Romana Frey’s parents came to Canada from Austria with only what they could carry. Now she is going back to Europe to live and work with almost everything she owns in two suitcases.
Her choice is to live lightly on the earth and treasure the people and experiences, familiar and new, that she finds.
“When I was a child, I used to think I wanted to work in an airport and speak all different languages. We did travel when I was a child to see relatives in Austria and to other parts of Europe. I sat in front with the map when my father drove us around,” she recalled.
The adventure continues as she goes back to Czech Republic to teach English after a summer visit to the Okanagan, bringing her experience as a business owner and her languages — German, French, Spanish and some Czech. She will make her base in Prague and travel as work permits.
Frey was born and raised in Ontario and lived in Vernon in the 1990s with her husband and young son and working with Community Futures and local non-profits. People might remember her Shaw Cable TV show.
Everything changed when her husband died when their son was three and she moved to Vancouver Island where she started her own business, Romana Frey & Associates, providing consulting and coaching for businesses and non-profits. She earned a Victoria Woman of Distinction Award for her work with young women and with people with disabilities.
“I shared what I knew about loss and grief and people connected to that. I found strength in nature and meditation and my friends. I traveled with my son,” she said.
When her son graduated in 2006, she had a thriving business with government contracts and a large home on Salt Spring Island. After coaching people on how to deal with physical and mental clutter, she decided to take that approach to her own life. She closed her office but kept the coaching business active online and spent more time in Sayulita, a village near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. She also volunteered with CUSO in Jamaica.
“I looked at the office furniture I had stored at my house and I knew I had to change, that instead of owning this stuff, the stuff was owning me. I sold the house and the stuff, keeping a few things like clothes, letters, photos, books. Much of my stuff went to friends who could use and appreciate it. I implemented a rule — get one new thing, something had to go. I kept paring. I got things down to two plastic bins for paper work and two suitcases, one for summer clothes, one for winter clothes. Everything could fit in my car.
“What a release it was. I still remember the important things. What is important to us, we keep in our hearts forever.”
Frey came back to the Vernon area in 2015, house sitting and planning her next move. That turned out to be a trip to Austria last summer. Technology is her friend, as she used it to find house sitting and Airbnb rentals in Vienna as well as in Czech Republic. The internet also connects her to rides, other ex-pats and opportunities.
“I went to a village near Prague and it was like stepping back in time and it was exciting to figure out how to manage, things like shopping with the kroner currency. Everything was inexpensive, a full meal for $5 and you had beer with breakfast.
“I rented a car and travelled the small roads that looked interesting. Once, I noticed the road signs looked different and realized I was lost and had driven into Poland. I wondered what it would be like to live and work in Europe,” she said.
She connected with a Prague English school and got a contract to teach business English for a year. She came back to Canada to get her ESL teaching certificate and arrange for visas, including a visa to continue to run her business from Prague. Everything is in order now and she’s leaving this month.
“Some people tell me I’m crazy and some tell me they envy me. I know it’s not going to be perfect all the time but when you try something new you have to trust your skills and experiences and your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s not right.
“I’m going to keep on exporting Europe, the culture, art and music. I’m looking forward to the Christmas markets. The people are the most important for me. The culture is more community-centred, not the car culture we have here. People take time to be together. It is an adventure.”