Gret is an American expat who moved to Lilongwe, Malawi, to take up a teaching position. In his interview with Expat Arrivals, Gret talks about his fondness of the Malawian people and how he has found ways to adjust to life in Africa. To learn more about Gret's work in Malawi check out his blog: www.mathinmalawi.com
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Fairfax, Virginia.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Lilongwe, Malawi.
Q: When did you move to Lilongwe?
A: August 2013.
Q: Did you move to Malawi or with a spouse/family?
Q: Why did you move to Malawi; what do you do?
A: I initially moved to take a teaching position for African Bible Colleges.
Living in Malawi
Q: What do you enjoy most about Lilongwe? How would you rate the quality of life compared to the US?
A: I enjoy the people most and the relationships I have built with others. The people of Malawi are so kind-hearted that it shapes their culture to be very generous and open. I think the quality of life is higher here, despite there being less money and resources. The people here do not spend so much time thinking about luxuries or material goods. They are focused on spending quality time with each other, which makes the community even richer than what I have experienced in the States.
Q: Any negatives about expat life in Malawi? What do you miss most about home?
A: On the other hand, I do miss the availability of anything you could need in the States. There's not a Walmart or Starbucks at every corner here, so you must learn to live a simpler life.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in Malawi? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: The biggest thing was learning to deal with the reality of extreme poverty. The majority of the world lives a VERY different life than I am accustomed to, and that was difficult to process, especially at first.
Q: What’s the cost of living in Malawi compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: It’s A LOT cheaper.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Malawi? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: A lot of people walk in Malawi, but some do own cars as well. The streets in the city of Lilongwe are paved, while all the villages outside of the city have dirt roads.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Malawi? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: To be honest, the healthcare is not the best because they are not supplied with all the resources and medicine they need. There are clinics and small hospitals in the area, but they are not as big as what we are used to in the States.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Malawi? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: The biggest safety issue would be if one were to walk around by themselves at night. It's better to travel in groups.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in the city? What different options are available for expats?
A: You should expect to live in a walled-in community or housing complex and also hire a security guard.
Q: Any areas/suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: I'd actually recommend just living in the city because it will be easier to get basic needs like food, water and electricity.
Meeting people and making friends in Malawi
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners in Malawi? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women etc.?
A: They are very welcoming people, especially to expats.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: It was easy for me because I was a new teacher along with several other people at African Bible Colleges. The other male teachers and I lived together in a house that first year, so we became friends quickly.
About working in Lilongwe
Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit for Malawi? Did you tackle the visa process yourself or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: I had no problem with it! I was able to do it myself.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Lilongwe? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job there? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: I would suggest travelling there with someone or meeting someone there. It's also best to plan your living arrangements and job ahead of time. Don't arrive in Malawi without a job, hoping to find something when you arrive. Either come here and see if you like the place and make contacts or arrive with a job in hand.
Q: How does the work culture differ from the US? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Malawi?
A: Culturally, work is a lot more laid back and less professional. Some may struggle with the lack of urgency and inefficient bureaucratic systems.
Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: I would recommend downloading an app called DonorSee so you can help the people around you when you arrive. I found it tremendously useful.
~Interviewed September 2016