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For Roxanne teaching has been her gateway to working abroad, living in Latin America and now Beijing where she is currently employed. For our interview she shares her expat experiences from Costa Rica and Mexico.

Roxanne in China atop the Great Wall.

 

Where were you born?

I was born in Queens, NY.

 

… and in which countries have you lived?

I’ve lived in Costa Rica (2006-2007) and Mexico (2007-2009). Currently, I’ve been living in Beijing, China since August 2010.

 

What can you tell us about your first trip abroad?

Well, my family is Jamaican, so my first trip abroad was very young (10 years old). But my first stint living abroad was in January 2006 to San Jose, Costa Rica. Prior to that, ideas were swimming around to do the Peace Corps from the previous year, but I was unsure at that time if I could make a 2-year commitment. Life is funny though, because I went to Costa Rica thinking that I would only stay abroad one year to gain cross-cultural experience and learn Spanish, and I ended up staying in Latin America for three years!

Costa Rica was an overall great experience and a great springboard for me to enter a career in international education. It did take a lot getting used to hearing Spanish all the time, earthquakes, rainy season, and water bugs, lol. Nothing beats that first experience living abroad though. Everything is new and exciting and completely out of your comfort zone! If you have a flexible attitude you’ll be able to survive your first time living abroad, even through the rough patches. I’ve experienced highs like being in love to lows like being completely loss and not knowing how to ask for directions. But that first trip abroad really proves how creative you can be!

 

So when did you actually realize that you had the Expat bug – that you really wanted to go live abroad?

Actually after my first trip abroad to Costa Rica was when I realized I had the Expat bug. I went to Costa Rica only to stay for a year and to come back with the skills that I learned to launch a career somehow in the U.S. But I realized then when I returned to the U.S., quite honestly, I was quite bored. I got a job working in a law firm, and entered “the grind” again. No more colorful languages, exotic tastes and smells, and no more globally conscious people. I wasn’t challenged on a day-to-day basis like the lifestyle of living abroad offers you. It was then I knew that I wanted to return abroad and that year I re-located to Mexico, and ended up staying there for two years. And now I’m living in Beijing, China and I will be here until at least Summer 2012.

photo: Curious kids in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

Did you move abroad with your family?

No, I moved alone.

 

Did you marry a person from another country which led to your move?

No… not yet 😉

 

What has been your most enlightening experience while living abroad?

I think my most enlightening experience abroad was learning a foreign language (Spanish). I was truly able to connect with the culture in a way that I otherwise would not been able to. Even with friends who spoke fluent English, I was able to meet their friends and family members who didn’t speak English. I don’t think the invitation to meet them would be so open if I didn’t speak Spanish. I’ve also had the pleasure of being invited to weddings and “quniceaneras.” A quinceanera is a ceremony held on a girl’s 15th birthday. Many people liken it to “Sweet Sixteen” but to me there is no comparison. Picture a wedding without a groom, which includes a unique gown, flowers/decorations, a dinner in some sort of hall, dancing and even choreography to watch. It’s a HUGE deal.

 

What has been your most disheartening experience while living abroad?

Well, I was robbed twice, while living abroad… both in Costa Rica and Mexico! The first time was in San Jose, Costa Rica. I’m not sure if I want to recount the story in detail but I was robbed at gunpoint. The second time was when I was living in Pachuca, Mexico and my apartment was burglarized.

 

What customs did you adopt from living in Latin America?

I LOVE shopping in markets now. Flea markets are my best friends! I never appreciated them while living in the States. From the mundane to the superficial you can find anything in markets. I also picked up the custom of eating my main meal in the afternoons, around 3 or 4 o’clock. In Mexico there are restaurants that serve “comida corrida.” It’s a meal of several courses that is served at a fixed price. The courses include a soup of some kind, the main dish, and dessert. All for the equivalent of about $3-4. I like eating my main meal/dinner now at this time because it helps me avoid late-night eating.

 

Which customs from there do you miss the most?

Eating the main meal from anywhere from 2:00pm – 4:00pm, buying fresh fruit and veggies at a market, buying fresh bread in “panaderias” or bakeries.

Christmas time in the plaza!, Oaxaca, Mexico

 

How important was it to know the local language? Did you gain proficiency in the local language?

In the circle of friends that I made, most of my friends were bilingual so there was no dire need for me to learn Spanish. However, if you’re really interested in learning about the history and culture of your host culture, I believe it’s imperative; you can only get to know but so much if you don’t know the language. Like I stated before, I was invited to many cultural ceremonies that really give you insight into the culture. I would not have gotten these invitations otherwise if I didn’t speak Spanish.

 

How have you gone about making friends?

I’m naturally an open and flexible person, so it was never hard for me to make friends while abroad.

 

Did you connect much with the expat community at any time when you lived there?

It was very important for me to immerse myself in the local culture, so besides people I worked with, I didn’t really branch out into the larger ex-pat community. But I do realize that staying connected to Americans is very important with staying in touch with your culture in a tangible way. Currently, I’ve done a much better job reaching out to the expat community in Beijing. I’ve befriended amazing people expats here from Nigeria, the Congo, Germany, Spain, the U.S. and many other places. The expat community in Beijing is so varied!

 

How do you keep in touch with family and friends from home?

Skype is numero uno for me! Also, Facebook and email. Due to the firewall in China, Facebook is impossible to access unless you have a VPN/proxy. Luckily, I have one so I can still use Facebook and other sites.

 

You were able to work teaching English, but overall is it difficult to find a employment?

I think that it’s fairly easy to get a job if you are a native English speaker. Jobs are bountiful, with the most common being teaching/tutoring, but there are also opportunities in writing/editing, marketing, and even modeling!

 

How was your salary in relation to living expenses, did you have to live on less income? If so were you able to adjust your standard of living?

Well, depending on your profession, salaries will tend to be lower compared to the States, but so is the cost of living. Also, I’ve worked in schools where my rent is paid for or subsidized and also received food vouchers! So for me, it wasn’t quite an adjustment and I was even able to save money. There might be more of a concern for those who have bills that they have to pay back home such as a mortgage or car insurance. If that’s the case, for my profession, I would suggest working at a large international school as a teacher where the savings potential can be pretty grand and you could use that money to pay for your other obligations back home.

Ancient ruins by turquoise waters in Tulum, Mexico on the Riviera Maya

 

How hard was it to find a good place to live?

For me, it wasn’t hard at all. The schools that I worked for took care of that. But even others who I know of that had to find apartments by themselves found them with relative ease. Just like anywhere else, you have to invest the time into doing it. It helps if you already know someone who can steer you away from dangerous neighborhoods. Also, if possible, have a native call to make queries for you if the price isn’t listed. Even if you speak the language, once a foreign accent is heard, the price may go up.

 

What are the opportunities to buy property?

I actually don’t have any experience or know of anyone who has bought property in Costa Rica or Mexico.

 

What goals have you achieved while living abroad?

I gained valuable teaching experience and even wrote an ESL textbook/workbook for an international publishing company!

 

What would you say to a friend or relative who is considering moving abroad?

Go ahead! With planning, it is not as difficult as people may think. If you are worried about logistics, there are many programs that will take the guesswork out of it for you and find a job and accommodations for you. I think may African-Americans have a hard time justifying traveling around the world to help others when so many of us are struggling right here in the United States. But traveling has given me an even deeper appreciation for Black culture and has expanded my understanding of it beyond U.S. and Caribbean shores. I’ve learned so much about the contribution of Blacks to cultures that we wouldn’t even be aware of such as Mexico, Cost Rica, Nicaragua, Peru and even Bolivia and Argentina! You’ll also inspire others to want to become global citizens.

 

When you moved back home after living abroad how was the transition?

Quite honestly, after my first trip abroad, I never really felt like I “fit in” at home. I was clueless about the latest music/movie, celebrity gossip, or fashion. I still kind of am, so I try to seek out others who have also lived abroad so that we can share our experiences. Not a day goes by that I don’t speak about some experience I’ve had abroad, but these stories can get tiresome to friends who may have no interest in them or who can’t relate. Feeling out of place at home is far worse than feeling out of place in a foreign country. My best advice is to stay in contact with the friends you made abroad if possible and follow up with news from the region where you were living. But also balance it out by keeping up to date with news at home… even if it’s celebrity gossip.

 

How do you consider yourself: a permanent expatriate, a temporary expatriate or an incidental expatriate?

I consider myself a temporary expat.

 

And your reason why?

As much as I like being abroad, I do eventually think I will come home and settle down. I’m taking this opportunity now to live abroad to fulfill a goal I always wanted to complete, learn some lessons along the way, and pass down my stories and experiences to the next generation to encourage them to see the world.

 

How has your life as an expatriate changed who you are?

Well, obviously I have a more global view of things now. I’m more likely to read and follow world news, particularly of the regions I’ve traveled to. Also, I’ve become even more open-minded, flexible and creative. This is a valued asset whether launching a career when you come home or even stepping into entrepreneurship. Also, I’m less likely to believe everything I see on cable news and I seek other sources where I can get reliable news. It may sound a little cliché, but it has made me a well-rounded person and has stretched my mind to concepts that I never would have thought to imagine. Go abroad! Go abroad NOW!

 

Do Blacks (or foreigners in general) in your view have any problems with adjustment or discrimination?

To my knowledge, I’ve never been discriminated while living in Latin America. People there tend to be more open and curious about us. I honestly think I’m treated there better than I am in the United States. Many times you will serve as an ambassador for Blacks as many people have not encountered us before. Have a sense of humor of people wanting to randomly talk to you and ask questions, people wanting to touch your hair, or even take your picture!

 

Can you describe the general or breakdown the general composition of the expat population?

Well because I always worked in schools, the expat population I was always exposed to was teachers. But I have also met people who had management positions at language schools, as well as expats studying. In Costa Rica, I met quite a few expats working in call centers, which apparently pay pretty well.

 

Living & Spending in Mexico City, DF

 

Monthly rent:

Since Mexico City was the last place I lived abroad, I’ll use it as a reference.

5000-7000 pesos in Mexico City for a two bedroom. Much cheaper outside of Mexico City.

 

Cost for meals:

Maybe 25-50 pesos

 

Transportation costs:

About 3 pesos on the metro, 5 pesos on the Metrobus

 

Compared to your home country are most things cheap/same/expensive?

Electronics and cars are definitely more expensive. So are shopping for designer brands. Grocery shopping is almost the same; buying fruits in markets can be cheaper. So is going out as far as paying covers for clubs/lounges and drinks. Taxis are definitely cheaper than home as well.

 

How modern are basic amenities/infrastructure?

Keep in mind that there are no bathtubs in Mexico City; at least I never encountered one in apartments. It’s always a shower. Also there is no central heating or cooling, so when it’s hot you need to buy a fan, and when it’s cold you need a heater and very warm blankets!

 

Any legal hurdles all foreigners have to face to live there?

Paperwork to get a work VISA may take a very long time. I’ve heard that other paperwork can be a headache as well concerning marriage.

 

Top 3 things you would recommend someone to bring when they come:

Hair products/supplies, English language books, your favorite make-up, particularly foundation.

 

What are the top 3 attractions or places of interest?

In Costa Rica:

Manuel Antonio National Park – a nice mix or beautiful beaches and forests

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Arenal Volcano

 

In Mexico:

Now this is tough to choose only three! I lived in Mexico longer and was able to see so many breathtaking places while I was there. Do I have to only choose three? If so…

The Riviera Maya – stretch of coast on the Yucatan Peninsula

Oaxaca State – from the capital, to the highland forests, to the beaches

El Museo de Antropologia in Mexico City

Sierra Madre de Oaxaca, a mountain range in Oaxaca, Mexico.

 

Photo credits: all images courtesy of Roxanne Scott, photo of Roxanne Scott in Tepoztlan, Mexico – by Nardy Silva and Gilda Guerrero

 

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4 Responses to “Interview: Roxanne L. Scott – remembers Costa Rica and Mexico”

  1. Nardy says:

    You aré an amazing girl Roxanne ! Congratulations , I hope to see you Soon in Mexico city !!!!

  2. I currently live in Costa Rica and you have many valid points, especially about fitting in when you return to the USA, but could it be that African Americans never fit in.

  3. Roxanne says:

    That may very well be true, lol. What part of Costa Rica are you living?

  4. Roxanne says:

    I hope to make it back to Mexico soon!

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