Confessions of a Fashion Publicist Who Moved to the Middle of Nowhere

Ever wanted to one day up and quit your job, abandon your apartment, leave your lover, and move to some exotic location where there’s basically just a volcano and nothing else? Yeah, us too, but former MAO PR fashion publicist Matt Bell beat us to it. Bell organized major fashion events for the likes of the Blondes, Jason Wu, Patricia Field, and Betsey Johnson. He also shot the shit with Katie Perry and Rihanna—you know, the usual for a fashion publicist. But the sweltering New York City heat (and everything that went with it) got to him, and, just a few weeks ago, he moved out to Arequipa, Peru to teach English. Like, stat. We caught up with Matt to check on the progress of his carefully carved-out master plan. Get inspired and follow Matt on his “what the hell am i doing?” blog.

Why the eff did you leave New York City? I’ve been in NYC for 11 years and in that time I’ve done so much. It’s not that I feel like I “got it,” its just that, well, it all started getting a little boring. And when NYC bores you…it’s time to pack up your designer bags, kiss your cocktail parties good bye, and sit by a volcano, which is just what I did.

Why Arequipa? It’s so random. Ok, so I selected Arequipa for no other reason than that every time I looked at pictures of the skyline, featuring a 20,000ft tall Volcano (El Misti), I was hooked. I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish and as I read more about Arequipa, I learned that it’s an oasis city in the desert of southern Peru, and is nicknamed the “white city.” (Even though there is exactly one black person here, who I have already befriended, it’s not meant in a racist way—it’s because so much of the city is built with sillar, the white rock that comes from El Misti). It’s also the epicenter—if there is such a thing—of the Peruvian Alpaca trade. What can I say? I’m a sucker for Alpaca products. Not to mention the abundance of coco leaves to help alleviate altitude sickness—Arequipa is approx 8000 feet.

How easy was the job hunt? Teaching English abroad is more unregulated than the American financial system. Basically all you have to do is complete any one of a number of TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) courses, which run from $600-$1200 online. You can either pay for a job placement program or do what I did: Just buy a one way plane ticket and knock on some doors. Jobs are a plenty for anyone who speaks English as a native language and some of them don’t even require a TEFL certification. I was hired on day #2 here (before my $900 certificate arrived) and started working on day #7. They basically gave me a text book and a curriculum outline and threw me into a University classroom. It’s a little daunting but there’s a really hot janitor who opens my room up for me every morning, and that takes the edge off.

Nice. So you love it. You making bank? Love? Not yet. Right now I just love the adventure. Bank? Are you kidding? I make 11.65 soles an hour. That’s about $4.15 USD. Mind you, that’s about what a doctor makes here. I live ok…most places in South America don’t make it cheap for the gringo, so my rent is not proportionate to what I make, but I came with a savings and I can still manage a few freelance gigs from here that enable me to live rather well.

What did you leave behind and what do you miss most? I left behind my amazing boyfriend. Its a personal thing, so all I’ll say is this—we have a very strong 3 year relationship and he knows me so well. Well enough to realize that this was something I had to do or I wouldn’t be happy. Plus, Skype helps in more ways than one. The other things I miss? Hot water. There is none here, it is at best warm. There are two ways to manage taking shower without hot water: 1) one body part at a time or 2) blast Lady Gaga to put some rhythm into the shock. And I miss coffee. Yup. Peru produces some of the worlds best coffee (and I loved sipping on it on cold NYC mornings) but that’s all they do. It gets produced and sold to the most pretentious and fine coffee shops in the world outside of Peru. If you ask for a cafe or coffee in most places here, they give you some brown decaffeinated powder and a cup of hot water. It took me 3 days to realize that I wasn’t dying—I was going through caffeine withdrawal.

When will we see you back? I am shooting for a year…but this hot water thing really could change that.

Advice for those want to do what you did? Be organized, know yourself, and bring plenty of clean underwear.

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