Six months ago I made a somewhat significant life change. I quit my dream job in London, the successful publishing career I had worked towards for 10 years, left my home, my close circle of friends and my new boyfriend, and moved to Mexico where I had no job and knew nobody.
As daunting as moving to Mexico alone with no real plan was, the thought of doing what I had been doing for the last ten years was far scarier. As we approached 30, my circle of friends begun getting married/pregnant/a mortgage/all three, and it dawned on me that after a blurred decade of after-work drinks, brunches, day parties, and generally giving London everything I had, I'd somehow arrived at the point of settling down and being a grown up and I was not at all ready for it. What about all the travelling and seeing the world and carefree fun I was supposed to have before we reached this point in our lives? Very few friends shared my Peter Pan philosophy and, watching them settle down, I realised a) it was now or never for me to make a big change, and b) I needed to go it alone. I was already used to a salary that afforded me exotic holidays and a nice home and I figured the longer I waited the harder it would be to leave my increasingly luxe London life. The more comfortable I became, the more starting again in another country would seem too daunting, risky and unfeasible. So while I was pretty content with regards to my work, love and social lives, the thought of continuing like that for another ten, twenty, thirty years – my travelling restricted to a 25-day annual leave allocation – made me feel panicky and claustrophobic. Add to that Brexit and the messy politics of Britain in 2016, it felt like the right time to leave.
So that's how I ended up handing in my notice to my wonderfully supportive boss who gave me the freedom to work creatively plus a bonus and pay rise every year (virtually unheard of in publishing), selling almost all my worldly possessions (mainly, it turned out, books and coats) at the local car boot sale, leaving the great guy I'd been seeing for six months and the first person I'd felt anything for in six years, and buying a one-way ticket to Mexico. I could speak a decent level of Spanish which gave me that extra confidence to actually get on the plane.
Six months later and I am living two blocks from the beach in a Mexican surf town and teaching English to support myself, and that boyfriend I'd left behind has since packed in his London life and joined me. For many who feel trapped in the 9-5 commuter London life, this is the dream, but, as I quickly came to realise, the reality is not all margaritas and fish tacos in the sun. OK so there is actually a lot of that, but there are also some not so 'bueno' aspects to consider before jacking it all in to become a language teacher in paradise.
1. The Heat
30 degree temperatures, clear blue skies and non-stop sunshine is wonderful... until you actually have to do something other than sit on the beach drinking happy hour cocktails. Try walking for 15 minutes down a dirt track in the blistering sun before waiting for a bus on the side of a motorway, only to arrive at school drenched in sweat ready to spend five hours teaching in a stuffy classroom which has a ceiling fan in place of air conditioning. Then you will think fondly of those cool British downpours, I promise.
My head of department position in London was in the £35-50K income bracket which, after I'd paid my rent, left me able to eat out, buy clothes, go on at least three holidays a year and keep up with all the special/meaningful/expensive joint 30th birthday presents I was buying on a regular basis. My current teaching position pays me an hourly rate of... £3.35. It's in line with Mexican wages but still a hefty pay cut to take at a time when your friends are getting promoted to director positions. That rate is not including the hour or two spent at home preparing for every hour lesson I teach. Taking planning time into consideration, I am paid around £1.60 per hour which is less than a quarter of the 2017 UK minimum wage.
Having not yet learned to ride the motorbike I bought with my boyfriend, I am dependent on him for lifts to school which is good for neither our relationship nor my sense of independence. Having to ask for a lift to school is not something I expected to be doing at the age of 30. My level of Spanish being adequate but with definite room for improvement means I am also dependent on my (Spanish) boyfriend for far more than I would like to be. Initially this was a welcome change after London, where I took charge of everything from ordering at restaurants to making his dentist appointments, and this balance redress is definitely a positive thing for our relationship. But with the new-found respect and affection I feel for him as he easily negotiates a deal on our house or borrows a car from a local, I have unexpectedly lost something of the fierce independence I was so proud of as a solo female traveller.
4. Thrown In At The Deep End
From finding a home in a place where you know no one to navigating the Mexican world of work, I find myself thrown in at the deep end in almost every aspect of my new life. In school I've been given the task of 'teaching conversation', which means I have no syllabus or text book to work from. “Do whatever, just get them to talk” was my brief from the school director before my first class. You don't realise how much you rely on your network of family and friends for general life advice and support until you build a new life the other side of the world from them and suddenly, navigating the smallest things like bus routes or how to top up your phone (yes it’s a return to the pay-as-you-go days for me) becomes a challenge. Moving abroad and overcoming a language barrier challenges you in ways life in London never could. It forces you to be resourceful and fix things. I may have lost some of my previous independence but I've also overcome moments of sheer panic where I've felt completely out of my depth, and those small victories have felt better than any successes I've had in my career. It’s hard to believe the sense of achievement you can feel from successfully making an appointment for a bikini wax over the phone in Spanish.
5. Making Friends
All schools are different so I'm sure my experience isn't typical, but my teaching job has so far added nothing to my social life except having to go home early on Friday nights so that I am fresh for my Saturday morning class. With no staffroom or communal space, and us all teaching at different times, the most interaction I have with the other teachers is a quick hello as we pass each other leaving or entering a classroom, so I definitely can't count my colleagues as friends. As someone who usually has a big network of friends and a busy social life this makes me feel like a failure. I'm sure most English teachers living abroad hang out with their colleagues and have a great social life thanks to their school but my experience of teaching so far has been a pretty lonely one. That said, after my initial period of impatience and frustration at speaking only to my boyfriend and the waitress at the cafe, I have adjusted to the pace of life here, chilled the hell out and have made some friends. Of course my social life in a sleepy surf town will never compare what I had in England but, after some minor adjustments to my expectations, I am fine with that. After London, the village feel has taken some getting used to but I have met people through volunteering with a local street dog charity and these days I can rarely make it to the corner shop without stopping to chat with at least two people.
My boyfriend works five nights a week 4pm-midnight, whilst I mainly work in the daytime. This means I spend more evenings than I'd like to alone, sometimes in restaurants, other times eating takeaway waiting for him to come home. Obviously this could happen in England, or anywhere in the world, but when you have just moved somewhere and your place of work doesn’t offer much opportunity for a social life, having a completely different schedule to your partner can be quite isolating. That said,we have recently adopted a tiny puppy, rescued from the street, so I now have company of the highest quality during my evenings home alone.
7. Missing Out
It goes without saying that I miss my friends and family every day and for me one of the saddest realities of moving away in your late twenties/early thirties is that your choice means you will inevitably miss out on important chapters in their lives. This year I will miss the weddings and hen dos of two good friends, the birth of my best friend's first baby, and my mum's 60th birthday party. I'd love to fly back for every special occasion, especially my mum's birthday, but the cost of return flights would be impossible on my current salary of £3.35 per hour. I remember that ‘90s children's TV show Bernard's Watch and wish that I could stop time in England, unstopping it when I finally return so that nothing will have changed and I wouldn't have missed anything. But you can't have it all. I don't have Bernard's Watch, but I do have Whatsapp, Facebook and Facetime, and they are my lifelines to the world I am no longer part of.
Despite all of the above, I have no regrets about my big life change and have adjusted quickly to the beach life which is a million miles away from my London routine. OK so I get paid basically pennies, but the cost of living here is low so on balance it works out. We can afford a house with a roof terrace and sea view, a motorbike and to eat out most days – none of which I could afford to do in England on my publishing salary. I actually work very little, just three days a week, leaving me time to do other things like volunteering, writing, reading and keeping fit – things I was always complaining I didn't have time for in London. I live a simple, relaxed life that my mind and body are grateful for and my previously debilitating IBS is pretty much non-existent now despite the ridiculous amount of chili and hot sauce I put on every meal.
The main worries I had before I left – missing my old friends, not making new ones, and of course leaving my boyfriend – all somehow worked out once I took the risk. Of course I miss my friends terribly but ten of them have already made it over to visit and still more have promised to. I feel physically healthier and mentally happier. Now and again I consider what will happen when we finally decide to return home, if I will ever be able to afford to own a house for example or will I be unemployable after so long away? Those thoughts bring the familiar twinges of anxiety so I bat them away, preferring to live in the here and now rather than worry about what the future might hold. Quitting a successful career, taking a huge pay cut and making a radical life change isn’t for everyone but for me, at least for the time being, it seems to be working out.