You took some time to explore Mexico before you settled down. What was your criteria for your new home town?
Yes, I explored most of Mexico over 20 years before I discovered the Yucatan Peninsula. I was looking for a city that had colonial charm, an international airport, contemporary arts & music spaces, as well as deep cultural roots. Merida is steeped in historical connections between the Maya and Spain. Having grown-up in New Orleans, Merida captures my love of Spanish and French architecture.
Now that all of your belongings have made it to Merida, what were you most glad to have back?
Two years is a long time to have things in storage. Even with a detailed manifest, I don’t think I had a solid memory of my own belongings. When I opened the tote with pictures of my children, spanning their entire lives, I was emotionally flooded. I had visited with both of them just a two weeks prior. We are all in our adult lives! Their images took me to times when their little toes looked like nibblets of corn – precious enough to bite!
How has art therapy helped you adjust to your new life?
I’ve been an artist my entire life, and an art therapies for half. I find that my creative processes has given me a way of manifesting, through my own creation, the life that I want for myself. The last six years of my career in the US was spent counseling children in very high risk living situations. Taking a one-year hiatus to build this life in Mexico has given me an opportunity to recover from the vicarious trauma therapists often experience when working with trauma victims. Looking at every step required to make this move as creative acts, and particularly the steps over the last year, has helped me allow the process of immigration to unfold without my help! Art Therapy often pushes us out of our own way.
Do you think it is ever possible for an expat to feel like a local in their adopted city?
I do think that it is possible for expatriates to feel fully integrated. I had many friends in Austin, Texas that did the reverse of what I am doing. We crossed the same river, with similar dreams. I have an increased level of compassion for those friends, and to be honest, my comprehension of how daunting the process can be, has left me in a state of awe. Those friends made incredible journeys. They arrived with minimal language, and limited resources. Under these conditions, they shaped their own experience, and marked the lives of those around them. I suspect, that an immigrant will always be a bit of an outsider simply because there are cultural was of understanding words, that a language class can never capture. However, at the root of all people is a core that side steps words, and that is where the deepest connections exist.
What advice would you give someone who is contemplating the life of an expat?
It will lower the stresses of daily living if you have at least a rudimentary understanding of the language of your new country. You will have more fluid interactions, a wider selection for friendships, and a much easier time adjusting to the cultural differences. Visit your adopted country as often as possible before you make the final move. I know a few people who just made that leap of faith and have done fine, but the majority of those that have decided to start over, and by that I mean shedding all connection with their former lives, end up unhappy, never fully adjusting to their new life. Go beyond expecting change from your move! Make the efforts to court the dynamics that will alter you. By this I mean take risk like getting lost on a drive, learn to ask for help, and just revel in the vulnerability!