Norma Hawthorne’s 9 Tips for Living in Mexico Successfully (Mas o Menos)

Norma Hawthorne’s 9 Tips for Living in Mexico Successfully (choose your own priority order):
  1. Speak the language. Learn to speak the language. Try to learn to speak the language. Keep trying.  Hire a tutor.  Take a class.  Don’t give up and expect Spanish-speakers to understand you!  Otherwise, you will stay isolated within the gringo community.
  2. Before driving to Mexico, sell your high-performance vehicle in the U.S. and buy something simple that Mexican mechanics know how to repair, like a Ford, a Nissan, or a Honda.  I recently sold my 10-year old Saab 900s and bought a 2003 Honda CRV in preparation for my Oaxaca move.
  3. Visit many times (at least three or four) for at least several weeks at a time before you make the commitment to even rent in a particular location.  Stay with friends.  Talk to people.  Get the “lay of the land.”  Don’t let the romantic notion of living in Mexico — where it is warm, friendly and inexpensive — turn your head too quickly.
  4. Rent, don’t buy or build immediately.  Start out with several weeks in the winter.  Then, come in the off-season – during the rains or in the hot and dusty months.  Know what you are getting into regarding the climate.   It’s not pure blue sky and balmy days year ‘round.
  5. Create a base of friends and a support system before you make the move.  Get connected with local cultural organizations or volunteer groups.  For example, expats gather at the Oaxaca Lending Library for educational infrastructure, connection, and doing good in the world of Oaxaca.
  6. Expand your multicultural lifestyle and friendship circles – get to know the locals to appreciate and share history, culture, wisdom.  Understand that you are a guest in someone else’s country.  Treat all with respect and kindness.
  7. Understand that cultural competency means accepting things the way they are rather than trying to change them or make things “better” (in our own image of what is right).  Mexicans know what is best for them in their country — they have been living this way for thousands of years.  There is a lot we can learn from them without trying to “fix” it to suit U.S. standards.
  8. Stay open to adventure, to change, to the unpredictability of what each day might bring, to opportunity and who you might meet, what unusual delicacy you might taste, an impromptu invitation.
  9. Relax and enjoy yourself.  Saving money should not be your primary motivation for moving to Mexico.  It should be to expand your cultural competency, improve your language skills, and to stretch yourself through exploration and discovery.

Want to add your tips in the Comment section?

5 Responses to Norma Hawthorne’s 9 Tips for Living in Mexico Successfully (Mas o Menos)

  1. Once in Mexico, to improve your Spanish skills put yourself in situations where you ‘have to’ speak Spanish. Don’t rely on san miguel de allende events friends to translate or speak for you. Go outside your comfort zone – the more exposure the better. For me, living in Mexico is a lifelong endeavor and you can live life to the fullest restaurantes en san miguel de allende.

  2. Two more things I might add…
    Expose yourself to the Mexican culture anyway you can especially if there is a Spanish speaking community where you live. Volunteer to help Spanish speaking children in school, become a literacy volunteer to Spanish speaking immigrants. Gain familiarity with the culture. Language is culture. Listen to Spanish speaking radio or TV while you’re studying and get some Latin music you like and play it over and over and over. This will jump-up your comprehension faster. You have to be able to hear it to speak it.

    Once in Mexico, to improve your Spanish skills put yourself in situations where you ‘have to’ speak Spanish. Don’t rely on friends to translate or speak for you. Go outside your comfort zone – the more exposure the better.
    Reading magazines in Spanish are the way to pick up new ‘current’ useful vocabulary. Learn the words you will need before you take on a new adventure and then use them. You have to use a new word in context at least 30 times before it becomes yours and you remember it!
    I previously was an ESL teacher and I’ve told my Spanish speaking students “It’s taken me 40 years to learn Spanish and you don’t have that much time!” “So get out there and start talking. Making lots and lots of errors is part of the process.” AND it’s all good.

  3. Seems like very solid advice, and nice and concise. I had to laugh, because before opening the email link to the piece I could see the first couple lines only. I could see there were 8 tips, and thought the first five were: “Learn to speak the language. Try to learn to speak the language. Keep trying. Hire a tutor. Take a class.”
    That was really making the point for me, which is that I must work and work on my Spanish, ahead of all other considerations.
    Yesterday I ordered “Nobody Understands the Spanish I Speak”; thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    • Hi, Bryan. Yes, the first missive is intended for ME, too. Because we are not native speakers, I think it is a lifelong endeavor if one chooses to live in Mexico or even visit often! Thanks for the feedback, and if you’d like to add any pointers, please feel free.

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