Interiors Project: Christina Szyman and Jason Hershberger in Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Six years ago, Christina and I were both new staff members at a little school in Barcelona. Our classrooms were both on the third floor of an old Spanish villa and people used my classroom as a hallway to and from the outside stairwell. (Ah… those were good times.)  Christina met Jason shortly after we arrived and the universe unfolded as it should; they were married a year and a half ago. Chris and Jason have a great deal in common including a love of adventurous travel and great food. (Their food photos are going to make you salivate.) Enjoy their tour!

Introduction:
a) How large is your home?
The home we currently live in is a traditional Santa Cruz house built about 50 years ago- when a 100 meters away was the jungle.  The owners told us stories of their children running off on Saturdays and bringing monkeys and sloths home with them when they returned.  It is approximately 250 square meters of interior space – four bedrooms and three bathrooms with a loft/bar/ fireplace nook overlooking the main living room.  In addition, it sits on a large corner lot.  Off the main living area we have a covered porch with hammocks and a bbq. The backyard is landscaped with native plants and has a small pool to cool down in.

b) What is your favourite thing about your current space – apartment or house?
The favorite thing about our current home is the sheer size and comfortability of the space. This is so different from Barcelona where we had a nice apartment but not the space – especially an outdoor area (though we used the city itself to provide for us). While in Barcelona we shared an apartment with a friend and while Matthew is wonderful the place never really seemed ours. This home in Santa Cruz is the first place Christina and I have actually lived in together alone. We can now come home and unwind outdoors: nap in the hammock, grill steaks, float in the pool, listen to the birds, check out cool insects that live amongst the plants and flowers, and play with our kitten. We love to entertain and as we have a huge kitchen with lots counter space, a nice oven, the porch, and pool we are able to enjoy time with new friends, play cards, listen to music, and of course eat tasty food.



c) How do you define “home”? What metaphor would you use to describe living internationally?
Our home is a quilt which takes an entire year to weave.
Brief bios. Christina grew up in the Twin Cities until 8th grade, moved to Chicago, went off the college to play soccer, and moved back to the Twin Cities to begin teaching. I grew up in Akron, Ohio – went off to college, moved to Portland, Oregon and became a bartender. Christina and I both entered into international teaching almost accidentally.  I moved to Barcelona when I was 29 with a one-way ticket and the idea that I could “make something happen.” Christina moved to Barcelona after calling a phone number in the paper for “teaching in Barcelona” on a whim.  We left comfortable lives, family and friends. Shortly after we met we started to build “home” together and it had everything to do with what we left behind. Home consists of our independent pasts, our shared past, and our present. Our home is stitched from the threads that we were, where we were, who we were with, who we are with now and how we can weave it all together. Every year it takes the entire year for us to weave a new quilt: Akron, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Portland, Barcelona and now Santa Cruz – plus everywhere Skype and Facebook can take us.  We might live ten months of the year “on our own” at “home” but we feel truly at home when we know we have sewn together all the threads of our experience.

{Below… Portland}


Do you consider yourself a risk-taker?
The fact that both of us decided to leave everything behind and move to Barcelona must mean that we are risk takers.  That said we are not one to just do something for no reason.  We weigh pros and cons of decisions and try to make smart decisions.  We are not afraid to try new things – we decided to move to Santa Cruz in less than a week. As we have grown older we have definitely become more cautious.

How do you know when to leave?
This is difficult because so many people are involved.  We consider our friends as much our “family” as our parents and siblings. In the States, before we ever moved abroad, and in Barcelona we were surrounded by amazing people – people we had known since college and even high school – people we felt intricately connected to. It is so hard to break these long standing bonds. Ultimately though, we think we know it is time so leave when we feel some sense of complacency in our personal or professional lives – when it feels like we are treading water we know it is time to leave. It may be the feeling that we are outgrowing our surroundings and need a new challenge professionally or personally

What do your friends and family members feel about you working overseas? Has their opinion changed over time?
Our parents understand our lives abroad but parts of our extended families still do not fully grasp that we are international educators.  We seem to have to explain every summer that we are not ESL teachers but regular teachers just like at school in the states.  We also are not on vacation all year long. Please note our frustration. Our friends are supportive and stay in contact with us throughout the year.  We have had many visitors while living overseas and love that they have a chance to see what it is like where we live.

What is your favourite story about living overseas? How did those events effect/transform you?
Our favorite story about living overseas is how we met in Barcelona. Jason had been working at BFIS for a few years before I arrived but when I first saw him I said to myself: “I am going to marry that man.” Jason likes to tell a story about how his roommate at the time told him that I thought he had a really nice butt- but he likes to embellish things. We have known each other for six years and have been married for a year and a half.  For our one-year (paper) anniversary we purchased prints to bring with us to our new home in Bolivia.  One of the prints says it perfectly: “You’re the strangest person I ever met, she said & I said you too & we decided we’d know each other a long time.”  We were fortunate enough to have an amazing friend, Sarah Bronk, visiting us when Jason proposed to me in Barceloneta to snap pictures as it happened.

Do you still experience culture shock? What does that look like for you?
We experience culture shock differently.
Christina: My first experience in living overseas was in Barcelona, Spain.  I actually found living there one of the most comfortable places in my life.  Sure things were different: banks closing at 2:00 everyday, stores closed on Sundays, the process of standing in line at 4 in the morning to begin the residency process, lack of lines, crazy fascination for fire and poop, etc.  My culture shock at that time occurred when I went back to the US. To me my honeymoon phase as Monna would put it lasted five years while residing in BCN.  Now I am in a third world country.  When we made this decision to leave BCN and move to a new continent I had not thought of how different it would really be for us.  My honeymoon period maybe lasted one week.  I always thought of myself as one who is flexible, adventurous, with a dash of sense of humor.  I ended up seeing a side of me that was the complete opposite.  The school, the air pollution, garbage, lack of sidewalks, number of chicken restaurants, lack of culture, etc… was taking its toll on me personally and professionally.  One saving grace has been the home we live in, my escape from Santa Cruz.  I made a personal decision to not give up and let this city get the best of me.  I started by attempting to embrace the controllable around me.  Instead of declining invitations, I started to accept and get to know others and learn how they have or have not adapted.  I also found that since I love my house and to cook, why not entertain on a regular basis.  By doing this I found I was not the only one struggling to make this transition a positive experience.  Allowing others in my life made me realize that I was not alone and failing, but learning how to adjust to life around me.  I do not think that Santa Cruz will ever be my most favorite place I lived, but it will be a part of my story.

Jason: I would have to agree with Christina that all of my time in Barcelona seemed like a honeymoon period.  Living there was easy and the differences from living in the States were more exciting than challenging. I feel culture shock the most when I return to the States every summer—more a “reverse” culture shock.  I almost cannot understand how I was able to live in the US.  Everyone seems so impatient, focused on 1,000 things they have to do – living to work. I felt more of the traditional sense of culture shock after arriving in Santa Cruz.  While Santa Cruz is described as the most developed city in Bolivia I don’t see it. The city is sprawling with piles of garbage everywhere and stark scenes of poverty seemingly on every corner. This has been difficult to adjust to.

What is your approach to packing?
My personal approach is not one my husband and I have seen eye to eye on.  I would clean a toilet before I pack or unpack a suitcase.  Jason has worked with me on this since he is pretty much the complete opposite, by setting mini goals.  Yes, my ADD comes out and I seem to produce quality packing only in short 5-10 minute spurts.

While Christina’s ADD comes out while packing, it is my OCD that come out.  It seems like this should be the perfect match to pack efficiently but really we both get frustrated with each other.  I strive to take as little as possible- mostly knowing I will have to lug around Christina’s over packed bags.

One thing we are both horrible at is unpacking.  When we moved to Bolivia we lived out of our duffel bags for weeks. We came home one day and magically all of our clothes had been ironed and hung in our closet- our maid had gotten sick of looking at our bags on the floor full of rummaged through clothes.   I personally do not know how we have lived this long without a maid.  Even now 7 months later we have one of the spare bedrooms littered with stuff we just do not want to deal with.

How many countries have you travelled to?
The ease of travel is one of the main perks of working as an international teacher.  While we lived in Europe we kind of travelled our retirement saving – thinking the current experience was just as important as a future nest egg. Combined we have been to the following countries (many more than once): China, Poland, England, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Belgium, Bolivia, France, Switzerland, Portugal, Germany, Netherlands, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Russia, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bosnia, Turkey, Hungary, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Ireland, Greece, and Scotland.

{Croatia}

{Cinque Terre, Italy}

{Florence, Italy}

{Beijing, China}

{Istanbul, Turkey}

{Mallorca, Spain}

{Photographs Above: Christmas 2009}

{Photographs Above: Summer 2011}

{Photographs Above: Christmas 2011}

What do you buy when we travel?
We have collected a lot of items in our time spent in Europe but unfortunately baggage restrictions only allow you to bring two bags to South America.  We chose very carefully through our little treasures from around the world.  We are into rugs and wall hangings right now.  We just recently purchased two beautiful pieces in La Paz, Bolivia that hang in our family room.  We also brought with us a quilt we purchased in Cadaques, Spain (as you can see our kitten likes to chillax on it). We have recently found that it is extremely inexpensive to get things framed here.  So we may not have been able to bring all of the things we love with us, we are able to print and frame awesome memories of our travels together.

Please describe the most amazing meal that you have eaten overseas.
This is a hard question because Jason and I are foodies.  We plan trips around culinary experiences.  One Christmas break we went on a Michelin Star binge.  It was excellent food but is food ever worth that much money?  One of our best meals and dining experiences was in Marrakesh, Morocco.  The restaurant (Dar Moha) was located on a typical dirty street near the city center with the same kind of doors you see everywhere.  However, when we entered the restaurant and we were escorted to a beautiful open courtyard with a pool, trees, flowers, candlelight, and live guitar music- we could not help but forget the congestion and filthiness, which was on the other side of the door.  Our meal consisted of an appetizer plate of 14 tapas like salads and purees, followed by savory pigeon pie, lamb and chicken tagines, and accompanied with fine wine.



You are invited to leave a note from Chris and Jason in the comments below.

7 comments

  1. Loved reading your story! Glad to hear you are happy and healthy. I’m living in northern Michigan near Lake Michigan and lovin’ it.

  2. Lovely pics. So glad to hear that you are both happy and healthy and enjoying the international life:) Your place looks amazing! Wow! Thanks for sharing. Take care, Mandy

  3. I loved reading your story!! I feel I know you sooo much more now!! Loved your proposal pictures!!
    I understand how you feel about Santa Cruz and I thank you for giving it a chance even if it is not the most appealing city to live in. I love to hang out at your place, you are great hosts!!
    Besitos,
    Maria Ines

  4. Hey Szy!!!!!!! How are you! I loved reading your blog! I’m so happy you are happy. Jason seems like a perfect fit for you! I hope you’re doing well. I think of the Clemson days often! Great great memories.

Leave a Reply