By Ariel Frias
Ariel Frias, from the Dominican Republic, is a marketing and communications executive for Maersk, the Danish logistics company. He has lived as an expat in Sweden, Costa Rica and Panama. He moved from Panama with his family to Weston, Florida, in 2017.
Weston lies inland some 65km from downtown Miami and 35km from Fort Lauderdale. As such, it does not live up to the beach and sun ideal for which the region is known, but it makes up for it by being a charming suburban community with heavy Latin American influences.
This city was established in 1996, with ponds, parks and green areas adjoining housing compounds and shopping malls. An affluent place with a population of 71,000, it is tucked between the Everglades and the highway to Miami in the south and the Gulf of Mexico coast in the west, and thrives on a year-round mild climate and green surroundings.
People from a Latin background represent the majority of Westonians, with Venezuelans and Colombians making up a large share of the population (the city has become known as Westonzuela). However, over the past couple of years we have seen friends relocate to Weston from countries as diverse as Denmark, Peru, the United Arab Emirates, Brazil, Ukraine, Spain, Chile, India, Ecuador and Canada.
Expat families gravitate towards Weston for its safety, climate and excellent school system, one of the best in south Florida. Families like ours juggle hectic schedules, with children mixing school with soccer, baseball, swimming, running, martial arts, dancing or ballet classes, while many parents commute to Miami or Fort Lauderdale.
My wife and I wanted our children to walk to school. My sons attend Imagine Charter School at Weston, a highly rated public (state) school. This is in stark contrast to our previous postings, where private (fee-paying) schools were the norm and a bus was the most common method of getting there.
We live in nearby San Messina, a community of detached and town houses with large communal backyards and a pool area.
Westonians take pride in their outdoor lifestyle. You will find people running, swimming, playing golf or biking from dawn until late at night, regardless of the inclement sun or frequent rain showers. Weston Regional Park, Markham Park , Weston Hills Country Club and Bonaventure golf club are just some of the places where our neighbours go to exercise or work on their tan.
Restaurant options in Weston are somewhat limited. Locals head to Panna and Bocas House for Latin American comfort food, Sushiato for sushi and Primetime for a good steak. One of my children’s favourites is Pizza Lovers, and my wife craves the ramen from Shimuja in neighbouring Southwest Ranches.
But with so many culinary options outside Weston, we find ourselves driving to explore other cuisines, which raises an important point for expat life in these circumstances: it helps to have an au-pair or nanny.
Coming from the compact Panama City, the biggest transition for us was adjusting to the long drives to surrounding communities. A 30-minute drive to Miami can become a two-hour ordeal during peak traffic hours.
However, once we mastered the art of commuting, it was easy to immerse ourselves in south Florida life: concerts at Coral Sky Amphitheatre , strolling in the Morikami Japanese gardens, checking out the restaurants in Fort Lauderdale, having a night out in Coconut Grove, Brickell or the hip Wynwood neighbourhoods of Miami, exploring the beaches in Naples and Fort Myers, or visiting the amusement parks in Orlando (a three-hour drive from Weston).
The new Brightline train, which connects Fort Lauderdale with West Palm Beach to the north and Miami to the south, is a welcome addition to the transport options.
Weston provides a good balance for families, with the peace and quiet of suburbia, a year-round outdoor life and outstanding education facilities, surrounded by the leisure and entertainment of the broader region. All you have to do is be open and embrace it.
Photographs: Alamy; Dreamstime
If you would like to be considered for this series please complete our short survey