Liberian Living: African American Family Chats Expat Life and Travels Around Africa
Meet Terek and Dr. Adrienne, an African American couple who moved to the African continent after professional opportunities in the healthcare field. The couple shared reflections on integrating into Liberia, raising third culture children, their love for African travel, and much more. Read their inspiring story below.
On your path to the African continent
What led you to move abroad to the African continent specifically?
Adrienne was on maternity leave with our second son when she got a phone call from her (then) employer that her skills were needed in Malawi. At the time, she was a health informatics scientist at a federal health organization. They called with an opportunity to move our family to Malawi because their office there needed her skills immediately.
During this time we were considering positions in Vietnam, and not necessarily looking to move to Africa. We always say that Africa chose us. We’d done healthcare work in Morocco and South Africa some years before, so we were excited to learn of the opportunity to move to Malawi.
How did you decide on Liberia?
We lived in Malawi for almost a year and then we received offers from U.S. healthcare companies with offices in Liberia (Terek works in the operations field and Adrienne is still working in health informatics industry). We were ready for a new experience and had never been to West Africa before. So we negotiated the offers and were moved here.
Where do you live in Liberia?
We live in the capital city of Monrovia.
On Professional Life & Business Opportunities
Before you left America, you sold your home and cars. Can you share more details about your relocation process? Was it an easy or challenging move?
Our jobs paid for our moves. However, we sold our home and cars because we wanted to use this time in our lives as a way to live a more frugal life. We also wanted to have flexibility without obligations back in the U.S.
We live abroad for free. Our employers arranged all of our travel, flights, and even provide housing. There are many professionals abroad who have the same type of package with their employers.
Can you tell us a bit about your professional lives in Liberia?
Adrienne is a director for health information systems programs at a U.S. health technology company and Terek is a director of operations with a U.S. health commodities company. We are also co-founders of Cultivatics, Inc., a global informatics and re-engineering firm.
What immigration advice can you share for Black expats looking to move to Liberia?
Our jobs provided our visas, residency, and work permits, so we are unable to add any advice to the immigration topic. We can say, though, that the little blue book (U.S. passport) is one of the most powerful books in the world. And that Liberia (and many other countries) happily accept U.S. passport holders.
Would you recommend a foreigner move there looking for a job or to be an entrepreneur?
Would it be difficult for someone to relocate there?
We personally would not move anywhere without having something lined up or enough savings to sustain one’s chosen lifestyle (whether it be abroad or at home in the States). We secured positions before our move so that our move would be covered. We would not have moved here if we had to pay for it ourselves.
There are also upfront costs to consider. In Liberia, housing requires six months payment upfront (our jobs paid for our housing) and a car is needed, of which would need to be cash-paid (we purchased a car upon arrival). Those are things to consider if needed. However, planning or an employer's help can make relocating less stressful and more fulfilling.
Liberia is expensive. The prices are higher than in the Atlanta area where we moved from. Monrovia is NYC/LA type of expensive. We recommend people doing their research, secure employment, or already having a client-base active before moving here.
On Everyday Life
What’s everyday life like in Liberia?
Liberia is a country still recovering from a civil war. The food is absolutely fantastic (the best food in West Africa), people love their culture, etc. Yet, there are many needs in terms of infrastructure, education, and systematic capacity.
We are in a routine as parents and professionals, so we work and enjoy our boys. We get out on the weekends to immerse in the culture and are living pretty simple lives because our obligations are met and we feel safe and free.
Do you speak any local languages?
Liberians speak English since this was a U.S. colony. Adrienne does her best to dab into a bit of French when traveling to surrounding francophone countries. Terek speaks Spanish. However, there are no opportunities to speak such here unless we are talking to other expats.
What are the best parts of living in Liberia?
The food is one of the best parts about living here. Being from South Carolina and Georgia, we know good food. But the spices, peppers, and freshness of the food here is on a level we’ve never ever imagined! We've traveled throughout the world prior to moving to Africa, but nothing we’ve ever tasted compares to Liberian food.
What are the most challenging aspects of living there?
The most challenging aspect is the corruption. Politically and financially, Liberia has a ways to go in terms of ethics. As the country is still recovering from the war, that unsettled conflict has left many gaps to be filled in terms of a dedicated vision for its future.
What have you observed about Liberia's recovery from the 2014 Ebola epidemic?
Since we work at healthcare companies that were integral in aiding in the Ebola outbreak, and since Adrienne’s previous employer was a federal health organization, we are able to see that Liberia was not ready for such an outbreak to occur. There are speculations surrounding the ethics of disease origin. Regardless, Liberia needed (and still needs) on-going education and training on sanitation, safe health care practices, and infection control.
We also learned it was the people on the ground who helped calm the outbreak. Many large organizations and governments brought money to Liberia to aid in the Ebola outbreak. But it was really the Liberians who stepped up and worked with those entities to save their people.
Some people with disabilities have negative perceptions of the quality of African healthcare systems and are hesitant to move to the continent. Adrienne, how do you manage your multiple sclerosis in Liberia? What advice can you share for those with disabilities who are considering a move to an African nation?
It’s important for people to know their bodies, understand how their situation impacts them, what triggers certain outcomes, etc., and to take charge of their own care before arriving. We had fantastic Western-trained doctors in Malawi and we have fantastic Western-trained doctors here in Liberia.
The “quality” of healthcare facilities is determined by what the need is. If we do not need surgery, then it doesn’t bother us that the equipment are not available. If I need an MRI and there is no MRI machine, then I would have done my research prior to coming and had my MRI done back in the States before arriving in Liberia. So taking charge in one’s own care and knowing one’s needs is important.
I do not medicate, but if someone needs medication, they should bring it with them and the prescription as well. There are pharmacies everywhere and there are very good American, European, Middle Eastern doctors here as well. In Malawi, we were there with cancer survivors and people who had previous heart surgeries. They didn’t allow that ailment to stop them from traveling as long as they were medically cleared to do so.
A disability could mean so many different things, but if there are physical limitations, one should know that elevators, wheelchairs, and portable equipment is not always available. It’s important to have someone with you who can help you get around.
You have two toddlers! How have they adjusted to Liberia?
Watching our children grow up in Africa has been great. They get to immerse in the culture and are third culture kids with such innocent and impactful dynamics. We moved when our boys were eight months and 21 months old, so this is all they’ll remember.
Adrienne was traveling at six years old—she was raised in a military family and lived in Germany and the Netherlands. To us, it’s important for children to see worlds outside of their own. Now that we see them growing, we realize this is actually "their own" too. They are third culture kids. As a family, we don’t vaccinate so we can’t give any advice on that topic other than that families need to do their own research. I (Adrienne) say this as a former federal health organization employee of five years who worked in the immunization center for three of those years.
Looking ahead, what type of school would you like to enroll your children in? Or will you homeschool?
Our boys have always been in daycare because we like that as a part of our routine and we both work full-time outside of the home. We have an evening nanny that comes by to help when we need an extra hand after work, on weekends, or for a date night. However, we do homeschooling sessions with them on weekends when we want to focus on areas of improvement and creativity.
We also travel quite a bit and worldschool them as well—this has been the most fantastic experience of all. They catch everything and blow us away with how much they retain about the different countries and cultures!
We find that we used to learn better by a customized curriculum and not a one-size-fits-all approach. We already notice that our boys are “different” in that we want to nurture their individual talents and creativity. So we are discussing how to do a hybrid method of schooling. We will look into co-ops and tutors as well for certain topics too.
How have you been welcomed in Liberia as African American expats?
Many Liberians sought asylum in the U.S. and were educated in the U.S. They returned to the country after the war. So many Liberians are “African-American” in some regard. However, we are seen as different because we truly have no formal ties to the continent and are “American.” We are seen as the white man or white woman most times, given our American last name and since Adrienne has a doctorate degree.
Some days we feel more welcomed than others. And usually, when we are not as welcomed, it’s from third country nationals more than from Liberians. Third country nationals are Africans from other countries, and there are many here from Guinea, Nigeria, Kenya, Sierra Leone, etc.
Can you share a few details on the cost of living in your community?
Our apologies that we do not know much specifics since our jobs cover our housing. We can say that most options come with security guards (this is a standard here and not because there is conflict), water, and electricity.
We pay $150 per month for unlimited internet access at home, $20 per month in phone cards for our cell phones—(this allows us to call the U.S. too and is fantastic). Food sometimes costs more than where we are from in the U.S. A box of cereal is $10 due to import costs being so high. A good meal (to “Western” standards) at a restaurant costs around $15 to $20 per person.
You have traveled to Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal, and Sierra Leone this year alone! And you've been documenting your excursions on your Youtube channel! What’s your favorite African nation so far and why?
Adrienne’s favorite African country is Rwanda and Terek’s favorite African country is Ghana. We just felt the most welcomed in those two countries and could really see ourselves living there. The other countries we’ve been to were nice experiences and really allowed us to see how each country is so different... that Africa really is a continent of many nations.
After leaving Malawi, we realized that we didn’t get out to neighboring countries as much as we should have since work took up most of our time. However, we’ve vowed to travel more, especially since we no longer have a mortgage or car payments! We are using this experience to pay off our remaining debts (student loans).
Would you encourage an African American or other diasporan to consider moving to Liberia? Why or why not?
In all honesty, if not for a secured position, we would not have moved here. It’s a lovely country, but there is so much heartbreak from the war that many improvements are needed to reach the standards we saw in the surrounding African countries. Liberia is a great place—however, we definitely would not move here if we had to pay for it ourselves. It truly just depends on what your needs are and where you are in your life.
However, with a job opportunity, we would (obviously) come here and it’s been fruitful since we are still on U.S. salaries and have our housing in a really nice place covered. As we always say, do your own research and come see for yourself. Our experience is our experience based on our own personal variables.
What advice would you give to a new visitor or expat to Liberia?
Know why you are coming and have everything you need already figured out before you get here. This is because the capacity levels of some Liberians may make it a challenge to get certain tasks completed (tasks that are routine or simple to many Westerners)–that is said in all respect but not to be demeaning. You should also know that Liberia is a very safe place and you will be welcomed.
What has your time living in Liberia taught you so far or how has it changed you?
Liberia has definitely humbled us in more ways than many. In fact, we secured our YouTube channel while living in Malawi, but we never posted. Once we got to Liberia, we realized that it was time to share a bit of our story.
Living here has allowed us to see that our everyday worries are sometimes not things we should worry much about. It’s allowed us to see that someone else has it worse. It’s allowed us to see that our children are able to be little innocent brown boys without the fear of the police or discrimination because of their skin. It’s allowed us to see our Western education and our breed of being African and American is of value more than we ever knew. It makes us even more proud to be Americans of African descent.
Follow Terek and Dr. Adrienne on the web!
Fascinated by African American experiences in Liberia? Read Maya's account of growing up in 1970s-1980s Liberia. Or dive into Teri's reflections of living in Liberia for a year with her husband and children.