Interview of the month – November – with Jo Self

Helping people to understand cultural nuances and enjoy their new surroundings is what I love doing. Through these monthly interviews, you will find personal stories, tips, and advice. This month I introduce you to Jo!

 Original country: USA

Expat countries: Uruguay, Italy, Ecuador

Current country:  Peru


Who is Jo?

Originally from Michigan, but raised in Kentucky, I spent my college and post-college years trying on different cities for size to see where I might “fit.” I was finally ready to bite the bullet in 2010, and Uruguay was where I went first – not because it’s where I wanted to stay, but I had a learning-on-the-job opportunity to manage a hostel in Punto del Diablo – so it was a start.

While there I met a lovely girl from Peru and I was telling her how much I had loved it there (here) when I lived there in 1995. And she asked me, “if you loved it so much, why aren’t you there?” With that, I found a job, bought a one-way ticket and I’ve been here now for 6 ½ years and about to go after my citizenship.


Why your choice of your current country?

I was here in 1995 and I really loved it here. When it came time to make the move, Italy and Peru were the two places I had been happiest living abroad – unfortunately, the economy in Europe was collapsing everywhere, Italy harder than most, so Peru became the choice (once I got my feet wet in Uruguay).


On Overcoming fear:

Had zero fear of moving abroad. Bigger fear was in staying put and not living my life fully.


Working practices and benefits in your adopted country:

Fortunately, my business is online. I have clients in Europe, Africa, Asia and North America (too many countries to name) – and zero in Peru. Which is kind of funny, but also kind of intentional? I prefer the flexibility that my work provides me.


About integrating:

I think I was most surprised at how things had changed. Whether my age was a factor or just life in general, it’s hard to say. But making friends has been much harder this time around. And I came here thinking I would just immerse myself in the culture and try to avoid being “one of those ex-pats,” but at the end of the day, the ex-pat community has provided some much-needed friendship and sanity.


What is your current business?

I’m a Foundational Coach & Strategist. I’m certified by Gallup as a Strengths Coach and was in the first group of Spanish certified coaches in Latin America including being the first and only in Peru. I LOVE strengths and it has been a passion since 2003.

I focus on two main areas in my coaching: 1. I help other coaches create a brand based on their unique strengths and then create a successful business strategy to reach their ideal market (this feeds my creativity and strategic talents) and 2. I work with parents to create a strengths-based environment in the home, creating more harmony by infusing strength-recognition and language in the family. Essentially, I help parents become coaches for their kids (which serves my overall mission to foster a strengths-based generation)


Was it difficult to start working in a foreign country?

I actually started trying out a few different entrepreneurial paths here, but the bureaucracy and difficulties of registering a business here made it difficult to sustain. Which is why my focus is mainly international now.


Useful resources for expats:

I think the best tool for me as an expat has been to find the right groups on Facebook and keep a close circle of ex-pat friends. Sometimes you just need to be with others who are going through the same cultural adjustments and “get” you.


Words of Wisdom:

Expect the unexpected. But also, learn to be patient – not just with the new culture, but with yourself. Give yourself time to adjust, especially when a new language is involved.


Any cultural misunderstanding as an expat?

I actually speak very good Spanish, but I speak it so well, that sometimes people think I should understand all the cultural intricacies as well. For nearly the first year of my relationship with my husband, he would tell me something and I would say por supuesto!” For me, I was affirming what he said, sort of a “Yeah right, absolutely.” However, he would always respond (in Spanish) with, “Oh, right, I forgot you know everything!” and get really grumpy. I was so confused… until one day my friends were talking to Carlos about understanding the difference between “Claro!” and “Por Supuesto!” which for me both meant, “ok, sure.” Claro is what I should have been using as por supuesto is a lot more like “Duh!” Who knew?


Please tell us your important TIP(s) :

  • Have reasonable expectations.
  • Go with a plan, but expect that plan to change.
  • Know where you want to live and why.
  • Look for ways to be a part of your new home as well, either volunteering or through social networks.
  • If you have young children, mommy groups or parent groups can be great for finding the support of all kinds.

Thank you very much!