I do not claim to be half as interesting as John Malkovich, but after my experiences in moving to Mexico, I may be just as bizarre. I have been through a remarkable number of changes in a period of about 10 months. Some days I think I’ve weathered the storm with grace and even start to feel proud of myself, a young American girl living quite happily in Mexico, and other days, I simply feel lost, stressed, and confused. I have experienced various steps or dimensions of acceptance, success, and emotions during my move to Mexico, and only just now do I feel I have the hindsight and level of comfort with my life here to put my experiences into words. I hope that this article will serve those considering a move to this country as both inspiration and support. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been worth the effort.
The 1st Dimension: Making the decision to come
Two days before I left for Mexico on July 25, 2002, I called my boyfriend. I was in Boston, and he was in Spain. I left Spain in May 2002 to return to Boston and make plans for my move to Mexico. I wanted to buy a car, tie up loose ends, organize my life, and begin necessary paperwork. I was actually planning to arrive in Monterrey at the beginning of August, three months before Carlos would arrive! It may sound crazy, but Carlos had to stay in Spain until October to present his masters degree thesis, and I knew from experience that in order to get a decent teaching job, I’d have to arrive before the school year started. The only other choice was to arrive after Christmas, but that would mean seven months without seeing Carlos, and at this point, it was worth moving down there without him to be able to see him sooner. Plus, after a long soul-search, I realized it would be a good thing for me to arrive before he did. My intention was to find a job and make friends so that I would be independent and not rely on him excessively when he finally did return to Monterrey.
Before packing up my life and driving to Mexico alone, I wanted one last assurance from Carlos that what he really wanted was for me to go to Monterrey. Over a month had passed since I left Spain, and I wanted to double check that nothing at all had changed in that month apart. I tried calling but there was no answer, so I resorted to sending an email. I said that I was ready and excited to go to Mexico, but I explained that I wanted to be sure that he still wanted me to go.
That afternoon, I got the most depressing email from Carlos. He was so upset. Why had I suddenly changed my mind about going to Mexico? He thought I wanted to move there. If I wasn’t ready, he understood, but we had already planned this all out…was it that he hadn’t been showing me enough love? Did he do something wrong? I don’t think I had ever felt so bad in my life. I was afraid he would misunderstand the intention of my email, but knowing how American men tend to flee from commitment, I just really wanted to be sure before I risked the embarrassment of driving all the way to Mexico and having to turn back because he had changed his mind. I called him at 1AM Spanish time and his roommate told me that he had gone out hours ago to take a walk, and he hadn’t returned. After furious calling to his cell phone, he answered – distraught. We had a loooooooong, expensive talk, in which I explained that I was convinced of my desire to try out life in Mexico. I also told him I didn’t expect my attempt to fail. We seemed to finally reach an understanding, and after a hard goodbye, we hung up.
Two days later I took off for Mexico. One of the last things my mom said before I left was, “If things don’t work out, you can always come back here. No questions asked.” Knowing that helped, but I really hoped I wouldn’t chicken out, because in my book, there was no turning back until at least October, when would Carlos finally arrive in Monterrey. I would need to stick it out and not give up until he got there and we could try out our life together. If I left sooner, I would not have given myself the chance to see how things between us could have been in Mexico.
The 2nd Dimension: Culture shock!
When I first arrived in Monterrey, I was both relieved and surprised by the lack of immediate culture shock. I felt fine! I was sampling delicious food, loving the people I met, and taking advantage of every opportunity to speak Spanish. I found a great job right away, and I was getting along extremely well with my boyfriend’s family, who had insisted that I live with them in their house.
Through living with his family I started to notice small differences, . Suddenly, after 5 years on my own, I was living with a family again, and it wasn’t even mine! I had to be on my best behavior 24 hours a day. I am very independent and active. I like to be on the go, and I am not afraid to go places alone. I need time alone. But here, women rarely go anywhere alone. They do not understand the concept of reading as a form of entertainment either. It seems to me to be considered an anti-social activity. I felt a lot of pressure to be social when I didn’t necessarily feel in the mood.
By agreeing to live in his house, I felt like I gave up my freedom, and at times, my sanity. My mother-in-law was always on top of me to eat breakfast. One day, I had to eat two fried eggs when I was not feeling well. Of all the foods in the world, the one I least felt like eating that morning was eggs. I have no idea why, I used to love eggs, but lately even the thought of one makes my stomach turn. But my mother-in-law would not take no for an answer. She insisted so much that I almost cried out of exasperation. She even said I had to eat breakfast or I would get anemia. That was so far-fetched for me that I almost laughed, but I was defeated. I had to eat the eggs, and I spent the whole afternoon with my stomach doing flips. I am 24 years old. I know when I am hungry, and when I feel hungry, I eat. To me, it’s as simple as that, so I do not appreciate someone else telling me that I must eat or I will get anemia. The irony is that I love to eat, and if I skip a meal, it’s for a good reason!
In addition to the constant reminders not to forget to eat (luckily she has never reminded me to go to the bathroom) and feeling a bit smothered when I need time alone, I just really missed Carlos. He was the reason that I had come and yet he was not in Monterrey. I often wondered why I was in Mexico without my boyfriend, family, or friends. I was making very little money compared to what I would make with the same teaching job just about anywhere in the States, and it is one of the best, if not the best, paid teaching jobs in Mexico. The cost of living in Mexico is less, of course, but it was a bit disheartening at first to see my paycheck. I made more at my college part time job than I was making full time in Monterrey. I began to realize that if you are employee in Mexico of any type, you will never be rich. The only way to reach a standard of living where you can live comfortably and provide for your children is to own your own business and be your own boss.
I dealt with this cultural difference by trying to remind myself as often as possible that I cannot expect to bring the US along with me to Mexico. I had to accept the way it is here and try to be grateful that I was making more than most Mexicans.
The 3rd Dimension: I’m staying!
Carlos arrived in October, and I finally felt grounded. My reason for being in Mexico suddenly seemed clearer, and I felt a world of difference in my comfort level. While I thought that arriving before Carlos was smart because I could find a job and adjust without him being there, there were a few moments when I felt like it was a terrible waste of time. I was there with good intentions, but I really was just sticking it out until he arrived. I knew that my life in Monterrey without him was temporary and that the routines that I had developed would change once he arrived. Therefore, I felt like I was in limbo. When I was eventually able to start developing routines that involved him, I started to feel really at home. I knew that the life I was experiencing in Mexico with Carlos was finally one that I could hope to maintain.
In November, Carlos proposed, and although I had no doubts about accepting, I did have to come to grips with the idea of living in Mexico for the rest of my life. It is one thing to visit as a tourist, another thing to live as a short-term resident, and an entirely different thing altogether to live as a permanent resident and/or citizen. But by then I was starting to feel very comfortable with the city and my life in Monterrey. I was navigating the city with fewer and fewer problems, making good English-speaking friends at my job, and experiencing success and satisfaction as a teacher. Life was good. Then I brought Carlos home with me for Christmas, and everything changed.
My two weeks at home in Boston with my family and Carlos were probably two of the best in my life. It was only the second time that Carlos had been to Boston to see my family, but they already loved him. My mom had planned an engagement party for us that turned out better and more elegant than I ever could have hoped. I was in my element, with my people, and with what I consider to be my future-Carlos. There was nothing lacking. For once I was the one with friends and family and with the center of attention. I was the star, and I loved every moment of it. Everything was perfect, so going back to Mexico was one of the hardest things I had ever done.
I was sad and depressed for about a week after returning to Monterrey. I looked at my pictures from Christmas time and time again. I wondered why I was in Mexico when I have such a wonderful family and such great friends at home. Why did I want to give all that up for a life in which my own family is far away and I have only a small group of friends. There was one day where I was so sad I almost gave Carlos back his ring and said thank you, but I can’t do this. I was close. But then reason prevailed, and I had a revelation. Life at home has always been great, but the reason that it was so perfect this time was because Carlos was with me.
I spent my entire senior year of college at home in Boston without Carlos, and I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I should have. It was a year meant to be filled with success, fun, and excitement, but I spent most of it wishing that Carlos were with me. If I had spent Christmas at home without Carlos, I would have had a great time, but I would have missed him nevertheless, and my return to Mexico would have been easier. I realized that he is the force in my life that makes me happy, no matter where I am. I had nothing against Mexico, or against living in Monterrey. What had hurt was not leaving Boston, but ending two weeks of perfect existence. But perfection, I realized, is ephemeral; it is love that really keeps us going.
(Thank God I didn’t give my ring back!)