My background: Growing up in a small town in Northern Michigan, I never really imagined I would be an expat in Antigua, Guatemala (!) After graduating high school, most people I know went to college in Michigan (if not, definitely in the U.S.) and then moved to various places around Michigan to start careers, etc. I guess I kind of expected myself to follow a somewhat similar path- but here I am, living in Guatemala 🙂 My husband experienced a completely different upbringing than I did, which I’m sure had a big influence on me and helped to lead us to the life we have today.
I grew up on Lake Michigan, he grew up in Guatemala City. I grew up downhill skiing in the winters and boating in the summers, and he grew up playing tennis around Guatemala. He also grew up traveling a lot (mostly to travel for tennis or to go to Europe (his family is Swiss). When he was 18, he moved to Switzerland for a sort of “gap year” before deciding what he was going to do next. Eventually deciding to enroll in one of the top hospitality schools in the world (Les Roches), He has had the opportunity to live in Switzerland, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Chicago etc. For him, picking up and moving somewhere new is an adventure not to be missed; for me, moving contains so many “unknowns” that I get overwhelmed sometimes just thinking about it.
On making the decision to move:
I always felt very intentional about not being a “flake”- someone who talks and talks about doing all these great things and then never ends up doing them. It is SO easy to get comfortable in a place though and the longer you stay, the harder it probably is to move. Christopher and I had slowly been talking about moving out of Chicago, mostly because his hours at his job were too much (15 hours a day) and we wanted to experience living in a different place together. I always kind of felt lucky that we were able to live in Guatemala or Europe (because of his Swiss citizenship), and I thought we would be crazy not to take advantage of the opportunity. With connections and just plain luck, he got an opportunity to manage a hotel in Antigua, Guatemala. I still remember when he got the final email offer for the job- we were sitting at our favorite coffee shop in Chicago (Bowtruss on Broadway) and we just kind of looked at each other with goofy smiles, knowing how much change we would experience in the coming months. I’m thankful that we decided to put energy towards making a change-if not, we would still be in Chicago, dreaming of a different life.
On learning a new language: My plan was to enroll in a language school right away, which I did. I started going 5 days a week, 4 hours a day. I had an angel of a teacher who walked me through the language (very slowly), and I felt like I improved a lot in those first few weeks. I loved talking with her about Guatemala, especially about the social issues that she had so much firsthand experience with. But after 1 month of classes, I found a job managing a small boutique hotel in Antigua and I finished my classes a couple of weeks later. It’s frustrating to live somewhere where I only know the language halfway, but I am learning to be patient with myself, understanding that things like this don’t just happen overnight.
My desk at my spanish school:
It’s hard not to take a picture every day when I walk out my front door and see this
On Making Friends: This was harder than I thought it would be, mostly because there are a lot of short-term residents here, who often stay for a couple of months and then move on to the next destination. I’m lucky that my husband has a lot of friends living here who have been super welcoming to me and have made it a lot easier to adjust. People in Antigua (and Guatemalans in general) are really friendly, and very happy. It always seems like the poorer people are, the happier they are (I always thought the opposite). For example, my spanish teacher only earns about $300 a month, shares a bedroom with her teenage sons, doesn’t have a stove in her house; but she felt so much gratitude for what she DID have.
We also got a dog right when we moved here, which I think helped me transition a little easier:
On food: Being a serious foodie, I spent the last months living in Chicago hopping from spot to spot, getting my fill of delicious food before we moved here. I didn’t really know what to expect from the local food scene , but I have been surprised at how many different restaurants there are here (and so many fruits and vegetables in the market that I’ve never even heard of before.) Granted,there are a LOT of bad restaurants; a lot of bad interpretations of classic dishes that leave a lot to be desired. But there are also some really talented chefs , who have fallen in love with Antigua and have thankfully decided to share their talents. For example, my favorite restaurant is a Japanese Izakaya (called Izakaya)- Miso Mahi Mahi below is out of this world:
On days off: I was NOT enthused to discover that it’s standard to have just 1 day off per week here since spending more time together was one of our main motivations of moving here. However, I appreciate the days off that we have together and we can often be found taking Maya around the neighborhood, getting a street mango (found on every corner, and comes with lime, salt, chile, and pepitoria), and trying new restaurants. Also, I’m a sucker for all the “cool walls” , like this one:
Going for a coffee is now more fun, as more often than not, we get to sit on the “terraza” and enjoy views like this:
Going shopping is less about running across Michigan Ave on my lunch hour and more about wandering the markets, admiring the incredible textiles the Mayan women create (ruin behind, no big deal):
I feel so lucky to be here!