Hello, Danielle here! I was born and raised in Oregon in the U.S. but lived almost a decade in San Diego, California before moving abroad. In May, 2014 my husband accepted a two year work contract in Bogotá, Colombia and weve lived here ever ...
Hello, Danielle here! I was born in Portland, Oregon but spent 2005-2014 in San Diego, California. I moved to southern California when I was stationed there through the U.S. Navy, was married and went to college there, so it’s the place in the U.S. I most consider ‘home’.
When and how did you decide to move to Colombia? Is it complicated to settle down there?
The short answer is that I moved to Colombia in May of 2014 when my husband, Cody, received a two year assignment in Bogotá. But, like all stories, there’s a bit more to it. He and I had been talking about moving abroad for three years or so but had been too timid to leave our jobs behind. When his company began investing internationally, it seemed like a perfect opportunity and we knew we had to strike while the iron was hot! In November of 2013 he spoke with his boss to let them know that he was interested in helping develop the business internationally and would be open to talking about an assignment abroad.
In January 2014 we were sent on a visit to explore Bogotá and by April we were moving out of our San Diego home. We’ll be completing our two year assignment in June of this year, but still haven’t heard if the contract will be extended or if we’ll be headed to a new location.
I have zero complaints about settling in, because as a corporate move we received a lot of help! For instance, I’ve noticed that in Bogotá it helps to have an ‘in’ with a good realtor to find and negotiate the lease for an apartment. Also, when I arrived in the city I didn’t speak much Spanish, so the assistance with setting up our accounts and language classes was crucial. Now that I handle these things on my own, I wouldn’t say there are any logistics that are particularly difficult or different from my home culture, but it would be a daunting task if you didn’t have at least a conversational level of Spanish.
Have you ever lived abroad before? How many countries have you visited?
Moving to Bogotá was my first experience living abroad. Naively, I thought that because I’d traveled a bit (I’ve visited about 16 countries) that I was exempted from culture shock but, more about that later.
What do you like the most about Colombia?
There is a whole spectrum of things - from big to seemingly insignificant - that I love about life in Colombia. I love smaller things: 7oz coffees, buying a single cough drop, receiving only one or two napkins at a restaurant. Coming from the U.S., I’m used to a culture of ‘more is better’, but have come to see the waste that is associated with that type of thinking. There’s something beautiful about having less and using only what you need.
The culture is very open to foreigners here and family life is very important. This has meant that we’ve been welcomed into many people’s homes and that there is more of a work/life balance than compared to the U.S. (though that doesn’t mean my husband works less!).
Colombia is also an amazingly diverse country, rich in different types of plants, animals and ecosystems. Combined with eighteen national holidays a year, we have a lot of three day weekends to go exploring!
How is/was the cultural shock? What are the main differences with the USA, your home country?
Contrary to what I thought, culture shock is a gradual buildup of feelings and experiences, not some kind of immediate paralyzing fear. In fact, I think the term “culture shock” could use a makeover because it seems to imply something extreme and sudden. I read that even experienced travelers and previous expats experience culture shock to some degree. And unfortunately, no amount of reading, research or talking to other expats can truly prepare you for the emotions you’ll experience moving abroad.
As we went about settling in I kept thinking to myself, “see, this isn’t so hard” and then would move on the next task. But after a couple of months, there weren’t any more tasks to complete - everything that was new and exciting became normal and it was time to start living a regular life. After those first three months passed, I felt like I was looking into a void. Everything was perfect - we had a beautiful apartment in a cool neighborhood, we had favorite restaurants, people were inviting us to dinner - but nothing felt like home. It all became incredibly real and I had this sudden thought of “oh no, what did I get myself into?!” But of course, you eventually move past those feelings of isolation and begin to feel more normal.
Probably the biggest difference between culture here and the U.S. was the more laid back attitude towards plans and time. If I’ve been invited somewhere, I don’t usually consider it happening until I confirm the day of. Colombians themselves make fun of their tardiness, which I’ve gotten used to as well! On the other hand, once you’re accustomed to it, the relaxed vibe can be really nice.
Do you miss anything from your homeland?
On a day to day basis, no; that said, there are moments that come out of nowhere that are hard to deal with. For instance, last year Cody’s dad was admitted to the hospital for two weeks because of a serious illness and it was a hard to not be able to drop everything to be with him. And I also feel the need to say that it took me a bit to get to that point, because it takes a bit to find things to take the place of those you’re missing.
Any 'memories of an expat' you would like to share with us? Your best souvenir? Or maybe your worst experience?
I have absolutely loved all the travel and exploring we’ve been able to do within Colombia. Visiting the coffee region, hiking to the Lost City, even doing touristy things like the Graffiti Tour and spending a night on a party bus - all those new experiences are priceless.
I have to say that my favorite souvenir was one I received this past weekend, when I bought a bracelet from a Wiwa elder after hiking two days to the sacred ‘lost city’ of Teyuna.
What does your typical day as an expat in Colombia look like?
As a ‘trailing-spouse’ without a work visa, I don’t have a set routine - and that is not a complaint! Blogging and other writing projects take up at least one full day and the others are spent with different volunteer associations - I help at a library at a low-tuition school and am part of a social club which raises money for a group of charitable foundations here in Bogotá. And because our Boston Terrier made the journey to Bogotá with us, there is at least one walk in the park each day.
When did you start your blog? For what reasons?
NoLongerNative was started in December of 2014. Cody had been encouraging me to do something similar since we’d moved, but I was reluctant because I wasn’t sure I was up to the challenge of continuously creating content. In the end, I decided I’d give it a try and use it to document our adventures for our friends and family at home and as a forum for advice we wished we’d had before moving. In the end, I ended up loving it and appreciating the outlet for some of the struggles I was experiencing with culture shock and missing my former home.
Did you make new friends with your blog?
I wasn’t expecting it, but I’ve met a lot of wonderful people because of the blog—some only via email and others in person. I really like getting emails with questions about my experience, especially if it can ease someone’s worry or provide advice. Colombia also has a very supportive blogger association, which has introduced me to another great group of folks.
Why did you register on Expat.com and what do you think of the website?
I initially discovered expat.com when I was looking for advice on our move, and later registered to take advantage of the blog directory and get exposure for NoLongerNative. I love the forums (which I try to keep up with when I have an answer to one of the Colombia related questions!) and community of the site - it’s like Facebook for expats!
Which advice would you give to the other Expat.com members who would like to settle in Colombia?
The most important piece of advice I would give to anyone wanting to move to Colombia for the long term would be to take advantage of the forums and blogs on expat.com to do a bit of research about jobs, salaries, and the cost of living. Depending on where you’re coming from and which city you settle in, the cost of living could be very different as well as that salary on which you’ll be living. If you don’t have friends or family in Colombia, do your best to network through expat and professional organizations - word of mouth goes a long way here. And of course, anyone wanting to move to Colombia should have at the minimum a conversational level of Spanish.