This week on CBS Sunday Morning there was a segment on retirees moving to Ashville, North Carolina. Essentially the retirees had been professionals and found themselves involved in activities that were intellectually stimulating. And in Ashville they found like-minded people. Furthermore, the community has a “university” of sorts in which the retired teach courses to the other retirees. Everything from languages to grant writing to physics was being offered.
I’m a big dreamer and for years have investigated the idea of retiring young. (If I keep dreaming and not doing it, I’ll miss the opportunity of retiring young. Time is catching up with me!) Almost every list of “Best Places in the World to Retire” in the past years has included the town of San Miguel de Allende in the mountains of central Mexico. I wondered why this was so and thus had to go and find out for myself.
I couldn’t help but think of San Miguel as I was watching the retirees in Ashville. The places are worlds apart. One is in first-world America, in the South, in green, lush mountains. The other is situated in the desert of third-world Mexico. But the similarities are striking.
The expats in San Miguel de Allende (many of whom are not of retirement age, but left the U.S. 10 or 15 years prior to “retirement”) were intellectually involved in learning or in giving service, just as those in Ashville. They felt alive and vibrant. Many are studying Spanish or history or poetry or bridge. It was pretty impressive to me to see 80 year old students studying Spanish.
The other impression that I was struck by in San Miguel was how many expats spend inordinate amounts of time helping improve the lives of the Mexicans. When I asked about this and whether these “do gooders” had always been involved in helping, the answer was a resounding no. However, in Mexico they felt more generous and felt moved to help. And they told me that they were helping because they knew that their help was going directly to another person. There was nothing in between them and the recipient.
One charitable group builds houses for the homeless. The cost is $1500 US and the donations for the construction come from expats. The group does all the building themselves.
Another group dedicates itself to promoting college education to women. It chooses young women in high school, aiding them financially and emotionally. Anther group supports day care centers for the children of single mothers. There are a total of over 35 charitable groups run by enthusiastic expats with years of experience and wisdom.
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, like Ashville, North Carolina, is brimming over with thoughtful, vital expats who haven’t opted out of life. Caren Cross has lived in Mexico for 11 years. She is the director of Lost and Found in Mexico, a documentary film about expat living.