Tag Archives: living abroad

So you’re thinking about moving abroad…

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Photo Credit: The amazing Exit the Cave Studios!

Now that I’ve lived in Colombia a few years, friends in the US sometimes ask for information as they contemplate whether an international move might be right for them. When I think back to my own decision process, I remember how hard it was to know what to expect and, later, to figure out logistics – finding movers, getting an apartment, lining up childcare, etc. My then-husband Gio and I probably relied a little too much on House Hunters International… no kidding!… but then again, we did end up on “Best of South America: Season 1“!

In spite of our TV fun, we would have benefited greatly from a website like ExpatFinder, dedicated to providing the information needed when preparing to make the leap abroad. In addition to helping you organize your move, ExpatFinder also gives you first-hand accounts of what to expect, via interviews with people living in various countries. I’m honored to be among them. Here, you’ll find my take on moving to and living in Colombia. Enjoy! And thanks, ExpatFinder, for this opportunity!

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The In-Between

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Thank you, Andrea!

We humans consistently underestimate how much we’ll change in the next 10 years, according to a 2013 study. If we envision the world around us a decade from now, I think we’re likely to underestimate the changes there, too – with respect not only to technology, but also to the people around us.

As a foreigner living abroad, I sometimes feel like I’m a slow-moving planet orbiting a stationary sun while other planets whizz by. Medellín is popular with digital nomads, people attending Spanish immersion courses, adults on sabbatical, etc., which means many foreigners are here for a few months and then gone. Meanwhile, the city in general is known for families and social circles dating back decades, cemented by the mountains’ isolating geography and the city’s enduring appeal. With 5.5 years in my pocket, I find myself in the in-between. It’s not a bad feeling, just somehow different.

The feeling has been more intense lately because a round of foreigner-friends all left in succession. These friends were made over brief periods of time, but nonetheless had significant impacts. Upon leaving, some of them generously gave me miscellaneous items – from clothes to plants to makeup remover – that they did not want or weren’t able to take back. So now, I write with Andrew’s pens (a serious upgrade from mine!), wash my hair with Megan’s shampoo, cook with Shruti’s spices, and water Andrea’s weird but beautiful little fruit tree. This jetsam is a daily reminder of how each person enriched my life. The growing web of contacts I have all over the world is my consolation for the immediate vacancies.

If I don’t underestimate my own rate of change, I’ll probably decorate next Christmas with garland left to me by a friend. For now, I accept my place in the middle – still a newcomer to my local friends (who never quite trust that I won’t jump ship), a long-term expat to my foreigner ones, and a sometime-connector between the two. It’s a weird place to be, but it’s home.

When one door closes…

Courtenay and Marcello at trainMoving to Colombia fulfilled my long-held dream to not only travel to other countries, but to live abroad as well. But just over four years ago, when at age 37 I became a mom – another dream I hadn’t expected to come true – I assumed that living abroad wouldn’t happen. I am so happy I was wrong. Today, I’m honored and thrilled to be featured in Sarah Duncan’s Expats in Colombia series on Sarepa.com, where I share more about how I ended up first in Barranquilla and then in Medellín – and all the twists and turns along the way.

Somehow I find it oddly comforting that life has so many surprises in store for each of us. Never assume it’s over… for all any of us know, it’s just beginning! Thanks, Sarepa, for the opportunity to share my story and my love for Colombia.

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

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