American Expat Living in Mexico - Interview with Shannon

Published: 20 May at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Mexico
Shannon is a retired expat librarian and archivist living and blogging from a terrace apartment in Oaxaca de Juárez, Mexico. Her home is filled with light, color, and open windows and doors.

She loves people and gardens, music and art, mountains and oceans, and books and travel. Her love of travel began with a trip to England when she was 6. She made the trip "across the pond" again at 18 and then returned to go to an international school in Helsingør, Denmark the following year. She returned to Europe several more times and has made many road trips across the United States and Canada.

However, despite growing up in California, she had never been to Mexico until 2007, when a friend in Oaxaca convinced her to visit. She immediately fell in love with this small human-scale city and while her itinerary called for 9 days, she stayed 12, and returned two more times within 18 months. When unemployment hit, Oaxaca beckoned! Shannon's expat blog is called View From Casita Colibrí (see listing here)

Monos supervising a banda during a festival.
Monos supervising a banda during a festival.

Here's the interview with Shannon...

Where are you originally from?
Mill Valley, California

In which country and city are you living now?
Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, Mexico

How long have you lived in Mexico and how long are you planning to stay?
I've been living here since July 1, 2009 and plan to stay until I decide to leave.

Tlayuda at a roadside restaurant.  Yummm!
Tlayuda at a roadside restaurant. Yummm!
Why did you move to Mexico and what do you do?
The privately funded library, where I’d been the director for almost 13 years, lost its funding and closed in spring 2009. Full time jobs for librarian/archivists in the San Francisco Bay Area were almost non-existent. Faced with the choice of working multiple part-time and substitute jobs to barely keep my head above water, versus renting my house and moving to Oaxaca to live a downsized and simplified life, I chose the latter. I've since sold my house and haven't looked back!

I spend my time volunteering at the Oaxaca Lending Library, attempting to learn Spanish, enjoying the cultural life of the city, going out to the villages for festivals and celebrations, taking photographs, and blogging about my experiences in an attempt to give people a well-rounded, more accurate, and less scary view of life in Mexico.

Did you bring family with you?
No, my grown sons live on the west and east coasts of the USA and I visit them twice a year.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Not as difficult as I thought/feared it might be. Lack of fluency in the language continues to be my biggest challenge. I've actually come to find that I feel more "at home" and comfortable with the slower pace and less materialistic life here than in the town where I grew up and lived most of my life.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
The Oaxaca Lending Library, my apartment complex, and my Spanish teacher provided a great source of initial community. However, another gringo blogger and I most enjoy making and visiting Oaxaqueño friends out in the villages.

Carnaval in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca.
Carnaval in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca.
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Go to some of the countless festivals, ferías, and celebrations in the city and villages. Visit archeological sites and appreciate the pre-Columbian history of the ancient cultures that thrived here and their descendants who make up a large percentage of the population. Attend art gallery openings and free band concerts on the zócalo (town square). Enjoy the street art and visit the artisan villages. Wander the streets and stumble on parades with bands, costumed dancers, marmotas (giant cloth globes), and monos (giant paper-mache puppets). And, by all means, eat, eat, eat!!! The food, be it upscale regional fusion restaurants or street food is worth the price of admission. By the way, the weather is great.

What do you enjoy most about living in Mexico?
All of the above!

How does the cost of living in Mexico compare to home?
No comparison. The basic necessities of life (food, housing, medical care, etc.) are much less expensive. On the other hand, the "extras" like computers are more expensive.

View of Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad from my apartment.
View of Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad from my apartment.
What negatives, if any, are there to living in Mexico?
I miss the Pacific Ocean. Currently, the road to the (very beautiful and mostly undeveloped) coast is narrow, winding, and only 2-lanes -- it takes 6+ hours to get there. A "highway" that is supposed to cut the travel time to 2 hours has been in the works for many, many years and it's anyone's guess as to when it will be finished.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to Mexico, what would it be?
Let go of first world expectations and learn to relax, accept the differences, and live in the present.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Learning Spanish!

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
Currently, I have no plans to return to live in the US -- visiting el norte twice a year for a few weeks at a time is fine with me.

Day of the Dead altar.
Day of the Dead altar.
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. If you don't speak the language, study it and (most importantly) don't be afraid to go out and use it. You don't have to be perfect!
  2. Accept what is and let go of expectations of how you think it should be -- don't assume you know best.
  3. Treat everyone with respect.
  4. Develop a support network of other expats and locals to help you navigate the challenges.
  5. Enjoy learning something new everyday.
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
Reflections, observations, a little research (I am a librarian, after all), and lots of photos mostly about life in Oaxaca as this gringa sees, interprets, and enjoys it.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Email is best.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingShannon is an American expat living in Mexico. Blog description: gringa musings from a rooftop terrace in Oaxaca
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