Greg Hokenson: New Opportunities in Yucatan
YL: When did you move to the Yucatan and from where did you move?
Greg: I moved to the Yucatan in the middle of July, 2008. I moved from St. Petersburg, Florida, a nice city along the Gulf coast of Florida.
YL: Why did you move?
Greg: I moved here to perfect my Spanish and to work in construction. I had a good opportunity to work as a partner in an upcoming construction company in this area. Amanecer Construction is the name of the company. Also, my mother lives here in Merida. She works as an acupuncturist. That made the transition very easy.
YL: Why did you choose the city you now live in over other places in the world?
Greg: I choose Merida because one, my mom is living here. Two, I had an opportunity to help start a company in development. I also feel that this area has a large potential to become a glorious city to live in and to become one of the centers of Mexican life and culture. I wanted to become a part of that growth.
YL: Did you buy a house right away or rent first? Do you think you made the right decision?
Greg: Right now I live with my mom near the Plaza de Toros. I was fortunate to neither buy nor rent. If I would have the choice, I would buy down here. I think that you cannot go wrong in having your own place.
YL: Are you doing now what you intended to do when you moved here? If not, why not?
Greg: Yes, I had a plan before I came and made sure that would happen. Currently the company I am working in is small, but I see a good future. As long as I remain positive and open. I am also working as an English teacher at Berlitz language school. I did not plan on that. But, I figure in my spare time, porque no?
YL: What are the most interesting things about living here for you?
Greg: I find the culture the most interesting thing in Merida. There are a lot of cultural things happening everywhere. I like the various art shows around the city. Also, the people here are very friendly and very open to new people. That is great. I do not feel intimidated by the people. The city is also very safe. I do not feel intimidated or worried when I walk around the city. That for me is important.
YL: What do you absolutely love about living here?
Greg: Everything. What’s not to love?
YL: What do you miss from your "former life"?
Greg: I miss being close to the rest of my family and being able to call my friends without international calling fees. I have a lot of family and friends in the northeast of the United States. I just heard that one of my sisters is pregnant and I wish I could see her easily and see how she is.
YL: What don’t you miss from your "former life"?
Greg: I do not miss the heavier expenses for gas and food in the States. Living here is much cheaper, which is a big plus.
YL: What is your favorite local food?
Greg: I like the sopa de lima. There are a few Haciendas that make a sopa de lima that is “to die for”.
YL: What is your favorite time of year here and why?
Greg: Right now, I suppose. I have only lived here for a couple of weeks. So this is the time I know and I am liking it.
YL: Where do you take guests who visit you here to show them something really special?
Greg: So far I have not had any guests. But, when I do I will take them to the ruins, cenotes and the haciendas around the city. I think that these are some of the most beautiful natural and historical areas of and around the city.
YL: The last time you went out to dinner, where did you go and why?
Greg: I went to a fantastic little Italian Café called La Iguana Blanca Bistro. It has really good homemade Italian food, cooked by a true Italian cook. I went there because some friends of my mom’s recommended it.
YL: How is the city where you live different for residents than it is for tourists?
Greg: Merida is a tough city to see everything and go everywhere. Being a resident I have time and opportunity to experience everything. There are so many little hidden secrets that I am discovering every day. Also, being a resident I do not feel pressured to go all around the city all day. I can relax and take my time with everything.
YL: Do you have friends from the local community or do you pretty much hang with the expat crowd?
Greg: The friends I have down here are locals and people that have moved here from other areas in Mexico. I have not had much of a chance to hang out with the expat crowd.
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?
Greg: Having a business here is exciting. I can bring in fresh and new ideas. I have room to grow and learn along with my business. Also, I feel that here I can relate to the expat crowd well. This gives me an advantage in my construction business. I think I know what Americans expect from the work and the workers. My most difficult issue comes with communication. My Spanish is not so good and my partner and other associates do not speak English. So, every day is an adventure. Every day is a new challenge. I think that in the States I would have much more competition and less of an opportunity to play around with ideas. With the growth that is happening here I have room to mix things up. There is amazing potential here.
YL: Do you find it more or less difficult to make a living here than in your country of origin?
Greg: I find it pretty easy to live here. As soon as my Spanish is much better than it will be even easier. I have had no problem adjusting. I am young so I do not mind change. I embrace it with open arms and enjoy the new challenges that every day brings. I think that I will stay here for some time.
YL: Are your work habits different here?
Greg: I work hard here, just as I did in the states. But, I do find myself taking longer lunch breaks and taking more short breaks during the day. Hey, it is summer time.
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?
Greg: As I mentioned before my Spanish is not very good. It is a problem for me because the people I work with do not speak English. But, we work it out with gestures and various other things. But there are many times when I wish I could speak casually about everything to them but I cannot express that because I do not know the vocabulary. Still, I like the challenge. I figure in a few months time I should be speaking much more fluently.
YL: Are you a Mexican citizen? Do you plan to become one?
Greg: I am not a Mexican citizen. Yeah I would like to become one. I know that it takes a long time of residency though. Right now I have my FM3 so I can work. But, it would be a great benefit for me to 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?
Greg: I have traveled only along this coast and to the Riviera Maya. I would have to say, Akumal on the Riviera Maya is my favorite spot. I love scuba diving and I have been diving off the coast of that town for over ten years. So, it is like another home for me.
YL: How are you treated by Mexicans? Do you feel resented or welcome?
Greg: I have been treated very nicely by the Mexicans. I have not run into any resentment what so ever. I enjoy getting to know people. I find that people here are much friendlier than people in the States.
YL: How do you feel about the economic prospects of Mexico? Of the Yucatan?
Greg: I think that there is unbelievable potential here. I think that there needs to be more business coming in to drive up the competition. A lot of the big places are owned by the same people. That keeps the price and product control in their hands. If more business move in and bring new things to the markets then I think that would be better for the people and the city. I feel that this city can once again thrive as it did before.
YL: What are some changes you are hoping for in the city in which you live? Do you see any progress towards these changes?
Greg: I would like to see more of an environmental conscience by the people and the developers here. I think that would benefit everyone. I feel that this will take a great effort, but an effort that is worth it. If people become educated about good environmental practices, that would be fantastic. I heard that the city is going to start fining for littering. This is a positive step in the right direction. I hope that Merida continues to move in this direction.
YL: What are your plans for the future here?
Greg: I hope to have my company grow here and eventually start building sustainable construction. My focus for my Bachelors Degree was Environmental Studies and I hope to incorporate that into the developing market. I feel that with some knowledge and understanding that I can make this happen.
YL: What is the one most important piece of advice you would give someone buying property and/or planning a move to the Yucatan?
Greg: Get ready to sweat. Also, do not feel intimidated. There are a lot of resources to help foreigners looking to buy and live here. Although Mexico seems like a country that is far behind the countries of the north, it is growing fast. I would recommend it to anyone.
YL: If you could say something to all the people of Mexico, what would you say?
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:
Greg: Be open to anything. Do not come down with a closed mind. You will miss out.
Greg Hokenson is an example of some of the younger crowd that are moving to the Yucatan for the opportunities available here. Greg's has a degree from Eckerd College in Environmental Studies in New Jersey and years of construction experience, specializing in carpentry. He shares ownership of Amanacer Construction, a construction contractor, with a Mexican partner who moved here from Mexico City and has studied professional building. Amanacer can be reached by emailing Greg at firstname.lastname@example.org