We are experiencing a new culture

Disclaimer: I did not really begin reading this message board until after our move and I know that quite a bit of what we did goes against wisdom and insight of folks who have seen many people move/leave. This is just our experience, and I thought I would share (though it makes me very nervous to do so). I mean no offense and respect the opinions of others who have seen (and know) much more than I have/do.

In August 2012 my husband and I came to STT to celebrate our anniversary and his graduation from college. This was our second trip (on an airplane thumbs up ) in the 16 years we have been married and it was not something we had planned for a while. In fact, we decided on the trip only two weeks prior, after being given tickets and lodging as a gift.

The two years prior to his graduation had been rough for us, having both been laid off from the industries where we worked, dealing with a foreclosure and a few deaths, a few surgeries, and a few other curveballs life threw us. However, we survived and were stronger for it! After I was laid off in 2009, I secured a new job in (another) new industry. He was laid off the week I started my new position and after a few months, decided to enter an associate’s program in a health care field (using the tuition benefit my employer provided). He is a very talented artist and had earned his BA in a creative field in the early 2000’s, so his decision to pursue a degree for utilitarian reasons worried me at first. That worry was unfounded and he fell in love with his new profession. He graduated (at age 41) with a 4.0 GPA and 99th percentile ranked scores on his licensure exam and I have never been more proud of him!

When we came to STT in August, we had absolutely no plans on moving here. Oh, we were going to move somewhere, having lived in the same, increasingly conservative state for our entire lives, but we thought perhaps New Mexico or Colorado, and perhaps after he had worked in his new field for a year or so. But while we were on the island, he – NEVER one to be impulsive – decided to apply for a position at a local clinic. “Why not,” we both thought. And we couldn’t think of any reason not to at least explore the possibility, so he went for it.

The interview was a huge success. He had an instant and excellent rapport with his potential employer and the position would allow him to get hands-on experience with many facets of patient care that, as a new grad, he would have had to wait a few years to experience in the states. He was offered the position after we returned the next week at a starting salary that was well above average and $10k more than I was making at the time (even though I have worked progressively more responsible jobs for ten years after getting my master’s degree!). In addition to a great salary, he was offered $1,000 toward moving after one month on the job, and another $1,000 after six months on the job, as well as full benefits.

THE DECISION

Professionally, for him, it sounded like a winner, but could we make it work financially? While we might be armchair sociologists and philosophers, could we *really* make a move to a place SO different from everything we had known? So we began researching in earnest to see if we wanted to take this enormous step into the unknown. The Settler’s Handbook was helpful, but we got the best information by good old-fashioned legwork and picking up the phone… hundreds of times. So many phone calls it was crazy! Could we pull this off in one short month as we were being asked to do? Did we really want to? We were on the phone all day during the daytime and talking to each other, processing all the information we were gathering, until the wee hours every morning.

The spread sheeting activity was also quite intense. To make the move, we estimated a need for approximately $12,500. And I refused to go with less than $10k as emergency savings. This was our breakdown:

$1,410 – Shipping car through Sea Star line out of Jacksonville, FL

$300 – 5 days for a rental car (while waiting for car to arrive)

$700 – airfare

$120 – baggage

$400 – USPS shipping of ten boxes

$150 – newspaper ads for estate sale

$235 – new/spare key for car

$600 – car insurance on island

$400 – road tax for car import

$370 – customs for car import

$350 – car inspection and registration

$800 – fix little things on car before shipping

$600 – roadtrip to Jacksonville, FL

$274 – passports

$1500 – 1st month rent

$3000 – last month’s rent and security deposit

$800 – utilities deposits and hookups

$500 – summer clothes

$10,000 – emergency savings because were on a dadgum island!

We had nowhere near that amount! So, more spreadsheeting was undertaken to determine how much money we could accumulate in one short month. After borrowing $14k from my retirement account, selling our 2000 Honda Civic and all of our belongings, we would have enough money to move. As far as the steep learning curves that would be required of us to adjust successfully, and the many challenges island life throws at residents, we felt that the rewards outweighed the risks and that we were up for it.

INTO THE WILD

We can do this, we decided. And we were off to make it a reality! We did not sit down for the next three weeks, which were filled with learning and lessons that we had not really expected. We were living life INTENTIONALLY, learning what was truly important to us and acting on it like *never* before. Between our return from STT (8/18/2012) and our move to STT (9/22/2012) we had made one of the biggest decisions in our marriage, sold everything and accumulated about $25,000 to make the move. We managed the logistics of the move on our own (no thank you, Mr. Transportation broker who assumes we are stupid! We can call sea star lines ourselves since you like to doubletalk so much and insist we relinquish our car three weeks prior to the sail date without adequately explaining why!), planned and managed an estate sale on our own, tied up all loose ends (down to minute details, such as securing an extra key for the car we shipped incase our key was lost at some point in the future), on our own, and we – though our marriage had only grown stronger over the years – had NEVER felt closer. The move itself was so incredibly rewarding it is hard to articulate. And given the huge task, it was also, surprisingly easy. (That said, I am pretty good at, and have a decade of experience, managing large-scale projects for other folks.)

We tried very hard to come here with at least a theoretical understanding of the challenges we would face and we were prepared for the worst on several fronts. We estimated it would take at least one long, hot and frustrating day to get the car through customs, tagged and registered after it arrived at the port. You can imagine how pleasantly surprised we were to finish the entire process (not the slightest bit frustrated) after only three hours! Prior to the car arriving, his boss helped us find temporary lodging through November (if we needed it that long) on Sapphire beach for $1,000/month. Not bad! However, not fully understanding when “season” began, we rushed to find a long-term place quickly just in case apartments in our price range (no more than $1,700/month, including utilities) became more and more scarce as “season” approached. We found a one bedroom condo in Point Pleasant (for $1,450/month plus electric) and moved in on 10/15/12. He began his new job the same day. And he took the car. surprised

A WORKAHOLIC ADJUSTS

Though I have had my struggles with alcohol, I pretty much learned my lesson by age 30 and have not had many hangovers since. However, workahol is an addiction that is much harder, in my experience, to kick. During October and November, without a car or a job, I basked in the sunlight, made crafty wreaths and whatnot out of sea glass, read local and Caribbean history/fiction, and said “I feel so guilty for not feeling guilty for not looking for a job yet.” In the back of my mind, I figured finding a position making $45,000 wouldn’t take that long, and I was enjoying myself, so why not just take a month or two to wind down after ten years of being a workaholic? Then, on December 1st , it was like a switch was flipped and all of the sudden, I NEEDED to be working again. I needed it, not so much for the salary, because we were living within our means, but for the social interaction and personal satisfaction of working. Work grounds you in a community, and I needed that touch stone. Unfortunately, I had yet to begin putting out resumes. So, I was off!

At first, I did as I had always done and emailed resumes with targeted cover letters. During the first week of December, I applied for seven positions that seemed to match my background. During the second week, I followed up on those letters and applied for three other positions, never reaching the actual hiring managers. The third week in December I was pretty down and dejected feeling and by the end of the week, I was applying for jobs at grocery stores. (I chose not to apply for work in a restaurant environment because I am a) too susceptible to alcohol, and b) way too clumsy.) I got an interview and a job offer but the hiring manager told me that everyone would hate my guts – forever – and that there would be nothing I could do about it. I turned down that job, got hold of myself, and decided to keep looking for professional positions. I will say that although it is never good to feed negative thoughts, in my opinion it is especially true here: staying positive and keeping a sense of humor has been critical to our (what I consider successful, so far) adjustment.

I finally got a call for an interview, and then another, a few days after Christmas! I continued putting out resumes, but began hand delivering them rather than sending them via email. Between Christmas and 1/11/13, I went to five interviews – two at one organization, and three at another. I finally got a job offer yesterday (1/15/2013) making what I made in the states, but in a new industry, of course.

CHALLENGES?

We have been here only five months and really don’t have much to complain about. We knew that it would not be like a vacation; it would be living and working as usual, but in a new place with new beauty and new challenges. The driving can be crazy here, but it was pretty crazy at home (with crazy, commuting, road-raging rednecks that had gun-racks). Some people are grumpy, but heck, aren’t they everywhere? I just meet them in the eyes, say good morning/afternoon/night/howsit going and nine times out of ten that frown turns upside down. Crime is scary, but we do our best to stay safe. Our rent is twice what we paid at home, but our other expenses are much less than what paid at home. We are consuming less and eating healthier.

We are quite happy homebodies; that has not changed. We still play our RPG’s in the evenings (he’s an orc, I’m undead) but we had to give up HBO and Comedy Central (not available in our complex). We have been out to eat twice, but man, we ate well and were very appreciative of the experience. When I get restless, I go to the beach and dig in the sand, swim, or read a book. I don’t have space for a garden, but there are farmers markets with new, exotic foods I research. Yes, I have to go to the laundromat, but the conversations are always entertaining and educational. I don’t have an oven, but rotisserie chickens are cheap at the store and casseroles/cookies tend to be really fattening, anyway. I’m down 15 lbs since September, but I am smoking cigarettes again. It took longer than normal to find a job, but it is a great job and I will be travelling throughout the Caribbean.

We are experiencing a new culture, embracing it and trying to learn everything we can as we live our daily lives. Will we live here forever? I doubt it, but who knows? I never thought we would get “stuck” in the same small, southern town until we were in our early 40’s… we thought ourselves quite free-spirited in our 20’s and imagined we would travel the world. It feels amazing to truly be embracing the day (as best as we can) and we do not regret our decision by any stretch of the imagination. And, for now at least, we still have perspective and a very deep sense of gratitude. I may be a dreamer, but I just don’t see that changing.

We are together and we are stronger than ever before.

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