I've been an expat in a developing country for 8 months now. Here are my 9 takeaways in no particular order:
1) THIS AIN'T FOR THE FAINT OF HEART, BUT IT'S ONE HECK OF AN ADVENTURE.
At least in a developing country anyways. You go into an experience like this thinking you've got the grit, adventurous spirit, and strength to power through anything. And then you realize that a place like Colombia will gladly take away your dinner without a second thought. This isn't to say it's bad by any means. It's just a challenge that confronts your flaws daily, makes you grow as a person, and forces you to toughen up quickly. Any expat who portrays the experience differently either: 1. Lives somewhere relatively easy. 2. Is lying (you get a lot of bliss kids down here). 3. Is independently wealthy and spends their day at the spa. But I'm so lucky and fortunate to be able to do this, especially with Maria Ellis.
2) WATCHING PORTLAND FROM AFAR IS WACKY.
Don't get me wrong, I love the state of Oregon and I'm positive we'll end up back in the Rose City. I just think a healthy dose of self-awareness and honest reflection is always a good thing. And following Portland news/civic events (not directed at friends) from afar--in my current reality and environment--is seriously like watching some strange, fortunate-but-whiny flick that never ends. It's hard to watch from afar, because you know the intentions are good. It's just that the privilege and self-lovefest are all so strong that's hard to apply a different perspective. I get it...but still hard to watch and relate as you sit in a country where many people still only make $300/month. Which also starts to bring up questions about re-entry at some point.
3) TIME MOVES....DIFFERENTLY.
8 months feels like five years because of how many things change in life on a regular basis here, not to mention trying to get settled. And Colombian time is very, very different. Mind numbingly, no rhyme or reason, you find yourself ready to start yelling "mas rapido, mas rapido!" different.
4) THE U.S. IS LUCKY TO BE POST-MALL.
As someone who tries to avoid malls at all costs, it was crazy to come down here at first and hear that entire families were meeting at a mall food court for Sunday dinner. I found myself actually making snooty-ass comments about it (which is a whole separate conversation). When you first arrive, the U.S. is still home, so you forget that you've arrived in a developing country. And with that comes a proud growing middle class, excited to join the ranks of the rest of the developed world, with some disposable income to spend at places like malls. It's a metric for economic growth here and much of Latin America, even if it kills me and you want to scream from the rooftops: "no necesitas esto!"
5) I AM WORKING DOWN HERE.
A lot. Despite the many comments I've received about a sabbatical, year-long vacation, and a "blogging holiday," just to set the record straight, I AM working. And no, I'm not a travel blogger kid. As the marketing director for one of Medellin's largest gringo-founded startups, I direct a team of 7 awesome people from four different countries. The cross-cultural management challenge: all my silly American folkisms and idioms don't work. At all. So every time I walk through something, I need to think about what will make the most sense across 4 very distinct and different cultures. One of the coolest management experiences I've had in my career thus far, even if one hell of a challenge.
6) MOST EXPATS ARE EXTREMELY CREEPY.
And there aren't a ton of 30-something professionals who quit their jobs and move to Colombia. You either get the backpacker kids who don't know any better and impossible to have any type of serious conversation with that doesn't involve "yknow brah, like life is just so spiritual. no one needs anything in life brah. can you spare an empanada dude?" Or you get the creepy oldsters running from something or trying to feel young. Or what many locals joke about, "America's most or least wanted." So frankly, you get a bunch of people who think they can come down here and be awesome in a small pond, only to quickly realize that you can't run away from not having the tools to succeed at life. I'm so harsh because many of these same people are sex tourists or schemers. BUT there are equally amazing people down here--and the kindness and social grace of Colombians is amazing.
7) FOR BETTER OR WORSE, IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS.
Clairellyn Tollefsen told me this before I moved. But I didn't truly understand, until the 400th time I was saying something in Spanish that was exactly how everyone else was saying it, but no one could understand. Or how the lines at grocery stores don't work at all, or just craving an IPA or actually good beer. Worrying about having to leave the country because I was cleared for my visa literally four days before my tourist visa ran out hardly phased me. But having the 9th person cut in front of me in line has almost made me lose it numerous times. BUT then there are tiny little things that make every day down here awesome. Overcoming the language barrier in small ways. Kandice Kelso 's husband sending me Oregon IPAs. Being able to stream college football thanks to Nigel Anton. Little things, bad or good, make this the adventure that it is.
Learning how to manuver the "petty" or small things also slowly gets beaten into you (or out of you). If you were to spend any emotional energy on being pissed off about the elevator not working for the 4th day straight while living on the 8th floor, or another day of a cold shower, you'd absolutely go insane.
8. YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A RELATIONSHIP-BASED CULTURE (Colombia) vs. a transactional culture (U.S.) until you're in it. The speed of a line doesn't matter because people need to catch up and talk--besides, the others can wait. There's no hurry. They need to talk about the weather or kids. Which is amazing. But also maddening, because you can't just beat the need for American efficiency out of you. It doesn't go away. Let me also say, I love America's legal system. The tort system is a wonderful way to ensure accountability and liability, even if over the top in the US. You don't appreciate it until you live in a place void of any type of liability.
9) COLOMBIA IS ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL.