Blogging friend, Sonia Marsh, has written a book about her family's experiences in exchanging a southern California lifestyle for a seriously more rustic locale on an island off the coast of Belize. For one year she, her husband, and three sons managed to not only survive the abrupt lifestyle change, but learn some valuable life lessons and grow together as a family.
That adventure, detailed in Freeways to Flip-Flops, is her story.
Recently I asked Sonia to reflect on what changes in her outlook have survived for the eight years she and her family have been back in Orange County. I was interested in whether the lifestyle adjustments made upon their return have become permanent. Here are her answers:
Our decision to move to Belize, Central America, was a two-year process based on several things going on in our lives:
*My husband, Duke, was fed up with his stressful job and commuting through the Los Angeles gridlocked freeways. He wanted to live a simple life with more time to spend with his family, and to experience adventure in his life.
*Duke’s father passed away a year after retiring, and my mother passed away at 57, so this made us realize we did not want to postpone our dreams until retirement.
*Our oldest son was getting in trouble in high school, and we had two choices: either to ship him off to a behavior modification school, or to move as a family.
*We did not like the entitlement attitude of young people in Orange County, California, and wanted our kids to experience life in a less developed part of the world.
*I was looking for “my paradise.”
2) Upon your return to Southern California how different was your life from the one you had left just one year earlier?
Life wasn’t different when we returned to California, it was still just as hectic, but my family had changed. I think the biggest change for all of us was how people in OC, California seemed in a hurry, not really having time for others, except themselves. No one made eye contact, and only a few people had time to chat and enjoy “life.” It took me a good six months to start driving at the speed that everyone else was driving.
There are certain things that the stress of living and working in Orange County, CA have brought back. The gridlocked freeways are worse than ever, and my husband is still working in a law firm and wants to quit and move to Naples, Florida. We’ve decided that it’s not worth sacrificing your health and happiness for a stressful job. Belize taught us there are always options in life. You can move to a cheaper area; southern California is not cheap. We also want to travel, but since money will be tight, I know we can teach English abroad, and get room and board while renting our house in the U.S.
Once you’ve sold everything you own, it’s liberating and addictive, and the second time around, it’s so much easier. My husband and I crave change, and get bored with predictable routines.
The best piece of advice is: Don’t try to start a business as an expat in a foreign country. Stay low-key and if you need to work, do something over the Internet that doesn’t interfere with the locals or the expat community. If you want to work, find something that doesn’t compete with the locals.
Thanks, Sonia. The permanent changes in mindset that occurred from your time in Belize are fascinating. I always come back from an overseas trip with great plans to eat more slowly, use kerosene lamps in the evening, or go for long walks everyday at sunset, or..... Then, a few weeks later I'm back to my normal routine. Of course, I've never been on a year-long cultural change. It probably takes such a complete break from our version of normal to accomplish lasting change. Your experience shows it is possible and positive.