From Manhattan to Cape Town, Expat Interview with Sarah

Published: 27 Aug at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,South Africa
Sarah Khan was an editor at Travel + Leisure magazine in New York City when, pretty much on a whim, she went to South Africa for a week on vacation in April 2012. In her four days in Cape Town, she fell in love with the city — she adored its cosmopolitan vibe, its diverse food, its fascinating history, and its warm people. One of those warm people in particular caught her attention, and within a year, after a wedding spanning 11 events on three continents, she was married and living in Cape Town. She started her blog, The South AfriKhan (see listing here), a few weeks after arriving in South Africa in April 2013, as a way to document her adventures and insights. She writes about everything from the countless restaurants she feasts at (no wonder she's gained so much weight) to awkward experiences resulting from using her American accent at the grocery store (who knew guacamole could cause such confusion?).

Meet Sarah - Expat living in Cape Town, South Africa
Meet Sarah - Expat living in Cape Town, South Africa

Here's the interview with Sarah...

Where are you originally from?
That's a much more complicated question than it seems — I was born in Canada, raised in Saudi Arabia, India, and Massachusetts, did graduate school in upstate New York, and spent the last seven years of my life in Manhattan, before moving to Cape Town in April.

In which country and city are you living now?
Cape Town, South Africa - possibly the most beautiful city on earth!

How long have you lived in South Africa and how long are you planning to stay?
I've been here about four months, and am planning to stay forever.

Why did you move to South Africa and what do you do?
I moved for love - I was a travel editor in New York when I first visited Cape Town in April 2012, and a year later I was married to a South African and living here. Luckily my line of work translates well for this type of thing, and I've transitioned into a full-time freelance writing career.

At the I Was Shot in Joburg photo booth in Johannesburg
At the I Was Shot in Joburg photo booth in Johannesburg
Did you bring family with you?
Nope, but I gained a whole new family here!

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
I think I'm still in the honeymoon phase — everything is amazing, I love the food, I'm enjoying exploring all these new nooks and crannies, and life just feels like one big adventure. I keep thinking it's going to get tough any day now and so far it hasn't. Maybe tomorrow?

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
I'm lucky in that my husband is already established here, with a great network of friends and family, so I've fallen easily into his world. I'm still meeting cool people through my line of work, but it's nice already having a community ready to welcome you.

What are the best things to do in Cape Town; anything to recommend to future expats?
Well I'm a total city girl - no nature or animals for me, thank you - but even I'm learning to appreciate Cape Town's natural beauty. People here are super active, constantly going for hikes and other activities I've never dreamed of doing, so that's a good way to familiarize yourself with the area.

Posing in the BoKaap neighborhood
Posing in the BoKaap neighborhood
What do you enjoy most about living here?
So far, everything. The food is better than anywhere in the world, the scenery is spectacular, the people are warm, and it's got a laid-back vibe. But mostly, I'm loving the food.

How does the cost of living in Cape Town compare to New York?
I'm coming from New York, so you can't even compare that. I could live in a mansion here for what I was paying for rent in midtown Manhattan.

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
The crime. I haven't experienced it, and Cape Town is much safer than, say, Joburg, but it's this constant cloud hanging over you.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Keep an open mind. It's a third-world country with first-world infrastructure, so some things seem easy, while other things are a mission.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Like I said, I've been unbelievably lucky - but I did land up here in winter, immediately following American winter, so not having a summer this year sucked. And while the temps never get anywhere near as cold as what I'm used to - in fact, there are plenty of glorious summer-like days mixed in throughout the winter - I hate being so cold indoors. There's no central heating in most homes here, so I'm constantly bundled up, sitting in front of a heater. I've learned about all sorts of heating devices (gas heaters, hot-water bottles, electric blankets) that I didn't think existed anymore.

View from Cape Point
View from Cape Point
When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
While I'm not moving home, I will be heading back for a longish vacation in October, and I think I'm just going to spend it hanging out with my friends, catching up on what I missed, and trying out a cronut. I think the hard part though will be leaving THAT time - realizing that home is now a vacation and what was a vacation is now home.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Keep an open mind.
  2. Try not to spend all your time with other expats.
  3. Be prepared for the worst, but know it'll prob never get that bad.
  4. Try lots of local food.
  5. Familiarize yourself with both the best and the worst of local life - hang out in the fancy bars and restaurants, but also take time to volunteer at a township, so you can get a glimpse of problems afflicting the society. You don't want to live in an expat bubble.

With The Husband hiking Lion's Head Mountain
With The Husband hiking Lion's Head Mountain
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
I chronicle everything about my African adventures - from the gluttonous amounts of food I eat, to the cities I explore, to the reflections I have - as The South AfriKhan - get it? It's a window into my life as a New Yorker in Cape Town. It's still an infant, so I hope you do check it out! And if you like what you see, please show it a little Facebook "like":

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Tweet me! @BySarahKhan. (I'm also @BySarahKhan on Instagram.)

About the author

Expat Blog ListingSarah is an American expat living in South Africa. Blog description: Chronicling the African adventures of Sarah Khan, a New York travel editor turned Cape Town-based freelance writer. Covering food, hotels, travel (within SA and beyond), social observations, and much more as of a New Yorker in Cape Town
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