Expats young and old, old and new

Posted By on 15/08/2012

This is the first post in a series about one expat's experiences.

I moved from my home country, the United States, to Colombia in August 2010. I had traveled to other countries before that, but I had never lived abroad. I was a university graduate without a job in a terrible economy, and I had no reason not to go somewhere new. So I did. I became an expat.

Before 2010, the longest time I had spent in another country was two months, which I had spent in Peru in 2008. I had also visited several other Latin American countries on short trips, and I knew I wanted to spend a much longer time living in the region.

My decision to move abroad was made over several months. But my decision about where to go was impulsive. I had never been to Colombia, and I knew few people who had. One friend was living in Cali, Colombia, and two people I knew had friends living in Bogotá. Interested in learning more about Colombia and its capital, I found myself researching Bogotá online one night. Reading the city's Wikipedia page, I started imagining myself living there. Not too long after, I had bought my ticket. Less than a month later, I was living in South America.

Most of the expats I met early on in Bogotá fell into three distinct groups. One group was made up of the expats like me: Young people who had moved to Colombia with no plans or flimsy plans, who were studying or working or partying or all of the above, many of whom were teaching English, and all who were living cheaply, with no dependent relatives or reasons not to share apartments with strangers.

At the other extreme was the group of older expats who had come to Colombia with a job or a spouse or both. The expats worked high up in organizations or ran their own companies. They made a lot of money, and they lived accordingly. Many of them had kids, and all of them had reasons to stay in Colombia for a number of years.

In between was the group of expats who had begun to put down roots, but who were living creatively, not necessarily following a set career path or making a life with a family. These expats had specific goals they wanted to accomplish in Colombia over some years, whether they were trying to grow start-up businesses or do sustained social and community work. They were young and old, and their reasons for being in Colombia were diverse.

In my opinion, the third group—the group at neither extreme of age or lifestyle—was the most truly expatriated. Many of the older, more settled expats had spent several or many years in Colombia, but they had often ended up in the country by accident, whether the accident of company transfer or that of love. Nevertheless, when life circumstances changed, again by accident, they were ready to leave, back to their home countries or to new ones.

The group of young expats like me was also clearly not in Colombia permanently. Within a couple months of arriving, some of the expat friends I had made were already leaving the country. More of them left with more time. Not all returned to their home countries. (For example, one of my first roommates, a fellow American, met a man who became her boyfriend and then her husband. She now lives with him in Patagonia, Chile, where he is from.)

It was the people who had a reason independent of a company or family who struck me as the most rooted expats, the people who most knew what they were doing in Colombia and were most likely to stay the longest and experience the most.