Paul Baker and Nicki Mullins live on the island of Providenciales, in the Turks and Caicos Islands, with their children William, 9, and Daisy, 6.
or most parents of small children, the thought of a couple of hours in the car together can be enough to fill the heart with dread – let alone a complete relocation to a tropical island. But, though their children were only 3 and 6 at the time, Paul and Nicki appear to have approached their move from Weymouth to the West Indies with all the trepidation of a day out at the beach.
“We fancied a spell in the sunshine, and Nicki, who is a nurse practitioner, found a job advertised at a new hospital in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). She discovered that an old work colleague was living here, got in touch, and we came over for a week’s holiday. We liked it, Nicki applied for the job and got it, and off we went. Difficult decision? Nope!”
“I guess it was a touch stressful getting everything into storage, renting out our house, and then flying half way around the world with ten cases and two young children. But honestly, there were no really big challenges.”
Paul who is a journalist, now works in public relations for the TCI government, and the idyllic island life that the family have settled into seems to be testament to the rewards that are there for the taking, if you’re brave enough to uproot yourselves and travel a few thousand miles. “It’s always hot here, and that changes your life – we spend all our time outdoors, and do so much more together as a family. We live in a ground-floor apartment, with a pool; it’s located on a golf course, and is a two-minute walk from the beach.”
“The kids get to do activities that you wouldn’t dream of in the UK – sailing, diving, kayaking through the mangroves, seeing whales and dolphins – living without depending on TV.”
Socially, too, island life revolves around outdoor family activities. “At first, we mixed mainly with fellow British ex-pats, but the longer we stayed, the bigger our pool of friends became, and now we have many friends from all over the world. We have lots of family beach days – generally we do most things with the kids, rarely do we go out without them, and, because of this, the kids are very good at mixing and talking with adults and children of all ages.
Although they are clearly a family that takes everything in their stride, Paul does admit that a few minor cultural adjustments needed to be made when they first arrived, for example with respect to timekeeping. “If you have an appointment at 10am you eventually learn not to bother showing up until at least 11am. And when the TV repair man says he’s coming at 1pm he means 4pm.”
This laid-back attitude can extend to children, in ways that British parents might find hair-raising. “Things like seatbelts are not generally used for children, and it’s not unusual to see hundreds of children crammed onto school buses, with no apparent regard for safety. The ex-pats obviously feel very differently, and bring their ways with them, but generally there’s not the fear here – the obsession about always keeping your eyes on your children.”
He may not be throwing road safety completely out of the window just yet, but Paul ultimately sees the relaxed attitude to life in TCI as a positive thing. “Although it takes time to get used to, it’s things like the timekeeping that you learn to love. People don’t stress, and no one gets upset about being five minutes late. People are not in a rush here, and there’s no road rage or anything like that.”
“Children are very safe in terms of being able to play outside, and there aren’t the same kinds of fears when it comes to strangers. People look out for each other’s children, which is very comforting. There are very few shops selling material goods, and there is little in the way of peer pressure and trying to keep up with the Joneses – this relaxed way of life, along with the sun, sand and sea is what we love.”
It may be warm and sunny all year round, but the weather in the West Indies can throw the occasional curve ball. “For almost six months of the year, we live under the threat of hurricanes. So far, two have hit since we’ve been here – luckily we escaped unscathed on both occasions, but it’s a little different from Dorset!”
Though they are reaping the benefits of living on a sunny, laid-back island, Paul and Nicki are not making any compromises in their children’s education. William and Daisy go to The Ashcroft, a private school with a British curriculum. “It’s expensive, but we need to keep them in the British system in case we return to the UK one day. Local schools are free, but places are very limited and they teach a different, locally-based curriculum. We would love for the children to go to a local school but it simply isn’t practical. The Ashcroft School is fantastic. It has great facilities and very small class sizes – Daisy is in a class of ten, and William nine. It’s very multi-cultural with both Daisy and William’s classmates coming from all over the world.”
The healthcare on the island is also top-notch, for those who can access it. “A new hospital opened here in April 2010 and it’s run by a very progressive Canadian healthcare provider, so now the islands have excellent medical facilities. We have friends who’ve had babies here, and they’ve been really impressed.” Though some inhabitants of the island are less fortunate. “There’s a big Haitian population here, with many people having escaped the after-effects of the earthquake. Many of them are here illegally, and if you’re not registered in the system you don’t have basic rights in terms of healthcare. Having a baby in hospital would result in a big bill – so many children are born in the bush, to avoid medical expenses.”
For Paul, Nicki, Daisy and William, life in Providenciales sounds near-perfect, and Paul is adamant that other families could easily have what they have. “Don’t allow your children to be an excuse not to do it. You hear people say all the time, ‘we’d love to move abroad, but the children are at a difficult age.’ Difficult age for what? It’s the children who really thrive in places like this, whatever their age. The opportunities overseas are amazing, so take a risk – do it. What’s the worst that can happen?”
Paul and Nicki have no regrets about emigrating and have some advice for any who fancy following in their footsteps… bring Marmite, “it’s not often available in these parts and when it is it’s about $20 a jar!”
If you’re off for an overseas adventure, or you know someone who’s made the leap, and would like to be featured in our expat series, then get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org