If you're an expat in Madrid and you don't recognize this name: where have you been?! Don't worry, we're here to introduce you to Ms. Khephra White: theater-lover, self-proclaimed yogi, Southern Belle with a sailor's vocabulary, and one of the best cooks on the Iberian Peninsula! She's active in the expat scene in Madrid and has a wealth of knowledge to share. Khephra will drop some wisdom, and then send you on your way with a tupperware of jambalaya without breaking a sweat.
Top 3 Musicians of All Time:
Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Prince
Top 3 Trips You've Ever Taken:
Top 3 Most-Used Spices in Your Cupboard:
Tony Chachere's [Creole Seasoning], Cavender's [Greek Seasoning], ground Chipotle pepper
Khephra, gives us a bit of background information: where are you from and what brought you to Spain? What did you do before?
I am from New Orleans, Louisiana. I came to Spain after taking Spanish classes taught by two amazing women (Profesoras Doll y Durocher) who inspired me to learn more about Spain and its culture, and encouraged me to look for ways to visit. I was also inspired to come by a series of dreams I had, after seeing a movie called 'The Way'.
Before I moved to Spain, I was a Desk Assistant at a news station in New Orleans, learning to Associate Produce. I've always been involved in the New Orleans electronic music scene in some way, since I was a teenager. Most of my friends are DJs, so I worked the door at their events and acted as their Girl Friday the rest of the time.
Has your background in journalism helped your transition abroad in any way?
It helped more than I realized. My first months here, I really had to work on learning the language, FAST. My work at a news station helped me when I watched the news. I could figure out what the reporters were talking out based on context and following the format of writing graphics and headlines. I've also met a few journalists here through intercambios (language exchanges), who took the time to teach me about the past and present political history of Spain, and how it affects the culture of its people.
As a New Orleans girl at heart, what's the one dish you miss most from home?
I miss Crawfish Etouffeé SO. MUCH. I'm sure I could make it, but roux based dishes take a long time, and it's really not worth making it for one person. Also, finding crawfish in Madrid is not an easy task.
Most people assume that packing up one's life and moving abroad is something that only people in their early twenties do. Are there benefits to moving abroad in your early 30's?
Moving abroad in your 30's, you have a better idea of what you want and you know what you need to do to get there. I also have more confidence now and I listen to myself more. I've survived some things, and it's made me more resilient and patient than I ever was in my 20's. Issues with the language barrier, dealing with endless amounts of immigration paperwork and wait times, etc. would have sent me into a meltdown ten years ago. Now, I just shrug and accept that I can't change anything, and that complaining won't help. I need to face whatever situation I am facing, get it sorted, and move on to the next thing.
A birdy told us that you recently did the "big chop" and went natural! (Congrats!) Do you think living in Europe has helped or hindered your natural hair journey?
I think it has helped! Living in Europe gave me the confidence to do things like cut my hair off. Back in New Orleans, I only knew a couple of women who had done the "big chop". In Spain, I met so many beautiful women who were natural and proud. They made me curious to see what my own hair looked like, and gave me the confidence to just cut everything off and start fresh. I'm lucky to have so many women around that I can ask for product advice, tips, and ways to style and work with my hair. I love my curls, I can't stop touching them!
What are three tips you can give to anyone looking to form community while living abroad?
— The Internet is your friend! There are so many groups for expats, people of color, people looking to make friends, on Facebook alone. Look for meet ups, social gatherings, yoga classes, etc. Madrid is a huge city, but there is always a way to connect with people. Speaking of which...
— Talk to People. Seriously, this is everything. If you're on the Metro, wandering through the grocery store, or just chillin' in Retiro, and you hear someone speaking in your native language: Say hello. Ask where they're from. Is it nosy? Yes. BUT it's also how I met some amazing people living in Madrid, who are now my dear friends. And even if you don't become friends, they may have some incredible advice about places to go, where to meet people, where you might get your wallet jacked, etc. All extremely useful information!
— Go to intercambios. Yes, some may contain people looking for their next fling. Hell, YOU might be looking for your next fling, I don't know your life. However, language exchanges are a great way to meet people from all over the world. Some of the people you will meet there will be more than happy to meet you for a coffee or glass of wine, or show you some places you just can't find in a tourist guides. Intercambios are a great way to learn Castellano (if you're an idiot like me who moved to Spain with 2 semesters of the language under her belt), and make some really cool friends.
Describe your Spain in 3 words.
Brazen, Vexing (at times), Intoxicating
What advice would you give the women and men who are debating leaving their professional careers to move abroad for the first time?
Make like Nike and "Just do It". We're all going to end up in a box or urn, so if this is what you want: make it happen. If you already have a job: good. Otherwise, you need to learn the laws of the land regarding work and student permits. Figure out how you're going to make money, how you're going to eat, where you're going to live, currency exchange rates, and anything else you can think of. Google is your friend: Research everything. Learn about the country you're looking at and try to have knowledge before you get on the plane. Learn about differences in customs, greetings, social behaviors, etc. Look for success stories and websites for expats who have made similar moves. Ask questions. People who have done this are more than happy to help others... Usually. If you can, start learning the language before you get there. Don't be like me, running off with 2 semesters of Spanish thinking: "I'll be fine!" You won't. It's going to be hard. Start looking for language lessons online, download podcasts, anything you can think of. You won't be fluent, but you'll have a solid base. Thank me later.
This interview was conducted by Danni. Danni, Community + Content Director at Las Morenas de España, is a twenty-something, Chicago native currently residing in Madrid. Lover of language, words, and travel, she's managed to combine all of her passions through her work. In her free time, you can find her exploring the winding streets of Madrid, hunting down good flight deals, planning her next adventure and writing & researching for LMDES. Danni loves spicy food, natural hair, music and of course, her wonderful life partner. If you need to find her, she’s the girl with huge hair and her face buried in her Kindle.