American Expat Living in Colombia - Interview with Allison Voss

Published: 19 Apr at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Colombia
Allison Voss took off from her perceived glamorous life in San Francisco, working in investment banking, having lots of friends and a successful boyfriend, and so to say, "had it all", to move to Nairobi, Kenya to create a more meaningful life. In Kenya, she fell in love with a Colombian, and later continued her journey to "understanding intent" (Blog: in moving with him to Bogota, Colombia.

And that, is where the story evolves.... Allison Voss's expat blog is called Understanding Intent (see listing here)

Dressing like a Colombian woman
Dressing like a Colombian woman

Here's the interview with Allison Voss...

Where are you originally from?
Suburbia USA - Columbia, South Carolina

Grew up a big, brick house, with a basement, backyard, pool, 2 little dogs, 2 younger siblings and 2 loving, wonderful parents. Quite a dreamy American childhood.

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

How long have you lived in Colombia and how long are you planning to stay?
Almost a year, and planning on leaving in a few weeks to travel through more of South America (Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil).

Parents come to visit and went up to Monsaratte
Parents come to visit and went up to Monsaratte
Why did you move to Colombia and what do you do?
I fell in love with a Colombian in Kenya.

I was working in Kenya with a financial advisory and consulting firm, working with social entrepreneurs and impact investors. After a little less than a year of being in Kenya, my boyfriend had found a new job back in his home city of Bogota, Colombia. Deciding it was a good move for both of us, career-wise and personal-wise, we headed off on a new adventure.

I moved to Bogota not knowing a word of Spanish, so I enrolled in an intensive language school for the first 4 months. After that, I was took a more advanced grammar class and began looking for a job. After about a 2 month search, I found a position working for Yunus Social Business (, an organization founded by Professor Yunus, Banker of the Poor, Founder of the Grameen Bank and founder of micro-finance. This organization's focus is on investing into businesses that have high potential for social or environmental impact, while also being financial sustainable. Here, I have been involved in the investment process of looking for new investments, in sectors including education, health, agriculture and telecommunications, as well as have been focused on supporting the companies in the current portfolio.

Did you bring family with you?
Yes, our happy family of two - myself and my boyfriend, Santiago.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
I have come to dislike this I see it, "transition" often gives moving to a foreign country a bad connotation. If you move to a new country, with a certain expectation and it turns out to not be that way, then clearly, you will be in for a surprise.

Moving to a new place, while it does require a "transition" or adjustment to how you are accustomed to living, is not so challenging if you go into the adventure with an open heart and mind. How you handle a move to a new country, is all about internally how you handle and perceive change.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
While Colombia is consistently on the list of happiest countries in the world, it is not an easy country to "break into". Firstly, Colombians are extremely close to their families, and they have very big families. They will spend weekends with their entire extended family, cooking, eating, relaxing, drinking, etc. It is like having American Thanksgiving dinner for lunch most weekends.

Secondly, Colombians keep their childhood friends close for life. Their best friends when they are in their 20s, 30s, 40s, etc., are their closest friends for life, and they generally don't seek out new friends beyond that.

Due to these two things, making Colombian friends as an expat is quite difficult. While Colombians are open to being friends and grabbing lunch with you, they aren't going to invite you into their group of close friends that they have been friends with since birth.

Due to this and the fact that my boyfriend is from Bogota, we spend most of our time with his family and close childhood friends. Luckily, I LOVE them and they treat me as if I were part of the group and family. But I can understand if I didn't have this and were to move to Bogota as a single expat, it would be much more difficult.

Santiago and I at a bullfight just outside of Bogota
Santiago and I at a bullfight just outside of Bogota
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Eat Colombian food! I recommend trying everything: arepas, chorizos, morcillas, soups (caldo, ajiaco, changua), chiguire (capybara - largest rodent on earth), calentado, fruits (so many that we don't have in the US), and the list goes on. I really love diving into a local place for lunch and eating whatever they are serving for the "meal of the day". What a treat to have a nice, whole-made meal for lunch everyday!

What do you enjoy most about living in Colombia?
I love the pace of life in Bogota. Life to me here feels more relaxed and intentional. After working in an investment bank for 2 years, I didn't know what lunch was, I didn't know what it was like to not have to respond to an email within 5 minutes, I didn't know what it was like to live outside of a job. While Colombians in Bogota are diligent workers for the most part, they keep a good balance of time for themselves in the day-to-day. They take 1-2.5 hours for lunch, to eat with their co-workers, their loved ones, their families. To connect and to live apart from their office life. People walk slower, listen to you, and have a more genuine way of interacting with you than Americans generally do. I am trying to learn the slowness and love of everyday life from Colombians.

How does the cost of living in Colombia compare to home?
With a strong dollar, living in Bogota right now is much cheaper than living in the US. Of course, it depends on where in the US you are living, but in general, it is much more affordable to live in Bogota.

Riding a horse in Villa de Leyva
Riding a horse in Villa de Leyva
What negatives, if any, are there to living in Colombia?
For me, just that I am farther away from my family and friends in the US. But that would be the case in living in any other foreign country.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to Colombia, what would it be?
You need to learn the language. You have to be able to communicate in Spanish. While Colombians are very nice, many of them don't speak any English, so it's crucial that you pick up as much Spanish as you can living here, to be able to be self-sufficient and communicate.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Learning the language. I moved to Bogota without speaking a word of Spanish, so I really pushed myself to try and learn quickly, so I could begin understanding and conversing with family and friends here.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
I don't think I will ever have a "home" in the traditional sense of the word. Home to me is a feeling, a comfort, an easy of living, which doesn't necessary have to do with a particular place in the world. For me, home could be here in Bogota, Nairobi (where I was living before Bogota), or other places I have lived throughout my life. Home is just a name where I can say I have found my peace of heart and mind.

Siblings visit to Bogota city center
Siblings visit to Bogota city center
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Learn the language. Really, this is key. It opens so many relationships and opportunities, as well as teaches you to appreciate culture and people on a different level.
  2. Eat the food. Well....I still keep my jar of peanut butter stowed away in the kitchen, but it's important to understand and appreciate how different cultures eat. Be open to trying new foods and sharing meals with locals.
  3. Meet and make local friends. This will really help you open up to a new culture and think about life much more than what you have experienced in your home country.
  4. Keep in touch with your friends and family in your home country. With skype, social media, blogs, ect, our world is becoming easier to communicate with loved ones, wherever you are. People always complain about how busy they are, as a reason for not keeping in touch, but no one is too busy for real friendships and family. There is nothing that should keep you so busy as to not connect with those you love.
  5. Keep a journal and write about your experience. Think, question, ponder, and grow in yourself. Writing has not just been a means for me to think about life internally, it has also provided me a way to share my feelings and experiences with those people I love, who may or may not be in the same country as me.
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
My blog is called "Understanding Intent" and it's about finding purpose and meaning in life. I started it when I first moved away from the US about 2 years ago, when I had moved to Nairobi, Kenya for a job. I wanted it as a means to share my thoughts about life in a new country and in a philosophical sense, ponder what life is really about.

Here it is:

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Feel free to contact me by email! I am more than happy to respond to any questions about living in Bogota, Nairobi, or in a different country. Here it is: [email protected]

Hope to hear from you!

About the author

Expat Blog ListingAllison Voss is an American expat living in Colombia. Blog description: I'm Allison, and I think about life and purpose. I'm a finance and consulting professional looking to make a meaningful impact on the world. Currently, I think and write about life in Colombia.
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