As a teacher, mom and ex-pat, I know the perils of living outside one’s passport country and the challenges of parenting, I marvel at your guts. Before you recount your year in Belize, could you give readers a brief background of your nomadic childhood?
My first adventure started at the age of three months, when my Danish mom and English dad decided to raise me in Nigeria, a country in West Africa. There I grew up with a Great Dane to protect me from the occasional thief who broke into our family’s colonial house outside Lagos.
When I was six, we moved to Paris, and three years later, my parents sent me alone on a plane from Paris to Los Angeles to visit my cousins. I knew from that day on that I would live in California one day. After boarding school and University in the U.K., followed by internships and jobs in Glasgow, Brussels, Strasbourg and Paris, I wanted to see life in the U.S.
In 1983, I moved from Paris to California. I was twenty-five and knew I wanted to marry an American. At age 13, I was fascinated by NASA astronauts, and fell in love with their rich, deep voices. I knew I would marry an American man with an astronaut voice. I met my husband, Duke, in a “gutsy” way: I responded to an ad in a magazine. I fell in love with his voice first.
I’ve lived in Orange County, California since 1983, except for the year we uprooted our family and took our three sons to Belize, Central America.
Making any move with children is challenging, especially in the teenage years, what compelled you to do this?
Many things, all building up to a point where my husband and I couldn’t wait to leave Orange County’s
comforts and move to a hut on stilts in Belize. My husband was overworked and fed up with Los Angeles’ gridlocked freeways. He longed for adventure. I was fed up with our oldest son’s teenage defiance, peer pressures facing him, and the entitlement attitude of kids in our neighborhood. And lastly, I was selfish and wanted my own Caribbean paradise.
Did your boys continue academic programs during their time in Belize?
Our initial plan was to send our three sons to the local school in Corozal, northern Belize. All the guidebooks mentioned how good the schools were in Corozal, however, when we purchased the high school English language book, here’s what happened. (Excerpt from my memoir.)
“There’s no way I’m going to school in Belize. There’s a chapter on how to tell time.”
Duke pulled the truck over to the side of the road. He thumbed through to the next chapter and said, “And here’s a chapter on how to add ‘ing’ to the end of a word.”
“Maybe that’s Josh’s fifth-grade book,” I suggested.
“No, it’s the ninth-grade one,” Duke said. We stared at one another in disbelief, and Alec gave me a look I interpreted as, “So what are you going to do about my education?”
We had to figure out plan B. Fortunately our two older sons were able to follow Keystone National High School, an Internet program based in the U.S. with American teachers online. Our youngest son attended a private American elementary school.
What did you learn most about yourself?
The main thing I learned, which was huge for me, is that paradise is not a physical location but a state of being. I learned that even a place that seems like paradise has its own set of stress factors. I also discovered things about my children that weren’t apparent when we were living our daily routine in suburban America.
Were there difficulties in repatriation back to California? Finding jobs? Making up school work?
It took us awhile to adapt, especially me. It took me several months to get used to the hectic pace of life back in California. I got upset when people were in a hurry and wouldn’t make eye contact. People seemed so focused on themselves.
My husband went back into the field of law, as this was his specialty. The job market was easier in 2005, than today.
As far as schools, my oldest managed to get back on track while in Belize. His grades improved dramatically and he graduated from a wonderful engineering school in Michigan. My middle son, who worried about his education in Belize, is now entering medical school, and my youngest decided to join the National Guard.
You are a European living in California for almost as long as I have lived in Europe, what cultural differences do you remember being the most difficult to adapt to back in 1983?
Strangely, I find things more difficult the longer I live in the U.S. When I moved to sunny California in 1983, the beach/outdoorsy lifestyle was so exciting. I thought people smiled and seemed happier and friendlier than in Paris. I loved the lifestyle. Now, the older I get, I’m more critical of life and people here. Everyone seems focused on themselves. I don’t care for the way people talk about money in the U.S., and the lack of international news drives me crazy. I have to watch BBC news to find out what goes on in other parts of the world. Pharmaceutical ads, raising money for political campaigns and reality TV, seem to be the focus of US media. I feel like we’re becoming more isolated and “dumb” about world affairs in the U.S., despite saying that we’re living in a global economy.
Tell us how you published your memoir “Freeways to Flip-Flops“?
Like most writers, I frowned upon the idea of self-publishing, until I discovered indie publishing. I researched how to start my own publishing company which I named, “Gutsy Publications.” This allows me to be in charge, and to offer more interesting terms to book stores using a POD printing company called LSI (Lightning Source Ingram.) I did all the work myself as far as getting endorsements, including one from a NY Times bestseller, and from Lan Sluder who wrote, Fodors Belize.
Starting “Gutsy Publications” allows me to publish other books, such as the “My Gutsy Story” anthology and e-books on indie-publishing. I’m happy to answer your questions if you wish to start your own publishing company.
For the past 3 decades except for a year in Belize, you have lived in Orange County California. Are your feet restless? Where will your next adventure take you?
Now that my children are out of the house, I have many ideas floating around my head. If I had my choice, I’d like to try the Peace Corps. The problem is the 27-month commitment. My husband worries that if he leaves the job market for that length of time, he won’t find a job when he returns. So instead, I might try teaching English in Cambodia. I’m in my fifties, and have so many places I’d like to visit, including a stay in Panama next.
Thanks for interviewing me on your blog. I enjoyed answering all your questions. Funny how I’m a European who moved to the U.S., and you’re an American who moved to Europe. Want to swap?
California? Sea and sun sounds enticing…it has been raining for a week in Switzerland. During this time of year, we have cloud cover that lasts until April!
Thanks for guest blogging and welcoming me into your GIP group.
Dear Patty and Sonia,
I’m so happy two of my favorite gutsy friends have connected. Love both your ex-pat stories
Thank you both for all you do to inspire. And thanks Patty for the mention (I’m in NY though I may wish for VA once the snow starts flying xo)
Thanks Kath for connecting us gutsy ex-pats on opposite sides of the globe.
This was fun to read! Sonia and I have been cyber/blogging friends for some time now and I know her story. I’m quite in awe of her energy and all the work she has done writing, publishing and promoting her book.
As a European myself, I understand Sonia’s comments about life in the US. Then again,if all countries and cultures were the same it would sure be a boring world and us expat writers would have nothing to write about 😉
Yes Miss Footloose, I too, am in awe of Sonia’s ability to publish & promote her book. She seems to be infused with that Californian energy and sunshine!