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Moving to the Virgin Islands


Hayley: Adventures in Denial

by Hayley Cotter, Writing Intern

Moving to the Virgin Islands | A Practical Wedding

I vividly remember waiting at the train station for Nick to get home. It was unseasonably chilly for late October, and I hopped from foot to foot on the platform trying to stay warm, vaguely thinking that I wasn’t going to be cold again for a long time. I had kept the big news a secret from Nick all afternoon, wanting to tell him in person, and now that he was almost here, I thought I might burst.

When his train pulled in at last, I scanned the crowd of commuters for his face. We had made a deal a while back that the night one of us landed a full-time job, we were going to go out for a nice dinner at a nearby steakhouse. As Nick finally made his way over to me, I practically skipped to meet him halfway. When I reached him, I blurted out, “Ready to go to Longhorn?”

He blinked at me for a minute trying to figure out what I meant. “You got a job?” he asked. I nodded, grinning from ear to ear. Not just any job—a good job, with an employer that had interviewed me via phone several times over the past month, an employer we were sure would not hire me without requiring an in-person interview first. Except they did hire me. And I was ready to celebrate.

“Maybe we should think about this…” Nick said slowly. “Think about it?” I responded, incredulously. “It’s a really good job. This is a no-brainer.” (“No-brainer” was a term I would use repeatedly over the next several weeks.) “Hayley,” Nick said, “it’s just really far away. We’ve never even visited there before.”

Because there was one small complicating detail. This particular job happened to be approximately sixteen hundred miles away, on a small island in the Caribbean. Wikipedia told me that the island was an unincorporated territory of the United States (a status I did not understand then, and still do not fully understand now), and I knew it was a popular cruise ship destination. But all of these facts about this exotic little tropical island frankly seemed irrelevant to me—I had a job, and in that moment, that was all that mattered.

“I just think we need some time to think about it,” Nick repeated firmly. “Well…” I said, somewhat deflated. “Let’s go eat some steak and we can talk about it.”

MOVING ON UP?

In retrospect, Nick’s hesitation was probably wise. Admittedly, I did not know much (anything) about where we were headed. Upon consulting a map, I was startled to find that I would not, in fact, be moving just off the coast of Miami, but would rather be heading over a thousand miles down the island chain. I had a few days to consider the job offer, and we briefly toyed with the idea of booking a last-minute flight to visit the island before making a decision. But I hated the thought of blowing our limited moving funds on a scouting trip (for a move I had convinced myself was inevitable), and then Hurricane Sandy stepped in and effectively eliminated the option of a last-minute trip. This decision was going to be made sight-unseen.

Of course, in my mind, the decision was already made. I just needed Nick to realize that, and get on board. We began preparing the only way I know how—feverishly researching, budgeting, and making pro/con lists—all to the tune of the steel pan drum music I had downloaded to get Nick into the right frame of mind. I knew Nick was coming around when he came home a few days later with a couple of Caribbean travel guides he had bought at the bookstore. (Tip: it turns out that travel guidebooks are surprisingly unhelpful when you’re actually moving to the destination.) But his heart was in the right place, and his mind was finally made up. We were moving to the Virgin Islands.

Nick’s initial hesitation about the move may have been understandable, but I don’t think my own unbridled enthusiasm was too far off the mark, either. Over a year after graduation, we were still living with my mom, working miscellaneous part-time jobs trying to make ends meet. How many times had we said, “If only one of us could land a real job, any real job…?” Well, here was the opportunity. Now we just had to take the plunge.

One recent survey showed that eight in ten recent college graduates would move for a job opportunity, “even if it wasn’t their first-choice location.” And given the economy for under-thirties, this is not terrifically surprising. The Virgin Islands may not have been my “first-choice location,” in that I could not have previously located it on a map, but I was sure we could do a lot worse than year-round sunshine and pristine white sand beaches. Hundreds of resumes and dozens of interviews were finally about to pay off, and I wasn’t going to let a minor geographical relocation get in the way of seizing the opportunity.

STRICTLY BUSINESS

“Oh, I’ve been there on a cruise! Do you think you’ll live near Magens Bay?” one friend asked, upon learning about our impending move. “Umm, not sure,” I responded. “I mean, I’ll be really busy working, so I probably won’t be at the beach much anyway.”

“What do you wear to an office job in the Caribbean? Hawaiian shirts and flip flops?” a cousin wondered. “Oh… I hadn’t really thought of that, I guess. Did I mention I’ll have health insurance?”

“What an adventure!” everyone gushed. This characterization of our move frustrated me. This was the exact opposite of an adventure! (“Adventure: an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.”) We were moving to an island, sure, but we were moving for a job. A stable job, with regular hours, and benefits. This was one of the most responsible, non-hazardous things I had ever done.

Maybe viewing this huge move as strictly business helped distract me from the fact that it was, in fact, enormously overwhelming and scary. Running away to a tropical island might sound like a dream to some people, but it wasn’t my dream. I had worked hard to get us to move back to Boston after Nick and I graduated. There had even been a very persuasive PowerPoint presentation involved. We loved the city, and I loved being closer to my family after several years away. I had already done my share of traveling and relocating, and viewed our move back to Boston as a homecoming of sorts. I wasn’t yearning to jet off to a tropical island—I didn’t even own a pair of shorts! The decision to move seemed fairly radical to our families, both of which largely remain under an hour from where they, and the generation before them, grew up. But after all we had been through since graduation, I was firmly convinced that two part-time, temporary jobs did not outweigh one full-time, permanent job. We had to make this move.

If you convince yourself that a thing is absolutely inevitable—a “no brainer,” if you will—then you don’t have to spend time second-guessing your decision to do it. Which is good, because when you’re moving to a tropical island that you’ve never laid eyes on in just under two weeks, what you do not have is a lot of spare time on your hands. Before I knew it, we were boarding a one-way flight to the island. As we disembarked from the plane, a flight attendant called out, “Enjoy your vacation!”

MIXING BUSINESS WITH PLEASURE

I was convinced that our decision to move was straightforward and practical. Nick vacillated between nervously viewing the move as an enormous risk and, more optimistically, thinking about it as a big adventure. With nearly two years of island life under our belts, I can confidently say that the truth was somewhere in the middle. Moving turned out, blessedly, to be a positive career choice for both of us. In the chaos of our early days on the island, when I felt confused and homesick and struggled to keep track of which direction to look when stepping off the sidewalk, the office was the one environment that felt familiar—the one place where I felt confident.

But there are so many things about living here that are new, unfamiliar, and—dare I say it?—undeniably adventurous. We’ve learned to adjust to frequent power outages and to finding baby lizards in our bedroom. I was surprised how quickly I picked up driving on the left side of the road. (It was learning to dodge chickens, iguanas, and car-sized potholes that were difficult.) We’ve hiked and snorkeled and spent afternoons lazily trailing a sea turtle around Magens Bay. (Yes, we do go there sometimes, contrary to what I tried to tell anyone who expressed excitement about our island life pre-move.)

In retrospect, we really didn’t have to make this move. My mom was happy to have us crash with her a while longer. I could have turned down this job, and Nick and I could have stayed put in Massachusetts, working the part-time temp jobs, hoping a more permanent opportunity would present itself soon. Inertia is almost always an option. We did not have to move to a tropical island we had never visited before, where we did not know a soul, on two weeks’ notice. But on those weekends when we do make it to Magens Bay—when we lay on the beach, surrounded by tourists, and whisper to each other, “Can you believe we live here?”—I am really glad we decided to make this leap.

Hayley Cotter

Hayley is a Boston native who lives in the Caribbean with her husband, Nick. Their engagement spanned the better part of three years, six address changes, and countless flat tires, and they recently tied the knot at a “reverse-destination wedding” in Ohio. When she’s not busy at her grown-up job, you can usually find her in a hammock, napping, reading, or pondering married life.

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  • Emma Klues

    You are a good storyteller! I could hear the steel drum music amid the chaos…

    • Hayley

      Thank you! It IS a pretty calming sound :)

  • Alice

    Wow, I can totally relate to this. I moved to Glasgow sight unseen last August, to start vet school. It was one of those opportunities that seemed totally obvious (getting into vet school isn’t easy, it was my second time applying, and if the Glaswegians wanted me, who was I to turn them down?) UNTIL suddenly I realized that it was actually happening. I’m coming up on my one-year anniversary here, and I still constantly get people asking me about where I’m visiting, and commenting on how exciting it must be. But, I live here. I study. Full time. And, student loans don’t exactly allow for spending much money galavanting across the countryside. That said, it is an amazing place, and I have been lucky enough to do a little travelling now and then.

    • vegankitchendiaries

      Ohmigosh! Ex-Glasgow girl here! Are you at the GU vet school?! I worked for Glasgow Uni for years and it’s an AWESOME place to be a student. I’m actually jealous reading your comment… :)

      • scw

        I did study abroad at glasgow uni!

        • vegankitchendiaries

          hells yes!

          this is taking me back to my old life… pints in ashton lane and enjoying “taps aff” weather in kelvingrove park!

          i usually watch a lot of Limmy on youtube when i’m feeling nostalgic for the dear green place… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxkS5Rzr4W0

      • Alice

        Yes, just going into my second year. Really enjoying the program so far. The uni is neat, I’m mostly at the Garscube campus, which is not quite as pretty. Glasgow is a fun town, though. Just got married two months ago, so we’re working on getting the hubby a visa right now.

        • vegankitchendiaries

          good luck with the visa stuff… i’ve done that whole circus before, and it’s a lot of $$ and paperwork so hope it’s not too rough on you.

          • Alice

            Yeah, the money and the waiting is pretty not-fun. But the school is a ‘highly trusted sponsor’ and we’re hoping the application will go through smoothly. Fingers crossed!

    • Hayley

      Ha, yes, gotta love that moment when you realize this thing is ACTUALLY happening. Congrats on getting into vet school! Not to jump on the bandwagon of “how exciting it must be,” but man, I am jealous you were there for the Commonwealth Games! :)

      • Alice

        Yeah, the Commonwealth Games were pretty neat. I didn’t get to any of the sporting events, but there were festivals in the streets and fireworks a lot of nights and just generally a great feeling all over the city. And man, was it crowded! Plus, we finally got recycling bins in the streets because of it! Yay Glasgow!

    • Julia C

      This is so funny, I moved to the caribbean for vet school, and I think I met one of your classmates this summer! She is from Michigan but goes to vet school at glasgow as well! lol small world!

      • Alice

        It wasn’t Sara, was it?

        • Julia C

          haha yes it was! love her!

          • Alice

            Ha, talk about a small world! I love her too, she’s the best.

  • Erin

    I love reading these kinds of stories- so fun and exciting! Aaaand, congratulations on health insurance! That’s super cool!

    • Hayley

      Haha thanks! Funny the things you find outrageously exciting once you’re a grownup, huh? :)

  • Grace from England

    I can fully relate to the part where you both just desperately need one of you to have a proper, full time job. Even a minimum wage job would make our lives better right now. We’ll get engaged, finally, amongst everything else we’ve been waiting for.

    Thank you for reminding me that there is light at the end of the tunnel!

    • Hayley

      Hang in there and good luck!

  • Elizabeth

    THIS! Stepping out of your comfort zone is one thing when it’s trying new food or whatever, but it’s something totally different when it’s permanently changing your environment.

    It has taken almost two years of living in New York to feel like I live here. When we got off the plane, I had never even seen our apartment, but the keys to our house in Austin weren’t in my purse anymore. It felt like I didn’t live anywhere. 3 months in it felt like I was on a really really long and stressful vacation that required working. One year in it felt like I was pretending to be someone who lives here. Now, I have my regular restaurants and bars, they know me at the grocery store, I have run into friends at various subway stations, it finally feels like this is my place, but there is still so much to explore and ways to grow.

    • Hayley

      “Pretending to be someone who lives here” is such a good way to describe it! Especially in a touristy location. Glad you are getting more settled in.

  • Emily

    So cool. I just moved to Germany, sight unseen, to study for two years. And I can completely relate–for me, accepting the school offer was also a “no-brainer,” and it wasn’t till I was on the plane that I actually started to think about what I was doing. So far it’s been absolutely wonderful.

  • Julia C

    Great article! I’m in Grenada for vet school, but I love the Virgin Islands and I would love to live there some day! I am having a reverse destination wedding next summer in PA! thanks for sharing!