American Expat Living in Colombia - Interview with Danielle

Published: 29 Jun at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Colombia
Long story short, Danielle grew up in Oregon, spent five years in the U.S. Navy, met her husband and was married in San Diego, got a master's degree in library science and is now the 'accompanying family' living in Colombia while her spouse completes a 2 year work assignment. Danielle's expat blog is called No Longer Native - an expat experience (see listing here)

Watching the World Cup in the park
Watching the World Cup in the park

Here's the interview with Danielle...

Where are you originally from?
Portland, Oregon, USA

In which country and city are you living now?
Bogotá, Colombia

How long have you lived in Colombia and how long are you planning to stay?
We've lived here just over a year and have one more left (more or less, depending on what happens with the job). I wouldn't complain if we were here a bit longer!

Why did you move to Colombia and what do you do?
My husband's job brought us to Colombia from San Diego on a two year work assignment. Without a work visa, I've found volunteer work in my career field (libraries!) and started my blog. And arriving here with barely a word of Spanish in my brain, weeks of Spanish classes have occupied my time as well.

Walking through La Candelaria, in Bogotá's historic center
Walking through La Candelaria, in Bogotá's historic center
Did you bring family with you?
Well technically, I was brought! We are three: me, my husband and our grumpy (but sweet!) old Boston Terrier.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
What I thought would be easy turned out to be quite difficult and vice versa. Surprisingly, I had no problem making a fool out of myself while learning Spanish and trying to communicate, but the first time I went grocery shopping I almost cried because everything was so different. For me, the most difficult thing was just hanging in there until I was settled into a routine and familiar enough with the city for it to feel like home.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Colombians are known for being outgoing, friendly and inclusive, so I definitely felt welcomed right away. There are a lot of fantastic expat groups (which are made up of both locals and foreigners) that helped me get out and make friends. Through my husband and his coworkers, I've had a great opportunity to meet and hang out with Colombians. I'd say I have a 50/50 mix.

Hiking in the Páramo, two hours south of Bogotá
Hiking in the Páramo, two hours south of Bogotá
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Hmmm...we always, always take our guests on the Graffiti Tour because it's interesting and the works shown are always changing (it's also a great way to wind your way through the lesser seen alleys of La Candelaria). If you're in town on a Sunday, definitely ride your bike in ciclovía and make sure to wander through the outdoor market in Usaquén.

What do you enjoy most about living in Colombia?
Even though Bogotá is a concrete jungle, there are so many green spaces--Cody and I spend a lot of our weekends outside walking and riding our bikes, which is something we didn't do too much of in the U.S. And because Bogotá is so big and the people we've met so inclusive, there is always something new to check out or visit. I have a feeling it's similar in a lot of places outside the U.S., but there is a much bigger importance on relationships and enjoying life and less importance placed on what you have/material possessions--I really like this as well.

How does the cost of living in Colombia compare to home?
I would say that overall, things are more expensive and services are less so. For instance, things like beauty/spa services or in home help (whether it's a handy man, nanny or cook) are much less expensive than the U.S. However, things like furniture and appliances, other home goods and clothing are much more expensive and sometimes the quality is lacking. Coming from a city with a high cost of living (San Diego), I found housing and food to be comparable--depending on where you go, there are options in all price ranges.

In the Cocora Valley, in Colombia's coffee region
In the Cocora Valley, in Colombia's coffee region
What negatives, if any, are there to living in Colombia?
Traffic (and pollution) can be terrible--I never thought I'd weigh the time and location of an event when deciding whether to attend or not! And after living a few years in San Diego, California, the weather was quite an adjustment. Although, now I have to say that I love it because the moderate temps are perfect for hiking and biking and just being outside.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to Colombia, what would it be?
Colombia is one of the most ecologically diverse countries on the planet and has a lot of holiday weekends--to be exact, there are 314 different ecosystems packed into a country about half the size of Texas and 18 national holidays each year. Not only that, but because of security concerns in decades past many of these places are haven't had a chance to be overrun by tourism. I would tell anyone moving to Bogotá to be ready to take advantage of all this and explore, explore, explore!

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
I think the best thing about living abroad is also the hardest, which is getting out of your comfort zone. It's difficult to struggle with communication, to have your support system of friends and family far away, and to try and negotiate the rebalancing of your relationship and identity.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
I honestly have no idea! When we visit, it's strange to see how things have moved on without us, so I know to expect some of those feelings. But that's on the mental back burner for now, since we aren't quite sure when we'll return to the U.S.

Families lighting candles in the park to celebrate Día de las Velitas
Families lighting candles in the park to celebrate Día de las Velitas
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. If you don't speak Spanish, try to remedy that right away! I have met people who've lived in Bogotá for years without speaking much Spanish but I don't recommend it. Not speaking the language will close you off from myriad experiences and you'll end up sequestering yourself in the expat bubble (and probably only a couple of gentrified neighborhoods). Not only that, but I found that my Spanish classes were a great way for me to explore the city on my own (most schools have daily outings) and make friends.
  2. I thought that because I had traveled and done so much research for our move that I wouldn't get culture shock or experience any kind of negative emotions at all...oh, why does my naiveté still surprise me? Culture shock is a real series of emotions that even the most seasoned travelers experience and I wrote a couple of posts about those feelings (and moving through them!) that I think are pretty helpful. So, just be prepared for that!
  3. When it comes to safety in Bogotá, take everyone's advice with a grain of salt. I say this only because one of my first experiences in the city was being taken by car across the street from our hotel to a restaurant. We were told to never walk on the street, to never carry money, to never talk to anyone...while these suggestions hold some truth, I've found them to be overly cautious. That being said, Bogotá is a huge city with it's share of poverty. As a rule I always carry my purse in front of me (if I use one at all), I take a taxi to and from a place until I know a neighborhood well enough to feel comfortable walking, and I don't use my phone on the street. Don't be afraid, but don't be stupid.
  4. Speaking directly to the trailing spouses reading: really use this as an opportunity to discover and seek out what you want in life. If you're happy to have an opportunity to not work, then embrace that without guilt. If you want an opportunity to study, volunteer or make a career change, then go for that! I discovered how much I loved writing, something that never would have happened had I stayed in my routine in the U.S. And following your spouse doesn't mean you can't work--I've seen so many innovative women find jobs, start businesses or find opportunities to work remotely.
  5. Another tip specifically for trailing spouses is to be sure you negotiate for yourself. When your partner is getting the details of your assignment, be clear and vocal about what you need. I don't think this is discussed enough (because who likes to talk about money?) but is becoming more and more common as companies realize how important family adjustment is to the overall success of an assignment. So, if you'd like a stipend for language classes or for them to pay for your work visa, ask!
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
No Longer Native is an expat blog from an American couple living in Bogotá, Colombia. Our blog is a journal containing our travels, cultural musings and bits of everyday life. We also want this to be a resource for others facing the same life change of a first time expat assignment, so there is lots of advice in this area as well!

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Please feel free to email me using the Contact Form on the blog!

About the author

Expat Blog ListingDanielle is an American expat living in Colombia. Blog description: No Longer Native is an expat blog from an American couple living in Bogotá, Colombia. It's a journal containing our travels, cultural musings and bits of everyday life. We also want this to be a resource for others facing the same change.
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