The Expat Community In The Lake Chapala Area
From the Dictionary: Expat, exile, expatriate, a person who is voluntarily absent from home or country.
It is harder for me to write about the expats than the Mexicans. It is acceptable to claim ignorance of the Mexicans’ lives since I am an outsider. But I am an expat. I have no excuse for my meager knowledge of the expat society here. My only explanation is that I am an outsider, not a joiner. This quality in me has usually worked to my disadvantage. I am not invited to the many of the parties that go on starting now and lasting through the high season.
When I was a little girl, my father often quit jobs and we moved around a lot. Many times I came into classrooms in the middle of school years. I always thought the way to success was education. Because my parents weren’t educated, I thought that was the missing key. So I worked hard for an education and spent much of my adult life in colleges. I obtained degrees that never got me good paying jobs because I wasn’t interested in anything else but art and writing.
I am telling you this personal background for a reason. It has to do with an extensive survey that was done on the reasons that people make it in a foreign country. David Truly helped do the survey. David is called “The Professor” here. He is one of the musicians for the Tall Boys. He also works with the University of Guadalajara. Through an extensive survey, they found three qualities that helped people be successful living in a foreign country. First off, none of the reasons had anything to do with MONEY. That was irrelevant.
Here is the list of the three most important reasons:
1. Education. People with higher educations are more likely to move to another country to live.
2. People who have moved around a lot. Only 20% of the Americans move further than 50 miles from where they live when they decide to retire.
3. People who don’t like to follow the crowd; they prefer to take off the beaten track vacations. They don’t like packaged tours or cruises.
Looking back on my past, I see that all the things I had thought of as liabilities are actuality assets as far as making it easier for me to be happy in a foreign country. That felt good to hear. Finally, there seemed to be some rhyme and reason in my life because it led me to this beautiful place.
I have lived here three years now. Everyday I learn more and make new friends. I have a network of people I can depend on in case of an emergency, such as my recent broken ankle. As I said in my earlier post, for the Mexicans, families are their key support networks. From families, then it radiates out to friends.
With the expats, most of us have had to leave our families behind. So our support network becomes our friends and social circles. One of the major sources of support is the Lake Chapala Society in Ajijic. The American Legion is the center in Chapala for support. The Red Cross is vital for our health needs. The Red Cross has many fund raising functions, including a delicious bake sale.
There are so many ways here to meet people, from lectures to classes. Do you like to play bridge? There are many bridge players here, from the serious to the casual. How about dominoes? Or you can go to lectures and dance classes, Art classes and Thai Chi. How about taking Meditation classes? AA and Al Anon groups are both very strong here.
I can go on and on with this list. Everyday the calendar here is filled with things to do and most people are open to new members. It is also easy to meet people at the outdoor markets. In restaurants you might get approached and offered help in settling here. We are all in the same boat. We are all outsiders and newcomers. Open Circle at the Lake Chapala Society on Sunday mornings is a great place to meet people.
Okay there are a few social circles here that don’t like outsiders. They are closed systems. But why would you want to join them anyway? I think most people enjoy being around friendly, accepting, loving groups.
In every town that I have ever visited, there are special places where groups of men hang out and have coffee in the mornings. Sometimes their wives join in but usually it is just the men. There are several places I know of like that. One is in Chapala, in the plaza. These men always welcome women to visit with them but basically it is a chat time for the men.
In later posts, I will talk more specifically about some of these groups and happenings here. For now, I just want to give an overview of what is available. I have heard that this is the largest area of expats in Mexico. People have said there are twenty thousand and others have said there are over thirty thousand of us. We have no way to know the real statistics.
The coffee shop at the Lake Chapala Society is another good place to meet people. I visited it every morning before I broke my ankle.
Some people just hide out in their mountain top homes and rarely come into town. That is possible. You can come here and hide out, live in a gated community and almost totally replicate your life in the States or Canada. Just go into town for groceries and avoid all contact with the Mexicans. Maybe you will deal with Mexican gardeners and maids. But that sounds boring to me. I prefer to go to the Art Openings and other gatherings where everyone is welcome.
If you can learn Spanish, then another world opens up to you. The Mexicans are gracious people and love to help foreigners learn their language. Many times they will invite you to their parties and then sometimes there are marriages. I have seen some happy Mexican and American or Mexican and Canadian couples here. I have met the man in the photo below. Not only did he marry a Mexican woman but he is also helping to raise her children. He seems happy to have this new responsibility and they all seem to love and respect him.
One of the hardest things about leaving one’s own country is leaving family behind. I have found that I see my family more now that I am here than when I lived in the States. They didn’t like the small town I lived in and they love to visit me in Mexico. I also often call them on Skype. I can see them and they can see me. What a great invention.
Some people have even decided to raise their families in this area instead of in the States. Danny is living here full time. Every time I see him, he is smiling. He is learning how to ride horses. He is becoming a real cowboy.
I like this old saying: No matter where you go, there you are. You take yourself with you. If you live in fear and distrust in your own country, you will live in fear and distrust in Mexico. If you live in joy and love, you will find that here. For me, Mexico is my paradise. I hope you find yours, wherever that might be in this world. If it is Mexico, please contact us. We will do whatever we can to help you. Transitions are difficult for everyone. It is nice to know there is help available for you.