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Mexico City for the Traveling Scholarpreneur

May 4, 2024

The Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, a large marbled building with a yellow and orange exterior roof.

Describing the appeal of Mexico City (aka CDMX) doesn’t come easy, especially when trying to explain how one can live in a city of 9 million people and not want to walk off a high bridge. 

As a self-proclaimed traveling scholarpreneur (a nomadic blend of scholar and entrepreneur), I was constantly seeking destinations that fuel my intellectual curiosity while providing an affordable, enriching lifestyle.


Related Post: A Week In The Life Of A Traveling Scholarpreneur


Then I met Mexico City. 

At first, I shunned big city life. Though I spent formative years living in The Bronx, I mostly grew up in the suburbs of Virginia Beach, Virginia. My work and studies took me to mid-sized cities like Orlando, Florida, Norfolk, Virginia, Louisville, Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio. I guess I’ve always been a mid-sized city girl.

Just for context, Mexico City is home to 9.2 million people in about a 573 square miles radius. New York City is home to 8.3 million in 472 square miles.

Despite its intimidating size, Mexico City emerged as my favorite city in the whole world. 

Traveling Scholarpreneurs in Mexico City

Two traveling scholarpreneurs - Alicia Cintron, PhD and Jen Roberts, PhD - cowork together in a cafe in Mexico City.
Two traveling scholarpreneurs – Alicia Cintron, PhD and Jen Roberts, PhD – cowork together in a cafe in Mexico City.

I’ve met a few former American scholars who now call Mexico City home. One such person is Jen Roberts, PhD who I met through a friend I know in the entrepreneur community. After earning her doctorate and spending several years in a tenure-track position, Jen made the bold decision to leave university life in 2018. “I’ve shifted to writing more creatively, though my background as a qualitative researcher informs my work,” she explains. Her transition laid the groundwork for a nomadic lifestyle blending writing and entrepreneurship – a path that naturally drew her to Mexico City.

For Jen, the path from academia to becoming a traveling scholarpreneur also led her to an unexpected destination: Mexico City. “I first visited in 2018, and I knew instantly that it was a place I wanted to live,” Jen recounts. “I just loved the city’s energy, and it felt affordable. The weather is also a perk.”

Here are a few ways we’ve found life in Mexico city as traveling scholarpreneurs. 

Mexico City Is Intellectually Stimulating 

A woman stares up at three magnificent works of art by a Mexican artist on display in a gallery in Mexico City.
Alicia attended many gallery and art events during Mexico City Art Week in February 2024.

Mexico City is a scholarpreneur’s dream, crawling with opportunities to expand your knowledge and connect with like-minded people. With 170+ museums and a seemingly endless calendar of cultural events, there’s never a shortage of intellectual stimulation. The robust university system can also foster collaboration with local academics.

As Jen Roberts shares, “I love the Mexican culture – it’s why I wanted to move here. The scale of the city and the unique character of each street fuels my curiosity and keeps me constantly inspired.”

Leveraging this inspiration, Jen has already begun exploring her interests, writing articles about local artists and cafes. “I envision doing more,” she notes, “but I know improving my Spanish will unlock even greater possibilities.”

For me, the intellectual pursuit intertwines with a desire to share Mexico City’s rich history and culture with the world. I’ve curated a unique women’s writing retreat – Write From Anywhere: Mexico City – featuring in-depth tours led by local scholars who delve deep into the content. While attending talks, exploring museums, and even attending a science communication conference have all been enriching, the writing retreat holds a special place in my heart. It’s a dream to bring scholarly women together, supporting their writing endeavors, celebrating their achievements, and introducing them to the often-overlooked beauty of Mexican history and culture.


Join me in Mexico City in June 2024 for Write From Anywhere: A Women’s Writing Retreat


Mexico City Is Affordable

Mexico City’s affordability has been a game-changer, allowing me to live a comfortable life I wouldn’t be able to afford in the USA, even though CDMX is one of Mexico’s more expensive cities. 

For both Jen and me, affordability in Mexico City has unlocked unexpected benefits: “The affordability is crucial. It allows me to pursue projects I’m passionate about, even if they don’t generate a high income. Plus, the location makes it easy to travel back to the US for conferences if needed.”

For me, pursuing my entrepreneurial journey would be impossible in the US without a consistent, high income to secure housing. This isn’t meant to glorify my privilege, but rather acknowledge my reality. Living in Mexico City allows me to live without a substantial financial buffer, or having to live off the support of others, namely my parents or friends. I know there is a privilege in being able to pursue entrepreneurship, but that does not mean it hasn’t come without its issues.   

The affordability of attending a science communication academic conference was another incredible, yet unplanned, bonus. The total cost, including conference fees, travel, and accommodation, came to roughly $350 USD – compare that to the $500 fee charged just for attendance by my former academic discipline. The travel to and from the conference was seamless, and gave me the opportunity to explore a bit more of Mexico. Most importantly, the conference was a valuable professional development investment that might not have been financially feasible in the US.


Related post: Unpacking Science Communication at the PCST Mexico Symposium: A Reflection on Language, Reflexivity, and Praxis


Gentrification and Imbalance

The Latin American tower stands in the background as many people walk the streets of el centro in Mexico City below.
Torre Latino in El Centro Historico, Mexico City.

It’s crucial to acknowledge the significant pay disparity between the US and Mexico, and how the exchange rate grants foreigners access to a lifestyle often unattainable for our Mexican counterparts. This creates a daily struggle with privilege that I constantly grapple with.

The growth of gentrification in Mexico City, partly fueled by nomads and tourists, cannot be ignored. Tourism contributes nearly 17% to Mexico’s GDP complicating matters even more. And the 180-day tourist visa promotes longer-term stays leads to concerns about displacement and rising living costs for locals. While I strive to mitigate my impact by shopping locally, speaking Spanish, and leaving generous tips, I recognize the need to do more. It’s a constant internal battle, knowing I occupy space that could belong to someone else. It is my hope that the Mexican government implements stronger regulations surrounding medium-and long- term stays, adding a tourist tax, etc. But this government, like all, is far from perfection and benevolence.

 

The Vibrant Community

The Local Vibe

Chilangos, people of Mexico City, are surprisingly kind, even in the midst of the city’s hustle and bustle. You’ll constantly see people selling things on the streets. If you’re dining on a terrace in a high traffic area, prepare for a parade of buskers. But forget rudeness or annoyance – here, a simple “no gracias” and a smile is all it takes. There’s a real respect for the hustle here, and a polite decline is standard and a welcomed change of pace.

And don’t even get me started on the food scene here! From street food to a few of the world’s top restaurants and bars, there is something here for all palettes, tastes, and price points. And I am a vegetarian! Mexican food is rivals no other. And in Mexico City, the wide range of food options on top of its international offering is incredible. My favorite restaurant here is an Indian-Mexican fusion restaurant called Masala y Maiz, run by a mixed heritage married couple. The city’s coffee, pastry, and bread scene is also :: chef’s kiss ::

Embracing the Opportunity to Expand your Language

While the science communication conference truly pushed my Spanish comprehension (motivating me to seek out more Spanish-language talks), I do find myself surrounded by mostly English speakers, which slows my language progress. To counteract this, I’ve set a personal goal to attend at least one Spanish-language event per week, whether it’s a business talk or a museum tour.

It’s important to note that Mexico City’s international reputation means you don’t necessarily need Spanish to visit. However, a basic understanding goes a long way. Luckily, the city offers abundant opportunities for language exchanges and private classes, both of which I’m actively utilizing.

Learning Spanish is undoubtedly challenging, but it’s also incredibly stimulating to engage a different part of my brain. I believe it even enhances my English comprehension by deepening my understanding of grammar and context.

A Community of Communities

Entrepreneurs & Business-minded

A woman stands in front of a projector and laptop and is talking about media pitching to a group of entrepreneurs.
Alicia discusses Media Pitching in front of the CDMX Business Mindshare community in February 2024.

Mexico City has so many supportive communities in just about anything I’m interested in. There’s a WhatsApp group for everything! For me, the entrepreneurship community has been a game-changer. I’ve learned so much about running a business and various business-related topics that have not only improved my own operations but also opened doors to emerging fields like AI, social media, and self-care that I might not have otherwise encountered.

Living here has connected me with people from all over the globe, with all sorts of backgrounds and reasons for choosing Mexico City and given me a way better pulse on what’s happening in the world. The people I’ve met are incredibly generous with their knowledge and always willing to share, even in areas where I might not necessarily fit in (like artificial intelligence, fintech, or biohacking). Even in these spaces, I’ve somehow ended up learning something that helps me see business and life from a different perspective. Access to these conversations are worth its weight in gold. 

Social Groups

Beyond the professional realm, social groups like running and late-night events introduced me to a fantastic social network, and the city’s vibrant hip-hop and R&B scene has been a constant source of connection and fun. Jen agreed, sharing, “I have a hard time staying home – I always feel like I should be out doing something.”

Networking events, while always intimidating for my introverted personality, have surprisingly led to some of the most incredible encounters, including meeting other scholarpreneurs. Through a combination of networking events, friendships, and random chance encounters, I’ve connected with three fellow PhDs who are thriving in Mexico City outside of academia, living their best lives. It’s pretty damn inspiring.

The Unmatched Infrastructure

Getting Around

Mexico City city bikes are well maintained and located in convenient locations.

The public infrastructure is like no other affordable city I’ve visited. Metros, metro buses, city bikes, and abundant Ubers and taxis make exploring extremely accessible. I typically stick to city bikes or public transport to avoid traffic. Plus public transport it so affordable (metro bus is 6 pesos/$.35 cents USD and the metro train is 5 pesos/$.29 cents USD for a one-way trip). The public transport even has a women & kids only section which has helped me feel safer.

Mexico City, like many of it’s major city counterparts is very walkable. There is not much more inspiring for me then to just go for a walk and see where I end up. Many streets are tree-lined, filled with cafes, cantinas, and street food carts. And even with the vehicular traffic wizzing by, the streets remain charming as hell. 

It is also very easy, affordable, and accessible to travel to other parts of the country, from direct flights to buses to small pueblos, one in just an hour away from a totally different living experience. 

Working (Writing) From Anywhere

A laptop is on display in a library in Mexico City that has 8 floors of books on display.
Write from anywhere includes very cool libraries like Biblioteca Vasconcelos located in Mexico City.

 

Of course, one cannot talk about infrastructure without mentioning the strong wifi. Mexico City’s infrastructure has been surprisingly conducive to my remote work lifestyle. I found an apartment with a comfortable setup: a patio, a quiet space, a full kitchen, and lots of corners to write from.

To break up the monotony of working from home, the city is rife with countless co-working spaces like Yayem, WeWork, Art/Works, Open Hub, Uotan, Haab, and Impact Hub. I am more of a cafe girlie, but I want to try more coworking spaces to help expand my network. Regardless, options are plentiful for working/writing from anywhere in Mexico City. 

 

The Lingering Challenges  

On The Ground

Three tacos with pink tortilla shells are on display with a bottle of Topo Chico.
Tacos, tacos, and more tacos. And Topo Chico.

Life in Mexico City isn’t without its challenges. The traffic is relentless, and drivers never yield to pedestrians, regardless of their (my) indignation. Poverty is a reality here, as it is in most major cities, and safety concerns exist. I’ve never personally experienced any issues and generally feel safe, but I also prioritize awareness and avoid potentially dangerous situations. This means usually staying close to my neighborhood if I am out late, knowing safe routes for late nights, and having a network of friends to check in with if needed.

Other factors to consider include the city’s often poor air quality, though the weather remains pleasant year-round with average temperatures between 70-85 degrees Fahrenheit (A DREAM). The tap water is not safe for drinking, even for locals. And the food scene is incredible, food poisoning is always potential risk, regardless of whether you eat street food or at a high-end restaurant.

Friendships and Conversations

Friendships can also falter, both intentionally and unintentionally, adding another layer of complexity. This is a difficult part of solo travel that gets overlooked. Building a network of friends is crucial to survival, but what happens when those friendships cease to exist? Additionally, I sometimes miss the intellectual stimulation of academia, although my current interests (politics, global affairs, being a plant mom) have shifted from the more popular and easier to talk about topics related to sport culture, artificial intelligence, travel, and dating.

On the flip side, engaging with diverse perspectives is a constant source of growth. While I once nearly jumped from a terrace restaurant due to a group’s unironic discussion of Tucker Carlson’s interview with Putin. But I chose to engage, asking probing questions and ultimately surviving the encounter. Not without some deep internal breaths and wide-eyed staring. 

But overall, Mexico City surprises me daily with its vibrant spirit that manages to inspire both work and personal growth.

Staying Rooted While Being Nomadic

I’ve lived in Mexico City over a year, taking advantage of the 180-day tourist visa then leaving and re-entering to restart the clock. This, without a doubt, is taking advantage of an imperfect system. There is opportunity to apply for a Temporary Resident Visa should I decide to make Mexico my long-term home. For now, I am not sure this is the route for me. 

I didn’t intend to stay this long initially. I loved my experience in the smaller city of Oaxaca and thought there was no way I would love a sprawling metropolis like CDMX. But I found a way to balance being rooted through my home environment while embracing the nomadic energy of the city.

I was also in a place in my life where i was looking for stability, stillness, and time to focus on growing my business. Mexico City met me at the perfect time and place. 

Conclusion

Mexico City’s unique blend of affordability, cultural richness, and a expansive digital nomad scene make it an exceptional destination for traveling scholarpreneurs. Its grittiness rivals any major city, but its charm, people, and food make it the best city in the world. 

Whether you’re seeking inspiration for your next research project, or simply a vibrant, intellectually stimulating environment, Mexico City delivers. I wholeheartedly encourage you to explore this captivating city and immerse yourself in its boundless opportunities for personal and professional growth.

Connect with me on Instagram to discuss Mexico City or share your own traveling scholarpreneur experiences! And if you are interested in learning more about Jen Roberts, PhD and her work on coffee, travel, and culture, visit jen-roberts.com.

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Alicia Cintron, PhD

Research Public Communications Trainer & Coach + traveling Scholarpreneur

Welcome! Here you’ll find insight, musings, and thoughts about research, public engagement, communication, travel, and higher education. Have an idea for a topic for us to cover? Shoot us a note
 

Alicia Cintron, PhD

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