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Danielle: No Longer Native

In our InterNations Recommended Blog section we let you take the spotlight! Expat life in general is, of course, a perfect breeding ground for great, user-generated reads, and life in Colombia makes no exception. Take your time and browse the great blogs showcased in this article!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Colombia, etc.

Hello, Danielle here! I was born and raised in Oregon in the U.S. but lived almost a decade in San Diego, California before moving abroad. In May, 2014 my husband accepted a two year work contract in Bogotá, Colombia and we’ve lived here ever since.

When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?

I was initially pretty reluctant to start a blog because there are so many travel/expat blogs out there and I wasn’t sure how ours would be different. However, as I began reading blogs from those in Colombia I realized there wasn’t a lot from the point of view of a “trailing spouse”, which is the name given to the partner who accompanies the half with the work contract.

In addition to providing my perspective as an accompanying partner, I liked the idea of capturing our initial experiences, travels and everyday life. That said, NoLongerNative is more focused on expat life in general with sprinkles of posts about life and activities in Colombia, with the intention that the blog will morph and accompany me on multiple assignments.

Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?

Blogging has been a fantastic venue for introspection and getting to know myself in a different way, so I have to say that the post titled “An Expat’s Version of Home” has to be my favorite. I grew up moving a lot and when I was young, I was pretty vocal to my mom about how I wished I grew up all in one place like many of my friends. I didn’t realize it until I was putting my experience into words, but I’m now quite thankful for the way I grew up! Moving to a new place every couple of years made me into a person who can adapt easily to all kinds of situations and prepared me for the life that I’m now living. I’d never told my mom about those feelings, so it was a nice moment when she called me to say how she much she appreciated reading my new perspective.

Tell us about the ways your new life in Colombia differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?

Life in Colombia is at once surprisingly similar and drastically different. On the one hand, I’m still living a regular life where I have to walk the dog and make dinner each night. However, not working a normal job was an incredibly difficult transition to make — culture in the U.S. is very much focused on work and — for good and ill — many people’s identity comes through their jobs.

Even though I didn’t think it would happen to me, I definitely experienced culture shock. Once I had finished unpacking and there were no more settling-in type tasks to do, my new life became incredibly real and I had a sudden thought of oh no, what did I get myself into?! Funnily enough, I stumbled upon the series of articles about culture shock on InterNations’ website. Once I was reassured that my experience was normal, I knew that all I had to do was keep moving forward and things would sort themselves out.

Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Colombia? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?

On a personal level, I knew my life would be different in Bogotá but I don’t think I was prepared for how my identity would change or at how difficult it would be to learn Spanish. I don’t think you can truly prepare yourself for that experience if you’ve never before lived abroad or made a huge life change like this one. However, I will say that I did a good job in having a plan as to what I would do once we arrived here — immediately starting language classes and having contacts for volunteer work in my career field really helped me feel that I had a purpose and something meaningful to do.

Being faced with the amount of need that exists in Bogotá was also something I wasn’t prepared for and I don’t think is discussed very much. Colombia has the second highest number of landline victims in the world and the second highest number of internal refugees, which has left hundreds of thousands of people struggling to make ends meet or even just to eat every day. All that said, there are a lot of organizations which are trying to help people better their lives, which is why volunteering is a great opportunity for people living in this city who are not able to hold a work visa.

Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?

People in Bogotá are terrified of the cold — relative to other parts of the country the temperature here is chilly, but compared to winter in the U.S. it’s nothing to write home about. Every time I go for a jog in a tank top or wear sandals on a sunny day people stare at me like I have three heads — sometimes people even shout to put on a sweater!

Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Colombia?

  • Learn Spanish. I’ve said in my blog that it is possible to live in Bogotá if you don’t speak much of the language — but going out to eat or shopping in the wealthier neighborhoods will get pretty boring! Cab drivers, people in government offices, etc. most likely will not speak English, so you’re in for a frustrating experience if you don’t at least learn the basics.
  • I have found that if you truly want to enjoy your new life and settle into your new home, you need to stop comparing your new life to your old one. In Bogotá the traffic is terrible, people cut in lines and there is tons of bureaucracy… it would have driven me crazy if I was constantly saying to myself how “orderly” the U.S. is. Once I left my idea of “normal” behind, I was much less frustrated with everyday experiences.
  • Speaking strictly to the other “trailing spouses” reading: have a plan for yourself. If you’re leaving behind a thriving career, you’ll need something to occupy your time and give you a purpose. Have contacts to work remotely, ideas about volunteer work, plans to write that novel, whatever… just have something in place before you arrive.

How is the expat community in Colombia? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?

There is a large and very welcoming community of expats in Bogotá as well as a big population of Colombians who have lived all over the world and returned to their home country and are also kind of “settling in” again. It’s not at all difficult to find that community if you’re looking for it.

How would you summarize your expat life in Colombia in a single, catchy sentence?

Don’t try to change Colombia, let it change you! 

Pablo Garcia Ramirez

"I was so lucky that a friend told me about InterNations before I came to Bogota. I had the chance to contact many expats there from home."

Michelle Guillemont

"I was a little bit afraid before moving to Colombia - a new language, security issues, no friends. InterNations helped me settle in, though. "

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