The Question of Why

It’s a new year, and in many ways, an official start to our “real” life in Barranquilla. Despite the fact that we moved here from Miami on July 23rd, 2012, just two days after our wedding, it wasn’t until our recent return from Christmas holidays in the U.S. that we finally felt settled.

The last six months, while good, were consumed with an almost endless to-do list related to our move: find an apartment, furnish the apartment, get Gio’s cédula (the national I.D. card), get our son Marcello into the national birth registry (so that Marcello could be a Colombian citizen), get Marcello’s passport, renew my expiring tourist visa, apply for my indefinite visa as Marcello’s mother (since Marcello is now a citizen), apply for my cédula de extranjería (the national I.D. card for foreigners) – you get the idea. We set December 13th, the day of our flight back to the U.S. for the holidays, as our deadline for jumping through all these hoops. While I had to put several things – like writing for this blog – on the back burner, we met our goal. Flying back on January 6th, I finally felt like I was coming home.

As you might imagine, a benchmark like this leads to some reflection. It seems like a good time to address the two questions that my husband and I are asked most often about our move: 1) Why? and 2) Do you like it?

The answer to “Why?” is actually relatively straight-forward, if sort of long. Gio and I both had our own reasons, and fortunately enough of them overlapped for us to be able to make this leap. For my part, I have always wanted to live abroad for awhile. I love to travel, but was always aware that traveling somewhere and living somewhere are two very different things. I wanted both experiences. In addition, for reasons that I can’t explain, I have always felt “close” to Latin America. In college, I majored in Latin American Studies – a focus that I came to because I realized that those were the only classes that I signed up for every semester without even thinking about it. I just did it because I liked it, and in the end, I decided that meant something. Later, I moved from Seattle to Miami in large part to get closer to the Cuban culture that I love, and to the salsa music and dancing that had by then become a big part of my life. My first trip to Colombia – and my only trip before we decided to move – was to Bogotá in 2010 (shout out to my Miami Fellows, some of whom are seen here in Bogotá). That was the first time that I toyed with the idea of doing some work in Colombia, though my ideas never turned into action. All this was before Gio and I met.

Meanwhile, Gio had some ideas of his own. Gio was born and raised in Miami, but his mother and father, who also live in Miami, are from Barranquilla. Gio has family in both Barranquilla and Cartagena. As a teenager, he met a few of them once, but never his half-brother and two half-sisters who live here. Gio grew up without much family in the U.S., and so getting to know family in Colombia became a dream and a goal. Plus, having lived in Miami for his whole life, the idea of a “fresh start” really appealed to Gio. After his niece reached out to him via Facebook, he thought even more about what it might be like to get to know family here. But, like me, he didn’t see an immediate a way to turn these ideas into reality.

When Gio and I had our son, Marcello, in 2011, I think we both thought that our days of international adventure were limited at best. We had never even discussed our separate thoughts about the possibility. The issue didn’t come up at all until I found myself in the midst of a job crisis. Unhappy in my then-job, I was looking to make a move. Unfortunately, the only available full-time jobs that appealed to me involved significant travel to Latin America. Gio and I agreed that – with our son being only one year old – that just wouldn’t work. In the midst of one of these discussions, Gio off-handedly remarked, “I’ve thought before about moving to Colombia.” I responded with something along the lines of, “I’d totally do that.” And so the discussion began.

From that point forward, a lot of this crazy, spur-of-the-moment notion simply began to make sense for us. I realized that while a heavy travel schedule wouldn’t fit our life with the baby, actually moving to another country would. The very fact that the baby was too young to be in school would actually help make such a move possible. Plus, Marcello would have the opportunity to learn English and Spanish and to get to know his Colombian family and culture. Gio, who is a software developer, had the good fortune of being able to live anywhere and take his work with him (so long as there is a good internet connection, of course). And even though my social sector work for nonprofits is not usually portable, right around that time two offers for remote contract work came my way – enough work for me to be able to quit my full-time position and still have some hours to help support us through the move.

So an idea that emerged in roughly March 2012 led quickly to a scouting trip by Gio the very next month. Along the way, there were lots of questions – Cartagena or Barranquilla, for one – and significant stress. I had to turn down a fairly major job offer on the “hope” of Colombia, even before we had officially decided to make the move, and after deciding to do it and lining up movers and everything, the company with whom Gio works the most almost nixed it. But all things combined, we really had the sense of things coming together for us in a way that made us feel the move was meant to be.

This year, on Gio’s January 2nd birthday, I couldn’t help but think back to his birthday in 2012. That night in 2012 we went to see We Bought A Zoo, starring Matt Damon. We had absolutely no idea at that time that a mere two months later, an idea would pop into our heads that – if we dared to take it seriously – would change our lives completely. But the central premise of the movie – that all you need is “20 seconds of insane courage… 20 seconds of just embarrassing bravery” and “something great will come of it” – stuck with me. Our 20 seconds of insane courage were to give that off-handed remark about Colombia real consideration. It resulted in a big decision – one that, like the zoo Matt Damon’s character bought, tested us and scared the bejeezus out of us later on, but that sure seems like “something great” right now.


15 responses to “The Question of Why

  1. i love this post so much, courtenay! i recently just made a leap myself, a much shorter one than yours, but i identify. xx


  2. Joseph R Carducci

    Hello, I also recently married a Colombian and am in fact also in Barranquilla right now. My wife and I are having our issues renting an apartment. Do you have any advice about how to find something reasonably priced in this city without having to put down months of rent up front, or in CD?


    • Hi there, I feel your pain… we did end up having to open a CD in order to get into our apartment. We went through a real estate agency, but have since been told that it’s best not to use an agency and to rent directly from the owner. If you do end up using an agency, I think you can avoid the CD/months-and-months-of-deposit if you have “backers” who will essentially co-sign on the lease (or something along those lines). The backers have to meet certain qualifications, though, like owning real estate (I think) and making a monthly income that is a certain amount above the monthly rent. If you or your wife know people who can back you, hopefully you can avoid the huge deposit thing. Or maybe find an owner that you can work with directly. Good luck to you!!!


  3. that all you need is “20 seconds of insane courage… 20 seconds of just embarrassing bravery” and “something great will come of it” Truly inspiring Courtney. So happy to hear that you and the family have settled in. Congrats on having the “insane courage.” Miss you mucho from Phoenix (via Miami).


  4. I enjoy reading your blog and just shared on my Facebook page, my partner and I have just moved to a different part of Portugal, less remote and hopefully more work.


    • Kevin, thank you so much for sharing the post on your facebook page. Just a few days ago, I saw via fb that you had moved and was going to ask you about that. I hope that all is going well and that you are liking your new place!


  5. This is great! Thanks for sharing and good luck!


  6. Love this post. Love the perspective. And love that you’re finally feeling at home. “20 seconds of insane courage” is a keeper!


  7. Courtenay, I really enjoyed your lastest blog post. I’m glad to hear that it felt like going “home” when you returned in January. I’m so proud of you and Gio and the courage you displayed in making this move. We’re looking forward to our visit in March!


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