YL: When did you move to the Yucatan and from where did you move?
Danna: I moved from Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas to Merida in July of 2012. I am originally from Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada.
YL: Why did you move?
Danna: Primarily I moved to Merida to become the new Academic Director of the American School Foundation of Yucatan. But I also moved here to broaden and compare my cultural and teaching/working experience here in Mexico having worked in Guadalajara and Tuxtla Gutierrez.
YL: Why did you choose the city you now live in over other places in the world?
Danna: I chose Merida because it offers me yet again another diverse experience in this beautiful country. I am fascinated by Mayan culture and I love the beach!!!! Merida has an airport that offers national and some international flights and is also close to Cancun from where I can fly home to Vancouver, BC, Canada at a reasonable price.
YL: Did you buy a house right away or rent first? Do you think you made the right decision?
Danna: I am currently renting and probably will not buy a home, as I want to experience living in different locations around the city and on the coast. One thing my previous experience of living in Mexico tells me is that each little colonia or suburb has its own flavour, and it sometimes it takes time to find a niche that I love.
YL: Are you doing now what you intended to do when you moved here? If not why not?
Danna: Yes! I love working with the staff, students and families who call ASFY their school. My goal is to create a thriving and unique international school here in Merida that offers families from around the world a high quality educational experience. I feel very much like I am using all of my past skills and passions to “grow” and nourish this bilingual environment.
YL: What are the most interesting things about living here for you?
Danna: In Merida, I am reminded once again of the vibrancy of the culture. I am interested in the Merida English Library! I am interested in the people and comparing the Mayans of Yucatan to the Mayans of Chiapas.
YL: What do you absolutely love about living here?
Danna: I love the proximity to the beaches, cenotes, Haciendas, Mayan ruins,etc. Merida is a great place to live no matter what you like to do.
YL: What do you miss from your “former life”?
Danna: Well, if my former life is home in Canada, then mostly I miss what I will call ‘cultural nostalgia’. I miss things like gazing across the frost on the fields of my father’s farm, my children all home for Thanksgiving, the seals barking when I lie in bed at night and the smells of fresh, salty cold air.
YL: What don’t you miss from your “former life”?
Danna: I do not miss the work that comes with cold, snowy winters. I do not miss all my “stuff”. I do not miss the rigidity of what my job would look like at home.
YL: What is your favorite local food?
Danna: Sikil pak (I think that is how you spell it!). It is a crushed, flavourful pumpkin seed botana/dip. And I love the wonderful fresh seafood here!
YL: What is your favorite time of year here and why?
Danna: I really like fall!!!! It is a little cooler in the mornings and great for hiking.
YL: Where do you take guests who visit you here to show them something really special?
Danna: Besides the ruins, the beach, Merida City center and haciendas… Cenotes! I think cenotes are magical, unique and each one has its special features.
YL: The last time you went out to dinner, where did you go and why?
Danna: A beach palapa because I just can’t get enough of gazing out to the ocean eating super seafood.
YL: How is the city where you live different for residents than it is for tourists?
Danna: I think as a resident I have the opportunity to really take my time exploring. Returning to places to get different perspectives at different times of the day and or year. When you are a tourist you really only get a brief glimpse. As a resident you can really immerse in the culture.
YL: Do you have friends from the local community or do you pretty much hang with the expat crowd?
Danna: I have some amazing local wonderful friends who whisk me off on adventures on the weekends to their favorite places. I haven’t really connected with the expat community yet.
YL: If you are working or own a business, what is it like owning and running a business here or working here? How is it different from doing the same thing in your country of origin?
Danna: Completely different and some of those differences are great! The education system here in Mexico is very different than in Canada. In Mexico educational resources are limited, access to a diversity of books and materials can be challenging. Perhaps the fact that there is constant change and amendments is the same. I find working in the education system fascinating. It is great to look in at my culture from the outside and to question what works in education and what doesn’t from a global perspective.
YL: Do you find it more or less difficult to make a living here than in your country of origin?
Danna: I guess that depends on what you consider making a living to be. Of course the wages are much lower here, but so is the cost of living. I live very comfortably and happily.
YL: Are your work habits different here?
Danna: Yes, my work habits are different here! I find you can either hang on to your rigid cultural “work habit” rules or relax and integrate. It is a fine balance!
YL: Did you speak Spanish when you moved here? Where did you learn Spanish (if you did)? Is the language barrier a problem for you in your daily life?
Danna: I took Spanish in university in Canada but I truly began to “learn” Spanish when I first began working internationally and I lived with a woman from Venezuela and a man from Costa Rica. I think the language barrier is the barrier you choose to make it. If you are brave enough to use sign language, draw pictures and laugh at yourself, you can communicate just fine! In Merida, people are friendly and many speak some English.
YL: What interesting Spanish word or saying have you learned lately? What does it mean and how did you learn it?
Danna: One of my favorite Spanish words is libelula……dragonfly…… to me the word sounds musical.
YL: Are you a Mexican citizen? Do you plan to become one?
Danna: No, I am not a citizen and I will not become a Mexican citizen.
YL: Have you traveled much within Mexico? If so, where and what has been your favorite location to visit? What did you see there that you liked so much?
Danna: I have traveled all over Mexico. A piece of my heart is definitely in Chiapas. Chiapas has beautiful rivers, lakes, mountains and jungle. San Cristobal de las Casas is a stunning colonial city in the mountains where you can relax, sit back and watch culture walk by. Mayan people in the mountains of Chiapas still retain a strong sense of their identity. Their artistic talent and markets are a feast for your senses.
YL: How are you treated by Mexicans? Do you feel resented or welcome?
Danna: I have experienced different feelings in different parts of Mexico. Perhaps like any country in the world. I find if I am open, curious and courteous, I will be welcomed.
YL: How do you feel about the economic prospects of Mexico? Of the Yucatan?
Danna: Mexico has such complex economic prospects that vary greatly from state to state. I haven’t lived in Yucatan long enough but it seems to me that tourism must be a great plus for this state.
YL: What are your plans for the future here?
Danna: I plan to enjoy my job, and explore and live each day with a sense of adventure!
YL: What is the one most important piece of advice you would give someone buying property and/or planning a move to the Yucatan?
Danna: Seriously read Yucatan Living for a month or two before you come! This website provides a diverse wealth of information on living here from many different perspectives. Recently I had a family from Canada come to “shop” schools as they are thinking of moving here in a year. I think this is a good idea. Come and visit and talk to as many people as you can. Be open, ready for adventure and ready to redefine ‘flexibility’!
YL: If you could say something to all the people of Mexico, what would you say?
Danna: Thank you for sharing your lives with me. You have a vibrant culture spread across a hugely diverse country. The proud indigenous people deserve respect and a taste of equality. Protect and respect your natural resources.
YL: If there is anything else you would like to add for our readers (people interested in or considering moving to the Yucatan, former Yucatecans, people planning to visit for an extended tour…), please add them here:
Danna: Flexibility takes on a whole new definition when living in Mexico. Be ready to reflect on who you are and be open to change. Logic is defined differently in different cultures. Culture shock is a natural and sometimes stressful part of adjusting to living in a foreign country. Journal your experiences and take time to reflect. People experience culture shock in different ways at different times in their voyage. And lastly, pack lightly!
Danna Lewis is the new Academic Director of the American School Foundation of Yucatan. She can be reached through the website at www.americanschoolofyucatan.com. If she isn’t floating in a cenote, walking the beach, or flying to Chiapas, Danna says she is up for an adventure! She would be happy to get together and chat and would love to show you the school… so drop by or email me anytime at dannalew [at] gmail [dot] com.