Fighting indifference and fear on World Refugee Day

Today, June 20th is World Refugee Day. It’s a day to pause and recognize the courage and determination shown by the 65.6 million people who have been forced to flee their homes because of violence, war, or persecution.

But also, it’s a day to fight against indifference and fear.

In his statement today, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, acknowledged these unfortunately common sentiments, saying that political upheaval and violence near our borders makes us want to “shut our eyes or close our doors.”

It’s easy to turn off the news and ignore what’s happening to millions of people around the globe. Or “wash our hands” of responsibility because the problem seems too big. But let’s not do that today.

Grandi called on all of us to take a moment while remembering the millions who cannot return to their homes to ask ourselves how we can become more inclusive, welcoming, and aware.

We can overcome indifference and fear. In honor of World Refugee Day, here are three small ways to do it.

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Europe’s top expat city? Madrid!

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When you’re on vacation, not worrying about work and then having a bottle of wine for lunch, it’s easy to imagine how life in that particular place would be incredible. However, visiting a place and actually living there are two different things. Dinner at 9:30 pm is no big deal when you can sleep in, but not so much when you’re heading to the office at 8:00 the next morning.

All things considered, Madrid really is one of those cities that has it all. And it turns out, I’m not the only one to think so.

Each year the online expat community, Internations, surveys more than 14,000 people who are living and working outside their home countries. In the most recent study, Madrid was ranked the best European city for expat life.*

If you’ve been following NoLongerNative for a bit then you know I wasn’t exactly hounding Spain for a visa to live in their capital city. However, it slowly won me over and I couldn’t agree more with Madrid’s spot on the list.

Take a minute to check out the full survey results, then keep reading for a few things I’ve come to love about my new home.

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9 things Americans take for granted

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I never thought twice about piping hot water…until I had two years of warm-ish showers

The other day I was listening to a travel podcast where at the end of the show, listeners call in with their questions. On this particular episode, a guy on the line made a joke about a “law” in Europe against serving ice cold beverages. He was joking, but also cheekily bemoaning his lack of a Coke-induced brain freeze on his Spanish vacation.

Anyone who’s lived outside their home country or traveled a fair amount would probably scoff at his comment. But, it got me thinking. No matter which culture is yours, you can’t help assuming that “things” are done in a certain way. Normal is subjective so of course, it’s surprising to see life done differently.

As my wheels kept turning I realized there were a ton of things that weren’t a “given” when I moved abroad. Keep reading for a few.

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A few things to know before moving to Madrid

NoLongerNative is a kind of chronicle of expat life blunders. But I’m noticing that instead of learning from my mistakes, I usually go make them all over again. You know how it goes, once you get far enough away from those embarrassing stumbles you kind of forget it all.

That said, it shouldn’t surprise you to hear me say I arrived in Madrid with a suitcase full of assumptions and expectations carrying over from my first ‘life’ abroad, the two years I lived in Bogotá. I had a certain mental timeline of how quickly things should move. I thought that if something took two weeks in Colombia, it’ll probably be twice as fast here!

And so, settling in for the second go-around is coming with a new set of lessons.

I mentioned the first a couple of weeks ago, that I was surprised my Spanish vocabulary needed a tune-up. Even if you didn’t learn in Colombia, the Spanish you learned in high school is not the Spanish spoken in Spain. While it isn’t necessary to speak Spanish and visit Spain, some proficiency is necessary to visit government offices and do all the paperwork things that go along with being a foreigner.

Keep reading for a few more of the surprises I’ve had these past few weeks as I’ve been settling down in my new city.

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Flavors of Bogotá Coffee Shop Tour

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Karen Attman, journalist and creator of the Flavors of Bogota foodie website, has a new love: Colombian coffee. I shouldn’t say the fascination is new, per se, because she’s lived in Colombia for many years.

Nonetheless, it was Karen’s deep appreciation of Colombian beans and a curiosity as to what made them unique which resulted in the Flavors of Bogotá Coffee Shop Tour, an experience that should be added to the list of tourists and locals alike.

This past week my friend Tiffany and I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours with Karen and learning about Colombian coffee from the ground up. Over the course of the morning, we visited three different craft coffee houses in Bogotá’s chic restaurant district, trying a different variety of bean and method of brewing at each.

In between tastings—in addition to letting our caffeine buzz wear off slightly—we heard about the history of Colombian coffee, the specific conditions which make it the best in the world, and why craft houses like the ones we’re visiting are only just now becoming popular.

Keep reading for a few cool moments from the tour.

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How to party like a Colombian? Chiva!

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One needn’t go far to find a good time in Colombia, but there is one thing that has become synonymous with a party in this country: the chiva bus.

A couple of things every gringo should know about the chiva experience:

  1. Don’t wear nice shoes, because as you bump over and around the ubiquitous potholes that mark the roads of Bogotá, you’ll be sprinkled with more sloshing beer and spilled aguardiente than you’d like.
  2. You won’t think you’re drinking a lot, but you are. Even though the 100 tiny plastic cups of aguardiente passed around are only half full, they’ll quickly add up…
  3. I’m sorry if you’re tall. Chiva ceilings are about 5’7″, meaning that even if you’re lucky and don’t knock your noggin on one of the steel roof supports, you’ll still spend the night dancing with your neck at a comfortable forty-five-degree angle.

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A conversation about class

Social class isn’t exactly polite dinner conversation, but living in Colombia I’ve come to learn that your last name and address say more about you than just where you live.

In my first months in Bogotá, I didn’t notice it quite so much—the way the way the porteros (doormen) in a friend’s building would let her expat friends in with no problem, but the Colombian ones would wait while he called to ensure that they were, in fact, guests. Another friend told me that when applying for membership at a country club, they wanted to know all about their parents—what kind of work they do, their religion, and whether or not they are divorced. Startlingly, I only just realized that there’s a chain link fence, topped with a curlicue of razor wire, that separates the low-tuition school where I volunteer from the most prestigious school in the city, attended by children who’s parents are senators and diplomats.

As we were discussing the social order of Bogotá in a Saturday Spanish class, my professor told Cody and me that there is a reason foreigners may not see the sometimes subtle—but many times direct—borders in class that are still prevalent in Colombian society today. She explained that foreigners are kind of exempted from the rules because firstly, they’re assumed to have money (and by default are put in a higher group) and secondly because we simply don’t fit in firmly rooted rubric of Colombian social structure.

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Cultural lessons…from the gym

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If you’ve traveled at all—even from one part of the U.S. to another—you probably have a funny story about a cultural difference or misunderstanding.  Moving abroad is no different, though when facing a new language and reconstructing your life from scratch, it’s easy to brush aside the idea that you’ll soon be navigating through a mire of cultural differences as well.  Sure, there are books and blog posts about avoiding big blunders, but it’s impossible to prepare for the little day-to-day differences that will catch you off guard.

A few weeks ago I was in a spin class sprinting to an EDM version of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On when I found myself surprised by one of these strange—but common—moments. As we started a 90-second sprint, the instructor dismounted and began weaving through the bikes to check our RPMs and shout out general encouragement to the class. He stopped at my bike—where I was furiously pedaling—and asked my name. He then took my hand and said, “Danielita (little Danielle), my heart, you must return to my class, you work so hard!” Hmm, that was different. The thing that stopped me from running for the hills is that he continued through the ranks of spinners, talking to the other ladies in the same manner. Later that day I was thinking of all the funny little differences with which I’ve been confronted at the gym, and how they trickle over into other parts of everyday life.

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Expat advice: How living abroad has changed me

I can’t adequately describe the fear that was quietly winding around my feet during the couple of years before our move.  It was this strange new awareness of myself in relation to everyone around me—I was worried about pleasing others, about fitting in, and that there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t chomping at the bit to have children.  Well guess what everyone, moving to another country is like stepping into an empty auditorium…the outside chatter just disappears.  Not working and having an open forum such as this one has given me a special opportunity to get to know myself and stop being so preoccupied with what others think.

As I mentioned in last week’s post I just spent a couple of weeks in the U.S. and can’t deny that I was feeling a little reflective the whole time…seeing your high school hometown and life long friends will do that to a gal!  Ten months in, I am just now feeling like Bogotá is home; this past visit provided a fresh perspective to see how I’ve changed over these months.  In addition, Cody sent me this article, “Four Ways Living Abroad Changes You…Forever,” which has also been on my mind the past couple of weeks.  Although I think the author’s tone is a bit aggressive, I for the most part agree with his statements that living outside your native country changes you in fundamental ways: things that were important no longer hold the same value and that whether you intend it or not, your idea of yourself will evolve.  I can’t deny that I feel I’ve been changed by this experience—and I think for the better.  Below I’ve fleshed out some of the things that were lingering in the back of my mind during my visit…

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