Category Archives: Daily Life

The Divided Life of the Modern Day Expat*

I used to dream of writing a novel called Halfway to India. I envisioned the book as a stylized version of the life I was leading at the time – a life married to a quintessentially American guy who had lived in the US for decades, but whose ties to his country of birth remained very strong. The “halfway” part alluded to my frustration that I could never work out the opportunity to actually go to the place that exerted such a powerful, pervasive influence on my everyday life. It was definitely a case of so close and yet so far.

Today, the tables are turned. I am not in India, though I eventually did visit.

Borders, identity cards, and legalities fail to convey a more complex reality.

What does moving to another country really mean in the age of the internet?

Instead, I am very happily in Colombia, the home turf of another culture that I love. But in many ways I am still only “halfway here”, in this country that I have made my home by choice. This is the blessing and the curse of the modern day expat: the ability to live with one foot in your country of birth and the other in your country of residence.

This divided – or integrated, depending on how you look at it – life that my husband and I lead is definitely a product of our technology-driven lives. Continue reading

The Pace of Change: My Post-Holiday Barranquilla Redux

Little did I know the changes amassing in Quilla while I was in the US!

Little did I know the changes amassing in Quilla while I was in the US!

I spent a truly lovely few years of my life – longer ago than I care to admit – living in Seattle. I don’t know whether Seattle is this way now, but back then, even though it was (and is) a big city, it offered a level of “sameness” that one might usually associate with a small town. One could go away on vacation and feel confident that Seattle would be waiting, basically the same as before, when one returned. Even after I had been living in Miami for two years, when I went back for a visit to Seattle I was still able to get coffee at Café Ladro and Espresso Vivace, and a big, fat peanut butter cookie from Cinnamon Works in Pike Place Market. I swear the same guy even checked me out at Bartell Drugs. (Whether this is good or bad is a question for that guy, but the fact that Bartell’s still exists is actually a little remarkable in and of itself.)

This isn’t to say that nothing changed – like any big city, there were always new developments in the urban landscape – but the changes were usually additions to what was there before, not replacements. This made Seattle sort of a comfort food of cities for me, which was important at the time since I was going through a divorce and other seismic life changes. Seattle was not always perfect, but there was a lot of security in knowing exactly what I was going to get.

This feeling stood in sharp contrast to my experience of Miami, the next place that I lived, this time for nearly a decade. Continue reading

Five “Normal” American Things That Can Seem Pretty Weird

Por fin! Finally! After nearly a month Stateside (can you say “Stateside” if you aren’t in Europe?) — plus a frantic week preparing to go and an extraordinarily drama-filled week upon return — I’m happy to be writing again. For now, I hope you’ll put it in reverse with me to explore a few of the wonders and woes of an expat’s trip home. “Back it up!” as my son says, quoting his toy Caterpillar trucks. And with that, I bring you five “normal” American things that seem pretty weird if you’ve been out of the US for a long time:

  1. The astounding variety of stuff available, for better or worse, in an average US grocery store. My mental dialogue while browsing goes something like this: “Honey Bunches of Oats Greek Honey Crunch? I’m not sure I understand. Snack chips made with chia seeds? Oh, let’s try that! Take-out sushi? There is a God, and he has chosen to put heaven in this place.” And this is the way that I feel when I go into Kroger or Publix. Put me in Whole Foods too soon after re-entering the US and I might pass out. Seriously. Continue reading

Transportation in, to, and from Barranquilla

Readers, I’m thrilled to bring you a guest post from Paige Poole, a fellow Barranquilla transplant. Paige’s own blog, Transatlantic Adventure, includes fun and useful regular features like “Word Wednesday”—a must-read for people looking to bone up on Costeño (Coastal) Spanish. Paige also writes regularly for Uncover Colombia, a great source of destination-related info.

Brightly painted blinged-out buses are a common sight.  Figuring out how to use them is the challenge!

Brightly painted buses, often tricked out with special lights, are a common sight in B’quilla. Figuring out how to use them is the challenge!

After my family and I scored cheap plane tickets to Medellín based on Paige’s insights, I realized that she would be the perfect person to demystify what can be a challenging prospect for newcomers: figuring out how to get around. Believe me, if you’re moving here or even if you already live here, I know you’ll join me in thanking Paige for her incredibly helpful post, which follows below.

– Courtenay

Transportation in, to, and from Barranquilla

When first arriving to Barranquilla, public transportation can seem daunting, confusing, and overwhelming. While at its core you can find similarities between public transportation in Barranquilla and public transportation in other big cities around the world, you’ll also find there are many differences and peculiarities that can cause chaos if you are not aware of them!

First of all, you need to know that the main methods of transportation within the city of Barranquilla include: taxis, buses, “busetas,” and Transmetro. Continue reading

Ten Surprising Facts About Shopping in Colombia

I am not much of a shopper. I find the whole process a little intimidating. In spite of this, I’m a bit of a clothes hog and a total nester, as well as an admitted sucker for beautiful design.

One of Barranquilla's primary "big box stores" - a Super Almacen Olimpica (SAO).

One of Barranquilla’s primary “big box stores” – a Super Almacen Olimpica (SAO).

There’s no doubt I like owning nice stuff. If you add the fact that I have lived most of my adult life on my own at a nonprofit salary, then it becomes (maybe) a little understandable that I developed some semi-unconventional shopping habits. For years, I craigslist-ed my way into great furniture, bargain-binned into fancy clothes, and spent all the rest of my money traveling and moving to new places. I thought I had the whole shopping thing figured out — and then I moved to Colombia. Below, are ten facts that took me off guard as I learned to navigate the shopping landscape in Barranquilla. For more shopping specifics, be sure to also click on my Leap Sources page.

1. Generally speaking, imports are really expensive.

Imports are heavily taxed. Now that the US-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA) is in force, tariffs are being reduced or eliminated entirely from various categories of US imports. Continue reading

(Friday Fotos) House Hunters International Take Two!

I knew it! You’ve been sitting around moping for the last three months because you missed our June debut on HGTV’s House Hunters International, Reconnecting family ties in Barranquilla, Colombia. Well, chin up, my friends because we’re back! Yep, we are officially a rerun. If you missed the show the first time, you can catch it this Saturday, August 24th at 10:30 PM and 1:30 AM Eastern/Pacific (click the above link for details).

To whet your appetite, below are a few screen shots of our TV during the June 10th airing. Apologies to all who were expecting some real, if amateurish, photography. I promise to do better next Friday. In the meantime, you can also check out these cool behind-the-scenes photos by Milena Thinkan, a member of the crew. If you watch on Saturday, you’ll get a pretty good sense of what Barranquilla is like these days. Thanks for tuning in, and happy Friday!

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Part 3: Ten Ways that Parenting in Colombia is Different than in the U.S.

It’s a rule of lawyers and interior designers that you must have three elements in your argument or decorative arrangement, not two. If both lawyers and home stylists do it, there must be something to it! Okay, that makes no sense, but at least now I feel justified in having divided my top ten list of parental surprises into three parts.

Who's ready to party?!

Who’s ready to party?!

In this third and final installment, we’ll tackle that mother of all stress-inducing events — the event from which all other stress-inducing events are born — children’s birthday parties. Plus, we’ll take a look at language and transportation.

For those of you who missed the first posts (or who need a refresher because it’s been so long!), in Part 1, we explored sticky (ha!) food-related issues. In Part 2, I took you on some child care adventures and exposed my own cluelessness. As it turns out, my cluelessness is a good place to start for this current post. Continue reading

Colombia’s Calling, and BoB is On the Line!

I’m a radio addict. I love listening to a quality radio show while getting ready for the day or doing some chores around the house. And nowadays you don’t even need a radio to listen to the radio! Case in point: Colombia Calling with Richard McColl, which airs on OverSeasRadio.com. Whether you’re thinking of making the leap or are just interested in an on-the-ground take, the OverSeas Radio Network and Colombia Calling are for you.

I was a guest on Colombia Calling on July 15, 2013, and now the show’s available for free in both the OverSeas Radio Network “Colombia Calling” Archive (just scroll down to “Barranquilla or Bust”) and on iTunes (download the podcast to hear the whole show). Continue reading

Part 2: Ten Ways that Parenting in Colombia is Different than in the U.S.

When you and your munchkin explore a new way of life together, adventures in parenting can easily become adventure parenting — when you’re unsure not only how to handle a given situation, but also how to understand the context in which it’s occurring. When this happens, your notions of what it means to be a good parent can seem, or actually become, up for grabs.

Deer in headlights? Pig in headlights? No. Mom in headlights.

Deer in headlights? Pig in headlights?
No. Mom in headlights.

All parents at one point or another find themselves in the midst of “adventure parenting” — no international relocation necessary!

Moving to a different country is just one scenario that can make adventure parenting more likely or more frequent, at least until you figure out the rules of your newly adopted culture.

Part 1 of this series explored three food-related surprises that were in store for my son Marcello, my husband Gio, and me when we moved to Colombia. Here, we tackle that big bugaboo of parents everywhere: child care. Continue reading

Ten Ways that Parenting in Colombia is Different than in the U.S. (Part 1)

On a Colombian adventure.

On a Colombian adventure.

A recent email exchange with a friend made me think a lot about the decision my husband and I made to relocate to Colombia even though our son was only one year old at the time. (Marcello turned two just a few days ago; we have been in Barranquilla about 10 months now.) My friend paid me the wonderful compliment of telling me that I have a sense of adventure and flexibility that she feels is too often missing in today’s parenting. She also said that the most important thing is that our children feel (and are) loved and safe, and that my blog reminds her that it’s great to expose your child to new experiences even if the initial days are a hassle and a lot of things are different.

I agree with my friend – the most important thing is that my son is loved and safe – and I also firmly believe that the benefits of our family’s move to Colombia greatly outweigh the downsides. That being said, I would be totally disingenuous if I pretended that our transition to Colombia doesn’t occasionally bring some of those, “Oh, this is not good…” parenting moments.

In the interest of those with young ‘uns who might be considering an international move or other leap of faith – and perhaps in the interest of clearing my own conscious (Guilty Mama, as the Runaway Mama would say) – I write to share with you a few of the downsides, a few of the upsides, and why I believe the latter win out overall. Continue reading