The Top Three Reasons to Move to Another Country


A Place Long Ago and Far Away—in Mexico

In my experience as an expatriate of 15 years, there are three general reasons people move to another country.

  • Political Discontent
  • Financial Freedom
  • A Calling

In my case, it was a combination of the three.

One reason isn’t better than the other, though I do think it’s helpful to understand why you’re immigrating. More than once, I’ve talked with an ex-pat who, in retrospect, realized they didn’t understand their motives, which made it harder to integrate into their new culture. 

Let’s explore the reasons.

Political Discontent

This was a fundamental reason I left the United States. I’d been concerned for years over the growing fear-based culture. My concern turned to Hell No! after 911, when the Chicago public transportation system started broadcasting the “if you see something, say something” announcement. It was more Orwellian a climate than I could weather.

I was married to a Mexican national, an undocumented worker, and had fallen in love with both him and his culture. We decided to move to his country. He told me what he missed the most about Mexico was the freedom. Freedom was what he saw my country was short on.

In Mexico, I had a greater sense of freedom than in the US. There were fewer regulations or at least a relaxed attitude toward following the rules. You can play your music as loud as you want, and children can get dirty and hurt themselves doing it. They get to be kids. I could drive without a driver’s license.

Though, I think the violence of Mexico’s cartels stems, in part, from the Mexican extreme take on personal freedom.

 “The Mexican…is familiar with death. [He] jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it. It is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love.”

– Octavio Paz.

I witnessed traumatic events in Mexico that others barely batted an eye at. I think it was, in part, because of their belief that people should be able to do what they wanted to, regardless of how it affected others.

As hard as they have been, I appreciate the lessons I’ve learned in Central America about what personal freedom means. It means I’m not responsible to others in the way I was taught. I’m not responsible for how others think, feel, or act. I am only responsible for how I feel about my actions. Ideally, this builds personal integrity.

If I’m not happy with another’s actions, maybe I feel bad, but it’s not their responsibility. I accept responsibility for my feelings. I can talk with them, ignore them, or remove myself. They have the same choice. I can be the person I want to be following this code, and I feel freer, not trying to meet others’ expectations. The challenges of living in another culture helped me become my better self.

The biggest glitch I encountered because I left for political reasons was the guilt and shame of not staying to help my culture go in the direction I felt was healthy and supportive for its citizens. Eventually, I decided this: I don’t think guilt and shame help anyone or the world. So, I let go of that. I realized we all have different ways to help, some from our original place, others elsewhere, and some globally.

Also, I now know there is no government or political system that is likely better than where you are from. You may prefer your new home, possibly even because it allows you more distance from political involvement. You’ll encounter the good and the bad in your new paradise, and you’ll see your homeland from a new perspective.

Financial Freedom

I also left for financial reasons. I wasn’t wealthy. I had no savings for retirement at 40 years of age. I lived in a culture where a health issue could destroy you financially for years to come.

My husband’s culture had multi-generational households, and my mother would be coming to live with us eventually. Her social security check alone could not sustain her in Chicago. My husband and I did not want to work sixty hours a week for another thirty years with little hope of owning our own home without going into debt for forty years, ever feeling we could “get ahead” or at least keep our heads above water.  So we left. It didn’t work out as we planned. But I have no regrets.

Many people want to retire in another country because their money will go further. This is where I hope that personal integrity plays a role. It can manifest as exploitation without careful attention. This is not judgment; I can do things I couldn’t do in my home country because my dollar is worth more than the local currency.

I do, however, consider how I use that and to whose advantage. For example, I can employ people, and no, I don’t pay them what I would have to pay in the US. If I did, I wouldn’t be able to give them a job. Though I do pay minimum wage, sick, holiday, and vacation pay.

Living in an economy that increases the value of your resources is an occasion to bring prosperity where abundance may not be flowing to the people. Sure, investing in a business is a good way to infuse an economy with opportunity. But does the nature of the business add value to your neighbors? I feel it’s important to consider the needs of the community and provide a service that prospers both the place and its people.

I also wanted a pony–my boy Monty.

A Calling

From my perspective, this is the best reason. Hopefully, all ex-pats end up with this as their reason for staying. Having fallen in love with a place, its people, and its culture.

Perhaps you’re a nomad. You pull into town one day, and it feels like home, or you’re on vacation and see a need you are compelled to fill.

Or you meet a person you don’t want to leave behind.

Though I love and have a deep respect for Mexico.  When I came to Nicaragua, I felt like I could breathe out after holding my breath for a long time. People smiled at me. When I moved to a little town here, I wasn’t gawked at. It’s been easy to find ways to help. I feel motivated to generate abundance, not for the sake of having more but for more opportunities to give.

I know there is a need in my home country, but who is to say, but our own heart, where on this earth our destiny lies?

Food Forest Odyssey

Howdy, I’m back on YouTube! I’ll be posting videos there about my building my food forest if you’d like to follow my journey there.

Take a ‘before” garden tour!

As usual, its ready, fire, aim. It’s nonscripted, of the moment, but I’m excited to be back on my channel. I’ll check out how to make better-quality videos with an iPhone while you walk around soon.



In Praise of Audiobooks, by a reformed book snob.

It started with The Secret Garden.

In December, I was ill –can’t get out of bed, focus enough to read, or watch a movie kind of sick. I was scrolling and not happy about it. Sick scrolling feels more insidious than regular scrolling. A trip to the bathroom broke the cycle. I surfaced and grasped for an alternative– I’ll try listening to a book.

I have never been an audiobook fan. I didn’t have occasion, like commuting, or I wasn’t a reader and wanted to be. These are the justifications I saw for not actually reading your own books. Though I’d avoided the arrogance of deeming digital books “not real” because there was nothing more miraculous to me than my friend Larry Prater’s gift of an iPad and access to books online when I was in the middle of freaking nowhere in Mexico. Audiobooks did not, however, escape my snobbery.

Fortunately, being pummeled by illness proved a good enough reason to listen to a book and a significantly better option than scrolling. Honestly, I may have continued to scroll, hating myself for it, had I been able to hold up my phone. This was a choice of submission, not valor.

Why did I choose The Secret Garden? Another egotistical endeavor. I had never read it, and it was one of those vexing omissions when taking a stupid “have you read these classics quiz.” I have read Aristophanes, The Clouds, which weirdly comes up on those lists, but not The Secret Garden. In my feverish haze, I decided I could include it on my have-read list if I had listened to it.

This is where I suggest careful consideration before writing a personal blog because you may feel compelled to share embarrassing admissions of affectation.

I downloaded the Libre Vox version read by Karen Savage. Her voice was soothing, and I promptly fell asleep. It was 11 hours long. I heard enough of the book to be entranced through my sleeping, waking, sweating, tossing, and covering state. When I felt better and could stay awake, I listened again. Wow! Who, other than the other millions of readers throughout the last 112 years, knew what a great book this is! I enjoyed it much more in good health. 

Though I pay for YouTube premium, which has tons of audiobooks available, I thought I’d better spend more money and try Audible, at least the free week trial you never cancel fast enough not to be charged for. I already had a couple of books from Audible on my kindle. Neither had I listened to. I tried, but the readers were off-putting. The first, a nonfiction book, was a painful disappointment because it was read by its author, whom I admire. Unfortunately, I hated his voice. The other was read by an actor. This was worse. He used different voices for the characters, even adapting high feminine voices for female characters. I loathed it. Still, I tried the audible subscription and found more of the same, playacting rather than reading books there.

So, I went back to YouTube, and since have discovered hundreds of hours of listening pleasure of books I probably would never have read otherwise. Notably, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Of course, I was familiar with the series but had never read them. I’m not a fan of mysteries, but boy could Sir Doyle write great characters and stories; he is my current literary crush.

I admit to sleeping through some of what I listen to, but that’s a bonus because I can listen more than once! It helps if there are timestamps on the chapters, but I will choose a good reader over a better format.

It confounds me why I thought listening to books was less than. I love being read to. I received the incomparable gift of the love of reading from my mother, who read to me before bed every night. Somehow, I felt I didn’t deserve that as an adult. I must do it myself. Earn it. I wonder how often arrogance hides insecurity?

Listening is not reading. That was my argument when I poopooed audiobooks in the past. And it’s true, it’s not, nor is it better than reading. It is its own wonder. We have the stories of the ages in the palm of our hand with a tap of the finger when we desire the luxury and comfort of having them whispered in our ears. It’s truly magical.

Down to Earth: Garden Update

Winter Harvest, sooooo many mangos!

The first apartment I lived in in Chicago was on Chicago Avenue. There were grates with trees embedded in the sidewalk every half block or so. I had come from Des Moines, a small verdant city. The neighborhood I lived in was abundant with massive old trees and ample the green space of various parks and rolling velvet green lawns running into each other from home to apartment building, doctors’ offices, and florists, broken only by grocery store parking lots.  

Chicago was the largest city I had ever lived in. The neighborhood wasn’t bad, but it was decidedly urban. I was blocks away from a park or even a neighbor’s yard. So, I planted some zinnias in the tree grate outside our door. I could see them from the front window of my apartment. They offered a small comfort to a small-town girl in a big city.  

Though my predilection is to plant, I have never considered myself a gardener. Perhaps because I have never had a really successful garden, but my mindset on what constitutes success is changing. Hopefully, my opinion of my gardening skills will evolve as well. 

For many years, I have wanted to create a food forest. Felipe and my opinions differed on this, so until now, my property had been planted in a more traditional vegetable garden, ornamental plant kind-of-way.  I was still in that mindset when I planted my recent row garden. I hoped to eat a reasonable amount of our vegetables from it during the rainy season, and we did!  But now, I will cultivate my dream of living in harmony with the peace(Freudian slip 😉 of the planet I humbly call mine.

My gorgeous black bamboo.

Food forests are more of a long view. In my vision, walking around the garden eating handfuls of various fruits, vegetables, weeds, and roots constitutes a meal, connection, and true success. Rather than harvesting a bounty of zucchini– making your neighbors avoid you because they don’t want you to give them more, and eating more zucchini bread in a season than you want to eat in your life, kind of garden. I’m not knocking vegetable gardens, I will still plant a plot or two next year. There is not a true midwesterner who doesn’t admire a bountiful vegetable garden and a pantry packed full from it, ready for winter. But, my intention for my current garden is: no formal beds and layered plantings that mimic natural forest systems.

To that end, jocotes, moringa, guaje and turmeric are going in pots, ready to be planted during the rains. We are going the old school, stick-a-stick-in-a-pot route on the trees.  I’m also planning to put in chaya, chipilin, papalos, yuca, and any other low-maintenance food plant I can find.

In the meantime, I will be addressing the black bamboo. There are corms to harvest and dry. I plan to make a room divider to mask the ugly tech occupying my guest room, and make a mamasan chair!  

The Surinam cherries are going bonkers, we should have a harvest soon, and I’m looking forward to making the Suriman cherry curd I made for this bloomed goat cheese I made for Vera Eco Resort. It was so good. My mouth waters every time I see this image.

Mother took over the watering and caring for our winter garden while I was in Matagalpa. The roses and tomatoes are thriving. 

I bought these last year out of a sombrero.

My most anticipated addition to my forest is my mulberry trees! I picked a mulberry that was happily staining a sidewalk under a gigantic Mulberry in Des Moines the last time I was there. It lived at the bottom of my purse for about six months. I finally dropped it in some soil, and it grew a giant harvest of trees! 

I did the same when I was in Mexico. My tree grew and fruited (yes, mulberries are already present in Central America). Though I seldom ate a mulberry because the birds loved them. This time I will plant several trees, and since there will be a variety of foods to share with the birds, snakes, insects, bats, possums, monkeys, and raccoons, I’m hoping to eat some mulberries myself. One day I will walk through my food forest, nibbling a shared harvest.  Until then, success is dirty fingernails–and mangos!

Do you have a food forest? I’d love to hear your stories on any kind of garden projects.