An insider’s guide for long distance BFFs

long distance BFFs

When I was growing up my step-dad always told me that when I was all old and grey and looking back on my life, I’d be able to count my true friends on one hand. When I was younger I took this a quantity thing. Now that I’m older—and see he’s right—I realize that he was talking about quality. Many friendships have a natural ebb and flow. However, when the stars align and give you that person who practically shares your DNA, you hold on for dear life.

During my last visit to San Diego, I was talking with one of my two besties about how similar lifelong friendships are to a marriage. Like marriage, friendships require forgiveness and compassion. Like marriage, over time you learn both the beautiful and not-so-beautiful parts of someone’s heart. And like with any close relationship, distance makes things hard.

But just because you’re living on the other side of the globe as your BFF doesn’t mean you’ll lose that closeness. It takes more work, sure, but there’s also a special pride that comes from persevering against the difficulties of distance. Keep reading for a few ways to work around the struggles unique to expats and their long distance BFFs.

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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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How to party like a Colombian? Chiva!

chiva front

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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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: the 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. You don’t have to be friends with someone and can move into and out of them at will. Ok marriages are like this too, but there’s more paperwork.

When a friendship is based on convenience or a similar life stage, it’s understandable 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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Expat advice: Breaking out of the ‘bubble’

We received all kinds of suggestions from well-wishing friends as we prepared to leave San Diego. The advice that remains clearest in my memory—and in hindsight has proven the most valuable—was when our friend Kyle put her hand on my arm and said, make sure you break out of the expat bubble.  

Expat bubble?

At the time I took this to mean don’t make any American friends, which now makes me laugh at my naiveté and how I shunned native English speakers during our first months in Bogotá.

Once I realized I wasn’t ruining my experience by having friends from my home culture, I branched out. One night I was invited to dinner with a group of American women, all co-workers from the international school where they all worked and initially met.  Besides my friend, none of the women could speak Spanish.  I was astounded because they had all lived in Bogotá for almost two years!  Taking in the conversation from the evening, the idea of the ‘expat bubble’ finally sunk in. If you can’t (and aren’t trying to) speak the local language, if you frequent places where you don’t need to utter a word of Spanish or if you find yourself more often than not surrounded by people of a similar cultural background, you’re probably in an expat bubble.

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Five days, four friends and one World Wonder: Our trip to Machu Picchu

MP pano

The only thing that turns people into “photographers” faster than their own newborn babies is traveling…even more so if you’re visiting one of those must-see places like Machu Picchu.  A couple of short weeks ago we shouldered our bags and did this ourselves as we took a quick trip to Cusco and Aguas Calientes with our best friends.

Much like my post about our trip through Argentina and Uruguay this past Christmas, keep scrolling for a gratuitous display of what we did with a few tips thrown in by way of providing some text.

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Summer…otherwise known as the expat exodus 

Last night I went to a little farewell dinner for a gal to whom I’ve become quite attached.  When I met her and we clicked, I felt this ray of hope that I’d found a friend in Bogotá.  But then I found out she’d be moving in less than a year, which was just enough time for me to really get to know and like her!  For some reason I thought saying goodbye to our family and friends as we left San Diego would be it…but I’m getting the feeling that the expat life is one of continual goodbyes.

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A bit about hosting (or being!) an international guest

poem

My love for etiquette shouldn’t come as a surprise. Anyone who knows me knows that I love rules and lists. I mean, I basically got a master’s degree in systems of organization!

And though the word has all the allure of a sepia toned photograph featuring an unsmiling woman in a stiff collar, etiquette can provide a map to staying inside the lines of social interactions. Whether you are a guest or a traveler, being aware of your environment and trying to accommodate the other party will work wonders for your visit.

I have to say that the past few weeks we spent having visitors went exceptionally smoothly and we really enjoyed every moment. Unfortunately, though, that’s not always the case. International assignments can bring a whole different type of visit—most likely of the longer variety. And depending on the location of your assignment, you may find yourself with more visitors than you were expecting.

Below are a few thoughts to keep everyone happy.

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A weekend in Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park

first beach
One of the first coastal views as you begin hiking towards the Tayrona beaches

I’ve missed my blog the past two weeks and I’m sorry there wasn’t anything new to read!  We are in the midst of a much welcomed marathon of visitors and this past week we were lucky to host one of Cody’s best friends, David, and his girlfriend, Jessi.  **Just to note, my posts will continue to be sporadic over the next couple of weeks.  Please bear with me as I enjoy myself!**  They spent a lovely ten or so days with us and we started off the visit by exploring a place we hadn’t yet had a chance to visit, Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park.

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Friendly, happy, open – Things I love about Colombian culture

plaza simon bolivar

I recently read a blurb about a “Happiness Barometer” survey of over 55,000 people in 54 countries which revealed that Colombians were the happiest people in the world. In fact, the study says they’re about two times happier than the global average. We discussed this in Spanish class one day and my professor said that she had a hard time understanding why foreigners get frustrated so easily, because most Colombians keep in mind that there is always someone else who has it worse and that there’s always something to be grateful for.

Looking back on my experiences these past eight months, I realized that one of the things I’ve come to love most about our life in Bogotá is the principally happy, friendly, and caring nature of the people we meet.

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