Changes, changes, changes are the things which have fueled the mankind for centuries. Everyone desires to have an interesting and unique life. However, our everyday routine often destroys the picture of this ideal idyll, and after some time of stagnation it simply starts to bother us. It sometimes happens that we become helpless and we get into bad moods, which in consequence may turn into depression. In my last article I was writing about the inner need for introducing big changes in my life which I’ve recently started to feel, because I’ve got stuck in the reality, which no longer suits me well.
Some time ago I had a chance to come across a person, who has become my inspiration. I’m talking now about Andrea Vörös, who not only found her courage to leave her comfort zone, but she also feels like a duck in water abroad. I’m happy to introduce you today to the author of a blog, a website with a totally uniqe name – HungariCan Journey, who will tell you how she lives in Puerto Rico, how she has managed to overcome difficulties she has had the opportunity to face and how the hot Puerto Rican culture has influenced her as a person.
Passion Piece: Could you tell my readers a few words about yourself?
Andrea: My name is Andrea Vörös. I grew up in Kaposvar, which is a mid-size city in Hungary. It is very close to Lake Balaton, where I spent my summers with my cousins and grandparents. It was a super free and wild childhood.
I was a swimmer for 13 years, and it allowed me to travel a lot. I guess that’s where I got the itch to keep traveling.
I went to college but quickly realized the standards do not drive me, and I can’t focus on building a career or work forever to have a house, family and settle down in one place.
I had so many different positions I can’t even remember all of them. Some of them were super fun, like diving and working in a ski resort and some of them were serious corporate jobs, like assistant marketing manager or sales manager.
Passion Piece: You come from Hungary. Why did you decide to move abroad?
Andrea: It wasn’t an instant decision. First, I went to California because I wanted to learn English to work for an American company in my hometown.
Since I don’t like to study and learn in boring classrooms, I thought it would be a great idea to go to California where other Hungarians wouldn’t surround me; therefore, I had to communicate in English. I ended up learning from a little girl I was babysitting for 6 months. I pointed at different things and asked her how you call ‘that thing.’ She would patiently repeat the word until I got it.
Then I went back home and got hired in less than 2 weeks. My English was still bad, but it was enough to get the job I wanted. 4 years later, the company decided to leave Hungary. We decided to participate in an exchange program to work in Colorado. That’s where I met my Puerto Rican friend who invited me to Puerto Rico. Well, in PR, where the magic happened. I fell in love and decided to stay. That was 16 years ago…
Passion Piece: Which countries have you lived in so far? What have you done to make ends meet?
Andrea: I visited many countries in Europe. You know how we are in Europe? Friends get together for a long weekend, jump in the car, and drive a few hours to see another country. We slept in the car wherever we wanted and saw Italy, Spain, Croatia. As part of the swimming team, I went to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland every year, too.
I lived in California, where I worked as a babysitter and cleaned houses. It was enough to support my needs. I was in my twenties, so my needs were not serious. See as many amusement parks as possible. See all the beaches around the LA area. See all the tourist attractions. I felt more like a tourist. I didn’t feel pressured by hustling for survival.
In Colorado, I spent a year. Two working seasons in a high-class ski resort. That was so much fun! I was more grown-up, and my interest started shifting towards learning about culture, history, and nature. I talked a lot with locals and native Americans who worked in the hotel. To meet the ends, I had different positions: SPA attendant, restaurant server and banquet server.
Then I moved to Puerto Rico. Where I was gonna stay only for a year. I had no secured job when I got there, and I quickly found myself in the restaurant business — banquets in the rain forest and a waitress in a beach restaurant.
But one day, I met with a boat captain/ SCUBA instructor who needed help of a SCUBA divemaster. Luckily, I dove many times in Hungary, but that’s all about it. We made a deal. He would teach me to become a divemaster, and in exchange, I would work for him for free during the training. After that, all workdays would be paid. It was a win-win, and I got to learn all about marine life and the Caribbean Sea.
The cool thing about getting into the tourist and boating business in PR is that you get to know everybody in that business. So this first marine job of mine helped to get others later. I worked on a private yacht that took me to USVI and BVI too. I became an assistant manager of a DIVE Center in a 5-star hotel and worked on catamarans, which take people to snorkel to the keys and reefs daily.
Tourist business, in general, is very seasonal. So sometimes I had to be creative and have some side hustles to make ends meet. I used to make jewelry from shells and beads in the low season. I got permission to sell them in the dive shop and on the boats. Sometimes I set up a table with my display next to the kayaking tours, too.
Passion Piece: Working as a scuba diving instructor and on the private yacht must have been amazing experiences. Did you meet any interesting people while doing these jobs?
Andrea: Oh yeah! My favorites are:
One day when Jessica Biel and Derek Jeter were still a couple, we took them to Culebra Island. When we got back to the marina, the paparazzi were waiting for us, so we needed to sneak out the couple in the back.
We took out Anthony Bourdain to get some lobsters around Palomino Island. No luck, no lobster got caught that day.
For those who like culinary artists the name, Ferran Adrià and Juan Mari Arzak mean a lot. We spent the whole week with them on the yacht around the US and British Islands. We even hired a super chef because we were too afraid to cook for them. Of course, Ferran and Juan cooked every day. They couldn’t help it. Food and cooking is their passion.
I served Penelope Cruz, Tom Cruise, and the family a couple of times in Telluride, Colorado.
Passion Piece: Your stay abroad was going to be rather a short one. What made you leave your homeland for good?
Andrea: That’s easy. Love. I never thought about leaving my homeland for good. I remember to keep telling my mom I’ll be at home soon. After so many years, I still get homesick sometimes.
BUT even if I would be back home in Hungary, I would find the way to travel as much as possible. I believe in Europe, traveling and learning about different countries, history and culture is easy, since you only have to drive a few hours to be in a different country. If I moved back to Hungary, I would plan a different road trip at least 3-4 times a year.
Passion Piece: How does your life in Puerto Rico look like? Is this a place you could call your home now?
Andrea: Remember when I said I’m not the type who can settle down? Well, that’s almost true. We bought a house not long ago, and that somewhat made our life ‘normal’. We have a house with a view of the Atlantic Ocean. We have a little garden where I try my best to grow tomatoes, veggies, herbs, lime, etc.
On the other hand, my current job allows us to travel in Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and the US.
Puerto Rico is lovely. Has the best beaches, keys, rain forest, mountains so there is a lot to do all the time. Plus, Puerto Ricans are very friendly, and their hospitality is famous. Their culture is colorful. They love to sing, dance, eat, cook and celebrate every little thing. So you can’t ever get bored! 🙂
Passion Piece: You’re the author of the blog with quite an interesting name ‘HungariCan Journey’. What can your readers find there?
Andrea: The name HungariCan Journey stands for a couple of things.
A Hungarian who CAN, which for me means no matter where I am and what I have to face, I will make it happen.
It is also a combination of Hungarian and Puerto Rican; for me, it reflects how much the Puerto Rican culture got to me, and now I’m a completely different person from who I was 15 years ago.
I want to share as much as I can about how we live a happy life on a budget. I believe a lot of people want to travel, want to feel happy, love to create, but afraid to DIY on their own, and money is always an issue to do something fun out of their daily life.
I want to show people how we learned to do everything with our hands, so they can get inspired and do it too. I want to tell people how I traveled and supported myself, so they can realize it’s not hard even if you don’t have a lot of money.
Passion Piece: What does it mean that you live pretty cheaply? Was it easy for you to resign from some of the luxuries people find to be essential parts of their lives?
Andrea: “Live cheaply” for us is: we don’t buy furniture or home decor – we make it. Don’t think for a second we know what we are doing. Some of the projects I share on my blog were successful because we watch a lot of youtube videos.
We cook at home instead of eating out. That took a long time to succeed. When we were dating, none of us knew how to cook. But we started to cook food we couldn’t buy in the restaurant. Especially Hungarian food. Then we got a BBQ. Then we tried some more complicated recipes. I remember my husband even made an Emerill Essence spice mix, following the chef’s recipe.
We don’t eat in restaurants because we believe our food is better than what we can buy. That is why we refuse to learn to make sushi and Japanese cuisine, so if we want to go out on a date, we still have that option.
We upcycle and repurpose where we can. There are a lot of ideas on my blog about how to reuse “old junk” instead of throwing it away.
All of that aside, Hurricane Maria really taught us how to live without almost anything. We had no electricity for months; we had to collect water to make sure we had enough to flush the toilet and clean dishes etc. We showered on the balcony with camping showers that were heated by the sun during the day. We had to carefully plan the meals because we couldn’t get anything in the grocery stores.
You know that was a struggle, but fun.
Pitch black meant we got to see the Milky Way and the brightest moon while we were taking a shower. No electricity and water meant no bills for months. Not enough food meant to get together with your neighbors and cook together what you had.
Passion Piece: How do you combine your Hungarian nature with the Puerto Rican way of life? Have you ever been surprised with the local customs?
Andrea: It took me a while to get used to the island mentality. Remember, when you go to a new country you are the outsider.
There are things I would never change the way how I’m, but as an expat, in a new place, I had to realize my behavior might be weird sometimes. These are not significant differences if you are willing to realize it and change or alternate it a little.
Let me give you an example: I was growing up around swimmers, and in the summer, I walked in a bathing suit top and shorts every time we went to the beach. I thought where there are sea and sand it is a beach town; therefore, I can walk like that.
Well, in Puerto Rico, where you are surrounded by ocean everywhere, and it might give you the impression you’re on the beach all the time, my beach outfit was too much to handle for some locals. I got called upon it, and it made me feel like I’m naked. So I started to cover myself up a little when we are about to leave the beach.
Other than these little things, I like to believe I combine the best from both countries. I kept the responsible and always on time Hungarian nature and warmed it up with a free and always ready to have fun, Puerto Rican spirit.
Passion Piece: What advice would you give to everyone who would like to start their lives abroad?
Andrea: Be open and learn as much as you can. I want to travel because I’m naturally interested in ways how others live their life. That’s why I like to stay in one place for an extended period.
If you can, don’t rush to move too often so you can have new friendships with the locals and they can show you the best places, food, and habits of their country.
If you can, research what kind of jobs you can do at your next destination or look for remote jobs in advance.
If you need guidelines about expat life and what to expect or you need help finding jobs go to my blog, I share all my experience there.
Passion Piece: What are you passionate about?
Andrea: Being happy. It makes me sad to see how many people struggle and feel stuck just because they think they don’t have enough money to decorate or fix something in their house, or feel like have no break for travel, or they can’t buy that healthy meal at the new “organic” restaurant.
To tell you the truth every time we travel and play tourists somewhere I’m surprised how much money people spend. Until today I have no hundreds of dollars to give it to the best restaurant recommended by an App. We live in a consumer world, and that pressures people.
I hope I can show and inspire people to spend much less and still enjoy the process.
Passion Piece: Where do you see yourself in the nearest future? What are your dream travel destinations?
Passion Piece: Whatever the future brings. I was talking to one of my blogging friends the other day about bucket lists. We agreed we feel if you have a bucket list, you limit yourself to those goals. So I don’t make a bucket list. Imagine if I’ve done one, I wouldn’t go to Puerto Rico and wouldn’t meet my husband.
One thing, though…I always wanted to see the National Parks in the US. OMG, they are just so different. Each state has a different landscape and history.
Passion Piece: Thank you very much for this truly inspiring conversation and I can’t wait for your new tips related to DIY, as well as your life experiences as an expat, which will soon appear on your blog.
Leaving our comfort zone we can gain really a lot, and a great example of a person who was courageous enough to make a decision to leave her homeland gained not only wonderful experiences, but also met a man, who became her husband. And what are your stories? Have you ever decided to make such great changes in your lives?
See you around!
Photos by: Andrea Vörös