I’m beyond excited about this month’s expat profile. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that this woman is living on one of my dream islands, Martinique. (I know!)
Or maybe it’s because she’s the kind of strong-willed, smart and fearless woman who has always pursued her dreams – like creating and running a successful business in the Caribbean. Her “work” sounds too fun to call it work.
I met Patricia three years ago in St. Lucia when she took a friend and I out for a night on the town. We went to the weekly Friday night fish fry and had a great time. She was already a private yoga instructor and had recently set up a yoga retreat business. In the past three years, even more amazing things have happened for her – not the least of which was moving to Martinique!
But I’ll stop there and let you live vicariously through this month’s S&S ABROAD profile. A big thank you to Patricia for making the time to share her story with us.
PATRIA: Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
OCCUPATION: Caribbean Retreat Coordinator, Yoga instructor, Owner of Tropical Escapes
CURRENT LOCATION: Martinique
You grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah. When did you first move abroad and how did that thought even come about to leave the US?
I left Salt Lake to attend the Evergreen State College when I was 18. It is a very liberal school not far from Seattle, Washington.
When I was a senior, I decided to spend my last semester abroad. I wrote a program of studies that allowed me to spend a few weeks in Barbados and then a few weeks in Dominica. I had a great experience and knew I wanted to return some day.
I was raised in Salt Lake but I was born in Athens, Greece where my family lived for a number of years. My father was an international banker and spent a lot of time aboard so the thought of living somewhere else was not such a stretch for me.
Who knew! My dad was an international banking as well. What was it like to teach in Dominica? What about day-to-day living and expenses?
Dominica is amazing! Unlike anywhere else in the world. It is a small, undeveloped, slow paced and not for everyone but for those >> that appreciate stunning scenery, interesting and unpretentious people, rivers, waterfalls, hot springs and passing the afternoon playing dominoes and sipping on a beverage is your vibe then Dominica is the place!
I went from teaching Elementary School in Washington DC at what was among the worst schools in the US to teaching at a private school in Dominica, probably the best school in the country. So it was night and day.
I often felt like it was a working vacation. The kids and the parents gave the teachers a level of respect that I had not experienced before. Because of the Common Entrance Exam in Grade 6, people take primary school education much more seriously then in the US. Discipline was not a problem and the level of parent involvement was really great.
Anything imported is expensive in Dominica but if you keep it local it’s not too bad. Plenty of good produce and fish available! I rented a cute fully furnished apartment with a great sea view for the equivalent of about $300 per month.
After finishing my two-year teaching contract I decided to take a little break and be a dive instructor for a bit. I did the Dive Master training in Dominica, then the Instructor Training in St. Thomas. The Anse Chastanet resort in St. Lucia offered me a job and I took it.
I had been to St. Lucia before and felt like it offered a good balance.
The south of the island is low key and similar to Dominica in some ways with the mountains, rainforest, rivers, waterfalls, hot springs and quaint villages but the north is quite developed with a solid infrastructure, restaurants, night clubs and so on.
The population of Dominica is about 65,000 and St. Lucia’s is about 165,000 so you can imagine.
So then you created your own yoga retreat business, Tropical Escapes. How did it come about and what does it offer? How long was it before you booked your first group?
While I was working at Anse Chastanet I began to think longer term and decided that I wanted to work for myself. I had been practicing yoga since I was about 15 and the idea just grew.
I have put together retreat packages at various properties in St. Lucia, Dominica, Jamaica and Aruba and I partner with yoga instructors and other group leaders that want to offer their clients the opportunity to join them on retreats.
I thought of the business in June 2005 and hosted my first retreat group in March 2006. Since I live here I know most of the service providers and can really create a unique experience for the groups and make sure that everything runs smoothly so the instructor can focus on their job, the instructing!
What a great idea. Will you now be offering retreats in Martinique, then or will you continue to host them anywhere in the Caribbean?
I do plan to host retreats here in Martinique at some point. Since the island is on the Euro and due to the air access, I’m thinking it would be best to try and draw groups from France and Europe for this island. I am still working on my French though and have a ways to go on that!
When I first met you, in St. Lucia, you were ‘Patricia Perkins’. I remember us talking briefly about the dating scene in St Lucia and the Caribbean generally and how difficult it can be there. Now you are married, have gorgeous twin boys and moved to Martinique. Um, can you share the secret please?
Martinique is a different vibe as well. With it being a part of France it has the European feel and a lot of people that live here have been to school in France and have traveled. There are also around 400,000 people here so again, a bigger place! That said, I do have single friends here in Martinique as well as in big cities too so it’s not all about the numbers.
No it certainly isn’t (whole other topic, phew). Over the years, what would you say is the most difficult aspect of living away from your home country?
What is it like living in Martinique and adjusting to a new culture, language and community?
It has not been easy. I moved here with two three-month old babies so I was trying to figure out a lot of things at once. I still am but I now have a basic hold on the language, a car, and some friends so it now feels like home.
Is the living (rent/transport) expensive given that it’s a French territory? Can you give an estimate of monthly expenses for say, a budget solo long-term traveler?
Yes, Martinique is more expensive then a lot of islands but there are ways to make it work. We are actually just finishing the ground level of our house and will be using the upstairs as a vacation rental. It is two bedrooms and will rent for about US $450 per week.
Any advice for anyone who wishes to move to the Eastern Caribbean and make a life there (not retire but work)? Also, are there any skills you think are more in demand, any industry?
Like any move, you’d better have a job lined up or some cash in the bank if you just plan to come and see what happens.
There are international schools and private schools that hire foreign teachers. And then in the tourism industry, I know many places like to hire foreigners for managerial positions. A few years ago there were a lot of construction and development projects going but those things have slowed down and downsized quite a bit.
What’s the one life quote that would sum up your life journey and all you’ve learned – from living abroad to starting your own business and becoming a wife and mother?
Live the life you love, love the life you live!
For more on Patricia’s yoga and Caribbean retreat services, you can visit her official website. If you have questions for either one of us or simply want to gush, please feel free to comment below!
If you’re new here, read past S&S ABROAD profiles here. Finally, if you’re an expat doing extraordinary work or running a business abroad, please get in touch as I’d love to consider you for this monthly profile series.
Now I’m off to figuring out how I can get to Martinique or Dominica this year.