A Stranger in my Hometown…A Visit to the States After Living Abroad

I’ve been living abroad for just about 5 months now and the time quickly approached for my first visit back to the States.  I eagerly anticipated my reunion with family and friends, but also felt oddly anxious about this pending vacation.  Have I accomplished enough abroad in 5 months to warrant a visit home?  Is my Spanish strong enough to carry on a conversation with my Gringo friends who studied Spanish in high school and want to test my newly acquired language skills?  Am I tan?  Have I lost any weight?  Have I lost too much weight?  What will happen to my anxiety-prone, super attached dog while I’m gone?  How do I reconcile my new Nicaragüense lifestyle with my North American upbringing?  What kind of culture shock should I expect to experience and am I bad person if I don’t experience any and my first stop off the plane is a Dunkin’ Donuts?

Now home, many of those fears have been assuaged.  At my age, I have friends who accept me regardless of whether or not I can quote Rueben Dario and they automatically tell me that I sound great and know enough not to comment on my physical appearance – positive or negative.  And my family lovingly tells me I’ve put on a few pounds J

It is also an incredible experience to view your own hometown as a foreigner.  I’ve lived in Boston for the last 10 years, but this year, I spent my very first 4th of July at the Hatch Shell, on the Esplanade, among 150,000 other Patriots.   I took photos as if I were a tourist, snapping pictures of the Citgo sign, the Hancock Building, and the Charles River.  It was a pleasant surprise to turn things inside out.

However, there are some challenges that accompany a first trip home.  My 19-month old niece had no memory of her favorite aunt Sarah, having last met me when she was just a little over a year-old. Upon our reintroduction, she ran sobbing past my wide-stretched arms and into those of my sister’s, when she thought my hug was an attempt at kidnapping her stuffed dog.  Three days later, we have found a middle ground and she now Gracefully nods off in my arms for her mid-afternoon nap.

It is also a challenge to reintegrate into the world of consumerism. Though maybe not a conscious decision, part of the move to a third world country was the blissful escape from the consumption and “Keeping up with the Jones'” mentality we had become such a part of in North America.  However, upon our return to the States, I found it all too easy to slip right back into regular trips to the mall and the “need to have” mindset.  It required frequent self-checks to reevaluate what I truly needed versus what I just wanted. 

It is also exciting and invigorating to see all of the people you’ve missed over the last 5 months, but it is also exhausting.  There is an emotional obligation, not only to your family and friends, but also to yourself, to see everyone that you’ve missed while abroad.  It’s fun to regale people with tales of getting the 4×4 stuck in the mud…twice in two days (and getting pulled out by oxen) and make them jealous with the idea of spending afternoons at the beach, cerveza in hand.  However, by the 10th repetition of the story, it begins to sound oddly rehearsed.

 

 And more importantly, there is the realization that back home, life went on without me.  While we spew our tales of tropical paradise they are eagerly waiting for an opportunity to share their own stories of growth, which I have tactfully tried to avoid hearing, for fear that listening to them will only make me terribly homesick and ready to jump ship, turn in my airline ticket and stay put, in Boston. By our second week home, I broke into tears in front of my husband from sheer exhaustion and expressed the need for a vacation.

 

Then, there is the definition of home, altogether. I throw the word around loosely, but the truth is that, even half a year into my Nicaraguan sabbatical, I don’t quite know where home is anymore. To further complicate matters, after the obligatory “life is clearly treating you well there,” everyone follows by asking when we intend to move back home – to Boston.  I’ve learned to take this as a compliment, suggesting that people miss us and want us home; however, it does re-open the proverbial can of worms.  How long are we staying abroad?  Is this a lifetime decision? 

 

The reality is that life abroad is pretty incredible and that first trip back is revitalizing and essential.  Nevertheless, it does come with its challenges, some great and some small.

Some recommendations:

-Plan some alone time (or time with your spouse, significant other, etc.), particularly if this trip is intended to also be a vacation.  The first time home can be exhausting, filled with friendly reunions and family visits and you’ll need some time away.

-Remember that your friends and family had lives going on, too, while you were away.  It’s important to ask about them and not hyper-focus on your life-style change.  Most people will inquire after your big adventure, but be sure to reciprocate.

-It’s cliché, but do your best to live in the moment.  I spent the better part of a week waking up in the morning and counting how many days I had left before returning to San Juan – not because I couldn’t wait to get back – but because I was already sad about leaving – and I had just arrived!  Enjoy the time you have back in the States.

-Do be prepared for some culture shock. 

-Before departing Nicaragua, take stock of what you currently have and make a list of the things you want to purchase while in the States.  It’s exciting to return home to Suburbia/Mallandia/etc., but it’s also overwhelming having relied on 3-5 stores max for the greater part of a season.  It’s best to return home with a plan of what you need to purchase, and get the shopping out of the way, so that you can spend the remainder of your vacation with family, friends, and relaxing,

-Bring limited items and an extra suitcase to the States so that you have room in your suitcase to return with things.  These days, airlines are nickel and diming us for everything, so it’s preferable to pay for extra luggage in only one direction.

 

– Have fun!

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Packing/Moving List – Nicaragua

Before moving to San Juan del Sur, I was lucky enough to make a connection with a woman who had made a similar transition to Nicaragua, with her boyfriend, just a few years before us.  Her advice on what things to bring to Nicaragua were invaluable.  In the same spirit, I’d like to pass along some of her words of wisdom, as well as a few of my own regarding preparing for the big move:

1) Bring creature comforts that will help ease the transition – photos from home, your favorite tea, books, etc.

2) Good linens are expensive in Nicaragua – they can be purchased in places like Pricesmart (in bulk), but I recommend bringing a set or two of sheets and towels.  

3) Flip flops!  I rarely wear any other type of footwear.  

4) Sunglasses

5) Electronics are worth bringing if they are things you use regularly, i.e. laptops, iPods, etc.  Appliances are more expensive in Nicaragua, so at some point, you need to evaluate what you need from home or what you can live without.  I’ve learned to toast bread in our oven and defrost food in the sun.

6) Headlamps are a great investment (and actually very inexpensive).  When the power goes out, you will be happy to be hand’s free.

7) Medication that you require and you can’t get in Nicaragua.  It’s helpful to know the generic names of your medications, as well as the dosage, because you can often find more common ones in pharmacies in Nicaragua.

8) Shorts – might seem obvious, but I never wore shorts when I lived in the States.  I always stuck with capris, etc.  However, it gets hot down here and you will appreciate having  lightweight clothes.

9) Clothing in general: bring breathable fabrics – cotton, linen.  

10) Raincoat – stay away from heavy, unbreathable gortex.  It stays pretty hot when it rains and you don’t want to sweat under your coat.  It’s also worth investing in a looooong raincoat that falls below your knees.  In heavy rains, your lower half will get soaked in a waist-length raincoat.

11) My husband can’t live without his Goldbond powder – it helps to ease the chaffing during the really humid days 🙂

 

It’s also helpful “to reevaluate what your “needs” are and simplify them. Once you’ve spent some time among Nicaraguan families and seen how much they are able to do with so few resources, you might reconsider some things you previously thought were indispensable. This is highly personal, but you might very well discover that in your new lifestyle in Central America you can live more simply than you’d expected.”  borrowed from Transitions Abroad.

Moving to Nicaragua with Dogs

For pet owners considering a move abroad, the question of what to do with your beloved furry friend during your sabbatical eventually enters the picture.  For me, it was a no-brainer – Cooper was coming with us to Nicaragua.  I’ve had him since he was 6-weeks old and I wasn’t about to abandon him in his 10th year so that I could live the tropical life abroad.  Easier said than done?  Yes and no.  I am certain that transporting Cooper, our lab/coon-hound mutt, across the ocean caused me much more anxiety than it ever did him.  Nevertheless, some planning on our end helped ease the process and produce both a frisky pup and a relieved owner at Nicaragua customs.  

Some tips:

-Visit with your vet prior to your move to determine your dog’s health and ability to manage the flight.  Also, request a copy of your dog’s health and vaccination records.  Make sure dog is up to date on all vaccinations, including rabies.  In some cases, you might be required to de-worm your dog, as well.  Also, research vets in the location in which you intend to move.  In San Juan, The Stone and Waves Veterinary Clinic is a good choice.

-Within 2 weeks of your departure, schedule a vet appt. to obtain necessary health certificates for your dog.  We received mixed messages on whether or not this paperwork needed to be notarized, so we had it done to be safe.  In our case, it actually needed to be stamped by the USDA-APHIS office, which was located more than an hour from our home.  We also were told by some that the papers needed to be stamped by the Nicaraguan Consulate.  After much back and forth, we learned that this was, in fact, not necessary.

-Purchase a crate for transport (must be large enough for dog to stand up and turn around in).  If you don’t already own one, I recommend checking Craig’s List.  The day you depart, put a t-shirt that you slept in the previous night in your dog’s crate – he’ll appreciate your scent and it will help to calm him.

-Call the airline you intend to fly with and ask about their travel requirements/restrictions.  Many have temperature and size restrictions.  You may need to be prepared to send your dog before or after you, due to temperature variations or change your own flight if you want to fly at the same time.  Keep temperature/time of year in mind when you are booking your flight.  Some might also require that your dog be de-planed by airplane staff during long layovers, which is an additional cost to you, but well worth it for the health of your dog.

-Airlines WILL NOT ACCEPT pets that have been sedated with tranquilizers, as they are not able to able to adjust to sudden movements in the flight and can get hurt.  However, my vet did recommend an herbal anxiety reducer like PetCalm, which appeared to work well.

-Upon arrival in Managua, we were told that we would need an agent to receive the dog, for a fee of USD$35.  This was not the case; however, we did find (while in Houston, in transit), that the Managua customs agent was leaving at 4 pm (we were due to arrive at 6 pm and told that they would be there until midnight) and they were insisting that because the agent would not be there to clear the dog, Cooper would have to spend the night in the airport.  I simply refused to allow this to happen.  Thanks to our wonderful friends, who arrived at the Managua airport early and pulled some strings, the customs agents stayed long enough to clear Cooper so that he was there to greet us, barking away, when we came through customs!

The USDA has a great site with helpful information on flying with pets internationally.

For people flying to Nicaragua with pets, Continental Airlines (thru Houston) will kennel your dog during layovers – taking them out, walking and peeing them, etc.  We did not love the service we received, but prior to traveling, it definitely gave us peace of mind to know that someone would care for Cooper in transit.

After all the hassle, I must say that it was entirely worth it!  Cooper is living his retirement in a tropical climate that has proven to be great for his health!  He is happier than ever and so am I having the peace of mind knowing that my “family” is in tact!

4 Months Here and Loving It!

So, my husband, dog, and I have been living here for over 4 months now and we are loving it! The rainy season has just begun and everything has turned green and lush. With the exception of a few days of straight downpours, we’ve had incredible weather. Usually, it rains for a few hours – either early in the morning or late in the evening, but the days are often full of sun.

One of my favorite places to visit is Playa Majagual. The beach is beautiful and the sunsets, over the rock outcroppings, can’t be beat.

Nicaragua Vacation Rentals – San Juan del Sur

There was a time when I complained that I didn’t have enough to keep me busy…I suspect I will curse the day I said that! I now have a second job! I have joined my good friend, Suyen, assisting with rentals at Vacation Rentals Nicaragua,a division of Aurora Beachfront Realty, where Justin is working as a Real Estate Agent.

I must admit that it’s kind of fun to drive into work with my husband everyday, even though we don’t see much of each other throughout the day!

Nicaragua is Safer than U.S.

When my husband and I first told people we were moving to Nicaragua, we were met with a lot of skepticism. Most were concerned about our safety, as many believe this country to be dangerous.  Which is why when I read this article in CNN, I felt the need to post it.

“CNN reports that a global index of peace sponsored by the respected Economist Intelligence Group ranks Nicaragua safer than the U.S. On a peace scale of 1 (most peaceful) to 5 (most violent), Nicaragua is 1.92. It’s higest sub-ratings are earned for its respect of human rights, very low odds of terrorist attacks and armed conflict, as well as treatment of foreigners and property rights.  There is crime here and elsewhere in Nicaragua, as there is everywhere on this planet, but when it happens here, it’s the talk of the neighborhood and the talk of the town, which highlights how rare it is when it happens — and how special this place is.”

 

 

Poneloya and León

We headed north to Poneloya, with a bunch of friends, this past weekend to watch a surf competition in Las Peñitas.  Poneloya is a popular beach about a 20-minute drive from León.  We stayed in this huge house right on the beach.  Everyone brought food and we cooked up shrimp, steak, drank Nica-libres, and watched the sunset.

 

The next day, we stayed with some friends at their parents hostel in León and wandered around the city.