The Top 5 Reasons I Live Outside the U.S.A.

Via Michelle Margaret Fajkus
on Jul 4, 2013
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Confessions of an Expat Yogini

As a kid, I was never proud to be a Texan; I despised all things ¨country.¨

As a young adult, I was not proud to be an American.

Spending a semester studying abroad in London in 1999 with a pack of obnoxious Yankee college students didn’t help my image of the ugly american loudmouth tourist. I wished I was British or at least Canadian.

In all my travels during the Bush administration, I had to disavow my allegiance to the flag and remind folks that W. was actually born in Conneticut, and, no, not everyone from Texas loves him.

USA map puzzleHaving lived abroad in Guatemala for almost four years, I am acutely aware of my White Privilege and duly appreciative of all the karmic factors that led to my precious human birth in Texas, USA, 33 years ago. I know I am blessed to be a passport-holding U.S. citizen and so is my six month old daughter.

Her father will become my legal husband in a civil ceremony on July 20, thereby skipping to the front of the immigration line and getting permanent residency (better known as a Green Card). Although we neither plan to move to the States nor believe deeply in the institution of marriage, this is the most efficient way for my love, a mostly undocumented Colombiano, to be allowed to visit my home country.

For now, I am incredibly happy residing outside the borders of what many consider the greatest country in the world for the following five reasons, in no particular order.

1. Low Cost of Living, High Quality of Life.

I currently earn about as much money per hour as I did in my did in my first job as a restaurant hostess. In other words, I make, mas o menos, the 1996 minimum wage. And yet, since rent is next to nothing, fresh inexpensive food is abundant, and I can walk or bike pretty much anywhere I need to go, my quality of life is higher than ever. Personally, living in a place of natural beauty, whole foods (not the supermarket chain but rather whole unprocessed produce) and a tranquilo pace of life is worth more to me than all the conveniences of home.

2. Shelter from the Consumption Storm.

Gringos are champion consumers. Living at a lush, lovely lake, I am somewhat sheltered from the storm of unnecessary products and superfluous services. In my neck of the woods, lulu is a fruit, not a lemon, and not overpriced yoga pants. Most importantly, choosing to live without TV and with minimal doses of internet, we can somewhat, maybe, kind of protect our daughter from the girlie-girl princess culture that permeates the Americas and beyond.

Yes, you can find shelter in the States, too, but it is easier to unplug when wifi is not ubiquitous. It’s tough to revert to consumer therapy when the nearest Old Navy is thousands of miles away.

3. The Freedom to Teach—and Learn.

Everybody knows the public school system in the U.S. is broken, and nobody seems to know how to fix it. Rampant emphasis on standardized testing scores and the disrespectfully low pay of teachers in Texas led me out of my teaching career in Austin after just three years. In Panajachel, Guatemala, at LIFE School, I have found a wonderful learning community in which the incorporation of yoga and mindfulness is welcomed, standards are flexible, assessments are creative, and children and teachers are excited about coming to school every day.

In addition to having more autonomy as a teacher, I have learned so much by living abroad. I have improved my Spanish immensely. I have learned how to be alone and happy. I have learned how to be in a relationship. I have learned how to navigate Guatemalan traffic and bureaucracy. I have learned how to mother. I have learned how to be more compassionate.

I have learned how to let go and live in the present moment, and that is, eternally, the best lesson of them all.

4. Accessible and Abundant Travel Opportunities.

So many exotic places to explore, in Central and South America and all across the globe. Living in Guatemala, I can easily and inexpensively get to Mexico, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. Living in Austin, I could feasibly drive myself to Santa Fe or New Orleans or.. Oklahoma?

5. Buen Provecho.

When I first moved to Guate, I was thrown off by their custom of saying ¨Buen Provecho,¨before, during and-or after meals, which roughly translates to “may you benefit from eating this food.” Now, it´s one of the things I love best.

One of the best practices I have picked up in living abroad is mindful eating. It simply means pausing and feeling gratitude for our food before chowing down, eating slowly, chewing with awareness, and taking conscious pauses between bites.

For a girl who had been accustomed to eating fast food on-the-go, often while driving from one work or social commitment to another, mindful eating was revolutionary. It’s still not something that I do at every meal, but I try to eat at least one meal mindfully per day.

As with everything, practice helps immensely.

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Ed: Bryonie Wise


About Michelle Margaret Fajkus

Michelle Margaret is a Gemini yogini, writer, teacher and retreat leader who founded Yoga Freedom in 2002 in Austin, Texas. Her home since 2012 is Lake Atitlán, Guatemala where she lives in a tiny eco cabin with her Colombiano partner and their adorable daughter, dog and two gatos. Michelle has been writing this column for elephant journal since 2010 and has written some inspiring books, with more on the way. She leads yoga and mindfulness retreats and serves as the retreat managers for the stunningly beautiful Villa Sumaya on majestic Lago Atitlan. Her lineage is the very esoteric Yoga Schmoga, which incorporates hatha yoga asana, dharma (Buddhist) teachings, pranayama (breath work), yin yoga, mindfulness practices and meditation. Join Michelle on retreat in Guatemala!


15 Responses to “The Top 5 Reasons I Live Outside the U.S.A.”

  1. Great article, Margaret. Yes, you HAVE been an elephant writer since 2010, and I really enjoyed working with you during my years at elephant.

    I've been studying the world and putting pins in my Google map for places Jane and I might want to live. I'm up to about 200 so far, one of which is Panajachel, Guatemala, of course. Sounds wonderful.

    Bob W. Editor
    Best of Yoga Philosophy

  2. SireneB says:

    Yes. When my daughter decided to move from L.A. to Montreal for circus school, I was all for it. Now, 6 years later she hardly ever visits the U.S. unless she is performing here. She spends most of her time in Canada, Europe, and Mexico, with the future wide open – one of her young colleagues has travelled to over 30 countries. Every time I see her (usually in another country), she seems less and less "American."

  3. lynda says:

    My son has moved to the UK and never plans to return to the US…wish I could as well. Loved your article!

  4. Michelle says:

    Thanks, Bob. Igualmente. (Likewise.) it would be So Cool if you and your wife moved to Pana. There is a great expat community there. Namaste!

  5. MatBoy says:

    The first thing I learned when I moved out of the US 35 years ago was how to eat well. Other cultures actually take eating fresh food and the sacredness of sharing good food for granted. Access to health care was probably the second thing, we feel the US is just SO wrong with this one. We now live in the US and we think it is generally a 'bad deal': too much money stress just to get by and not enough down-time for relaxation. Our kids have moved back overseas because they find it much easier to launch their careers there. Plus, it is cheaper and way more fun. Not sure how we will stay in the good ole USofA, seems like a frightening place to grow old.

  6. In 1983, I left the land of beer & money (Wisconsin) for the land of milk & honey (Sweden). The quality of my life is VERY high — partly because I'm American and partly because I married a Swede with a wonderful family and fantastic friends (some expats are not as fortunate). While I don't plan to permanently move back to the US, I can't imagine living without my annual dose of American culture. As I approach retirement, I intend to do what a few of my pals do: summers in Sweden and winters in southern US or EU.

  7. yoga freedom says:

    thanks for your comment, sirene! it sounds like your daughter has found a great international gig.

  8. yoga freedom says:

    thank you for commenting, lynda. you can do it too!

  9. yoga freedom says:

    thanks for reading and commenting. good points. i failed to mention that when i needed a c-section when i had my baby in january, it cost about $4000, without insurance, and with one of the best OBs in guatemala. health care costs have gotten so outrageous in the US, even for the insured. maybe you should move back abroad!? namaste, michelle

  10. yoga freedom says:

    sounds like a dream, judy! thank you for reading and commenting. i, too, appreciate my annual visits to the usa. there is no place like home, even if you make your current home in another country. namaste, michelle

  11. The immigrant groups generally share many similarities of their immigration experiences in the United States and these similarities may be more so within and between the Asian immigrant groups. 

  12. atenea says:

    I'm relatively new to elephant and I've very much enjoyed everything I've read so far, but your pieces, to my taste and interests, truly stand out. This one has helped me and other readers learn much more about you, and it just keeps making more sense to me as why I relate to your outlook on life so much. Yoga, to me, es una manera de estar en el mundo. I'm Mexican and spent too many a vacation in the US as a chiled and teenager, and even a whole year as an exchange student back in the early 1990s. At one point I decided never to go back to a country that is permanently at war with another nation and my last trip to the US was in 1996. I could also add another 4 reasons to explain my choice, but that'd make for an article not suited for elephant. Saludos hasta Panajachel, donde pasé mi luna de miel. Namasté!

  13. Ally says:

    Woohoo! Escaping the fascist monster! The one that inflates and regulates everyone into financial bondage, demands your children be brainwashed and depletes everyone's spirits as it creates conflict with every entity from foreign powers, its population, and even itself. Rock on, sister!

  14. seb says:

    It is so true about the quality of life , I came from Africa and you know when i came over to the Uk to live I could net believe how much lover the quality of life was here , while there are many great things here even to this day i feel that i am missing out on that

  15. david says:

    thank you so much for this. I'm immensely inspired now and utterly grateful. namaste beautiful soul. pura vida!