Life here, there, anywhere

Posted By on 26/08/2012

This is the fourth post in a series about one expat's experiences. The previous posts can be found here, here, and here.

Over my first months as an expat, friends and family were naturally very curious to know how my life in a new country was going. In the beginning, I had only great reports.

I had an extended honeymoon period when I became an expat in Bogotá, Colombia. My life there started well, and very fast: In my first week, I found a place to live and began working. As I met people, I made friends quickly. After two months of freelance work, I had built up a nearly full schedule. I was also getting to know a new city in a new country, and finding lots to enjoy.

Every day was exciting. I constantly had challenges; I was constantly learning. I had reasons to keep my eyes open. I had fun.

A lot of my experience was, I think, universal. Much of the excitement I felt was because of everything new around me. That should be available to any expat anywhere in the world.

But I had good luck, too, which kept the good feelings going for a while. Professionally, socially, and in almost every way, my first six months as an expat were perfect. Good people and good work kept me occupied and happy.

With time, that faded. After about half a year in Colombia, I began to feel truly settled. I had fallen into routines, which were comforting, but not exciting. I had a few bad experiences—nothing terrible, but I was pickpocketed twice and had several maddening interactions with government officials. And my work and friends, like work and friends anywhere, at times drove me crazy.

I also got to know Bogotá, and Colombia, better. Especially through Colombian friends and colleagues, I learned about my new country in ways I hadn’t immediately, when I was on my own. I began to see Colombia, not only through my eyes, but also through theirs.

The end of my honeymoon period didn’t come because of anything terrible. It came because honeymoon periods necessarily come to an end. Life anywhere, with more and more time, resembles life everywhere. The amazing parts fade—and the terrible parts fade too. All the things that had excited me in my first weeks and months became normal in time.

Any expat lucky enough to start off well in a new country has, I’m sure, eventually experienced this. Being an expat means not being on vacation. The beginning may be as exciting as vacation, but expat life is life nonetheless, and life has a way of becoming normal in time, for ... (keep reading)


Moving blind

Posted By on 22/08/2012

This is the third post in a series about one expat's experiences. You should also read the first post and the second post in the series.

As I wrote the other day, I became an expat without a whole lot of advance planning. I had decided to leave my native United States and move to Latin America, but I moved to Bogotá, Colombia, only about a month after deciding to move.

In that month, I did research on my new home, and I took care of lots of practical and logistical considerations necessary for an international move. I saw doctors, got vaccinations, set up the right bank accounts, and said goodbye to friends and family who I wouldn’t see for a year or more. But I didn’t do very much to start my Colombian life before I arrived.

In many ways, I was going into the experience blind. I had never been to the country I was moving to, I knew no one there, and I spoke decent but not great Spanish. There was relatively little I could do before arriving. As I wrote in my last post, I figured I would work as a freelancer, so I wasn’t going to look for a full-time jobs. I also didn’t know much about the city I was moving to, so I had no idea how to find a place to live, especially not from abroad.

In the end, I moved with a three-day hotel reservation and nothing more. I hoped that, once on the ground, I would quickly figure out how to find the things I need to find (work, apartment, friends).

My hopes became reality as I got to know Bogotá. Using CouchSurfing’s Bogotá Classifieds group, I quickly found a room in an apartment, which I moved into in my first week there. The same day, I had an interview that led to my first job. Real friends came a little slower, but that’s to be expected.

Of course, many, if not most, expats go about the expatriation process oppositely. Many are relocated by work, with jobs being the reason for their moves. Many move with family, to be in a spouse’s home country or so their kids can have a new experience in a new part of the world. These expats have to do much more preparation than I did, since they are moving with other people, or at least with greater immediate challenges.

I’m not sure whether my experience can be instructive to that kind of expat. Many expats have no reason to do anything I did: If they already have a life set up before they go, and they have the money to afford a more elaborate move, it makes sense for them to invest much more time and money into the process than I did.

But I think that many expats could be... (keep reading)


Global language, global business

Posted By on 19/08/2012

This is the second post in a series about one expat's experiences. You should also read the first post in the series.

I arrived in Colombia without a job or a clear idea of what I would do professionally in the country. I had savings to last me a while in case I didn't find work, and I was inclined to work as a freelancer. I hoped that that type of work would be flexible and would mean I wouldn't need to find a full-time job to support myself. (Since I didn't have a work visa when I arrived, this was also a legal concern.) I assumed there would be enough demand for me to find some work as an English teacher.

I had no idea how much demand there would be for English teaching.

Within a week of arriving, I had been hired to teach part-time for a company that offered private English lessons. Less than a month after that, I was working more hours for another company and had begun meeting private students on my own. I continued to gain teaching work until my schedule was totally full: At my peak, between class time, commuting time, and preparation time, I was working upwards of 60 hours a week.

And I was hardly alone. All the expats I knew in Bogotá teaching English had similar professional success. There was simply enough demand to support all of us, easily.

This luxury probably doesn't exist worldwide, but, according to friends of mine living in other countries, there are many other places in the world where native English speakers, or even just fluent English speakers, can easily find work teaching the language. In fact, I had European friends who were second-language speakers who taught English. One morning on a bus, I started chatting with a Korean man who was teaching English because his skills in the language were good enough and because that kind of work was his best professional opportunity in Bogotá. (In Bogotá, there's also demand to learn other languages. I befriended German and French teachers, and I'm sure there were teachers of other languages too.)

As I suggested in my last post, the ability and inclination to look for freelance work is, among expats, mostly the property of the young. As a result, Bogotá is full of English teachers in their 20s. I suspect it's not the only city like that.

Whether it's Bogotá or Beijing, there are a lot of Americans, Canadians, British, Irish, and Australians who can support themselves easily as expats in new countries. All it takes is some preparation, some humility, and a load of confide... (keep reading)


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... (keep reading)


Top 10 cheapest movie tickets

Posted By on 09/08/2012

Last week we published a list of the 10 most expensive movie tickets in the world. We figured you’d also be interested in the flip side of that: the 10 cheapest movie tickets in the world.

Interestingly, the 10 cities where you can find those cheap tickets are in six different countries on three continents. But heading to India is probably a good choice if you’re looking for cheap movies—especially if your tastes are more Bollywood than Hollywood. Here’s the list:

10. Cluj-Napoca, Romania: $8.15
9. Delhi, India: $7.78
8. Bangalore, India: $7.62
7. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: $7.61
6. Mumbai, India: $7.45
5. San Salvador, El Salvador: $7.43
4. Pune, India: $7.16
3. Belgrade, Serbia: $6.76
2. Tehran, Iran: $6.23
1. Hyderabad, India: $4.95

While much of this list matches the bottom of the Cost-of-Living Index, the differences show that some cheap cities get there thanks to cheap entertainment and food, while others have cheap housing, and so on. If you’re curious to see a city’s full cost-of-living break-down, just search for it on the homepage or find it in the Cost-of-Living Index and click over to its individual page. There you’ll find exact prices for everything, from movie tickets to toilet paper to a car. Poke around and see what surprises you.