Marie Brice was born in New Zealand but made Australia her home many years ago, where her children still reside. She is a coach, educator, group facilitator, singer, yoga lover, walker, traveler, wife, mother, and student. She has lived, worked, screamed, resisted and played in 26 countries from India to Bogotá to Malaysia – and back. She is trained as a teacher and has taught, trained and facilitated for over 20 years. Whilst living in Malaysia she gained a Masters in Social Science and then became a Certified Professional Coach during her next and most recent move to Houston. This has all led to her coaching training and the development of the ‘Rising above a life interrupted’ Expat Coaching Program.
More information on expat life in the USA? Read the Expat Arrivals guide here.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Dunedin in the deep dark south of New Zealand
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Westchase, Houston, Texas
Q: How long you have you lived here?
A: 2 years
Q: Did you move with a spouse/ children?
A: I moved here with my spouse who works in the oil and gas industry
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: My husband is on ‘International Mobile’ status with his company and we typically move every 2 - 3 years. I am an Expatriate Life Coach and Training Facilitator.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city, how’s the quality of life?
A: In Houston everything is available at every time of day at a price that suits every budget. People give Texans a hard time but I love them - they are kind and courteous and really know the meaning of customer service. The music scene is great fun (we play in a band here) and being in a ‘Hub’ location, we can access the rest of the United States as well as South America. The quality of life can be described as ‘easy’. It is not too expensive to live here and the mood is generally positive because we have not been hit as hard as other parts of the country from an economic perspective.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: The summers are extremely hot and humid and everyone drives everywhere - I miss walking to the shops and around the suburb streets. Because everyone drives, there is a different sense of community because people don’t bump into their neighbours out and about. The city is enormous - in population (8 million people) and size (it is flat and sprawling) and there are no hills to climb or see a view from!
Q: Is the city safe?
A: Houston like many large cities has its fair share of crime. We and most of the expats we know have not been affected by crime and I honestly feel safe where we live and frequent. Like any large city, there are places where you should and shouldn’t live. The schools are good and safe and there are plenty of family-friendly and safe neighbourhoods to choose from.
About living in Houston
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in the city as an expat?
A: Families tend to live in Katy, Missouri City and Sugarland because of the great schools. Montrose and the ‘inner loop’ are fun places for couples and singles with great urban living and cafe and restaurant strips. There is a lot of new building happening there with luxurious city living offered for a fraction the price of many other large cities world-wide. The Heights is also a fun place to live and is traditional, older and in some ways a little more alternative.
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation?
A: Excellent and varies - large homes and apartments or smaller traditional original housing caters for every taste. Lots of storage space and garage space in most suburban homes with many homes having good outdoor areas and pools (though typically not fenced as in many other countries). The cost is very reasonable in rental and mortgage terms compared to many large cities in the US and the rest of the world.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Housing, utilities, gas, food, clothing, household goods and eating out are all cheap and accessible. There is always a sale on somewhere and there are over 6000 restaurants in Houston. The only problem is it is easy to become a consumate consumer here because there is so much available at such reasonable prices. Health centres and gyms are also very reasonably priced. I can’t think of anything that is really expensive except perhaps good hairdressers (unless you run your air-conditioning 24/7 over the summer).
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: The locals are friendly and open and in some ways, quite formal. Because everyone drives everywhere, it is not so easy to meet and mix with locals although many neighbourhoods have local functions. We mix with expats at work and locals in the music and social arena. There are plenty of educational classes, hobby groups and fitness opportunities in many areas.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: You need to work at it and join activities and get out there but it can be done. Many people who live here work in the oil and gas or related industries and are not local so you have a lot in common with them.
Family and children
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: No, we both loved it - we got to live in a house with a pool after living in apartments in Asia for years! We had always wanted to experience the US so we have enjoyed our time here.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: Expats seem to gravitate to Katy and Sugarland for the schools - almost without exception I hear. There are also good international schools however most expats send their children to good local schools.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare?
A: Excellent - Texas is a medical and health hub and there are very good medical teaching universities here. The health insurance is another matter - very complicated and complex. I highly recommend people do their homework in this area very carefully as signing up to a health program that is not suited to a family’s needs can mean an expensive time.
Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Be open to the opportunity and give Houston time to grow on you. At first glance it seems to be rather sterile and like ’one big strip-mall’. Like anywhere we live, we find what we look for - so look for what you want to find!
– Interviewed February 2010