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Laura Diffendal, Placencia

Who are you?

My name is Laura, and I am originally from Cleveland, OH. I moved to Placencia, Belize, about 2.5 years ago. I was a marriage counselor in the US, and my husband and I had a side business of renovating distressed properties. We loved it so much we planned on how to make this our full time job, and decided to do it somewhere warm!Where, when and why did you move abroad?

After a visit to Central America, we were charmed. We decided to focus on a project we could do down here, as the coastal real estate in the US is quite saturated. With the exorbitant cost, the laws and the regulations in the US, we decided it made more sense to try something more exotic. After researching for a year, we found Belize to be the best mix for us, and after stepping on a piece of beachfront land, that was distressed enough to interest us, we put an offer in and planned our move.

What challenges did you face during the move?

Leaving friends and family, and our hometown (I had never left NE Ohio longer than 3 weeks before this move!) was painful. We moved from a lovely, large home, into a 350 sq ft cabana with no a/c, cable, or any luxury whatsoever. We lived like this for over a year until we finally had our 3 cabanas to a point of being ready to offer to guests! It was hard to source material, find workers we trusted, and to even buy simple things was a challenge as there are just not retail stores for most items here, outside of the basics.

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Laura & Dave

Are there many other expats in your area?

There is a relatively large group of happy expats that live here. They have a Rotary club and they have a thriving social network. Only problem for my husband and I is that the average age of the expats is a couple decades plus older than us, and there are not THAT many expats under 40.

What do you like about life where you are?

We love the lack of materialism here. No one is working to keep up with the Joneses. There is no culture of having the newest and best. The people happiest here are those that enjoy the outdoors and simple pleasures. It is tropical and warm year round, the ocean is everywhere, the sound of tropical birds and living amongst thatch roofs and exotic plants feels like a year round vacation. If we have an itch for great dining Placencia offers amazing restaurants.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

You do have to get used to the “culture shock.” We came down with extremely energetic work ethics, and the rushed urgency that is the norm in the North. We have had to learn how to assimilate and work through our frustrations that the culture here is quite different – if there is a problem, the culture here is to take one’s time or let it take care of itself. We have had to figure out how to control what we can and frankly learn a new perspective of seeing things.

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

In the US, people rush to fix problems. We rush to meet expectations, and we knock ourselves out trying to keep up or be seen as successful. These behaviors are not seen as positive here, and while we have had a couple years to assimilate, those who come to small villages where this is the norm, may be frustrated that there is not an urgent rush to fix things such as, the water pressure is low, the electricity went out, there are huge puddles from a storm, the WiFi is spotty, there is seagrass or trash that has washed in, etc.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

I believe you need to have the ability to be uncomfortable for a stretch – meaning, not expecting that you are moving to Florida. Things are not going to be available, the amenities are not going to be first world in consistency, and even moving here, we are guests to the village. The local people are in charge of setting the pace and expectations and we chose to move here, and to assimilate to the local culture. There are many cultural differences that are quite positive in nature and that people in the US could learn a lot from!

What are your plans for the future?

We started with 2 cabanas and a shack on the beach, and turned this into 3 rentable vacation cabanas. We then built a house and manager’s suite at the back of our property. We have amazing full time managers who live on the property. We also hired 2 other locals for landscaping and housekeeping. We are building 2 new units this fall, a pool, tiki bar, and also doing some renovations to the cabanas to improve the guest experience.

You can keep up to date with Laura's adventures on her blog, Pure Placencia.

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