Gusta lo ajeno, más por ajeno que por bueno

Should we stay or should we go?

It’s a conversation we have with increasing frequency. In years past it was a day dream sometimes uttered aloud and then quickly laughed away. Lately it comes up weekly, even daily, and the conversations can last hours instead of minutes. Would our quality of life be better in El Salvador?

For a long time I used the children as an excuse as to why we couldn’t go, even knowing in my heart it would be the experience of a lifetime – but yesterday they overheard us talking and burst into the room as if they’d won a trip to Disney World. They wanted to know when we could move, what their new school would be like and if they could have a parrot.

So now that leaves me as the only reluctant one. I imagine two different realities – one idealized and one a nightmare scenario – the truth lies somewhere in between. My mind cycles through all the endless possibilities, lo bueno y lo malo, the sweet and the hard to swallow.

El Salvador – pandilleros, hamacas, caliche, paletas sin High Fructose Corn Syrup, volcanoes, temblores, pupusas, huracanes, gente que te saludan, diez naranjas por un dollar, chuchos aguacateros (Cómo me encanta tomar fotos de ellos!), fiestas en el río, buses que andan como locos, La Escuela Americana (que probablemente es muy caro para nosotros), inspiración por todos lados.

The United States – peanut butter, familiarity, Thanksgiving, a retirement that might involve being a Wal-Mart greeter and eating canned cat food, Autumn, the library with books in English, debt, seat belts, snow, the best medical care in the world, (for which we have no health insurance to make use of), my family, my family, my family.

Whatever we decide, it will not be a light-hearted decision, nor will it be one that happens overnight, it is a decision that would be taken in steps over years. What I know is that I don’t want to waste my life day dreaming. What I don’t know is if I have an excess of cowardice or common sense.

Note: The title of this post “Gusta lo ajeno, más por ajeno que por bueno”, is a “dicho” (saying or proverb), which literally translated means “Liking what is distant, more because it is distant than because it is good.” A similar saying in English would be, “The grass is always greener on the other side.”


  1. We talked about whether we should move or not for a month, before I got tired of playing “what if”. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life thinking I should be living somewhere else. I told Hubby, “Make a decision. If you want to move to Mexico, we’ll move. But if you decide you want us to stay here, I don’t want to talk about possibly moving to Mexico again.” It took him less than a minute to decide we should move to Mexico. That was 10 years ago, and I still think it was the best decision we ever made. :)

    Best of luck to you, no matter what you choose.

    • @ Leslie – I get that way sometimes with my husband – like when he wants me to decide where we eat out. I’ll do the whole “you decide” thing because I just can’t stand to continue discussing it. Sometimes it’s nice to give the power to someone else and just go along for the ride.

      I’m glad this has worked out for your family. It gives me hope.

  2. Wow! I can hardly imagine what you must be going through. My family and I (husband, daughter, and I) lived in England for two years while my husband was working on an international assignment for his company. I LOVED England (neither my daughter nor I wanted to come back to California), but of course, we always knew our stay would be TEMPORARY. To contemplate a permanent move to one’s husband’s country (a move which might mean he might never want to go to the US, even if you did) is a huge decision.

    Could you make a pact with your dear husband and your kids that if you are unhappy in El Salvador that since you married and started your family on the assumption that you’d live here, if, after an agreed-upon period in El Salvador for adjustment, if at that time you were seriously unhappy, a move back to the States would automatically kick in?

    If you could agree on something like this, then a move alla baja might not seem so frightening or necessarily final.

    Just some thoughts, in case they help. If they don’t help, please erase them from your ming.

    Buena suerte con la decision.

    • @ Rita Elizabeth – That would be the scary thing, right? What if I wanted to come back and my husband falls in love with his homeland again? … If we do decide to go, “the pact” has already been made and it seems everyone is sharing something with me along these lines — that this isn’t necessarily final. I can always come back, and that helps me a lot.

      Thank you for your words and your wish for suerte.

  3. We have that conversation all the time, too. And we’ve moved to Bolivia twice. The first time, I lasted almost five months. Had bad morning sickness and wanted to come home to have my first baby. We moved back…stayed temporarily with my grandma…and reestablished ourselves here.
    Then we moved there with two kids. Had talked about it in a February…sold the house and all our stuff and were there by June. (We are blessed in that his family owns some hostels in Bolivia…so we always have a place to stay!) We stayed seven months this time then came back again. We probably could and should have stayed longer…but it’s a long story I won’t bore you with.
    Each time we had good friends and family to help us start from scratch again. Now I don’t have much family left…a few aunts, uncles, and cousins…and we have one more kid. We talk about it all the time…I say “let’s go”…but it’s my husband who is more thoughtful about it. It is a huge decision.
    Yes…we’re crazy…but it’s do-able and also not a final destination…you can always come back.
    There’s definitely stuff you’ll love and stuff you’ll miss in both countries. And for us, it will always be like that.


    • @ Susan – Wow, I can’t imagine! What is it that made you want to come back the second time? Was it anything in particular or general homesickness?

      It’s difficult having your heart split between two places that are so, so far apart.

      “it’s not a final destination…you can always come back” – I need to remember that. Those words relieve so much of the anxiety I feel. Thank you.

  4. Hi,

    I’ve been reading your blog ever since you were featured on Fresly Pressed. I enjoy reading your blog because I find your writing witty, and I love anything that includes cultural bits =)

    Anyway, I just wanted to share my own experiences moving between countries. I’ve never been a parent, nor do I have kids, but my family did move between countries while I was growing up, so my perspective is more from a child’s point of view (though I’m not a child anymore :-P). I’d say that no matter what your husband and you decide, if you’re worried about missing out on cultural/familia things in your life, the best thing you could decide is to figure out who you want to be as a family, especially in an overseas context, and be clear about this together as a family. The shifting backgrounds of culture and relationships may have affect on your life, but keeping together as a family will be a good foundation and beneficial for your children as they experience the difference in lifestyles as well – maybe not right away, as it’s always initially exciting to live somewhere else, but in time, it will be.

    I hope this is helpful! :-D

    • @ Sonia – Thanks for “coming out” and commenting. I appreciate my silent readers just as much as those who comment, but it’s always nice to meet you so we can become proper friends :)

      I appreciate you sharing your experiences with me. I will definitely remember your words. It is in fact very helpful. Thanks so much.

      I agree that family unity is so important. We’ve been through a tough couple years, (my husband was unemployed for a year), and because of that, I feel like we really became stronger. We realized that no matter what happens, as long as we’re together, we’re lucky and blessed… I’m sure that moving to a completely new environment also holds the possibility of being a bonding experience for us.

  5. Amiga! What a tough decision to make.

    This would never be a question for my gringo husband. We are staying here forever ( :

    All my visits to El Salvador I fall in love with the country even more. I can imagine filling my kids with culture and teaching them about how special a simpler life can be.

    It seems as though your kids and husband are ready for a change. Sometimes change is a good thing and needed to grow.

    Whatever you decide ….as long as you have each other, will be the right choice.

    Good luck my friend,

  6. Oh man! Yeah this is hard but at least yours kids didn’t react with “Your ruining my life!” (like I did when my parents sold our house to move up the hill hahaha, so dramatic!) Sounds like your boys are content with their familia & didn’t even think about leaving their class mates and American life behind. If you do decide to move remember it might be easier now rather than when they get older and their friendships become deeper and maybe even *should i say it!?* …girlfriends! One of my best friends is about 21 and her parents have been going back & forth from Mexico ever since she was old enough to be left alone & take care of her sisters (their abuelita would also stay with them before she was 18). They love Mexico & they feel bored with the American lifestyle that contrasts their traditional upbringing but have decided to keep their children there to complete their education. So I understand why people would want to go back to their home because it is where the heart is. When you visit there do you love it? How about enough to stay?

    • @ Alejandra – I love that you told your parents that they were ruining your life by moving your family just down the street. LOL! … Thanks for reminding me of the other issues that might come up as they get older. I hadn’t thought too much about that.

      As for how I felt in El Salvador – I felt a mix of things – Wonder, inspiration, fear, excitement — but my trip more than 10 years ago isn’t really a fair gauge. I had a colicky baby (my first son) with me, and it was my first time traveling anywhere like El Salvador. I had been out of the country before, but stayed in mostly cosmopolitan places in nice hotels, so the modest childhood home of my husband, (no hot water, and even the cold water shuts off for no apparent reason on occasion), and the stress of a crying baby, caused me a lot of exhaustion and anxiety. I was completely overwhelmed and over-stimulated – there were too many changes to take in…. I’ve changed a lot since then. I think that I need to go on another trip to see how it feels now.

  7. Wow, this hits very close to my heart. I married my Antonio twenty years ago. I love Mexico so much! We’ve been back and forth, the heartstrings just a tugging away. I’ve got one in college now, and two in high school We always say we stay for them — I just know, though, that when they are through school we’ll be moving. My husband has lived here for thirty years, and although he loves it here, we feel that pulling. Thank you for sharing your thoughts — so glad I found your blog!

    • @ Melissa – It helps to know others face this struggle. It really does feel like the heart is begin tugged in two sometimes. Thanks for sharing your story with me.

  8. Mi querida Tracy,

    Very tough decision… My husband and I have toyed with the possibility more than once in our time together. At the end of the day, you and your family are the only ones who can decide on this one and only you guys know what’s best.

    I will tell you, though, that as much as I miss my country – even after spending the majority of my life here – I don’t think I’d ever be able to go back and live there…unless…we had TONS of money. I’ll give you a few examples why I say this. Public education is non-existent in my country. I know the state of public education es vergonzoso in this country, but back home, if the teachers are not en huelga – which seems to be every other day – there are simply no materials, including basic stuff like chalk! So, private education is the ONLY way. Don’t even want to go into how much that costs because we’re talking what some people’s mortgages are – and that’s for only ONE child. (I have two!)

    As a journalist, I had to travel a lot to South America and I will tell you that nothing frustrated me more than bureaucracy. We think we have that here…yeah right!I’ve always loved how laid back things are in a third world country, but not when it applies to getting things done. It seems as if there simply is no sense of urgency and I have plenty of examples to prove this. And, it’s not like I want things to be done instantly – as we’ve become spoiled to here – but there are things that should be no-brainers, including el bienestar de un ser humano. (I’ll tell you that story another day).

    It took me years to realize and then accept that while I absolutely LOVE going back home as much as possible, a while after the thrill of being on vacation, seeing the fam, and eating some delicious ceviche in front of the Pacific Ocean wears off, eventually I just want to come back to my other home.

    I agree with you with the bit about imagining two realities and you’re probably right about it being something more in between of the idealized one and the nightmare scenario… My advice, before you continue thinking about whether or not this is something you guys should do, is to PLEASE go back to El Salvador and try to spend as long a time as possible there. (Try getting a driver’s license there, jaja!!! Or even a department store’s credit card!) As you said, you’ve changed a lot in the past 10 years since you were there, but I can assure you that so has the country – para bien o para mal. I think that in an ideal world you should try to live the life of a resident and not a tourist as much as possible before you take the plunge!

    Having lived in three different continents by the time I was 10 years old, I’m a huge believer in the importance of exposing children to other peoples, cultures, languages. It pains me to know I can’t do the same for mine…at least for now.

    Thanks for another thought-provoking post! (And I’m sorry for the length of my comment, but what can I say? You inspired me…)

    • @ Roxana – Never apologize for long comments – I love them as much as I love letters in the mail.

      Thanks for sharing your wisdom on this. I totally agree with you that an extended visit is absolutely necessary before we make such a decision, because we have changed, and the country has changed. Maybe the novelty of it will wear off, it’s hard to know without “living” there for a little while. Being in tourist mode, as you said, is very different.

      In the end, Carlos and I are the ones who have to decide, but all the comments everyone have left have really helped us to discuss things in more detail.

      Last night we came to one of the conclusions that you touch upon in your comment – that to live the way we really want to live in El Salvador, we would have to have A LOT of money. I absolutely wouldn’t go unless I can put the kids in the American School. My kids are honor roll students here, and for them to go to a school that is conducted primarily in Spanish at this point, it would be too difficult. I wouldn’t do that to them. I’m sure they would adapt and catch on, but for a time, they would fall behind and I don’t think that is fair to them after all their hard work – especially my older son who in a few short years will be thinking about applying to universities.

      While no decision is final here, Carlos and I have decided that for now, we want to get ourselves in order financially. Whether we stay or we go, we need a major “overhaul” in this department. We need to get rid of the debt that is trapping us, save money to the best of our ability, live simply — and maybe then we will be able to visit El Salvador more often to take care of this “itch” that we feel and expose our kids to the culture/land/language more…. Maybe, someday we could even buy a small property which would be a vacation home —- maybe a place to retire to someday. Maybe.

      Thanks again, hermana. {abrazos}

  9. But didn’t your husband go through a LOT to come to the US? Is it less scary now that he’s “legal”?

    Can’t you just try it on for a few months (like maybe one term for the kid’s school) and see how the reality feels before you commit? Are you able to rent out your house for a short term lease or do a house exchange with a family down there that would be able to do it?


  10. You never know until you try. With the kids on board it sounds like an excellent adventure. It’s not like you can’t come back to the US again. Have fun with whatever you decide!

  11. Hola!
    Soy una lectora silenciosa de Australia!
    My Latina friends here often talk about how tricky they find it to be the “cute” odd one out in an Anglo culture. That sometimes it’s great and sometimes infuriating.
    It seems that wherever you go, one of you will always meet a little of that. But at least, together, you are in the same “country.” The Latina-ish, Yankee-ish land of co-dreaming. That will sustain you, I’m sure.
    Thank you for your writing. I enjoy the blog so much.

  12. We have been having this conversation a lot lately. My husband is just so, so tired of being here. He has literally risked his life to come back here and be with, and support, his children. Two are from his first wife and they will have to live here. At best they could maybe have their summers and every other Christmas “down there” which isn’t really adequate. But if he were to get deported it would be a difficult decision to take the risk of crossing back here and they could lose him entirely. It’s really that dangerous. So who knows what will happen but I think he is resigned to staying here while they are young at least, and meanwhile I’m getting resigned to the idea that if he does go (it wouldn’t be by choice) I may be going too. I do not know if we’d have the income to still visit my family here as often as I think my kids should have. It’s good that you have the decision to make freely. BethO.

    • Incredibly difficult, Beth. I’m sorry you’re all in this situation – you, your husband, and the kids. It’s unfair and I can’t understand why those who have the power to so easily change the situation and keep families together, don’t just do it already. It makes me all kinds of angry.

      I know the border crossing is not something to be taken lightly. It’s literally life or death – and the fact that this is your husband’s reality – to have to face possible death to be with his family – it isn’t right… and yet he’s here, and not totally happy – missing home, with not even the option to go visit. It’s the heartbreaking reality for many immigrants.

      For me, the idea of moving to El Salvador and not having enough money to travel freely and often enough to allow my kids as much contact with my side of the family as they deserve is one of the major deterrents. If I were rich and could visit every month for a few days, or I had some sort of teleporter, life would be so much easier… but in the end, we’re forced to choose. This is one of the great difficulties of marrying someone from so far away.

      {{Abrazos}} … Ojalá it will all turn out okay in the end. Hang in there.

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