a hiring freeze, the job market has been slow but there are more opportunities opening as restrictions are being eased and I hope to find a suitable job soon.
- What do you enjoy about your new country?
I love that I can walk around at night and feel safe. I love the hundreds of parks scattered across the city, with the best facilities and how absolutely clean they are! Just a short distance outside of the city you are transported to a range of mountains, waterfalls and the most picturesque lakes. The pure beauty and majesty of the nature of this State never ceases to take my breath away. The distinct change of seasons is something special to witness, from snow-capped trees and mountains to the most beautiful autumn reds, browns and yellows and all other blossoms in between.
The muslim community is so diverse and welcoming. I enjoy that the masjids function as Islamic centres and not just a place of worship. There’s always some sort of program, course or initiative for men, women and kids going on at the masjid. The interfaith relations and allegiances built are also interesting and something that I haven’t experienced back home.
Everything is convenient, within walking distance is our local grocery store, open until 1 a.m. You can order almost anything online and the luxury of having Amazon deliver your wants the next day is a huge plus 😊 I tease my husband on having to disable his Amazon account as there’s always a parcel pending to be received!
- What do you miss the most about your home country?
Family. Although the time difference is a little tricky at times, technology has made it extremely easy to keep in touch. Sometimes though you just crave the personal interaction or a big hug from your loved ones!
- What advice would you give someone that is contemplating to immigrate to the country you have immigrated to?
Do your research before deciding to move. Define what is important to you and your family (e.g. masjids, Muslim community, schools, climate etc) and ensure that all these tick boxes are checked for you. There are no hard and fast rules, each person’s preferences and needs will be different based on the individual.
All family members (yes, including your kids) need to be fully invested and willing to make the move work. Persevere, as initially it will be tough, foreign. It will get easier over time. Your mindset is most important. You need to be open to new ways of thinking, doing things and new experiences.
Logistically, we found the easiest way was for either myself or my husband to get an intercompany transfer within the organisation we already worked at. This assists with most of the administrative tasks and the relocation benefits are of huge assistance.
- What challenges, if any, would you advise them to anticipate based on your experiences when you first moved to your new country?
You will need to relearn almost everything that you have been familiar with for most of your life. This ranges from measuring in pounds, gallons and miles to having to take your learners and drivers test again and training your brain to drive on the right side of the road with a left-hand drive! From having to fill your own gas and do your own housework (super spoilt in South Africa) to being completely clueless on your first grocery run as all the brands that you are used to are unavailable here.
Finding halaal products are more challenging in our state. The butchers are not what we are used to in South Africa and there isn’t a wide halaal certification body that assists in easily identifying halaal. A lot of it is based on learning to know your ingredients, word of mouth or information accumulated and shared through Apps.
Another challenge was building a network of friends. With all your family so far away it’s important to build a network here that acts as your support structure in the absence of family. This was difficult especially during a pandemic where everyone isn’t socialising. Slowly but surely we continue to connect with like-minded individuals from a religious, cultural and social perspective.
- What advice would you give them to overcome those challenges based on how you overcame them?
Embrace the change and have fun in doing so. Don’t view everything as a hurdle or chore, rather as a new experience and learning opportunity. Don’t be too harsh on yourself and allow yourself the time to settle in.
In terms of finding halaal, it is a challenge initially but with time you get used to products and produce that you are comfortable with in terms of quality and that are suitable.
Get involved with the community, attend the masjid and programs and introduce yourself. This is one way to build a network. Join Facebook or WhatsApp support groups, these assist with answering questions that you may have by a wide audience. Our local masjid, as an example has a welcoming committee for new members to the area.
Ask questions. Someone somewhere along the line was in the same boat as you and will be more than willing to assist.
- How was the visa process for immigrating to your new country?
It was a seamless process for us as we were assigned lawyers from my husbands’ company to assist throughout the process. If you are immigrating, I would highly recommend hiring an immigration lawyer to assist as some of the processes can get complex.
- How is the cost of living in the new country compared to your home country?
Seattle is known for it’s high cost of living. For me, it’s all relative. If you are earning a market related salary in the denominated currency of the country that you reside, you should be ok. It is imperative to establish, before making the decision to immigrate, that your earning potential will cover your cost of living. There are calculators that will give a rough idea of this. It’s also important to note that different areas within the same country have different costs of living, so be cognisant of this when choosing an area to live in.
Don’t convert to your local currency (assuming your local currency is weaker than the US Dollar). You will not buy anything, not even bread and milk! 😊
- Anything else you would like to add, or any advice you would like to give to anyone that is contemplating moving to your new country?
If immigration is something that you’ve always dreamed of and the opportunity presents itself, take the leap! This has been our greatest textbook and we continue to grow exponentially as each day passes. You owe it to yourself to at least give it a try.
Sabeeha is an avid traveller. You can follow her Instagram account here, Tattoo My Passport.
See links below to our previous 4 articles: