{EXPATRIATED} Jenna from 'A Home Away From Home'

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Sometimes I get the impression that people think we are crazy for leaving all that we are familiar with for a life abroad but we aren't the only ones who have chosen this lifestyle.  In fact, there are a lot of us and many of us blog about it.  Expatriated is a series to introduce you to other expat bloggers.


I'm so excited to have Jenna from A Home Away From Home on the blog today.  (It seemed fitting to have an American featured today - Happy 4th to all of the American readers out there!)  She currently resides in one of my favorite countries, South Africa. 

Where are you from and where do you live now?

I was born and raised in sunny, Southern California, but since 2008 I've called South Africa home.  I'm currently living, working and studying in Johannesburg - known affectionately as 'Josi' to some and not so affectionately as 'gangsters paradise' to others.

How did you end up in Johannesburg and what inspired you to make the move?

In 2008 I spent a semester abroad in Stellenbosch, South Africa (a little university town about 30 minutes away from Cape Town.)  During that semester I fell in love with a local South African and just sort of never ended up leaving (my poor parents!)  In 2010, Jurgen, the South African love interest, was offered a great post-grad scholarship at the University of Johannesburg and after giving it some thought, we decided to pack our bags and move to the other side of the country.  Two and a half years later and we still find ourselves here today  :)

What is the best part of living overseas?

This is such a tricky question!  I think for me it's the fact that every day is somewhat of an adventure.  I've been here for 4 years and I'm still constantly discovering new cultural oddities, working on improving my foreign language skills, fighting tooth and nail with Home Affairs (not such a nice part of the adventure!), trying new local cuisine and recipes, cracking up over 'lost in translation' moments between me and the boy and trying to live through the daily battleground that is driving in Johannesburg.  In California, my life wasn't nearly as exciting!

What do you miss most about home (besides friends & family?)

I'm not sure if this counts or not, but I really miss my yellow labrador that I had to leave in California.  I've told Jurgen that the best surprise he could ever give me would be to fly her out here... I'm still crossing my fingers :)

Other than that, I mostly miss food... and Starbucks (somehow Starbucks has made it to China and not South Africa.)  Mexican food, Cheesecake Factory, California Pizza Kitchen, Panda Express, Taco Bell, Cheez Its, Diet Coke (we have Coca Light here and it's not the same,) thick crust pizza.. I think that about sums it up.  Oh, I also miss efficient government services (I'm sure you can relate, Jay!)

What was the most difficult thing to adjust to in South Africa?

South Africa is actually pretty Western and most people can speak at least basic English, so adjusting to life here was surprisingly easy.  One of my biggest adjustments was probably monitoring my internet usage since we pay per megabyte downloaded/uploaded and South Africa has some of the most expensive internet prices in the world.  Recently I also bought my first manual car and learning to drive 'stick' in this hectic Jo'burg traffic also a bit of a transition.  Other than that, so far so good!

Any funny 'whoopsies' while adjusting to your new life?

When I first started studying here a lot of people would ask me where I was from, where I studied, etc. and I would always reply, "I'm from California and I go to school in Thousand Oaks." Seems pretty standard, right?  That's what I thought too but I would noticed that people always gave me strange looks when I would answer that way.

Then when I met Jurgen's parents for the first time his Mom asked me the same things and I gave my standard response.  I immediately saw her shoot Jurgen a questioning side glance and then Jurgen quickly told her, "Don't worry Mom, they call everything school, including University."  After that, he explained to me that for them "school" means primary school, high school means high school, and university means university.  So all that time I'd been telling people I went to primary school in Thousand Oaks... greeeaat.

Saving graces (ie. things that make life abroad easier?)

Definitely skype... I'm not sure what I'd do without it!

It's also been great meeting and getting to know other expats - it's always nice to connect with likeminded people in similar situations who understand the ups and downs of building a life in a foreign country.

What is the biggest lesson you've learned from your time in South Africa?

This is another tricky one!  I think it may be the realization that living in a foreign country is much, much different from traveling to or visiting a foreign country.  Prior to moving to South Africa, I'd travelled extensively through Europe, Asia & the Middle East and absolutely had the time of my life.  At first South Africa also felt like a wonderful, long extended trip, but eventually (as expected) it also turned in to home.  While my life here is still much more exciting and adventurous than the one I led in California, many days are also just regular mundane days filled with work, studying and making ends meet.  I still absolutely crave the constant fun and excitement that comes a long with traveling to new and different places outside of South Africa.

If you had the chance to move elsewhere in the world, where would it be and why?

Temporarily:  Europe, Egypt, Jordan, Rwanda, Dubai, Japan... I'm sure there's more.  I love the feeling of being somewhere completely new and having a little bit of time to stick around and get to know the people, places and culture.

Permanently:  Cape Town, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Seattle, Boulder

Any advice for the newly expatriated?

There will definitely be days where you want to pull your hair out (but don't!)  Try to embrace every opportunity you're presented with and cherish every second (although it may be difficult at times) as it's likely that your stay in the country won't be permanent.  Meet people, do things you normally wouldn't do, try new foods, travel, travel, travel some more, keep a blog or a diary, make a point of visiting somewhere new each week.  You'll be surprised at how quickly the time will fly by and when it comes time to head back home or move on to the next country you'll probably be sad to be leaving your newly found home :)


Thank you Jenna!

When Jenna isn't exploring South Africa, she travels and has most recently visited Rwanda & Uganda


  1. Thanks so much for having me Jay! This is such a fantastic series and it was so fun to sit and reflect on all of the questions :)


  2. I absolutely love following Jenna's blog and I am so glad I found yours! Such an incredible journey you are having!

  3. Great questions, and great answers Jenna! I visited Cape Town way back in 1996 with my family. I was 10 years old and fell in love with it. It was actually the only holiday I have ever been on where I cried at the airport not wanting to go home. My Dad promised we would get there again......I'm still waiting lol. I would love to take my husband over there!

  4. this sounds so great... I consider to go to cape town for one semester... this absolutely makes this decision more easy :)


  5. Another great interview Jay, well done Jenna! How strange about the Internet, that must be really hard to get used to. In Malta we have very fast, fairly cheap Internet. I don't think I could ever learn to monitor my usage...

  6. great interview!! paying internet by amount of uploaded / downloaded MB - wow, that sucks! :) I am going to Jburg is August for business, looking forward to be in South Africa for the first time ever!!

  7. I love meeting other expat bloggers, and I'm glad to have found you through Jenna!

  8. Katie - Cape Town is gorgeous, isn't it? Both Joe & I had trouble getting on that plane after visiting!

    Kristina - I cannot imagine paying for internet like that either although I do imagine my bill would be enormous! I'm definitely jealous of your trip to SA this summer (or winter for you) - I LOVE that place!

  9. what a great post! I am your newest follower! I cannot wait to read more of your posts and hope that maybe you can return the favor and follow my preppy blog. I always comment for every comment left on my page and hope to start a friendly relationship with your wonderful blog!


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