The truth behind an expat’s social media.

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So you’re at work, tapping away at your keyboard and—taking a minute to let your mind wander—you innocently scroll through Instagram or FaceBook.

Ugh, again? There’s so-and-so, hiking some far-flung mountain, cheers-ing in front of a tropical sunset, or arms akimbo with some group of laughing weirdos. Cue rolling eyeballs and a silent promise to unfriend/unfollow/un-whatever at the next gratuitous display of glorious life-abroad fun.

Well, thank goodness you stumbled upon this article because there are so many myths to dispel when it comes to the ‘glamourous’ life we expats lead. You can make anything look good from the outside and when it comes down to it, expats are just as good as everyone else at curating a perfect life on social media.

Of course, white sand beaches look amazing from a cubicle, but let’s take a moment and pull back the curtain on a lifestyle that is so often idealized, to see that the grass isn’t always greener. Below are a few ideas at what’s happening behind the scenes of those perfectly cropped and captioned photos.

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Is expatting better than long-term travel?

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If you are related to us, a good friend or just happened to have dinner with Cody and I anywhere between 2008 and 2014, then you know it was a dream of ours to somehow live overseas.  As we talked through the ways to do this, it seemed like the best option would be to quit our jobs and travel for a year. When we stumbled into an international assignment it seemed like a great way to have the best of both worlds—the security of a job with the excitement of living overseas.

But in the moment, I wondered if we were settling for something short of our full-fledged dream. We were afraid to leave our jobs behind, so wasn’t what we were doing kind of a cop-out?

Now that we’re wrapping up our first assignment, I realize that long term travel and expat life are two completely different animals, each with their own set of benefits. Keep reading to see how I think we got the better end of the deal.

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Is expat life a shortcut to happiness?

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Does expat life really make you healthier, wealthier and happier? is the title of an article highlighting a study of 1,000 people, half of which have lived abroad and half of which haven’t. This particular study shows that those who’ve lived abroad were more satisfied with their lives than those who haven’t (albeit only slightly).

I agree in theory, but don’t think that living abroad is some kind of magic cure-all or ticket to enlightenment. Flip through some of the posts here and you’ll get a healthy serving of the downsides of expat life—loneliness, identity issues, struggling to find a new normal or to redefine your ideas of home. One way that expat life does point you in this direction, though, is by throwing a bucket of cold water on the cozy complacency that comes from living in the comfort of your native culture.

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Reverse culture shock is a thing.

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El Dorado was our spot for the last couple years we lived in San Diego and is always on the top of our list on trips back. Thankfully, it’s only changed a little bit.

I never expected to experience culture shock and I certainly didn’t anticipate the reverse. How could I have a hard time visiting the U.S.? That’s basically being a stranger in your own home. But it happens every time: I can’t decide what to eat because I’m overwhelmed with options, I can’t quite remember where things are, something I’ve built up in my head has changed or closed or wasn’t very good. Spend enough time outside your home country and a short return visit will feel foreign as well.

It’s particularly strange when I visit San Diego because that’s the place I considered my home. I have family and friends there, it’s where I got married and settled into ‘real life.’ Facing the ways your former home has changed can be daunting, and there’s always a sepia tone that creeps in somewhere (I’ve written before about the dangers of going back too soon).

I spent a week in southern California towards the end of February and decided to put into words the foggy feelings that come along with regularly moving between two worlds. Below are a few of the things I’ve come to expect when visiting my former home.

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Little ways I’ll always be Bogotana

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You know how they say that pets resemble their owners or couples who’ve been married for years start to look alike? Well, the same can be said when you live in a foreign country—it’s inevitable that you’ll pick up a few new mannerisms and cultural quirks from your newly adopted home. It’s been no different for me in Bogotá!

Keep reading for the little ways I’ll be taking Bogotá with me when we leave.

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Does tourism ruin everything? It doesn’t have to.

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Same country, disparate destinations—you couldn’t get two more different beaches if you tried (Top: Baru Island off the coast of Cartagena; Below: Palomino, Colombia)

It’s a strange thing to fall in love with a place—you want to tell everyone, but you’re also aware that popularity may be the harbinger of death for the thing you love. Because, it’s inevitable that the more visitors a place has, the more it will change to accommodate those visitors and chances are, the quirky, charming bits that attracted you in the first place will be among the first to go.

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The lies you tell yourself before moving abroad

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When I tell people I live abroad, I know exactly what’s coming: a whimsical look in their eyes, a sigh, and something along the lines of oh that must be so nice…

I can’t deny that—our time living in Colombia has been incredible. But, it’s been a lot of other things too. Most people form their romanticized ideas of life abroad from pop culture and movies, where after you’re run off the road riding your bicycle in Ubud, Javier Bardem stops to rescue you and you tumble into mad, passionate, ’til-death-do-us-part love.

I drank the living abroad kool-aid too, thinking life in Bogotá would be an endless loop of idyllic experiences: days full of museums, coffee in quiet cafes, roaming outdoor markets. Even disasters—and they were always mild—would end up as quirky stories of how I made new friends or had some authentic (what does that even mean?) experience. I had no problem imagining us happy in our new life but, like all good daydreams, I skipped over the kinks to get right to the good part.

Read on for some of the lies I told myself before moving abroad.

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Why no one needs Narcos

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Wagner Moura as Pablo Escobar in the new Netflix series, Narcos

A couple of months ago I was walking home and saw an ad for a new TV show at a bus stop: white powder formed an outline of South America, a breeze just beginning to scatter the dust. Narcosa new drama which chronicles drug kingpin Pablo Escobar’s violent rise and years in power, was now available on Netflix and apparently Colombia was a target audience.

I’ve made no secret of the misconceptions I had of Colombia before we moved to Bogotá—misconceptions that are still common because each time I tell someone from the U.S. that I live in Colombia, it isn’t long until a reference or question about the C word tumbles out. Generally, this is quickly followed by some expression of concern for my safety. Colombia has moved beyond its notoriety for drugs and violence. When will the rest of us?

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A perfect wedding in paradise.

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As we were asked us to turn off our phones, tuck them away and simply be present in the moment, I thought oh dang—I sat up a little straighter as the light bulb flicked on and it really sunk in that I was about to witness something serious…that was immediately followed by an equal measure of wonder and gratitude that we had been included in such a special occasion.

Perhaps we weren’t the only ones marveling at our inclusion, as technically we’d spent only a handful of days with the bride and groom since having met at a language school in Antigua, Guatemala early last year. Our paths crossed again as they traveled through Bogotá a few months later, and then again when we all happened to be in San Diego last August. That was when they asked us if we’d like to come to Bali for their wedding.

The amazing thing about travel is that when you’re untethered and drifting, you’re opened up to connecting with people in ways you’d never do when you’re at home, hurrying to work with your nose buried in your iPhone. Traveling is also a kind of personality litmus test because it’s impossible not to form impressions of people based on their travel style: what kind of places they stay, if they prefer to do things on their own as opposed to tours or if they plan or fly by the seat of their pants. Sometimes you meet people that you’ll hang out with because you’re going in the same direction for a bit, and sometimes you meet people that you just click with and wished lived in your town because you know you’d be great friends. Rich and Carly are the latter.

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Keeping friendships after you move abroad

Believe it or not, it was almost ten years ago that fear of missing out (FOMO)—that yucky feeling of general discontentment now plaguing first worlders of all ages—was the buzzword du jour. After a quick stop in San Diego a couple of weeks ago, I’d like to add another FOMO to the list: fear of moving on. I’m talking about friendships and more specifically, my friends moving on from me.

Friendship is strange, in the way that it’s the only relationship in our adult lives free of obligation (because you don’t have to be friends with someone) and that we move into and out of at will (ok marriages too, but there’s more paperwork). When a friendship is based on convenience or a similar life stage, you understand that when you move away that balance is shifted and you may no longer fit in each other’s lives. In the past, I’ve kind of celebrated this fact because it provides a natural petering off of friendships that were past their prime. But how do you stretch and change to carry your lifelong friendships through something major, like moving abroad?

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