Who are you?
My name is Tiffany Lewis. I am originally from the United States. I grew up in Texas and also lived in New Mexico. I am a teacher. I’ve worked in education since graduating from college, mostly at independent schools, but also in museums. I enjoy art, literature, history, music, travel, and being outdoors in nature.When and why did you move abroad?
I had always wanted to teach overseas for as long as I can remember. There are many requirements and the job search is competitive. It wasn’t something I felt you could just jump into because the path needs to be open in your personal life in order to make it happen. Timing is important when it comes to making a move overseas. It seemed I was always in a relationship throughout my twenties and thirties. I also helped to take care of my grandmother who had dementia for a long time, and I am so grateful to have had that time with her. After she passed away, I knew it was time for me to go abroad.
What challenges did you face during the move?
The paperwork has to be the biggest challenge. I had to pull together my whole life story months before I even left, and everything required an Apostille from the state that issued the diploma, or certificate, or whatever other official piece of paper they needed. Even after moving to Aruba, I stood in line for hours at various government buildings, processing one piece of paper after another to obtain a work visa. And sometimes it was downright painful. The work visa also required a good deal of health screening. The craziest moment was a trip to the hospital in Aruba where they poked and jabbed me with needles and barked orders in Papiamento while I sheepishly walked topless across the room to an x-ray machine.
Are there many other expats in your area?
There are plenty of expats here, but I haven’t met many Americans. The only Americans I meet travel in mobs on tour buses all around the island. They are usually drunk, loud, and obnoxious. I’m always defending my land and people to others by telling them that not all Americans act that way. Mostly, I meet people who are originally from the Netherlands or other parts of Latin America, especially Venezuela and other South American countries.
What do you like about life where you are?
Where do I begin? I love the beach. I just returned from snorkeling this afternoon. Some of the most beautiful beaches in the world are walking distance from my house. I go to the beach every weekend and take sunset walks along Eagle Beach during the week. I love that I can spend time away from work in nature, which is drastically different from the concrete and glass city from where I originally hail. One third of the island is a nature preserve. I love that donkeys and chickens and goats roam free all over the islands and sometimes cause traffic jams. I love that baby iguanas find their way into my classroom. There are Chinese stores all over the island, every store is different from the next, and shopping in them is always entertaining. Also, Aruba is a multicultural jewel of an island in the Caribbean, and that has to be the best part. I meet people from all over the world here.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
I think the hardest part is leaving your family and friends. Also, I am an only child, and my parents are getting older. I had to come to terms with a lot of guilt even though they fully supported my move. Flying home from Aruba is not so easy. It is expensive, and you can’t just hop on a plane whenever you want to check in on you family. It is also incredibly costly to get things shipped here from home. I’ve had to let go of a lot of product loyalty and experiment with Dutch brands. I stock up on other things that I can’t live without when I take trips to the States, mostly cosmetics and clothing.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
Island time is definitely an adjustment you have to make when moving to the Caribbean. I moved to a tiny island from a metropolitan area of 8 million people. Things move slower here. I don’t even drive at highway speed anymore. So you learn to be patient. I’ve also learned so much about the Dutch since one of my good friends here is from the Netherlands. She has taught me about Dutch traditions and many other aspects of Dutch culture. We follow a different holiday schedule here, and I am learning how to celebrate all of the Aruban and Dutch holidays, like Carnival and King’s Day.
It seems like I am always learning something new and fabulous. Just last weekend my friend introduced me to hagelslag. These are sprinkles similar to what Americans put on cupcakes, but the Dutch put them on everything. I can’t imagine that I lived a life before without all of this stuff!
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
I would definitely encourage anyone considering the move to do it. If it is something that has always been a dream, then you absolutely must go for it. There is so much of the world to see. St. Augustine was right when he said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” You will inevitably travel more as a result when you move abroad, but not even travel compares to living and working in another country. You begin to view the world and your own life story through a different lens. That isn’t something you will ever be able to do unless you are immersed in another culture 365 days a year. The biggest reward is that you get to carry a little bit of that with you forever.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to see as much of South America as I can while living so close to it. We just returned from a trip this summer to Boliva and Peru. I would also like to travel to other islands in the Caribbean. I never plan too far into the future. I certainly never planned to move to an island in the Caribbean. I like that life can take you for an unexpected turn at any moment.