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Rebecca Coutant, Ambergris Caye

Who are you?

My name is Rebecca Coutant and I grew up in New Jersey…in a suburb of NYC. My family didn’t travel much…just a beach trip or two, or a week’s vacation to a lake in a nearby state. My junior year of college, I decided to take time off from Smith College in Massachusetts, and study for a year in London.It changed my life. Travel, international travel, was a part of everyone’s life…and I spent all my time off in France, Spain, Italy…anywhere I could get a cheap flight. I was SO bitten by the travel bug. But didn’t REALLY realize how hard until a few years later.

Out of school, like many, I was focused on making my own money…at last. I worked as an actuary, in Human Resources and finally as a bond trader in NYC before I realized i needed something different…

I just didn’t know what.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I took 6 months off…no work, all travel. I went to Europe and then in my final week to Belize. I had no intention of moving abroad but something about Belize hooked me. I couldn’t get it out of my head. The people, the weather, food…totally hooked. I visited 3 times in as many months, tried it for 2 months and was ready. I would try it for one year. At age 33, I knew New York would always be there.

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What challenges did you face during the move?

I am single, have no children and rented an apartment in Manhattan, so the transition was actually quite easy.

How did you find somewhere to live?

I was looking to rent. I am a renter at heart. And Ambergris Caye, Belize is the touristy and expat populated area. There were quite a few rentals available. I ALWAYS suggest renting first…even if you plan to buy. Belize is fantastic but it’s not for everyone. Test it out like you would any new place.

Are there many other expats in your area?

There are quite a few expats on Ambergris Caye – mostly American and Canadian but also a handful of Brits and other Europeans. Many own businesses on the island…

What is your relationship like with the locals?

My first job on the island was working as a bar/restaurant manager and it really threw me into “real life” as opposed to the feeling like I was on vacation. I worked with Belizeans, learned to speak Creole (the English based language spoken down here) and really got to see the similarities and differences in “our cultures”. Belize works on a much more personal basis…many things get done based on who you know or on just face-to-face contact. You even cash checks at the bank…in person! Being friendly and polite pays off big time.

Think twice before telling anyone off…and if you are still going to do it…think again. Living on a small island, where almost everyone seems to be related in some way, it’s just not worth it!

What do you like about life where you are?

I love the weather, making my own schedule and being able to walk along the ocean every day. I like saying “hello” and “good evening” to everyone I pass on the street. I love dressing super casual every single day and wearing flip flops every single day. I love that I am shocked constantly by the beauty of this country.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

I’m not sure if it’s a dislike but it’s a big adjustment to live in another country and to feel like a bit of an outsider. You will always be seen as non-local to some degree…and while that doesn’t scream out at me…and fades significantly as time goes on, it is there.

You need to be somewhat laid back…have a sense of humor and not start any of your sentences with “Well…in the states, this is how we do…” this or that. THIS ISN’T THE STATES!

I also dislike that I can’t buy magazines, NY bagels and the Sunday New York Times (Hardcopy here)… 🙂

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

Time. Which is deadly for my natural sense of putting things off for the last minute. There is no last minute!

Island time is a very real thing.

What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?

I love the food here. And I am lucky to live in a part of Belize where there is a huge selection. The national dish is stewed chicken & rice and beans…and many Belizeans eat that for lunch (or a similar variation) every day. I love it…but once or twice a week is good for me.

My dislike would be that imported food to Belize is expensive. So fruits and vegetables are very seasonal….and foreign foods (everything from Doritos to boxed cereals) are EXPENSIVE. My diet has certainly changed…but in a good way.

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

Visit a few times (at least) before you make the jump. Rent when you arrive – and stay the full year. Belize isn’t for everyone. Nowhere is for everyone! It takes at least a year to settle in…get a true sense of how things work (everything from banking to food shopping is different)…to live life WITHOUT A CAR!…to see the “busy season” or tourist season and the “slow season”…to see if Belize is right for you.

What are your plans for the future?

Tough question. I really love what I am doing now. I MEAN LOVE. Working at a popular tourist bar in Belize 75 hours a week, HARD, writing a blog about Belize and how gorgeous it is? Heaven. I hope to continue to grow my blog and make it stand out amongst the ever growing competition.

That being said…I am SO not a planner.

If you would like to know more about life in Belize, check out Rebecca's website, www.sanpedroscoop.com.

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