YL: When did you move to the Yucatan and where did you move from and why did you move?
Sarah: I moved to Merida, Yucatan July 12th, 2007 – almost 2 months ago. I sort of moved from two places – New York, NY and Erie, Pennsylvania. I feel like I moved from both places because I spent the past four years of my life in New York where I began my career and where the majority of my friends live, and about six months prior to my move down to Merida, I went back to my hometown of Erie, PA to get myself organized before the move.
Why did I move? I have always wanted to live abroad. I didn’t get a chance to study abroad while in college, so I knew it was something I wanted to do eventually when I had the resources to do so. I had been in New York the past four years working in the music industry, and all of a sudden my life got way too serious, too intense, too fast. It was time to shake things up.
I had been to Merida several times throughout my life and I finally found the courage (after entertaining the idea for a few years) to stop thinking about it, and to just come down and try it out. So I made the decision in November; I left New York and moved back to my mom’s house in Pennsylvania in January, and 6 months later I was here.
YL: Why did you choose the city you now live in over other places in the world?
Sarah: Well, Merida has always been a special place for me. My mother is originally from Merida, and the majority of her family (she was the 7th out of 9 children – so her very large family!) still live here. My parents brought my two sisters and me every summer for our family vacation to Merida to see the family.
(Just a quick history side note – only my mother and one of her brothers left Merida to come to the US to study. Both fell in love and stayed and got married, which is why I was raised in the US and not in Merida.)
A good number of my childhood memories are the summers I spent in Merida. During my childhood we were fortunate enough to come every summer. I have two sisters, and most of our cousins are male, so coming down here was so fun! It felt like we had 20 brothers to play with. And oh we played… everyday at the beach we played soccer in the sand, swam in the ocean, and went to the local fair at night and played futbolitos (foosball). As we got older, it changed to swimming in the ocean all day, going to the discos at night until wee hours of the morning, and finally being old enough to communicate more and get to know each other better.
We also have family in Cancun and Isla Mujeres, so part of our trips always included visiting them and stopping along the way to the ruins or small towns. Coming here was always such a wonderful travel experience, so I figure why not live it for a bit?
YL: What did you plan to do after you moved here?
Sarah: I planned to come down and get settled in and acquainted with living here, and then figure out what kind of experiences I wanted while being here, including work, volunteering, travel, etc. Work-wise I wanted to look for freelance and/or part time opportunities in marketing and writing. I also wanted to check out and get involved with the local arts community.
I also knew by living here that my Spanish would naturally improve too, and learning more Spanish was also a goal of mine. I didn’t have any plans or expectations about living here, because I knew they would probably turn out differently anyway. So I am sort of just going with the flow and taking it one day at a time.
YL: Are you doing now what you intended to do when you moved here?
Sarah: Yeah, slowly but surely things are coming along. It’s moving a little slower than what I am accustomed to in the US but I am dealing with it. I’m also becoming more confident with my Spanish and speaking more everyday.
YL: Did you buy a house right away or rent first? Do you think you made the
Sarah: I am currently renting. I made the right decision because I’m not sure yet how long I will be living here.
YL: Now that you live here, how do you like it?
Sarah: Some days I love it, other days are difficult, but as each day passes it becomes more positive and less difficult.
I have never experienced the day-to-day life of being involved with a big family, and not only has it been really special but a lot of fun too. I am learning more and more each day about my mother’s family and the culture, and that is really priceless. I think immersing yourself in another culture really teaches you more than any textbook can. It also makes you appreciate all you have and all the special people you have in your life back home.
On the difficult side, I think it’s just a case of missing people back up north. My parents, sisters, grandmother and my dad’s family all live in the US as well as all of my amazing friends, that are basically like family to me. So feeling far away can be hard at times, but thank goodness for the Internet and technology – as we are able to keep in touch on a daily basis.
Also, I think whenever you move to a new place, and do it alone, it takes a while to feel comfortable in your new surroundings. I think it’s heightened by the fact that this new place is foreign and conducted in an entirely different language.
YL: Would you ever return to your former location?
Sarah: Yes – I do plan return to the US. I’m not sure if it will be New York or another city, it will depend on what unravels in my life at that point.
YL: What are the most striking differences between living here vs. living where you lived before?
Sarah: My whole life I’ve mostly lived in the northeast United States, where we have four seasons, including a very cold and snow-filled winter… obviously a huge difference to the hot, tropical climate year-round here.
Another huge difference for me is some of the cultural aspects. After coming from New York City and working in a very liberal industry where I saw and heard it all, coming to a smaller more conservative city is a drastic change. My mind has always been very open but opened up even more during my time in New York. So coming to a place where certain ways of life are still taboo is a bit strange for me at times. Neither way of thought is better or worse, just different, and it’s something I will get used to as time goes on.
Family life is different here. Everyone is involved in each other’s lives… for better or for worse! But it’s nice – there is always a get together for anything. It’s festive, it’s warm, it’s fuzzy.
Also, the mixture of old and modern in one place is really quite interesting. For example, one minute I go past the Walmart here, then the next minute I see a woman dressed in traditional Mayan garb walking down the street with a fruit cart. That is something I never experienced before – it’s very surreal at times.
And the street signs. On the highway you start to see street signs for the smaller Mayan towns, and trying to pronounce the name is a toungue-twister. The beach I went to over the summer is called “Chicxulub”, for example. Also, instead of seeing the pictorial signs for ‘deer crossing’ that I am used to back home in PA, I now see the sign for ruins, which is a stenciled-like pyramid.
Something else I am getting used to is dressing up to go anywhere… literally. I went to the Friday’s Restaurant here for dinner one night with a friend, and I wore jeans, flip-flops, and a black polo shirt. I felt under-dressed! I also noticed that the girls get really decked out here when they go out, even if it’s a bar on the beach. I’m talking dresses, nice stilettos, hair and makeup all in place. It’s a change for me because I am used to a more casual demeanor – I’m my most comfortable with a cozy pair of jeans, high heels, and a simple tank-top. I am used to walking out of my Manhattan apartment in my PJs that don’t match, my hair in a bun, and no makeup on, without anyone giving me a second look. So, having to spend more time getting myself together is definitely a big change!
Lastly, all the color. Here, you will find houses and buildings in any color. The flowers and plants are brighter. It’s definitely a treat to the eyes.
YL: What do you love about living here?
Sarah: I love being able to spend time with my extended family here, and having the chance to get to know them all better. I love being so close to so many beautiful and interesting places, like the Gulf coastline, the Mayan ruins, the Caribbean, etc. I also love being in a different culture because I feel like I learn something new everyday. It’s a refreshment to my mind. Oh, and I also love the food!
YL: What do you miss from your “former life”?
Sarah: I miss my family and friends the most.
I miss certain cultural aspects of living in a big city and familiarity of the people and places I am used to.
I miss the variety of New York, like eating food from all over the world and having too many options to choose from! I miss my mom’s home-cooked meals back in PA. I miss my favorite Erie, PA bar called The Plymouth.
Oh, and I miss my dogs Baker and Chica!
YL: If you are working or own a business, what is it like owning and running a business here or working here?
Sarah: I am currently working and it’s not really different than working in the US for me. I work from home doing Internet marketing and advertising and I began doing this 6 months before I came down. Nothing has really changed as far as my work-style.
YL: Do you have to do more than one thing to make a living?
Sarah: Yes. I’m in the process of picking up various freelance work during my time here. I know I could get an office job here and work all week and make a decent income for my living expenses here, but I want to have more freedom and flexibility during my stay in Merida. I want to be able to travel and see more of Mexico. Because of that I have to work various odd jobs to have such flexibility.
YL: Do you work as much as you used to “back home” or are your work habits different here?
Sarah: I don’t make nearly as much as what I was earning back in New York. However, I don’t work as many hours and I’m not as stressed out! My cost of living is also drastically less.
YL: How is the city where you live different for residents than it is for tourists?
Sarah: I’m not totally sure yet. I also have never really come here as a tourist, so it’s hard for me to say. I always came to see and spend 100% of my time with my family, so I believe I have had a very different view of Merida than what other tourists have had. I have never stayed in a hotel here or eaten at that many restaurants. I am only getting to know now the other parts of the city (like Centro) that I haven’t experienced that much of, even after coming here at least 15 times in my life.
YL: How is your Spanish?
Sarah: It’s getting there. Unfortunately Spanish wasn’t spoken in my home growing up, so I only learned what I know in school. However, since my mother is originally from Merida and I have been coming here all my life, I am accustomed to the Spanish spoken here – the accent, the slang, and so on. I also have a lot of friends from Latin America from my college days at Penn State and my years in New York, so being around them, listening to and dancing to Latin music with them, and hearing them speak amongst each other has really helped me. I would say I understand probably around 80% of what I hear. I write Spanish really well and can read it a bit too. My biggest challenge is speaking.
YL: Is the language barrier a problem for you in your day to day life?
Sarah: Not really, no. I can speak enough to get by. I think the only barrier it does create is my confidence in meeting and talking with people, because it is difficult for me to carry on a long conversation in Spanish – I have to think more about what I am saying and it slows the conversation process down.
YL: What is the one most important piece of advice you would give someone planning a move to the Yucatan?
Sarah: Don’t try to formulate in your mind how life will be living here. You really won’t know until you just do it! Come with a very open mind and remember to take things one step at a time.
YL: Are you a Mexican citizen?
YL: If you aren’t, do you think you will become one?
Sarah: I might. Since my mother was born here I may be able to obtain dual citizenship. If I decide to stay here for a long time then it is something I would look into.
YL: How are you treated by Mexicans? Do you feel resented or welcome?
Sarah: So far it’s been a positive experience. I feel pretty welcome for the most part. And anyway if anyone messed with me I’d have one of my 30 cousins after them! (semi-joking)
YL: How do you feel about the economic prospects of Mexico?
Sarah: I’m not an expert on them. I do know that a lot of people here are exploited. I also see how “Americanized” Merida is becoming… Walmart, Sam’s Club, Costco, fast-food chains, and so on. Those things weren’t here when I was younger, so it’s shocking to me every time I come and see the latest developments. It definitely says something about the way of the world.
YL: What are your plans for the future here?
Sarah: One of my favorite quotes, taken from some movie, I cannot remember which one is: “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” I’ve come to find that life has never really gone as planned for me. So I am learning to live each day and to not be overly concerned with the future. I have goals and dreams and hopes but I realize that they change, and things change sometimes without our control. Today, I would have to say that my plans for Merida are to spend hopefully at least six months, and see how things go. I might stay longer. I might not. I know that in my time here, I not only want to be spending time with my family, but I want to have some interesting learning experiences. I hope to meet more people and do more things. I definitely want to travel and see more of this beautiful country. I want to learn more Spanish! When I am 80 and in my rocking chair I want to be able to think back and talk about this chapter in my life with a big (hopefully tooth-filled) smile.
YL: Any last words?
Sarah: Merida is a beautiful city, very rich in history and culture, and just like any place there are positive and negative aspects. I try to take the good with the bad no matter where I am, and make the most of it, accept the way certain things are but move on and try to make my experience a positive one.