American Expat Living in Bolivia - Interview with Jessica

Published: 10 Jul at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Bolivia
After launching her journalism career and living the dream in the Hawaiian islands, Jessica took off for South America in search of more adventure. Photographing her way through eight countries, she finally landed in Bolivia where she now lives with her partner in crime. Aside from her writing, Jessica is a photographer, Zumba instructor, wine enthusiast and the creator of The Bohemian Diaries. While desperately missing the ocean, she enjoys exploring the countryside of her new host country and soaking in a new way of life! Jessica's expat blog is called The Bohemian Diaries (see listing here)

Photographing Bolivia's Andean plateau, el altiplano.
Photographing Bolivia's Andean plateau, el altiplano.

Here's the interview with Jessica...

Where are you originally from?
I'm from the United States. More specifically, I hail from the great Midwest state of Minnesota.

In which country and city are you living now?
Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia.

How long have you lived in Bolivia and how long are you planning to stay?
I've been here a year and a half and plan to stay another year or so.

Why did you move to Bolivia and what do you do?
Here's the story. While working at a newspaper in Hawaii I fell in love with a charming Bolivian who also lived and worked on the same tiny island as I. After a couple of years we decided to move to his home country in South America and backpacked our way there from Central America. After moving to Bolivia I became a certified Zumba instructor and fitness trainer. I also created The Bohemian Diaries, a travel and expat blog that keeps me exploring, freelancing, and photographing this picturesque country.

Typical breakfast, delicious and doughy empanadas with black coffee.
Typical breakfast, delicious and doughy empanadas with black coffee.
Did you bring family with you?
Nope, just me.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Moving to Bolivia with my partner made the transition fairly smooth as I was warmly welcomed by his family and had somewhat of a support system from the start. That doesn't mean it was entirely easy! I'm naturally a very independent person and starting a new life abroad takes a lot of time, and patience, before you really feel comfortable and situated into your new home. It was hard at first to completely rely on someone else before I was unable to work or until I had a real routine of my own I could relax into.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
I love being surrounded by people and so initially I felt very isolated without my own group of friends. Then I started taking Zumba classes at a studio nearby and really became a part of the community. I'm now instructing at the same studio and it feels great having a group of women supporting me and people who I look forward to spending time with each day!

It's crazy but for the first year I didn't even know there were other expats living in my city! We are kind of few and far between here in Santa Cruz but I've joined their community through InterNations and we meet up every once in a while.

Exploring the country.
Exploring the country.
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
While Bolivia is most known for the largest salt flat in the world and the colder climate cities located high in the Andes, Santa Cruz should not be missed on a visit to the country! Located in the tropical lowlands there is a lot of hiking and exploring of the surrounding national parks and unbelievable wildlife to see in the Amazon. For future expats its good to know that Santa Cruz is the fastest growing and most developed city in Bolivia if you are looking for certain comforts while living abroad.

What do you enjoy most about living in Bolivia?
Bolivia is a very visually rich country and thus a photographer's dream! The landscape varies dramatically across the nation so one of my favorite things to do is get out and explore. Long treks through pristine countrysides are my favorite :) The food is really amazing and I especially enjoy horneados, doughy, baked goods they eat at breakfast and tea time that are to die for!

How does the cost of living in Bolivia compare to home?
Depending on the quality of life you are looking for the cost of living varies drastically. To live like an average Bolivian it is very, very cheap. However, 60% percent of the country still lives on less than $2 a day so it is rather expensive to go out to eat at restaurants, shop in grocery stores as opposed to markets, buy a car, live in a secure and well guarded neighborhood. For me, its comparable to what I pay in the States but I earn a fraction of what I would make back home.

Road trip! Traveling to Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flat, was one of the most amazing trips I've ever taken!
Road trip! Traveling to Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flat, was one of the most amazing trips I've ever taken!
What negatives, if any, are there to living in Bolivia?
As with any developing country, it can be difficult to adjust to the cultural and societal differences that seem to perpetuate poverty as opposed to alleviate the struggle. The cities are overcrowded, dirty and full of corruption. I don't trust the police here. People freely urinate in the streets and throw trash out of bus and car windows regularly. It seems the more money you earn, the more expensive everything becomes (meaning healthcare, education and privacy are extremely expensive if you want good quality and so the cost of living doesn't always balance with the quality of life).

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to Bolivia, what would it be?
Come extremely open-minded and push yourself out of your comfort zone to get the most of your experience.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
It's definitely most difficult missing out on time with my family back in the States. Spending the holidays away from them is hard on me, as is missing the arrival of new family members and the departing of others.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
I think it will be very important for me not to forget how my experiences abroad shaped me as a person and to try and integrate myself back into the community as quickly as I can.

Sunset on the lake a few hours outside of the city where I live in the tropical lowlands.
Sunset on the lake a few hours outside of the city where I live in the tropical lowlands.
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Stay true to yourself. Sometimes being the foreigner and standing out gets old but don't conform to be like everyone around you just to blend. Embrace the lifestyle differences and adapt to what works for you, but don't lose your own identity.
  2. Learn the local language and use it as often as you can!
  3. Don't expect everything to be just like "home" and don't compare everything to your own country! Of course it's going to be different, we move abroad to experience something new. Embrace the good and the bad for what it is and accept the way things are done differently as opposed to judge based on your previous experiences.
  4. Be sensitive to the culture around you. Stay observant and keep in mind that the way you do things may not make sense to others just as what they are doing may not make sense to you.
  5. Be prepared and do your research!
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
The Bohemian Diaries showcases stories of people and places from around the world that are often untold. As a photojournalist, my blog is heavy on imagery and I tend to feature stories that relate what I'm experiencing in Bolivia to global humanitarian and social issues that affect us all. Having spent two years in South America, I share the best of Latin America travel and aim to inspire others to come enjoy this beautiful part of the world.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
My contact page over at The Bohemian Diaries blog. I'd be happy to email you back!

About the author

Expat Blog ListingJessica is an American expat living in Bolivia. Blog description: Wanderlust musings of Jessica Janoski, a photojournalist living and working as an expat in Bolivia. The blog shows life from behind the lens, exhibiting cultural and personal photographs to tell my story and those of the people I meet in SA
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