David: Medellin Living
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- Karen: Flavors of Bogota
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Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Colombia, etc.
I'm a professional travel blogger from a suburb of New York City, though I also spent time growing up in New Jersey and northern Virginia.
I arrived in Colombia for the first time at the end of a 14-month trip around the world. I spent my first week in Bogotá and then flew to Medellín, where I immediately fell in love with the city. I used the full 6 months allowed on my tourist visa, and have been basing myself in Medellín ever since.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I knew if people around the world could have a glimpse of what I was experiencing on the ground in Medellín, their stereotypical views about the city would begin to change.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
We've published over 1,000 posts since 2009, many of which have been written by contributors.
A few of my personal favorite posts include:
- 2014 World Cup celebrations in Parque Lleras
- The benefits of using Uber
- El Cielo restaurant review
- Cost of Living in Medellín
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?
Yes, I certainly did experience culture shock in the beginning. It took me awhile to learn that paisas have a more relaxed pace of life and that punctuality is a victim of this attitude toward time. But, once you realize it's not personal, while it can still be frustrating, it's not as big a deal because you expect people will show up late.
Six years later, my life isn't all that different than what it might be like in the United States. I'm conversationally fluent in Spanish, so the language is less of a barrier than it was at first, and I've adopted many of the local customs, such as salsa dancing.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Colombia? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I wasn't fully prepared, in part, because I initially planned to stay for only a few weeks in Colombia as a whole, and only about five days in Medellín.
It wasn't as though I'd been plotting and planning for months or years to make the leap. I did that in respect to my trip around the world, but not my decision to live in Medellín. I wouldn't change a thing.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
I look back on my initial attempts to teach English in 2009 with a smile. I was totally clueless, but around the world, people always told me I was lucky to be a native English speaker as I could live and teach just about anywhere.
When I tried to test that theory in Medellín, I quickly discovered there's a lot more to teaching than just knowing how to speak the language. There's the theory behind teaching practices, grammar knowledge, ability to find students, setting up an efficient schedule to make the best use of your time, knowing how much to charge.
I made about $50 from my efforts, and called it quits. I knew I was better off focusing on making money from blogging, a skill I'd already developed, than trying to become a teacher.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Colombia?
- Try to ensure you're earning your income in dollars, euros or pounds as that'll ensure you have greater purchasing power in Colombia versus earning Pesos. This will afford you a higher standard of living. Many of my friends have their own businesses, whether it's travel blogging, online marketing, day trading, or trying to start their own company here.
- Second, I'd suggest having all your phone and laptop data regularly backed up to the cloud and covered by insurance in case you're the victim of a robbery or theft. I had two smartphones stolen from me in just 11 months (2010–2011). While there were things I could've done differently to make myself less of a target, it's impossible to be 100% risk-free. Ensuring your data is backed up and you're covered financially means there's little to no risk in losing things to thieves. Plan ahead, it's worth it. For property insurance, I recommend US-based Clements.com. For my phone I use Apple's iCloud service, and for my laptop I use Crashplan.
- Third, I'd suggest visiting Medellín before making the decision to live here. It's increasing in popularity for many good reasons, but what might be paradise for me, may not apply to you. Plus, during a short visit you can begin to know the different parts of the city, making it easier to decide where to live when you're ready to make the leap.
How is the expat community in Colombia? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
In 2009, my entire social circle revolved around friends, both foreign and Colombian, I met through Couchsurfing. It was incredibly easy to meet people through that community.
Since about 2011, and the increase in entrepreneurs moving to Medellín, it's only gotten easier. There are more and more networking opportunities. Medellín Living organized and hosted 17 events in 2014 alone. Plus, of course, groups like InterNations have set up camp and begun hosting events.
How would you summarize your expat life in Colombia in a single, catchy sentence?
Medellín has become my second home, and I still appreciate the weather, people, and culture as much today as I did when I first arrived in 2009.