Spanish lessons from a former Bogotana

common expressions used in spain

I arrived in Colombia with only a handful of Spanish phrases at my disposal. While I knew it would take me a long time to be able to speak and comprehend fluidly, I received some very good advice about where to focus my energy: learn how to speak like the locals.

But, a language is a living thing. Even among countries that speak the same language accents and dialects are wildly different. It’s like an American saying they’re wearing pants to a Brit. The British person probably gets their meaning, but they’ll also be holding in a chuckle. That said, after a few sideways looks in Madrid I realized I had some linguistic housecleaning to do.

Keep reading for the words I had to leave behind in Bogotá and what to swap in to sound more like Spain.

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Keeping an open heart

keeping an open heart

A couple of weeks ago I watched one of my friend’s daughters on a playground. She bent her knees to her chest and swung across the monkey bars like it was no big deal. It made me wonder when I stopped being able to move around like that.

When you’re little, your bones are still busy fusing together and your ligaments are elastic. But soon, when sedentary moments start to outweigh the active ones, things tighten and settle into place.

Can’t the same be said about our hearts? When we’re young everyone is a potential friend. It’s easy to marvel and fresh starts are effortless. But little by little, we stop flexing those muscles and settle into our established communities and routines and work. And just like that, our malleable hearts become calcified boxes.

Expat life is a crash course in keeping your heart muscles limber. Being outside of your comfort zone, pulling up your roots every couple of years, and popping in and out of multiple lives will make sure of that.

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Three reasons you need other expats

reasons you need other expats
Sometimes, you just need a friend with similar taste in footwear.

Last summer I wrote about how important it is to not get trapped inside the expat bubble. In our first months in Bogotá, I resisted getting too involved with other expats. I thought that making American friends meant I would not “experience” Colombia. Oh, the naiveté.

There is truth in that sentiment. You will short-change yourself if you spend all your time in Starbucks, never venturing past the main streets filled with familiar shops to try the mom-and-pop cafe. On the other hand, there are gaps that only someone on the “outside” can fill. Keep reading for three reasons every expat needs other expats.
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Four reasons to visit Europe in winter

They say the best time to visit Europe is May through September, which are the exact months we lived in Spain this year. In the past, we’ve always found ourselves on European vacations in those quiet weeks between Christmas and March, so I was thrilled at the chance to sightsee in gorgeous weather.

It’s hard to beat long days and the sunshine, but we quickly realized the best time to go somewhere also means the busiest. Everywhere we went, we were shoulder to shoulder with a million other tourists, waiting in lines and being charged premium prices.

If you’re not heading to a specifically summertime-only destination, consider bumping your itinerary to the off-season. Along with cheaper prices and smaller crowds, here are a few things that I think make winter the best bet for your European getaway.

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Three tips to get the most out of long term visits

how to deal with long term visitors

Given enough time, a feast or famine pattern will develop in an expat’s life.

For instance, while outside of the U.S. I dream about my favorite sushi restaurant. And without fail, as soon as I set foot on San Diego soil I promptly gorge myself on enough spicy tuna rolls and ahi poke to get at least a mild level of mercury poisoning. Maybe you can’t keep out of Target or miss your favorite TV show or love to drive on big, open highways where people use signals and respect lanes. Whatever it is, as soon as it’s available you try to soak up as much as possible.

With the holidays upon us, chances are you’ll be soaking up a lot of family moments too. But how is it that you long for your parents and siblings and Grannie Fran all year long, only to feel like you’re going crazy after two days? No matter how much you love someone, I think it’s pretty likely that if you spend a couple of weeks with them you’re bound to have at least a tickle of the grumps.

While out there combing through the copious articles, blogs, and advice about extended family visits, I found some very good suggestions about how to make sure you maximize your family ‘feasting’ this holiday season.

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Recommended Read: The Curated Closet

The Curated Closet
Your life isn’t static, and neither is your personal style.    —Anuschka Rees, The Curated Closet

Living in the shadow of a weight limit on your shipped goods gives you a natural aversion to accumulating, which is how I’ve found myself incorporating principles of the whole minimalist philosophy into my life.

The Curated Closet will help you apply the “less is more” idea to your wardrobe, but it also speaks to struggles unique to us trailing spouses.

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The perks of downsizing: Why I loved our micro-kitchen

perks of downsizing

Those of us from the U.S. have a certain culture when it comes to size. Growing up with a hundred cereal options and 64 oz. sodas and dually pickup trucks will basically ingrain a bigger is better mantra into your psyche.

I have no problem laughing off my obnoxious love of big American dryers and multiple bathrooms. But—and especially after living abroad—I can also acknowledge the perks of downsizing.

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When your own culture catches you off guard

reverse culture shock

When you face a cultural quirk in your adopted home it’s easy to chock it up to the fact that it’s a funny (or irritating or charming!) part of life abroad. However, it’s bewildering when those shocks are coming from things that used to be second nature. Robin Pascoe, writer and expert in all things expat, likens repatriation to wearing your contacts in the wrong eyes: everything looks almost right.

I’m no stranger to reverse culture shock. This blog has been an important place where I can talk about my changing ideas of home, of adopting aspects of a new culture or having a hard time going back to the U.S. 

But, like regular culture shock, no matter how easily you move between worlds you still experience it to some degree. I’ve learned to stop expecting things to be the same when I return to San Diego. The thing that always gets me though are the unexpected ways I’ve changed.

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