As a kid, I was never proud to be a Texan. I despised all things ¨country.¨ As a young adult, I was not proud to be an American. Spending a semester studying abroad in London in 1999 with a pack of obnoxious Yankee college students didn´t help my image of the ugly american loudmouth tourist. I wished I was British or at least Canadian. In all my travels during the Bush administration, I had to disavow my allegiance to the flag and remind folks that W. was actually born in Conneticut, and, no, not everyone from Texas loves him.
Having lived abroad in Guatemala for almost four years, I am acutely aware of my White Privilege and duly appreciative of all the karmic factors that led to my precious human birth in Texas, USA, 33 years ago. I know I am blessed to be a passport-holding U.S. citizen and so is my six month old daughter. Her father will become my legal husband in a civil ceremony on July 20, thereby skipping to the front of the immigration line and getting permanent residency (better known as a Green Card). Although we neither plan to move to the States nor believe deeply in the institution of marriage, this is the most efficient way for my love, a mostly undocumented Colombiano, to be allowed to visit my home country.
For now, I am incredibly happy residing outside the borders of what many consider the greatest country in the world for the following five reasons, in no particular order.
1. Low Cost of Living, High Quality of Life.
I currently earn about as much money per hour as I did in my did in my first job as a restaurant hostess. In other words, I make, mas o menos, the 1996 minimum wage. And yet, since rent is next to nothing, fresh inexpensive food is abundant, and I can walk or bike pretty much anywhere I need to go, my quality of life is higher than ever. Personally, living in a place of natural beauty, whole foods (not the supermarket chain but rather whole unprocessed produce) and a tranquilo pace of life is worth more to me than all the conveniences of home.
2. Shelter from the Consumption Storm.
Gringos are champion consumers. Living at a lush, lovely lake, I am somewhat sheltered from the storm of unnecessary products and superfluous services. In my neck of the woods, lulu is a fruit, not a lemon, and not overpriced yoga pants. Most importantly, choosing to live without TV and with minimal doses of internet, we can somewhat, maybe, kind of protect our daughter from the girlie-girl princess culture that permeates the Americas and beyond.
Yes, you can find shelter in the States, too, but it is easier to unplug when wifi is not ubiquitous. It’s tough to revert to consumer therapy when the nearest Old Navy is thousands of miles away.
3. The Freedom to Teach—and Learn.
Everybody knows the public school system in the U.S. is broken, and nobody seems to know how to fix it. Rampant emphasis on standardized testing scores and the disrespectfully low pay of teachers in Texas led me out of my teaching career in Austin after just three years. In Panajachel, Guatemala, at LIFE School, I have found a wonderful learning community in which the incorporation of yoga and mindfulness is welcomed, standards are flexible, assessments are creative, and children and teachers are excited about coming to school every day.
In addition to having more autonomy as a teacher, I have learned so much by living abroad. I have improved my Spanish immensely. I have learned how to be alone and happy. I have learned how to be in a relationship. I have learned how to navigate Guatemalan traffic and bureaucracy. I have learned how to mother. I have learned how to be more compassionate.
I have learned how to let go and live in the present moment, and that is, eternally, the best lesson of them all.
4. Accessible and Abundant Travel Opportunities.
So many exotic places to explore, in Central and South America and all across the globe. Living in Guatemala, I can easily and inexpensively get to Mexico, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. Living in Austin, I could feasibly drive myself to Santa Fe or New Orleans or.. Oklahoma?
5. Buen Provecho.
When I first moved to Guate, I was thrown off by their custom of saying ¨Buen Provecho,¨before, during and-or after meals, which roughly translates to “may you benefit from eating this food.” Now, it´s one of the things I love best.
One of the best practices I have picked up in living abroad is mindful eating. It simply means pausing and feeling gratitude for our food before chowing down, eating slowly, chewing with awareness, and taking conscious pauses between bites.
For a girl who had been accustomed to eating fast food on-the-go, often while driving from one work or social commitment to another, mindful eating was revolutionary. It’s still not something that I do at every meal, but I try to eat at least one meal mindfully per day.
As with everything, practice helps immensely.