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Living Abroad: Moving to Oaxaca, Mexico From The South Side Of Chicago

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Meet Ashley: the mom behind That Black Family Abroad (@thatblackfamilyabroad). On one particularly dark and dreary winter Chicago evening, Ashley, already an intrepid traveler, said to her husband “Hey, why don’t we just leave the country?” Soon after, they did, and Ashley and her family found themselves saying goodbye to the South Side of Chicago and hola to the city of Oaxaca in the south of Mexico with their two small children.
But it’s not just the brutal Chicago winters they’ve left behind; it’s what they’ve gained in Mexico that makes Ashley say that moving abroad is the best decision her family has made. Ashley shared her family’s experience in moving to Oaxaca, the beautiful cultural traditions they’ve been able to take part in, the language skills their children have gained, the more family-friendly work/life balance, and the sense of peace and security that eludes many Black families in the United States.

Q. Can you tell us a little about you and your family?

A. My name is Ashley.  I’m a stay-at-home mom who loves herbal medicine, learning about different cultures, and is a casual nerd.  My family of four is from Chicago, IL.  We love nature and travel, and we have traveled extensively throughout the US, from Portland to New York and many cities in between.  Currently, we are happily living abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico.

 

Q. When and why did you move to Oaxaca, Mexico?

A. We moved to Mexico a couple of years ago.  We wanted to move out of the US for a variety of reasons – to live free from the high level of racism of the States, for a greater sense of freedom and safety, to experience a new culture, to learn a second language, to lower our cost of living, to have more time together as a family and simply for the adventure of it all.  Oh, and of course, better weather (everything you’ve heard about Chicago winters is true)

 

Q. What is your favorite thing about living in Oaxaca?

A. We were particularly drawn by Oaxaca because of its rich culture… It is possibly the most diverse state in Mexico. Oaxaca is divided into seven regions, each with its particular customs, traditional dances, and foods.  Many different ethnic groups are within the state, including the Zapotec, the Mixtec, and one of the country’s largest populations of Afro-Mexicans in the country, who live along the coast.  In the state of Oaxaca, you will find gorgeous mountains, a beautiful coastline, ancient ruins, and a gem of a city. It also happens to be Mexico’s culinary capital.

 

Q. How do you find the lifestyle in Mexico? Did you adapt to daily life easily?

A. The lifestyle here is much more laid back than in the States, which is nice in some ways as we never feel the pressure to rush.  However, when we “need” something done right away, it can be difficult to adjust to this new pace (case in point, we have been waiting for the internet to be installed for the past four weeks!).  But overall, we enjoy the “no pasa nada” attitude  

Q. How is family life? How did the kids find living in a new place and culture?

A. Family is extremely important here in Mexico, and children are doted on.  When we go out in the evenings, we see families strolling through Zocalo (the main square), and children playing at parks. Thankfully, our kids love it here – in large part, I’m sure because there is so much for them to do.  My daughter took to the language very well, and she finds a playmate wherever we go.  Oaxaca is especially great because of all the festivals that it has.

 

Q. What do you miss most about your home country?

A. I miss my family and friends, of course (I wish I could bring them all down here!  I am grateful though we have met many beautiful people here who we consider as a family)  I miss being immersed in Black American culture.  I miss the feeling of just blending in and just knowing how things are supposed to go. Knowing the language, knowing the cultural cues….  Constantly translating – languages and situations – can be exhausting for me.  I miss familiar flora and fauna.  And I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I do miss Target.

 

Q. What are the biggest challenges you face while living in Mexico?

A.  The biggest challenge for us I suppose isn’t location-specific.  It’s not having the in-person support and contact with friends and family.  We miss the barbecues and birthday parties, having people we know we can drop the kids off with, and having our kids grow up with their cousins and friends.

Oh, and also the mail situation… One package took three months to get here, and another sent back in the fall is still missing in action.

Q. If you could move to Mexico again, what would you do differently?

A. I would get rid of the idea that we had to move to one city and stay put.  I wish we had taken more time, in the beginning, to visit a number of cities before just saying “here is where we’re going to go.”

 

Q. Can you give some useful tips to families who are looking to move to Mexico?

A. Make sure to hype Mexico up to your children beforehand – visit Mexican restaurants, go to festivals, visit museums. Talk about all the fun things you’ll do (and actually do them!) Start learning Spanish.  When you get here, you will find community easily while visiting parks, playgrounds, libraries, playspaces… and there are always communities on Facebook that you can connect to beforehand. 

 Q. What would you miss about living abroad?

A.  I would miss the adventure.  Yes, it can be exhausting, but it is fun.  The satisfaction of successfully giving directions to a local asking where something is – it’s such a good feeling!  The excitement over trying a new dish, or finding a “hidden” beach, stumbling upon a new mercado, hearing music in the street all the time… But more than the tangible, I’d miss this feeling of peace and security I’ve found.  And of course, living at the beach!

 

Q. Anything else you would like to add?

A. If you have even just an inkling of desire to move abroad, I say go for it!  Even if it’s just for a summer, or half a year.  It will be such an experience for your family that you’ll never forget.

Thinking about moving abroad? You may also like these articles from Bébé Voyage!

“Where Are You From?” – A Loaded Question for Many Living Abroad

Living Abroad: Elizabeth Newcamp Shares Her Experience Living In Delft, Netherlands

Living Abroad: Bébé Voyage’s Director Of Content Shares About Living In Doha, Qatar

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