American Expat Living In Tanzania - Interview With Lisa

Published: 20 Nov at 1 PM
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Filed: Interviews,Tanzania
Lisa Welsien is an American who began her expat adventures almost a decade ago when she fell in love with a Danish guy planning to save the world. As newlyweds they followed a UN job to Nairobi, Kenya for “just two years”, where she swore they would never have kids. Four years and two kids later, they moved to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania with the World Bank. Lisa loves blogging about both expathood and motherhood. A teacher by training, she aspires to write a book someday and is always on the lookout for interesting opportunities to consult on educational projects, either at home or abroad. Lisa blogs at Life in Dar (see listing here)

Life in Dar

Here's the interview with Lisa...

Where are you originally from?
The Boston area of Massachusetts, USA.

In which country and city are you living now?
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
We have lived here for 9 months of a 3-year contract.

Life in DarWhy did you move and what do you do?
We moved to East Africa for my husband's career. Since living abroad have done contract work for the UN as well as some educational organizations back in the US. Currently my biggest work is raising two little ones and I am also a substitute teacher at the International School of Tanganyika.

Did you bring family with you?
When we moved to Kenya in 2007 we were newlyweds. Both of our kids were born in Nairobi and, yes, we are all together in Dar.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Mind-blowing. Scary. Interesting. Challenging. Scary. Exciting. Fun. Scary. Eye-Opening.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
It is easy to meet people, yes. Making friends takes time and energy, naturally. Having little kids helps a lot because we meet a lot of other families. Yes, we do socialize mostly with expats but we interact regularly with Tanzanians in our work and daily life.

Life in DarWhat are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
In Dar, go to the beach! We are on the ocean and it is amazing. Also Tanzania, of course, is known for safaris in national parks like the Serengeti. Many people come to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. The wildlife here is amazing. Tourism is a very big part of the economy.

What do you enjoy most about living here?
I very much like living in a diverse community, which we have found both in Nairobi and Dar. Since moving to East Africa we have made friends with people from all over the world.

How does the cost of living compare to home?
Housing is insanely expensive here for expats. Rents for nice apartments and houses can be $4,000 or $5,000/month and you have to pay one year of rent upfront. Shopping is also expensive if you buy imported goods from the UK or USA (like two or three times as expensive) and in the expat community restaurants are on track with American or European prices as well. Tourism is expensive in East Africa, unless you are a real backpacker (which we are not!).

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
Security, although better than in Nairobi, is still a concern in Dar. Healthcare is not great here and there are a lot of common diseases, like malaria. You have to take your health and medical care very seriously. For a true emergency, we would be med evac'd to Nairobi or Johannesburg.

Life in DarIf you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
When you arrive here, you are not the expert. You don’t know anything. So be open to the idea that everything is new and different. Be a dry sponge and absorb it all. Let other people teach you.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
I think originally, and in the short term, I felt a loss of freedom related to security concerns. I think long term I always feel that I am missing out on something important happening at home (like the birth of a niece, a friend’s wedding, a college reunion, etc.).

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
We plan to repatriate in about 2 more years after 7 years in East Africa. I think coping with repatriation will be difficult! Expats in a developing country get used to certain perks – having a housekeeper and nanny, for example. It is part of the social contract you have with your host country that since you can afford to give people jobs, you will. When we move home we will have to do our own laundry, cook our own food, clean our own house, and hire a teenager to babysit. THAT will be really weird. I really look forward to public transportation and being able to walk everywhere. But in general, it will be total reverse culture shock!

Life in DarWhat are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Try to learn the language. I have not done a good job of this at all but I regret that. It endears you to the local people if you try.
  2. Tap into social networking. Facebook groups or blogs or LinkedIn connections can all be really helpful in trying to figure out the ins and outs of living in a new country.
  3. Be an ambassador! When you are in a foreign country people will make assumptions about your home country and culture based on you. So be kind and tolerant and friendly. Give yourself and your home country a good reputation.

  4. Never say never. Be willing to try new food, experiences, hobbies. If you keep a positive outlook towards all of the “new” in your life, it will be easier to handle disappointments or homesickness.
  5. Know how to get help. Wherever you are in the world, you must know how to get help in an emergency. Know how to contact your embassy. Know how to report a security problem. Know how to get to a doctor ASAP.

Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
My blog started out as “Life in Nairobi” when we moved to Kenya in 2007. It was very heavily about the expat experience until we had kids, at which point it became at least half as much a mommy blog. In the last year I have tried to blog a better balance between family life and expat life, especially since we moved to Dar. I love it when people ask me specific questions about living here that I can write about because I do think that an expat blog can give people an interesting glimpse into this other kind of life. Personally, the blog is an online journal that makes me feel more connected to the people I love all around the world. As a bonus, my husband occasionally blogs as well and readers tend to LOVE his posts because his development work gives him access to really different experiences that my daily life. He has met fascinating people and been to outstanding places; the interactions and observations he shares are like blog "candy". Sweet!

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Via email at Lmwelsien{at}gmail{dot}com

Lisa blogs at which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. Life in Dar has an listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Lisa, please also drop her a quick comment below.
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Comments » There is 1 comment

Holly Mueller wrote 10 years ago:

Love following Lisa's blog. You get such great insight to the day to day culture & experiences of a totally different world. In addition to being informative, it's also funny! A very good read!

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