In Episode 27, I speak with Laura Soulages, the founder and the director of Casa Andaluna, a new beautiful retreat center in El Quindio, Colombia. As the founder of two innovative schools, Laura has an interesting perspective on incorporating play and art into everyday life in a way that helps us all be better humans.
“ Try new things and discover that life is beautiful and you can always follow your passions and find new ways of entertaining yourself.” - Laura Soulages
This week on Real Life Planning Podcast:
What is Casa Andaluna? [00:01:42]
Why did Laura convert her Colombian home into a retreat center? [00:03:40]
What challenges did Laura face when building a retreat center? [00:08:28]
What life-changing revelation did Laura have? [00:11:35]
What benefits did Laura receive from taking a sabbatical? [00:16:02]
“I'm very happy to be able to continue to follow my passions. And in doing that, I recognize that I'm not afraid of taking risks and trying new things.”- Laura Soulages
“I love this idea that life is for learning. That we're here to learn and grow and experience. I've always tried to live my life like I'm going to teach what I've learned.” - Cynthia Meyer
“...follow your passions. Listen to your heart to make decisions..” - Laura Soulages
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About the Real Life Planning Podcast
Host Cynthia Meyer welcomes fascinating guests to share real life stories of how they are realizing their financial potential. Each episode explores practical, realistic steps to create results.
Transcript- Real Life Planning Podcast- Episode 27
[00:00:06] Cynthia Meyer: Can you create something new during a really difficult time that turns out to be better than you expected?
I'm Cynthia Meyer with the Real Life Planning Podcast, and this is episode 27 where we are talking to my friend and New Jersey neighbor, Laura Soulages, who is the founder and the director of Casa Andaluna, which is a new beautiful retreat center in El Quindio, Colombia. She's had a really interesting career and a great perspective on incorporating play and art into everyday life in a way that helps us be better humans.
So, Laura, welcome. Thanks for coming on today. Tell us what's important to know about you.
[00:00:44] Laura Soulages: First, thank you for having me here, Cynthia. So, I'm very honored to be here in your podcast and I would like to introduce myself. Yes, as the director of Casa Andaluna in Colombia. And I was the director before of two different schools. If you ask me, can you do something new? Create something new in your life at this age? I will say, yes, of course. Take the risk. Try new things and discover that life is beautiful and you can always follow your passions and find new ways of entertaining yourself while I take something you know seriously, which is developing wellness for myself as I age, and offer now the opportunity to others.
[00:01:29] Cynthia Meyer: Laura, I really want to hear about your journey to create something new and beautiful for yourself. And I want to hear how that happened. But first, tell us a little bit about what is Casa Andaluna, and what can people do there?
[00:01:42] Laura Soulages: Casa Andaluna is our private home, but now, open to the public as a retreat center and people can come for a week and they will be learning new skills or developing some skills with instructors that I bring from different countries. In addition to that, relax, be surrounded by nature and really take a break from life. Take a break to retreat yourself there to be with beautiful people that help us. These people that I bring, the instructors actually are my- most of them are my mentors. They're my instructors. I always love to take classes. I'm still learning.
In doing so, developing my house, I thought that it was very important to bring this opportunity to other people. We happened to have this beautiful property in Colombia that my husband built and finished about five years ago, but it's his childhood area really. It is like if we think about Tuscany Italy and the house is very comfortable.
So, we have a heated pool there. The massages that comes in the package for the retreat, there is a lot included. In addition to the classes you can take and the time to relax and to eat healthy meals. We're going to take two days to visit other places in the area.
Parque del Cafe and Salento which is a very unique valley I have to say because the area is surrounded by volcanos and mountains. So, the valley is super fertile and in this area, the palmas grow and it's in the only part of the world that you can see them, and it's really incredible.
[00:03:27] Cynthia Meyer: That sounds amazing. And so, how is it that you ended up buying or building a home in Colombia? And then how is it that you turned it into a retreat center? That sounds like a really interesting journey.
[00:03:40] Laura Soulages: I have been in education, as you know, for a long time. I have been always taking classes, with different instructors, as I said, and my hobbies from painting to doing yoga, meditation and other things. And when I decided to take a sabbatical year in the summer of 2022, I thought for myself that I really wanted to focus on aging and growing, developing wellness, cultivating my wellness, which I was doing going to Casa Andaluna as a private home. We had great opportunities to relax and to learn with different people there.
At this time, I thought, how can I expand this opportunity for other people to be able to do what I'm doing? And so, we decided to open the doors of our home to the public, and I set up a program, it's a week-long program. I talked to my instructors, they're over ecstatic about doing it.
And in a way, I in the past, I've created two schools. One in New Jersey and one in Argentina. I realize now that in a sense I'm doing something very similar. I'm creating a new community there by opening the doors and making this home public. Creating a community where I really would like to spend the rest of my life with people sharing the same interests, learning new things, and building and connecting with other people.
So, that really brings me a lot of fulfillment, I will say.
[00:05:08] Cynthia Meyer: So my son, my youngest was a student for many years in the Cottage School, which is one of the schools that you started; the US school that you started. And we had a beautiful experience and we're still friends today with some of the other parents that we connected with at the school.
You really did build a community at that school and so I have a lot of confidence in your ability to build community in whatever you're doing next. I think people would be really interested, Laura, you're from Argentina originally, and if I remember correctly you also, have some French ancestry.
[00:05:40] Laura Soulages: That's right.
[00:05:41] Cynthia Meyer: And you came to the United States. You relocated to a new country and then you went back and also, worked in Argentina again, and now you're in Colombia. Is your husband from Colombia?
[00:05:52] Laura Soulages: Yes. So, he is originally from Colombia, from this area, which is the coffee area in Colombia.
[00:05:57] Cynthia Meyer: There are a lot of people that I talk to every day, the clients that I work with who think to themselves, oh, I would really like to go live in another country. So, what would you say to those folks given your experience of living in multiple places?
[00:06:15] Laura Soulages: I would say try it. Right now, you have the opportunity to go for a week.
But actually I have brought friends there who always want to come back. They say I'm going to buy a place here because it's like ideal. And you get to know another culture. Time is different. There is a lot of comradery there. It's people are very welcoming.
And so,I think that helps growing, opening your mind and getting to know other cultures. And in this particular region actually, there is a whole culture of the Quimbaya native people there who are potters. so,for me it's fascinating to discover that. And actually, I discovered it after having been there many times.
And I love to do pottery and I was passionate, you know, about this- that was happening there. So, there is always a lot to learn and meeting people and building new relationships, it's really fascinating to me. And I think it's very important that to take risks; to try.
So, if you want to live in another place, do it. This is our life.
[00:07:18] Cynthia Meyer: So, you started off your 2022 sabbatical at your home in Colombia. Now, when you first started your sabbatical, did you think that a whole new business was going to come out of it, how did this come to you?
[00:07:30] Laura Soulages: Actually, I wasn't thinking about that. I was more thinking of taking a break; retreating myself, I would say. Connecting myself with my passions, which I have to say I am fortunate that I had been able to do that in my life because my schools were my passion and the things that were offered the schools were also,things that I was passionate about.
So, in that sense, I don't feel a big change. It's just that while I'm thinking of focusing on the wellness then I realized I love to be with people. So, this came just to, I would say, flowing, just saying, okay, we're- I'm going to Colombia. I love it. I'm just going to invite more people to come.
[00:08:14] Cynthia Meyer: So, you're having this beautiful experience, a spiritual experience, and you're inviting other people to come and play with you.
[00:08:21] Laura Soulages: Exactly, yes.
[00:08:22] Cynthia Meyer: So, from a practical standpoint, and I'm just curious as a real estate investor, what are some of the things that you had to do to take a family home and turn it into a place that could welcome guests?
[00:08:35] Laura Soulages: (What changes did you make to turn your overseas home into a retreat center?) I had to talk to people there who were already helping us with different tasks and organize and do all the logistics. For example, to be able to have a chef there for certain weeks, like for now, we have three retreats coming up in May and so, those weeks are saved, for him to come and be able to make three meals, even including vegetarian diet and all of that. so,the logistics of making sure I will have, the staff necessary to fulfill the needs for more people and not just for me and my friends. It was not complicated. It was just taking the time to do that to figure out. Okay. What would be an ideal day for a person who comes here? And in that sense, I created a program and I can tell you about it if you want, you know how it's going to be today.
[00:09:22] Cynthia Meyer: Yeah. So, tell me a little bit more. First, tell me if you had to describe in one word what that experience was that you wanted your customers or your guests to have, what would that be?
[00:09:34] Laura Soulages: It would be to take a break from the routine. It is difficult to put everything in one word, but basically, relax. Take the time to relax, to bring wellness to yourself and to then be able to help other people while you do that.
Reconnect with nature which actually is so,important. It brings all our senses alive and in that sense, I think we can live life more fully. If we are reconnected to other people and to nature.
[00:10:03] Cynthia Meyer: So, what would a typical day look like on one of your wellness retreats?
[00:10:07] Laura Soulages: So, we'll start with a short meditation in the Guadua.
The Guadua is a bamboo area in the property where you could hear the birds. So, it's like a natural area to meditate and that's how it is going to start. We're going to get all together there and then go for a walk in nature. So, the walk is going to be for about half hour, 45 minutes.
And then after that there will be a breakfast served. And after breakfast, the first class of the specific instructor that comes to teach. so,in May, we're going to have Rhonda Alin teaching tarot and then Sergio Malqui and Pablo Scornick who come from Argentina will be doing circle dance, which is something that I've been doing all my life. It's based on folk dancing. And then Sarah Ruiz Diaz will do yoga and meditation. So, that's the start and then there will be a class for about two hours in the morning, and then one class in the afternoon, in the middle we'll have lunch and there will be a break to go to the pool or to get a massage, and I will say, the day will end at around seven and we'll have a closing meeting and then everybody can do whatever they want after that. Sunday to Sunday. That's how the week looks like.
[00:11:23] Cynthia Meyer: That sounds really restful and beautiful. What's the most important thing that you learned about yourself, Laura, by starting this new business?
[00:11:32] Laura Soulages: First, that I'm very happy to be able to continue to follow my passions. And in doing that, I recognize that I'm not afraid of taking risks and try new things. And I encourage everybody to do that. Because once you start, you make the first step and you know you're doing something that you love.
There is nothing that is going to stop you. You can spend time doing the logistics or figuring this and that and creating something new. But as long as you feel that's what you love to do there are really no obstacles: real obstacles.
[00:12:07] Cynthia Meyer: I completely agree. And (How does mindset help you create results?) once you've set your sights on something, if you've created that feeling for yourself, you have the thought that you can achieve it, you've created this feeling for yourself of excitement or determination or motivation, and that helps you put actions on the calendar, that get you to that result. It's amazing what a mindset shift can do.
[00:12:27] Laura Soulages: Exactly.
[00:12:28] Cynthia Meyer: Now this is my observation of you, and you tell me if this lands with you is you're somebody who uses your life to figure out what to do in the next phase. So, you started your first school because you wanted to create a certain scholastic experience for your children, right?
[00:12:47] Laura Soulages: Exactly.
[00:12:47] Cynthia Meyer: Yeah. Then you also, wanted to bring this back to Argentina and so, you started the Argentina school. And now you're starting this community for adults because of this phase that you're in your own life. I think that's really aligned.
[00:13:01] Laura Soulages: It's actually without realizing, we build the common ground in between the experiences, not only by creating a community, but also because I do believe that we should live with this ludic mindset to, in the sense that- and I learned that from the children, I have to say, I worked, for a long time with children, and you can see that very clearly. They're not looking for results. They're fully immersed in the present; in the moment. And so living life, as a playful act is something that the first time I heard about it was a long time ago when I was doing my training to be a teacher, and the professor said, "Listen, if we live life with a ludic attitude, life flows." And at that time, I was about 20, it resonated with me and I kept that in my mind. But then thinking about how I like to live my life, I would say, that is super important. So, going with the flow, as they say, it takes really a mindset, of saying, ok, I'm going to follow my passions. I'm going to create whatever is necessary. And the schools were based on actually learning through play as you know, Cynthia?
[00:14:16] Cynthia Meyer: It was a wonderful experience for my son, and I think even as I see him as a 15 year old teenager now, he makes videos, he draws, he paints, he builds things and of course every kid his age, he loves the phone and the video games and things like that but he's thinking that his expression of himself is what he creates and what he builds, which I think he got that from your school, hopefully got some of it from his parents. But I think it was a really phenomenal experience.
[00:14:45] Laura Soulages: That's really, at least in my experience when I create I feel I am alive. So, when we stop creating, life really has a different meaning. If we feel that we can create, it's so powerful, Cynthia.
Yeah. So, I'm very happy to hear that a former student brings part of that in his life because, I think it's really key. It is super important.
[00:15:10] Cynthia Meyer: And I love this idea that life's for learning. That we're here to learn and grow and experience. I've always tried to live my life like I'm going to teach what I've learned.
And it seems to me that that's something that you follow as well.
[00:15:26] Laura Soulages: Right. And you were a teacher at the school, Cynthia. It was an honor to have you as a French teacher there too. But there is always something to learn, always. There is always something to learn.
Doesn't matter how well we are.
[00:15:36] Cynthia Meyer: That's right. So, tell me what's the best piece of advice that you've ever received?
[00:15:41] Laura Soulages: I would say follow your passions. Listen to your heart to make decisions. Listen to your heart.
[00:15:47] Cynthia Meyer: And just out of curiosity, do you think it was the slowing down during your sabbatical that helped you listen to your heart? Was it the being in nature? Was it being out of your traditional environment?
[00:15:59] Laura Soulages: A combination of things. I would say slowing down and saying, okay, I feel now that I'm this old, I want to, see where life takes me now. I feel that I'm still an educator. It's not that I drop my career, And so, combination of that with the fact that we were going to Colombia often, not of course during the pandemic, but, before and after- and I could feel that was very healthy for me and for friends that I brought there. And so I wanted, yes, to take a next step in my life and create a community where I would like to spend, one day just move to Colombia and spend the rest of my life there.
[00:16:39] Cynthia Meyer: I think this is a really interesting next chapter for you, Laura, and a wonderful extension of who you are as a person in the communities that you try and create.
And once Steve and I are not beholden to a high school schedule, we are going to come and see you, in Colombia.
[00:16:57] Laura Soulages: That's great.
[00:16:57] Cynthia Meyer: But tell us where can we find you online?
[00:17:00] Laura Soulages: So, there is a website, casaandaluna.com, and then we have a YouTube channel, too, where you can see some videos with instructors explaining what they will offer there.
Then there is the Facebook page and an Instagram site, too.
[00:17:16] Cynthia Meyer: Great. Wonderful. So, thank you so much for this conversation today. It's always delightful to talk to you and hear what new adventure that you're up to and I look forward to following you on social and seeing what's happening.
[00:17:29] Laura Soulages: Thank you so much, Cynthia, for this opportunity and I hope to see you in Colombia one day.
[00:17:35] Cynthia Meyer: Excellent. All right, thanks.
[00:17:36] Laura Soulages: Okay, bye-bye.
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