A study abroad experienced became a life changing event for Lionel Donovan III. What was supposed to be a short term event led to the better part of the decade living internationally. Lionel shares how his recent move to Kenya compares to China and what he’s learned in the process.
Tell us your background.
I’m from Atlanta, Georgia, born and raised. I first got a taste of international travel when I was fifteen and traveled to Sao Paulo, Brazil on a two-week missions trip. That’s when I found out the world was bigger, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
What took you abroad as an adult?
I first went to China when I was twenty-one as part of a study abroad program with my university. But what was supposed to be an eight month program turned into five years of fun and adventure in Asia. I ended up graduating from my host university with a degree in broadcast journalism/media studies.
I then moved to Beijing, where I got my first job in media as an anchor and content producer at Blue Ocean Network. I went back to the States 2012, but I just couldn’t stay away from China. I ended up moving back to Beijing in 2014 to work at CGTN in their digital media department.
You just made a very recent move to Nairobi, Kenya which is very different from China. What are your early impressions?
Kenya is amazing! I’ve only been here for a few weeks, but I’m loving it so far. The food, the people, all of it. I kinda came at an interesting time though. Not only did I show up during the cold season (yes, it gets cold here), I’ve also come during the country’s election season. This will be my first time experiencing another country’s election process firsthand, so there should be some interesting times ahead.
As an African-American, what nuances have you observed relocating to a predominantly black country?
Living as a Black man in an African country, for me, has been a different experience. As a member of the Diaspora, returning to “Mother Africa” is something that was always important to me. So to actually do it? It means a lot.
However, although I might blend in a lot more than I did in China, as soon as I open my mouth, I am reminded that I am a foreigner. It’s a bit disorienting to see people that look like you, and yet are so different.
I see so many traits, looks, and gestures that just as easily be seen back in Atlanta, but then they’re accompanied by a language I can’t understand. But that’s something I hope to fix soon, at least partially.
You co-founded the No Name Podcast. What was your original mission behind it?
While working in the media industry, I saw that while I was telling interesting stories, I wasn’t telling my story, or the stories of the community I was a part of. And what did get told… well, it wasn’t that accurate. I’ll leave it at that. So I decided to create a platform that told these stories, from a perspective that came from the community. The Black expat experience is a unique one, so I wanted to make sure that uniqueness was highlighted and not watered down.
What are the other projects have you launched?
Since launching the podcast, I’ve also started a website that showcases the vibrant and quickly growing Black expat communities found across Asia. The Sahelian Outpost gathers Black expats from across Asia and shares their experiences on living in the world’s largest continent. On the site, you’ll find video diaries, blogs, and audio content that discuss finding a job, how to get things delivered to you, and more advice on how to make your time as an expat an enjoyable one.
What are the considerations that a new expat may have to make when contemplating moving to East Africa?
I would say, make sure you have enough money, and find a person you can trust to show you around. Although I’ve never felt threatened physically, I also know that as a six-foot one, two-hundred pound man, my idea of physical safety may be different from others’. You will also have to look out for those who will try to scam you, especially if you’re from the West.
How have you found community or are you still finding it?
I’m still getting adjusted here, but everyone, both local and expat, has been very welcoming and helpful. I’ve gone out a few times and the nightlife is crazy here!
What’s one must-have experience when visiting Nairobi?
Chapati and roasted goat meat. You’re welcome…<laughs>
Photos courtesy of Lionel Donovan III.