Why I Traded California for Chile

Interview: Tanisha Mendieta on Valdivia and the Fort Galt Project

Recently I made the trip to Valdivia in southern Chile, and got to meet a couple of expats during my stay. That included Tanisha Mendieta from Los Angeles, California, and she agreed to share her experience with others who may be interested in taking the plunge.

Tanisha Mendieta holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, studies culinary science, and has a particular interest in animal welfare. Follow @TanishaMendieta.

Tanisha Mendieta — pictured in Valdivia, Chile — studies culinary science, focusing on plant-based nutrition, and has a particular interest in animal welfare. Follow @TanishaMendieta.

1. Valdivia is a long way from California: why such a drastic change and not another part of the United States?

I chose to move to Valdivia due to the exciting Fort Galt project, which I first learned about in the summer of 2014 on Facebook. It’s the ideal intentional community that I’d been searching for in Chile, which is designed to be a supportive and inspiring environment for liberty-minded entrepreneurs and their families, and it offered affordable living options which was a huge plus. I grew up in southern California where the cost of living is high, and the cost for starting a business has become increasingly prohibitive and undesirable. As the federal government continued to expand and erode individual liberties throughout the country, I knew it was time to get the hell out of Dodge and find a place outside the United States that would be less intrusive, and provide a greater degree of economic freedom and quality of life for myself and my future family. For me, that was Chile.

2. Do you foresee a long-term home in Chile, or are you still in the wait-and-see stage?

It’s probably too soon to tell right now, as the Fort Galt project is still in its early stages, and the goal is to expand the project into other countries in the future. I like the idea of having Chile as a home base while still having the freedom and flexibility to travel to other similar communities across the world. There may be another country I’ve yet to visit that I would like even more than Chile, so I think it’s important to keep my options open.

3. Many people tout Latin America, and Chile in particular, as a haven to escape to. How does it exceed or fall short of expectations?

Right. One of the reasons why I was persuaded to move to Chile is because it ranked highest out of all the Latin American countries in terms of economic freedom and stability. As far as my expectations for living standards are concerned, I can say that most of them have been met, at least here in southern Chile where I live. There’s an abundance of lush, natural beauty down here which I absolutely love, and I strongly prefer the wetter climate versus the hot climate I grew up with. The people are generally courteous and friendly, and not once have I ever felt unsafe walking through town, even late at night. The public transportation system is very efficient and inexpensive, which is great if you don’t own a car. The best strawberries, blueberries, and olives I’ve tasted in my life are the ones I buy at my local feria. My biggest complaint would be the dearth of high-quality products and services, particularly restaurants, but my goal is to remedy that by opening a high quality restaurant in the future.

Chile Coastline

Valdivia (150,000 residents) is 25 kilometers from Chile’s rugged coastline. (Gabriel Scheare)

4. You mention that locals often think you are crazy for moving there. Why do you think that is?

The locals appear to have a strong fascination for American culture in general, and they perceive the United States as a country of great wealth relative to Chile, so it’s perplexing to them that anyone would want to leave it behind (unless you’re a student who’s studying abroad, which is what most people here initially assume about me). Also, not very many Chileans have adopted an entrepreneurial mindset, so it takes a little more effort to explain to them the benefits of running a business here versus the United States.

5. Have you invited friends and colleagues to join you, and if so, which types of people?

I’ve invited a few friends and colleagues here and there to join me — mainly libertarian and small-business types, but the problem for most of them is that they don’t want to leave their friends and family behind, which is understandable. Others would like to leave but can’t afford to move abroad at this time, or they’d rather wait to see how things pan out with the Fort Galt project first. I imagine that once we have a tangible structure to show to others that it will garner a lot more attention and confidence from those who may currently be on the fence about it. I feel very excited and privileged to be here when that happens!

Fergus Hodgson About Fergus Hodgson

Fergus Hodgson is a traveler, economic consultant, and media executive. He holds degrees in economics and political science from the United States and New Zealand, and he divides his time between Canada and Argentina. Follow @FergHodgson.

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