Ray Blakney is a man born with diverse experience with countries. His mom is Filipina, and his dad is American, but he grew up in Turkey.
Ray did not consider himself an immigrant in Turkey because of how he grew up and adapted to its culture and language.
When he moved to the United States to study, his journey as an emigrant began. Although Ray did not struggle with speaking English, his challenge was interacting with American people, which were far different from those he grew up in Turkey.
After finishing a degree and building a stable life for himself, Ray reached the desire to live a life beyond comfort.
The life-changing decision came when he saw an ad on TV. Ray was determined to leave the States. Through his father’s experience, he applied for the Peace Corps. After getting accepted, Ray got assigned to Mexico, which marked a turning point for his new life.
Currently, Ray is behind Live Lingua, one of the world’s largest online language schools. He continues to push the boundaries of what he can achieve, professionally and personally. Mexico might be just one chapter of his emigrant’s life.
"If they were to write a book about your life, would anybody want to read it?"
I think deep down inside, I was starting to feel like it was off, right? I was like, you know, there's got to be more to life than this, but I hadn't really said it. I had never mentioned it. And then I saw commercial on TV and it has my favorite quote, The saying is if they were to write a book about your life, would anybody want to read it? It was on a commercial for the US Navy. So I had no intention of joining the military, but the quote stayed with me, I saw it on TV multiple times, and I'm like, wow, no, nobody's gonna read the book about my life. My life is boring. I go to a cube every day and I write code.
Hi, everyone, and welcome to episode number 23 of the Emigrant's Life Podcast, where we share stories of people left their country to chase a better life. I'm Daniel De Biasi and my guest this week has immigrated for the first time when he was only 19 months old. Of course, he didn't do it by himself. But he did moveof by himself when he was 16 years old to go to school in United States. A few years after he graduated from college, he realized he wasn't living a life he wanted for himself. So he decided to join the Peace Corps and move to Mexico, where he met his wife and started his first business. Ray is now a serial entrepreneur, together with his wife started Live Lingua one of the world's biggest website to learn a language. He shares stories with us covering how the Peace Corps works, and why he decided to join the program. We also talk about entrepreneurship and online businesses and why moving to a new country should be on your business plan. Before moving to my conversation with Ray, consider subscribe wherever you listen to your podcast. It will be great if you give us an honest review on Apple podcasts or Podchaser. Thank you. And now please enjoy my conversation with Ray.
Hi Ray! Thanks, thanks for being on the show.
Daniel, it's a pleasure to be here.
Awesome. How are you?
Well, not so bad. Not so bad. It's a little later for me here in Mexico than for you in Vancouver. But I think I'll survive.
Yeah, we make it work that I think it's totally worth it. Just for starting I usually at this point as my guest where they're originally from. But your situation is a little bit different. Because you were born in the Philippines. And when you were one year old, your family moved to Turkey. You were there for 15 years. So how would you answer the question, Where are you originally from or where are you from?
I usually answer with that's a loaded question or what do you mean? So when people ask you, where are you from? As you say, for a lot of people, it's a lot less complicated. It's where are you born? Where's your passport fro,? You know, where's your passport from? And then for most people, that's exactly the same thing. Right? I was born in a country, that's where my passport is. For me, it's a lot more complicated. I've grown up grew up in a different place. I was born in a different place. I have multiple passports, and I live in Mexico right now. And I've lived here for 12 years. So the easy answer if I don't want to talk about or say I'm from the US because I sound American. And most people like, okay, I get it. But otherwise I give him the more long winded answer of I was born in the Philippines. I grew up in Turkey. My dad's American, I have a US passport and I live in Mexico. So that's my like my 10 second answer with everything cause I've had to answer that question so many times.
You know, exactly. Because you were born in the country and you moved when you were one year old to another country pretty much you grew up, you do your childhood in another country. That's why I was curious to see what's your answer to that. Yeah, I'm from the Philippines. I'm from Turkey, or something else.
There's actually, so a doctor came up with a phrase that a PhD doctor came up with a phrase for people who grew up like me, were called third culture children. It's where your parents are from two cultures. And you grew up in the third culture. They call us third cultural children right now, because apparently it's a it's a growing demographic. So they had to come up with a label for us. And a lot of the people I grew up with were like that, right? International students, parents, maybe for multiple countries, but they were also in Turkey, because their parents' work was there. And they were growing up in Turkey. So it's, we are our own kind of subculture in the world right now. At least that's what I've been told.
Yeah, yeah. No, you're right. So your life as an immigrant, let's put it that way started when you were 16 years old when you left Turkey to move to the US, right?
That's right. That's right, technically, as you say, it started when I was 11 months old, but a baby doesn't really count. Because if you grow up in a country, you kind of feel like you're part of that right? So I felt Turkish, I spoke Turkish. The first time I actually felt like an immigrant even though I had a US passport was when I moved back to the US from Turkey when I was 15.
Why did you go to the US?
So my school in Turkey, in the US school system. there are four years in high school, freshmen, sophomore, junior and senior years. And my school in Turkey, it was an American school, but they were kind of adding more years on as I was there, and they only made it to the sophomore year, so they didn't have a junior and a senior year yet. So my school ended. I could have gone to the Turkey system or to another international school, but my parents decided to send me to boarding school back in the United States near where my grandfather lived. So I did stay on campus. You know, where I was studying in high school, but I had family nearby. They wanted me to do that. So I could get a little more prepared for college afterwards. So they thought, Hey, this is a good kind of intermediate step to get used to going to college.
Okay, so your decision was actually not yours, it was your parents decided it was the best for you to move to the US?
Exactly. It was it was a necessity, right? It wasn't a choice. I really very had almost no choice. I had to go there or somewhere else.
How did you take the decision to move to the US?
It was scary. Because you know, when you're living with your parents, your whole life, they kind of take care of everything. And then suddenly, I was in a place where they weren't there to take care of everything. They pay for the school, of course, but they everything else was up to me, one of the big culture shocks that I had when I moved to the US. So the school I went to was a preparatory school, prep school in New England. If anybody's ever seen those old movies of the you know, those rich kids in suits, and all that kind of stuff, going to school, it was one of those schools, but my parents weren't rich. The school just liked having a 10% international student body because it made them look good. So, I went in on a scholarship. So I was surrounded by all these rich American kids. And I was just this kid from middle class kid from Turkey. And I showed up there and I was so out of place. I didn't understand any of the cultural references. I spoke English. So the odd cultural thing for me was that everybody expected me to be American, because I sound American when I talked to them, right? But culturally, I was absolutely not American. I had never seen a football game in my life. Never seen a baseball game in my life. You know, I had no idea what the rules for those things were. So I was like a double outsider. When I moved to the United States, I didn't fit in with the international people because they they're like, hey, you're American, what are you, you know, you're not an international. And I didn't fit in with the Americans because they're like, Hey, you don't get any of the stuff we're talking about. So it was this weird space in the middle when I immigrated to the United States.
So that means that you when you were home, when in Turkey, you grew up, speaking and speaking English in the house?
With my dad but we did with my mom, we spoke Tagalog with my friends outside, we spoke I spoke Turkish but I went to the American school. So at school, we would speak English, even though there was French class there as well. Oh, another story, my French is awful.
Okay. And after you graduated from school in the US, did you stay in the US? Did you went back to Turkey? What did you do?
No, we stayed. But what happened is when my just as I was finishing my high school, my parents decided to move back to the United States. And since my parents and my sister were the only tie we had to Turkey, and my sister was already back was also in the same boarding school as me, she came a year later. We have no more ties to Turkey. As far as family is concerned, we had a lot of friends, we still do. But we, I didn't have any reason to go back. So at that point, I went to college in the United States. And then I stayed there for another four or five years afterwards, because it was what I was supposed to do, I guess is the best answer, right? You go to school, you study something, you get out of school, and you get a job and what you studied and you work there for two years, that used to be the path that everybody was supposed to follow, right? You go to college, so you can get a job. And then you can get a steady income by your house and just live there for the rest of your life. So I kind of went on that path for about five years after college and I stayed in the United States. I live in Cleveland, Ohio, and in San Francisco for a bit and I travelled quite a bit for work during that time as well.
And while you were staying, the longer you stay in the US, did you start feeling like you were part of the culture or you still like a feel an outsider?
I integrated, I was better at faking being part of the culture. And I think a lot of the immigrants on on your show that kind of moved to the United States can probably relate to this feeling right? Where you start having more American friends. And you go out and you kind of know the right things to say when you're there. Like I learned the basic rules of baseball and football, I still think they're boring. But you know, I know the basic rules. So when they started talking about football games, I'm like, Oh, yeah, I know what you're talking about. I could say the right thing at that time. I picked up cultural stuff, like, you know, 'Friends,' I hadn't seen it. So I ended up watching the whole, you know, all the friends who all the jokes they would make, I would see that 'Big Bang Theory,' whatever, you know, comedy or cultural things were relevant at the time, I made a point of picking them up. So I could say them, but it just didn't feel like, it felt like I was faking it even at that point. So I had a lot of American friends, they probably said, hey, yeah, raised American? I did not feel that way while I was living in the United States.
I mean, the culture between Turkey in an American culture, it must be really different.
It is exactly. And also, I'm going to add to that, that, you know, my dad is American, but he didn't grow up in the US either. So I had very little help on American culture from my dad. But my dad's blonde, blue eyed, you know, American guy born in Vermont, but culturally he lived you know, he grew up his first 15 years in Africa. So that didn't helped. My mom's Filipina that didn't help. You know, I grew up in Turkey, that didn't help with American. I mean, I saw movies, you know, but how much does Hollywood help you understand any American culture? Probably not very much.
Yeah, no, fair enough.
I kind of like, I'm curious so why did your dad grew up in In Africa, right in, in Zimbabwe?
that's right. It was called Rhodesia when he lived there. Okay, changed it to Zimbabwe after apartheid was lifted. So my grandfather was a missionary, he ran the first all black church in Harare, in Rhodesia at the time. So he was the minister there, and he was ministering and all the whole congregation was black, but the country was segregated, right? So obviously, the kids would make fun of my dad at school as well. Because, you know, hey, your, your dad works with black people kind of thing. It was, you know, it was a very racist society. He saw, my dad tells an interesting story when he was a kid, he, you know, as a kid, we don't really realize racism, it's just, you know, everything's just kind of normal to us. And he remember, he remembers, he would bike down the sidewalk on the street, and if there was anybody of African descent with black skin, they would jump off the street and let him by. And he would just assume that that's how everything worked. Right? I mean, he wasn't trying to, you know, use his privilege or anything like that. He just thought, hey I'm a kid driving down the street, but it was because he was a white kid, that they would get off the sidewalk for him and let him go by on the bike, and nobody would ever stop him. Until one day, as the transition was happening, there were these college students who were black studying in college. And he, you know, he was speeding down there, and they didn't get them off, they kind of stopped and they threw his bike to the ground. And he was shocked that these people didn't get out from in front of them. And it never even occurred to him why they were getting out from in front of him. And he says, that's the first time I realized that there was segregation in the world. And my dad's very liberal, and you know, he was a hippie at Woodstock. So you know, any kind of racism, my cousins are Nigerian, right, any kind of racism in my family is totally totally frowned upon. But at the time as a kid, he didn't even realize that that was there. So that's my dad's upbringing. And he went to the British school, that's complication to it. So he didn't even go to the American School. He went to a British school, he's made to speak with a British accent when he was a kid. So that's my American mentor. And yeah, it doesn't help very much.
Yeah, going to the British school even add more complexity into your story, into your background. Going back to you to your dad, and what you say about racism and the way that people treated him, did it have the opposite of that experience? Where actually were people were treated him, or going against him because he was white?
Not at the time, because this was right before, there were two sides to it. This was right before apartheid was kind of lifted in Rhodesia. So at the time, a lot of the black people still feared the white people. So they wouldn't dare speak up against a white child, in public at least. And secondly, my grandfather was kind of known in the town, right, he was the one who supported the black people in the town, he was the one who ran the church. So my dad had that level of protection as well. The discrimination my dad saw the most of was actually from the white people in his school against him, because his dad was friend was but was friends with black people. And that was just like, why would your dad, my grandpa, why would he be friends with black people? And it means you're friends with black people. And it means why, you know, we don't want to be friends with you. So him, my dad, my uncle, my two aunts, they had a lot more discrimination from the white people who originally from Rhodesia, then from the black people who were from Rhodesia.
Okay, interesting. So you were in the US when you finish college in the US, and you still don't feel like you're really fitting in with the culture. At this point, what did you have in your mind, like you trying to keep pretending maybe at some point, you're gonna really fit in or you were just planning to go somewhere else?
So you're giving me too much credit that I was thinking everything through, I think a lot of what happens in life, is you kind of get stuck in these patterns, right? You're kind of get stuck on this path without even realizing it and I was just following it. As I mentioned, graduate college, get a good job, buy a house and buy a bigger house and buy a bigger house, right? That's the American dream that they talked about, then I just thought I never questioned it. So I was kind of on that path. I was in a city, you know, Cleveland, Ohio, which is not an awful place to live. But it's kind of the most 'blah' place in the United States. I joke that there's a reason why when you ever you watch those American shows, and they want to kind of put a typical American town, they're always in Ohio, like doesn't matter which show Malcolm in the Middle, all of them. They're always based in Ohio, because it's kind of the most 'blah' place in the entire country. It's not too liberal, it's not too conservative. It's just kind of in the middle there. And I found that I was kind of, I was comfortable. And now looking back, that's kind of where most people I think get stuck. They don't get stuck because they're miserable. When you're miserable. You try to change your life, right?
But the most dangerous thing is when you're comfortable, because then you don't make the effort to change or make your life better. You're like I'm okay. So I'd rather be okay and not risk it. Or instead of risk it and maybe have a great life out of it so I was in that state until I was about 26. I was a computer engineer, I was making a good salary. I had a condo, I had a car. You know, the only thing left for me was a bigger house, you know, bigger condo and a bigger car. That was kind of it, you know, get married and just get stuck there all the time. So that was the path I was on.
Yeah, you you're completely right there. Because so many people yet are in the same situation you said like you're comfortable. Maybe your everything is not great. Maybe you want something else, maybe something is missing. But you're comfortable. So why risk it to make your situation worse or make it harder? Why make your life harder for yourself where you can, you're doing okay?
Yeah, that's a really dangerous spot to be. So how did you get, how did you get to Mexico?
So what broke me out of that pattern, let's call it is honestly a commercial on TV. So I think deep down inside, I was starting to feel like it was off, right. I was like, you know, there's got to be more to life than this. But I hadn't really said it. I had never mentioned it to my family or to anybody else, right? It was just kind of this nagging feeling on the inside that there's gotta be more to life than this. And then I saw commercial on TV, and it has my favorite quote, and it's up on the wall in my office right now I made a custom made a poster for it. Because I couldn't find anybody who's made a poster for it. I did not come up with a saying, I can't, I can't find who did. But the saying is if they were to write a book about your life, would anybody want to read it? It was on a commercial for the US Navy. Now, my respects to everybody in the military, but I'm too scared for that kind of stuff. If they start shooting at me, I'm gonna start running away. So I had no intention of joining the military. But the quote stayed with me, I saw it on TV multiple times. And I'm like, wow, no, nobody's gonna read the book about my life. My life is boring. I go to a cube every day and I write code. Yeah, I might have stuff at the end of my life, right? I might have a big house, I might have a car, but nobody's gonna read a book about it. I wouldn't read a book about it. So that's what kind of got the ball rolling. And it was a really fastball after that. I mean, I saw that commercial, went to work the next day, what happened to work, the next day was pure coincidence. There was a somebody who'd worked at the company I was working at, at the time, for 40 years great company, I worked at always top 50 places to work in the United States, they treated us really well. And I got invited to his, like a little lunch where they were giving them a watch saying thank you for 40 years of dedicated service to this company. And I was sitting there I was a team lead. He was, you know, he was a team lead there, all the other team leads were in there. And I remember thinking to myself is like, Look, I know, he's, you know, I've been to his house for barbecues, he's got a nice house, he paid for his kids to go to college, his life is good or he's life is okay. But I don't want that life. Forty years down the road, I do not want that watch. In fact, if like something went wrong if I got that, if I get that watch 40 years from now. So later that day, I went back to my office, went back to my cube, and sat from the computer. And there's an organization that I was familiar with because my dad did use this organization, a volunteer organization, that's how we got to the Philippines and met my mom, called the Peace Corps. And I decided, I'm like, That's it, I'm quitting my job, I'm gonna apply for the Peace Corps. Usually, that process for applying for the Peace Corps, they say can take about a year to two years. There's medical checks, then they assign you to a country and when I joined, you weren't able to pick your country. So you know, depending on the country, the group to your country left, it could be a year from now. So they said don't quit your job. You start your application process. And, you know, maybe a year two years from now, we'll send you away. Yeah, mine was three months. Literally, within two weeks, they accepted me. I passed all the medical stuff and they said, Yep, you're leaving in eight weeks. So I had to sell my house, sell my car move what little stuff I had left to the basement of my parents house and I was in Mexico 90 days later.
So we are actually determined, okay, I'm leaving. So because you sold your house is not something that Okay, I'm gonna go there for for a while and then come back, I'm still living my life. You decided at that point, that you are not coming back?
Yeah. I thought I'd come back maybe to the United States. But I knew I didn't want to go back to Ohio. The house was lucky. I literally sold it in 24 hours, we put up the post one person came and saw it the next morning, and he asked me gave me what I asked for. That was it. There was no negotiation nothing. And under 24 hours, my house was sold. So so that was kind of if you believe in superstitious stuff. I'm like, okay, I might be on the right path here. Because you know, that that doesn't happen. But it did happen in that case. So I was like, okay, something's going right.
Yeah, so sometimes just things go in your way. Yeah, I had the same feeling that I'm not superstitious. I don't believe in this stuff. But sometimes I have the same feeling that when you make a decision, the things just aligns in front of you to make your path. And seems like everything is designed to go that way, it makes you feel that's good, like you sold the house.
Yeah, my car was the same. I actually one of my co workers wanted to buy a car for his son. He was looking for a car for my son. And he heard because I you know, I told my boss, Hey, I got two more months. I gave him more than two weeks notice. But I had a great relationship with him. Like, look, I'll help train this person. They actually said, when you're done because the Peace Corps' a two year service when you're done your jobs open for you. You can come back in two years and we'll hire you back because they thought it was coming back. But so he told people and then another boss and other manager and other departments like Hey, what are you doing with your car, I need a car for my son. And I didn't own my car, right? I was making car payments on at the time and I told them Like, look, I just need to get rid of this thing, this thing I've paid two years on, it's got three years on it, it's got very few miles, we're just trashed with a car payment. I mean, you know, you don't have to buy, pay me anything, we'll just sign a piece of paper and you'll pick up the car payments after that. He's like, That sounds good. Just let me know we before you leave, and we'll sign the papers. So I even got to keep the car for like the next two months. And we just signed the papers like two days before I left. And that was it. Same thing happened with my furniture, a lady came in for her daughter, who was moving into an apartment, loved all my furniture, bought it all, didn't need it for two months. And literally a week before I left, they're like, we're just taking it all were just gonna move it out for you. I'm like, awesome. That's great. Few things were left and I rented a car and drove to Boston, and left in my parents house.
That's awesome. So why did you decide to, why did you decide to join the Peace Corps? Because you felt like the call or because it was just an easier way to move abroad?
Yes, the second one, I wanted to move abroad, you know, I want to immigrate again. But there was this weird, I'll say 'Catch-22,' for anybody who's familiar with the book about moving abroad, which means in order to get a job abroad, you needed to have international experience. But in order to, to get international experience, you needed to get a job abroad. So I was sitting there, I'm like, wait, I'm like, I can't get the experience, because I don't have the experience. That's that was kind of the situation I was in. So in order to get the experience, I'm like, Okay, I'm going to join the Peace Corps, that'll get me two years of international experience. That way, when I apply for international jobs later, I can have two years on my resume already, of having worked internationally. The pay is nothing in the Peace Corps, it's a volunteer organization. It was a few hundred dollars a month, but at least that would be on my resume. And that could help me get another job in the future. That was my plan when I joined the Peace Corps and they sent me to Mexico.
Maybe the people the listener, they are interested in doing the same to join the Peace corpse. What's the process and actually more the process because they probably they can find that on the internet. But do they take care of everything like flights, accommodation and everything? You said, you're not going to be paid very much, you can have more like volunteer, but do you have to have like money or a saving set aside?
No, not at all. So the way the Peace Corps works, one, it's only open to US citizens or us green card holders. So you do have to be in the United States for this organization. It's tied to the US government. But if you're in the US right now, and you want to kind of do that, you again, you're a naturalized US citizen, you're looking for this kind of experience. The Peace Corps takes care of everything for you once you get accepted. It is an application process. So it's not that everybody who applies gets accepted into the program. It used to be a little easier, but nowadays, well nowadays, non COVID cause were recording this and COVID and the Peace Corps actually shut down their programs for the last six months, they pulled everybody back to the United States for safety. But normally speaking, when you apply to the Peace Corps, you can be of any age, and they will take care of everything for you. So what happens is, they tell you, okay, this is the leaving date, you all go to Washington DC, they buy your plane tickets from wherever in the United States you are and they fly you to Washington DC, you get three days of orientation there, then they put you on a plane and they fly you to whatever country you're gonna be serving it. And they serve in a lot of countries, a lot of them in Africa, a lot in Southeast Asia, a lot in Latin America, generally, you're going to poor country, so they're not going to send you to France. I mean, you know, so if you're dreaming to go to Paris in the Peace Corps, that's absolutely not going to happen. Based on your background, they'll send you to where you're needed the most, right? So a lot of people do it straight out of college. So you might not have that much experience, they'll send you for HIV education, helping with HIV education in Africa, which doesn't necessarily need a skill set, they can teach you what you need, you just have to be you'll be placed in a village. And your job will be to educate the locals there. So what they do is they get you to the country, and then you get three months of training while you're there to whatever job you're going to be doing in addition to language training. So three months of full immersion into whatever the language and culture you're going to have. For me, it was Spanish, I live with a Mexican family, they'll place you with a family, that does not speak English. That's kind of one of the rules of the families for the Peace Corps right? They do not want a family speaks English otherwise will speak English to each other.
So you go there and you need to learn the local language in order to be able to communicate and you learn their culture, you eat breakfast with them, you eat dinner with them, they invite you to their birthday parties, all that kind of cool stuff. When you're done with the three months, they send you out to wherever you are stationed. So where you know, in my case, I was near the Guatemala border in Mexico very far away from them the main offices, they sent me there and I had survival Spanish, I could do basic conversations in Spanish, but then all your coworkers do not speak any of the local language either. So you better get better at your language because otherwise you can't communicate. I know Daniel your experience was the similar when you went to New Zealand right? You learn English or you don't survive, right? And for me, it was learn Spanish or you don't survive.
Yeah, with a different that took me way longer than three months to be able to have a conversation, but that's another.
But you didn't have somebody paying for a full immersion English Program for you either right? That's what the Peace Corps does. So you know, one of the beauties of the Peace Corps, right, they don't pay you very much. I made a few hundred dollars a month. It's enough to live at the level of the people you're working with. That's kind of the rule, right? So if you're in a small rural village in Africa, they'll pay you what a middle class person in that village lives makes right? Different salaries depending on the countries you're in. In Mexico, its the middle class Mexican, I didn't rough it as long as as much as a lot of people got sent to other countries in the world. But there are some additional benefits of the Peace Corps. If you are a US citizen, when you get back, a lot of colleges do offer you full scholarships. So if you only get your masters or PhD, or go back and get another degree, they will, you know, the colleges will pay because you served in the Peace Corps will pay for your your new degree while you're there, and also, if you want to get a government job in the United States, it kind of opens the door for you. So a lot of people move from the Peace Corps into the US State Department, right. So they are those USA ID or those kind of aid organizations, it opens a lot of doors. And the final thing is they teach you another language. So you will, you do not make it through two years in the Peace Corps without learning another language. I mean, it just doesn't happen because you need to use it every single day. It might not bea useful language, you might be sent to you know, learn something from a northern part of Nigeria, like Hausa or something like that. But you will learn another language and that'll change your perspective on the world.
Every country they serve in this big under the language, there's no country that speak English?
Well, technically, there might be some, for example, in the Philippines, where my dad served, they speak Tagalog and Cebuano. But educated Filipinos speak English, the TV is half in English. So you know, it's there. But there's also the Filipino languages. There might be a few other countries, I know, some of the countries they send you to islands in the Caribbean. I think Jamaica might actually have a Peace Corps program. So they might speak English there. But it's rare. I mean, you know, it would be hard for you to find a program that spoke English, there might be one or two, but a large majority of them do not.
At the same time, the beauty of doing something like this into going to another country with a different culture and a different language that's the beauty of it. Right?
Absolutely. I would have been disappointed if I got sent to a country where they spoke English, in fact, that probably would have said no, I mean, you can always turn them down right? When they accept you that they did send me to a country that spoke another language, you know, spoke English, I would have said No, I'm not, I'm not doing this. But it did. I thought I was going actually to Russia, one of the former Russian countries when they when I applied, because they kind of implied that so I thought I was going to learn how to speak Russian. But no, they sent me to Mexico.
Probably easier language to learn and more warmer?
Yeah, that was what I was about to say it's a lot warmer down here than it would have been in like, Ukraine or something like that, I would have had to pack a lot more winter clothes if I have been sent there.
Totally. So you said that because I checked the website, the Peace Corps website, and they, you can kind of really see or you can actually decide where you can go. Was that your case?
No, they did that about three or four years after I was done when I was in the Peace Corps, they would send you wherever you are needed the most. And you had no say in it. You could say no, and say please, can I go somewhere else? And they may accept it. You know, they might say, Okay, here's another option, but half the time apparently, they would say no, you take it or we'll find somebody else and thank you for your time. So that has changed. That's something newer in the newer application, you get to pick where you're going.
And I think you said earlier that depend on your skill, depending on your background, they send you to county where they needed the most. So why did they send you to Mexico?
Yeah, so the thing about Mexico is for anybody who's visited here, it's not a third world country, right? It's not like certain countries in Sub Saharan Africa, right, where you need to help them build a well, you know, so that they have what water. Mexico is actually pretty developed. It's part of the G 20. Just like Italy, right? I mean, it's one of the 20 richest countries in the world. So it's not that impoverished. So what they needed here, the way the Peace Corps works is actually only allowed in countries where they're invited. Peace Corps doesn't reach out to countries and say, Can we send somebody? It's the country that says, hey, can you send us some Peace Corps volunteers? So at the time, I think it was a there were some friction between the United States and Mexico. And this was an olive branch aid. Mexico said we'll invite some Peace Corps people over here so are, you know, we'll fix whatever diplomatic issues we're having. But Mexico also said, We don't need you to build this digits. I mean, in the city, I live there are more Ferrari's than you know, in computer, and there's computers and stores and malls and Costcos. But we do need people who need to help on technology. I was the youngest person actually accepted into the Peace Corps Mexico program when I started, because half the people I worked with were like chemical engineers with 40 years of experience. They'd worked at Procter and Gamble, they had just retired. There were two of those a Rhodes Scholar who had been in Oxford with Bill Clinton. I mean, these are the level of people that I got sent down here with, the reason I got sent was I was 26, 27 and I had about four or five years of experience writing applications for phones. This was before iPhone times, but applications for phones. So they're not going to find anybody with 10 or 20 years of experience with that, because phones hadn't existed that long. So they took in Mexico, they requested me. They're like, wow, somebody with five years, you know, experience in this kind of technology. We'd love to have them down. So that's why I got it. I got sent to Mexico, and it ended up working out.
So what was the average of the people sent over there?
Yeah, average age, yes.
Yeah. Average age was 48, I was 26.
No, there was two people in their 20s, two people in the 30s, nobody in their 40s. that was the average age, but there was nobody there. And then everybody else was 50 and above and in my group about 23 people, I was the baby.
Yeah. Which in a way is kind of, it's kind of cool because you got to hang out with like people with so much knowledge, so much to learn but at the same time, like, there's not really your buddies that you can have fun or whatever you can do.
That's the beauty, right? That's why I had to learn Spanish because you know, otherwise, I'd be hanging out with people, my parents age old time, great people, I'm still friends with them today. But I had to learn Spanish if I wanted to, you know, have a girlfriend or meet anybody that was you know, my own age, I had to learn Spanish. So even more motivation to learn that language. Trust me if you want to learn another language, start dating. That's the easiest way to learn another language.
Yeah. Why did you decide to stay in Mexico and not going back to you the US or to move to another country?
So it occurred to me and it dawned on me as I was here in Mexico that in a way, I found more opportunities here than I would have found in the United States, especially in the industry I'm in. My specialty is I build online businesses now, right, so I own one of the livelingua.com, one of the, you know, largest language schools in the world and Podcast Talk, a software product that I'm launching, if I had tried launching these in the United States, it would have been too expensive, right? Because the cost of labor, the cost of living for me, would have been so high that I would not have been able to dedicate myself full time to something like this. Here, I had the resources. If you make $1,000 a month in Mexico, you're middle class. So all I had to do was make $1,000 a month, then I wouldn't have to do any consulting. So I did consulting for the first year or so right? Menough money to kind of pay our bills, but that was working 10 to 15 hours a week. And the rest of the time, we were able to dedicate it to our businesses. And then as soon as we started making enough from our businesses, you just cut out consulting work. And that's kind of how we were able to build it, those opportunities would not have exist in the United States. If you live in, you know where you live in Vancouver, or San Francisco or Washington DC or Boston $1,000 a month, you can live right, you would still have to work, work a full time job.
Absolutely. You can't even pay the rent.
You couldn't exactly you, literally I'd be living on a box in the corner. But here in Mexico at that point, we had some a lady who cleaned the house we had our house, we had our food paid for. And that means we were able to dedicate ourselves 100% to our business on that. So I recommend to a lot of people, if you're looking to start a business, look at immigration to like a cheaper country, as part of your business plan. You can always move back like you know, if you build your business, and you start making hundreds of thousands of dollars a month, move back to Canada move back to the United States, right? Because then you just you can live comfortably anywhere in the world. But you wouldn't have even been able to start that business unless you move to another country. And that's what I saw the opportunity I saw going up by living in Mexico like I can do things here. I can mess up here in ways that I could never afford to do in the United States.
Yeah, that's a great point. That's a really great point. Cause you say like in Vancouver with $1,000, you can't pay the rent, at least double that. So yeah, instead of working 17 hours a week or 15 hours a week to work 40. You have little time to start your business if you if you have to work full time.
Exactly. A lot of people get stuck in that I you know, everybody when I speak at conferences, everybody says, Hey, I'd love to start a business one day, but I don't have the time. This is a way to make the time. Just move. You know how bad does it sound? Hey, you got to go. And if I phrased it this way, hey, you need to go and move to a tropical beach. You know, have beers every morning go surfing, in order to start your dream business. Would you say no? I mean, like who would say no to that? I'm like, okay, maybe you don't like surfing. But you know, let's just say you know, all the rest of it, you're like, hey, that sounds amazing. That's what I recommend for people to do move to Latin America, move to Bali. Everything's cheaper. You have an amazing lifestyle, great food, great people and you're able to kind of, you know, build your own freedom which you couldn't do if you're working from nine to five, nine to six every day and commuting an hour each way right? So you leave the home at eight, you get home at six or seven at night? You don't have the energy to do something like that if you do that.
Yeah, no, no, no, I agree a hundred percent. Yeah, that's a great, great point. That might be a conversation for another time, because I have so many questions about that. You have no idea. Going back to your story, the reason why you stay in Mexico for how long did you serve for the Peace Corps?
It's 27 months, so three months training, and then 24 months afterwards. So a little over two years.
Can you extend the period or that's set?
Yes, you can extend it for one more year afterwards. And then generally, if you really liked the country, there are these kind of posts like you know, job position opened in the Peace Corps, kind of to help with the training of the new volunteers and stuff like that. So if you have a good reputation, you might be able to get one of those and you can extend your stay for a few more years. But generally, I'd say 90% are do it for two years, and then another 10% stay for three and then that 1% kind of applies for the job and stays for longer than that.
So you, you stayed for about two years or you stayed, the longer?
I stayed for exactly the two years, because at that point, you know, my, my girlfriend and I decided to get married, and we decided to start our first business together. And so we were kind of excited. The Peace Corps doesn't know but we just kind of did all the planning and stuff, the last four to five months of the Peace Corps, one of the beautiful things about the Peace Corps is they don't fill you up and work. I mean, you know, it's kind of a much more relaxed job, since you are a volunteer, and you know, your, your position in the places you volunteer isn't already really that well established, you kind of find your own role, but it never becomes like a 40 hour a week job. So it's kind of a great, you know, if you want to do a side, hustle, Peace Corps is a great place to do a side hustle, because they're paying all your bills, you know, you're helping people and you know, you feel really good, you're just not making a lot of money, but all your bills are paid for. And if you're starting an online hustle, it doesn't take any money. So you have this, like, you know, this period of about a year to two years where you can actually start planning and building something. So when you leave, you might already have the 500 to $1,000 extra coming in. So you can just hit the ground running. I wish I planned it better. I didn't know that we just spent the last three months planning our business when we launched it, I didn't think two years ahead.
Yeah, that's that's pretty interesting. So you finish your experience in the Peace Corps, and then you just started your online business with your with your future wife at the time, right?
Well, we actually a brick and mortar business because we didn't know any better. You know, we started the traditional business, we rented a, we started a school. So we rented a building, students would come have class with us kind of the same model that the Peace Corps taught, that immersion model that helped me learn in three months, we built a school built around that model, you'd come to Mexico, we would put you with Mexican families, we would have class during the day, we would take you on tours in the evening. And you would you know, live with your Mexican family and eat with them, you know, at night's breakfast, and on the weekends, we built that traditional school because again, I was stuck. I thought that's what you're supposed to do, right. That's how you build businesses, you have buildings, you have all the rest of it. I didn't know any better. The online business started about a year later. And within six months, you know, we'd like hey, let's offer Skype lessons. And within six months, it was making more money than our school was for a lot less work. And that's kind of when the light bulb went off. And we kind of started switching online. So we still kept the school for about two or three more years before we sold it. But the transition was slow. You know, I'd like to tell people, I'm a little slow. It takes a while for my brain to process things. And it took me about two or three years of process that hey, maybe this online thing is actually where I should be. Even though I'm a computer programmer, I should have realized that earlier, it took me two or three years to realize it.
What year was that?
We sold our business in 2012, the brick and mortar one in 2012. So we've been fully online for eight years, even though we've had an online business for almost 12.
So all that time, the internet was already a big thing. Everything was having an online business or having a website, that kind of thing was already normal at that point, right?
It was starting to well, when we started again, it was the online part. It was like 2009. And it was starting. But you know, WordPress, if it existed, I hadn't heard of it, you know, online businesses before then we're still like the big boys, right? You needed to hire a team of programmers, you needed to do all that kind of stuff. I was lucky. And this is the reason we well have, you know, have a little bit of an advantage in the beginning because I was a programmer. And there was no WordPress, there was, you know, there was no Wix or something to get your website up. There were some basic versions of that, but not very sophisticated. So I was able to get a website up while other people that you know, might have had to pay a programmer to do it. That helped us out. But within two years by 2010 2011, yeah, I mean, all these things existed, it became the online world, started becoming accessible to small players like small businesses, right? Like us, I consider us as a small business. But small business means you make 100,000 to, you know, two to $3 million in sales a year, that's small business, you know, Amazon would never even look at us, right? I mean, Google couldn't even care less about us. I mean, we're just so small, they wouldn't even notice. But to an individual, to a family, if I said, Hey, you can start an online business that will make you about $300,000 a year. To us, that's good. too big to big businesses, that's not you know, that's not what their time but that's what the technology allows you to do today. You don't need to be a programmer anymore, right? Anybody can start out a six figure business online, if they're willing to put in the work. It's not a 30 day hack, either. So if anybody goes into it, you know, taking those courses and say, build your ecommerce store in 30 days. Yeah, no, you're not. You might be able to build it, it's not gonna make any money in 30 days, you might only get the website up but that's about it.
Yeah. And going back to your immigration story, what was your the biggest challenge that you had to face your immigration, immigration journey?
So the biggest challenge that I faced when I move, you know, part of it was the US was the cultural one. The second one when I moved to Mexico, was just the paperwork. And Ithink a lot of people who have immigrated can go through exactly, go through exactly the same stages might be a little worse in Mexico, because the issue is that everybody who I talk to says I needed different papers. So you know, I go in there with a list and the first Lady would go and check off you don't need these three things. So I go back and another lady sees me like, yeah, you need those three things. I'd already waited four hours. line and there's like, No, no, no, you gotta come back another day. So you go back and do that and you know, that'll help that I went, it took me like four or five times to get it in. And then they said, Okay, we're accepting your papers, they sent it in. And it took them, like three months to get my visa. So I got an email saying, Hey, you know, your resident card is here. So I show up there and they're like, no, there's no resident Card here. Come back next week. So I went back next week, no, there was no resident Card here. And then I did that for about two months. And then I went back one day and they're like, No, you didn't come to pick up your card so we sent it back to the office. And I told her, I'm like, this was the same way, I'm like, I've been here every week for the last two months, you know, you saw me, she's like, Oh, yeah, you do look familiar. Let me see what happens. So they have to call the office, it took another two months for them to send it back. And then I had to go and wait in line again. And they finally got me my green card, my Mexican equivalent of a green card. So that was probably the most tedious part in the entire process. And then the other kind of on the business of personal side at the beginning, we mistakenly tried to open stuff up kind of with my wife and I, me as an American, and my wife is a Mexican. Yeah, that wasn't a good idea. Now we just always open everything in my wife's name because as soon as you throw a foreigner into the mix, people don't know what to do. They're like, I don't know what papers you need. I don't know all that. So we put them all in my wife's name. And since she's Mexican, that has made things a lot easier. But we didn't know that for the first year or two. So we kept on trying to put my name on things. And it was a waste of time.
Because I thought, because you come from you got US passport it would be easier to move to Mexico or to get paperwork in Mexico, because usually it's the other way around for people from Mexico to the US.
US at least up to a point, you know, the process is a little more streamlined in the sense that, you know, they have a checklist. And that's the checklist, you have to send it in Mexico. And I thought, I think a lot of Latin American countries are this way. And I think probably Italy, you can probably relate right? It depends on the mood of the person you're talking to in the government office on that day, what papers you need, right? If they're in a great mood, then everything might go easily. If they're in a bad mood, and they're gonna cause a lot of trouble for you. And that's not really much you can do right?
Yeah, absolutely. And do you feel lucky to be an immigrant?
Absolutely. I think immigrants, like immigrant is one step before what they call today, you know, this whole digital nomadism, which is kind of becoming more trendy. In that you become a citizen of the world, immigrant means you are willing to move where opportunities are, right? Whether that means moving from poorer country to a richer country, or now a richer country to a poorer country, but you're willing to move where the opportunities are. And anybody willing to take that risk, I think, on average, will end up having a more interesting and more successful life. As a result of that a lot of the challenges that you see, you know, politics in the United States, right now, a lot of people can't find jobs, because there's no jobs in the area they were at, right, they used to work in a factory, the factory moved, but they stayed there, and they weren't willing to move to maybe there's another factory in another part of the country, you know, whether in where there was a job, or maybe there's a factory in another part of the world where you could get it, you know, you could get a job, it would pay you less in US dollars, but but your lifestyle would actually be better, right? Because let's say you went to Vietnam, and you became a head of a factory there, because you had experience working in the US factory. You might in dollars, make less money but in Vietnam, you'd have a made a coconut cleaner for that same salary, you'd have a driver taking you to work and you'd live in the nicest part of town. Even though if you looked at your bank account in dollars, it would be lower. Right? So if you're willing to do this, and immigrants are willing to do that, there are so many opportunities out there in today's world, it's not the jobs are disappearing, jobs are just moving. And if you're willing to move to where they're at the opportunities they'd say,
And not just an opportunity, as you said before, in your experience, you sometimes you don't fit in with with the culture in your country, maybe you feel like the country can give you the opportunity that can give you the lifestyle you want. Because yes, I come from Italy, you come from, you were in the US. So you can have a pretty good life. But there's other people that they don't have that luxury they don't have, maybe they come from poor country where they don't have the opportunity. And so that's the way for them to immigrate. And also, correct me if I'm wrong here, but we're talking before about when you are too comfortable, you feel stuck in this in this space, you can't, you don't really, you're stuck in there, you're in your comfort zone. And I think being an immigrant just takes, just get rid of all this comfort because you already been out of your comfort zone, you're already been out your bubble. And you already know that once you get there things get reals and that you can accomplish way more than you're ever accomplished before. So even then, I speak for my from my experience now that I felt it when I was in New Zealand, I felt too comfortable. My life was too comfortable. And that's where I decided to move again, because I wanted again that rush that fight or flight mode that you can give hundred percent and that's that's why immigrated again. And did you have the same kind of experience or did you feel like you are now you know on your comfort zone? Or you feel like you want to go somewhere else?
Oh, we're looking to move in two years. So yeah, if it wasn't, you know, my son is nine months old, as soon as he's three, and I apologize if you, whoever's listening to this hear some yelling in the background, that's a nine month old, you know, two doors down. It's absolutely, you're absolutely right. Because comfortable means you're not growing, in my opinion, as a person, as a human being, you're not growing, in order to grow, you have to push outside of your comfort zone. Moving is a very easy way to, there are other ways to do that, you know, you can push yourself outside of your comfort zone by staying in your own place but that takes a lot more discipline. And I think most people, myself included, don't have that level of discipline. But if you really want to grow as a human being, move somewhere else. Move somewhere else in the world, you will have to learn a new language, you'll have to open your mind to how things work, you know, culturally, getting a taxi, I mean, going to the UK and just look at the different direction, we have to cross the street, right? I mean, they're just things like that, that travel and immigrating open up to you. So if you really want to reach your true potential as a human being, I think travel and if you're willing to do the risk, immigration is a great way to kind of a shortcut to you for you to reach your true potential is this, you say it'll push your comfort zone, and you got to get more comfortable, and you got to learn new skills, and you got to learn new things. And in the long term, I think, you know, going back to that saying, I said in the beginning, if they were to write a book about your life, would anybody want to read it? Yeah, the quickest way to do that is travel, you know, and go somewhere else, you want an interesting life, I think that's what most of us are looking for is kind of an interesting life, not an easy life. And easy life is gets boring for I think, for a lot of people. And that's where a lot of the discontent comes from, you know, my life's easy, you're never happy where you're at, you could be making a million dollars a month, and you would still be looking at the guy who makes $1.5 million a month. So grow internally, personally. And that's kind of the way to be happier in the long term. At least, that's what's worked for me.
I agree 100%. And I love that quote, I'm gonna write that down.
I should start selling those posters I designed. I'm like nobody else has claimed them, I should just put it up on Amazon and see if anybody buys them.
And put your name on it.
Like, yeah, totally it wasn't me. I'll take credit for it, I guess.
When nobody does?
And last question, do you think do you feel like pr do you think that the way or the fact that you traveled, you decided to move and now you're moving again, part of it comes from your dad that was born in a country then he traveled, he travelled quite a bit, right?
He did. And it actually didn't start with my dad, either. My grandfather grew up in China. So yeah, so we actually say so my family's been immigrated to the US on my grandfather's side, you know, 200 years ago, they went to Canada first, Nova Scotia and they moved out. But for the last 100 years, no Blakney has actually grown up in the United States. We all had us passports. But my you know, my grandfather was grew up in China, my dad grew up in Africa, I grew up in Turkey. And so kind of it's been in our blood ever since I'd be I think, you know, I'd be disappointed if my son grew up in the country where his parents were from, which is why we're moving my wife totally agrees with that. We want him to grow up at least trilingual. So Spanish is taken care of from from his mom, English taken care of for me, and we're looking to move probably to Singapore, because we want him to learn Mandarin. We don't want to live in China, because the limitations in China because with the internet would not be feasible with our online jobs. But Singapore is one of the three languages they speak there is English, Hindi, and Mandarin. So we are going to send them to a you know, we'll send it to Mandarin school while we're there. And so he will hopefully be able to speak with I think 60% of the world's population and their native tongue by the time he's six or seven years old.
That's crazy. That's crazy. I'm so jealous. I just want to add one thing. Have you ever done a family tree in your in your family because that must be like a crazy things to do?
My grandfather actually did. But he only did the US side. So we kind of did the US side, trace it all the way through. We also have, my cousin's Nigerian, she lives in Legos. And that's where my mom side is. Cause my uncle was a airline pilot, married a woman in Legos and ended up settling settling down in Nigeria was even on my mom's side this travel right my aunt who was a nurse, she she lives in Germany, so she speaks German then she lived in India for a while. I have some cousins who live in Singapore right now. Yeah, I mean, I have not done a family tree. But it'd be really interesting to do it. I mean, we have people all over the world. I joke that when we have a family reunion, it looks like those United Colors of Benetton ads were like, you know, you have people of every single color. That's kind of what my family reunion would look like.
Yeah, that's, that's crazy. That's so cool. Awesome. So if anybody wants to reach out to you, and wants to, yeah, wants to connect with you. What's the best way to reach out to you, to connect with you?
Sure. So I do encourage everybody to reach out to me especially with like online entrepreneurship, that's kind of my sport. I love this stuff. This is fun for me. So you can reach out to me either through my businesses live livelingua.com, livelingua.com. Just go to the staff page, and there's actually my profile with my email there so you can contact me there. Or you can go to my new project, podcasthawk.com podcast and hawk, the animal, .com. Since I bootstrap businesess, I'm the customer support. So go there, the Contact Us page, fill out the contact form that'll come to me, or you can find me on Facebook, just look up Ray Blakney and look for somebody who's doing Japanese sword fighting, which is my hobby, and that you'll have found me there are Ray Blakney out there, but I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who has the sword fighting picture. So those are the three best ways to get in touch with me.
Yeah, we didn't cover that part of the sword fighting maybe in the next episode.
I don;t think its immigration related, but you know, it's definitely fun.
Yeah, no, exactly. It was just it was a personal personal question that more than anything, I was pretty curious about it. Maybe in the next episode.
Awesome. Thank you. Thank you so much for your time, Ray. That was a pleasure. That was awesome.
Daniel, thanks for having me on. It was, it was a blast.
Yeah, yeah. No, I agree. Thank you so much. Bye, Ray.
Thank you so much for tuning in this week. I hope enjoy this episode as much as I did. You can find the show notes with everything we discussed and how to get in touch with Ray at emigrantslife.com/episode23. Episode 23, with 23 number like a two and three. On our website, emigrantslife.com, you will also find more amazing stories and soon, we'll open a new section where you'll find great tools for immigrating. I'm also working on immigration page where you'll be able to ask immigrations question to a certified professional. You can subscribe to our newsletter so you won't miss anything when it comes out. If you want to be on the show, you can visit emigrantslife.com/yourstory. Thanks again for listening. Talk to you next one. Ciao.
Aeron's story proves that your circumstances don't determine your future.