Globiana coach Shannon Mayer is the first to admit that when she moved from her native Canada to Nicaragua in 2016, she was not prepared for what was in store. With a background in HR and with her own coaching consulting business, she had plenty of experience in guiding people through career moves, life transitions, and relocations. Yet, the words she used to describe how she felt when starting out in Nicaragua were “I might as well have landed on the Moon.” That’s how different navigating life in the Central American country was as a new arrival.

The relocation came about because Shannon’s partner, Michael, had bought property in the capital Managua with the desire to open a boutique hotel. Shannon decided to follow along as she could bring her consulting business with her; although, she ended up putting that on hold when first arriving, to help get the hotel off the ground. 

The only experience either of them had with the hospitality world was Shannon’s prior HR consulting for companies in the field. Needless to say, they had a lot to learn. And it turned out that even though they were both very familiar with the country, having visited many times, living there, and setting up and running a business were vastly different from any of their prior experiences.

The disparities between how most people live everyday life in Nicaragua vs Canada are great. Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America and access to basic services can be a daily challenge for many. “How society at large functions is of course impacted by this, and running a business in this environment, coming from a country like Canada, was a big adjustment for us,“ says Shannon. The first year in particular was a big learning curve as they had to figure out how to open bank accounts, apply for residence status, certify their business, access needed services, and find staff.

For Shannon, the first year came with other adjustments as well. Looking back, she says she hadn’t prepared well for leaving and she wasn’t really ready. She describes herself as a trailing spouse with reservations about the life she found herself living: “I had done the practical work needed, such as selling our house, but not the emotional work. It’s like I was holding back even though I knew it was happening. There is an expression in global mobility that says ‘leave well to land well’ — I did not do that.” Shannon explains that she wishes she had engaged with people at home earlier and kept the family in the loop of what was happening before the move. 

Since their move, Nicaragua has experienced social unrest which led to a recession and to tourism being cut off for about six months; and of course, the Coronavirus pandemic has had a great impact on the country, as it has everywhere. Starting up a hotel during these times has had its challenges, to say the least. But, as Shannon and her partner have gotten settled and learned the ins and outs of running a business in Nicaragua, and the circumstances beyond their control have stabilized, their hotel has flourished and is now #2 on Trip Advisor. 

And, says Shannon, “I have my own business as well, which is my passion and once again my main focus. Coaching remotely has worked out really well.” And, as an added bonus, her experiences of moving and setting up a business abroad have been of great value to her coaching, as they allow for a unique perspective in supporting other relocating executives. 

Settling in Nicaragua has been a journey filled with some bumps in the road, many discoveries, and sweet successes. It’s led to great friendships and a deeper understanding of a different culture. By now, Shannon says, “I am happy to call this my home base.”

Shannon’s advice when making an international move:

  1. Check your “why” — be clear about why you want to move.
  2. Do your homework — vacationing and living/starting a business in a country are two very different experiences. Try to get a sense of the value system of the new country, the living culture, and the work culture; think about how you will deal with language barriers, and how they may impact your experience.
  3. Leave well to land well — it’s important to feel support from the people you are “leaving behind”. Saying goodbye “well”, and having a plan for how to stay in touch with those closest to you will be a great help to your well-being and ability to cope.
  4. Plan what you are going to do with your stuff — one of the things you need to educate yourself on is customs rules for household goods. All countries have different rules for what you can bring. Also, make a plan for things you can’t/don’t want to take with you.

By: Felicia Shermis

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