The other day I had to go in to get my tourist visa renewed in Medellin. They had given me 90 days upon entry, which means I’ve spent 3 months this year in Medellin (already!). Combined with last year’s 3 months, that means I have lived here for 6 months in total over the course of 2011-2012.
Originally, I came to Colombia to experience a different culture and stay abroad for an extended period of time. It wasn’t something that I had a lot of preconceived ideas about. It was just something I knew I needed to do, and something I really wanted to do.
So, my initial experiences were largely around learning Spanish and trying to get my bearings in a foreign land. I wasn’t particularly fond of Bogotá as a city to settle down in, but I had read a lot of good reports about Medellin.
Nowadays, I consider Medellin to be at the top of my list of places I could see myself living for an indefinite period of time. Even at the time of this writing, I am considering the idea of making it my permanent or semi-permanent home.
There is just so much to like about this city, and still so much to explore in the rest of Colombia, that I feel I’d be happy staying here for a few years.
Here are some other realizations I have after these 6 months…
1. People in different parts of the world are different. And this might mean they are more agreeable to you.
Sometimes when I meander through the United States, I wonder why people I meet seem so cold, or seem so fake. (Maybe it’s because I meander among the wrong crowds…) But it’s been my experience that many people in the United States have a tough time being relaxed, honest, and real. And not psychotic.
I’m not sure why this is, but it’s my observation.
Living in a different country I’ve realized that people can be, and are, different. The paisas (people from Medellin) do not seem so cold nor so fake. They seem really friendly to me, and hospitable to foreigners. They seem tranquilo, more relaxed and real when you meet them.
Now, there are obviously exceptions to all of this. I have definitely had some Colombian flakes, and petty theft is more prevalent here than in the US, but there is still something about the people and culture in Medellin that makes everything seem more peaceful. More relaxed. Tranquilo.
I like this.
2. You may have newfound status if you’re a foreigner.
One benefit to being a foreigner is that it will often give you a bit of ‘exotic’ status among the locals. I can’t say that this has been totally absent during my time in Medellin.
People are more inclined to be curious about you and talk with you if you are a guy from the United States, all other things being equal. It seems like people want to practice their English, hear you speak, or hang out with you a lot more easily than if you were a local, all other things being equal.
Even going out at night, I’ve had many local guys tell me that the girls view ‘gringos’ as exotic and interesting. They give you the benefit of the doubt and are more interested in you from the start. Some of them even think the ridiculously sounding gringo Spanish accent– you know, the one with the rounded r’s– is attractive!
Thus, the paisa guys tell me, I have an ‘advantage.’
I mean, I would probably be the same way if in the US you introduced me to a Brazilian girl. I’d automatically view her as exotic, and therefore, as more interesting.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this status of being exotic. I definitely view it as a perk of travel. And now I am experiencing it.
3. Geographically-minded lifestyle costs are crucial.
As I wrote about last year, I can comfortably live in Medellin Colombia for around $1100-$1200 per month. You can even live on less than that if you prefer (or more, if that’s what you prefer!). Your costs depend on your lifestyle.
The reality of cost differential around the world went from being a theory to being an actual experience, and now I consider it a crucial part of my lifestyle considerations. Where you live can have a big influence on the kind of standard of living you can afford.
I also really enjoy living without a car, the simplicity of not owning a bunch of furniture, and the nights out not breaking the bank.
Now, I am not yet what I would consider to be financially prosperous, and I look forward to being able to really live wherever I choose… But it remains the case that, for anyone trying to build a business from their laptop or reduce their monthly expenses, you can achieve significant cost advantages by utilizing different parts of the world.
It is now a big consideration for me going forward.
4. Expats of a feather stick together.
When traveling to a foreign land, it’s almost like you have an instant community with anyone you meet who likely comes from different country. Some of the best times I’ve had in Medellin have been with a small crew of folks who are here from the UK or the US. It’s like fast-track camaraderie when you meet them.
Now, some of this camaraderie can be shallow, and the reality is that most of the people who are visiting from other countries fully intend to go back to their homelands. Thus, you wonder how many of these chaps you will stay in touch with…
But the fact remains that travelers seem to share the experience of being in a foreign land really well, and that puts you into a sort of community really quickly. You end up meeting cool people from all over the world.
And I’m not just talking about backpackers, either. I’m talking about successful businessmen, tech entrepreneurs, and penthouse owners…
5. The US has competition.
Now, to be a little rabble-rousing, my experience in Medellin has taught me that living in other places in the world can be more desirable than living in the US.
Yes, I said ‘more desirable than living in the US’– without qualification.
It’s different for everyone, but the fact that the world is becoming more connected means that people are increasingly having the ability to be mobile. And if countries are not attractive, then they will begin to lose residents (as well as businesses and investment).
Now, there are a lot of things that make a country attractive, and truth be told, it does come down to individual preference to some degree. But the reality remains that other parts of the world may be just as liveable and desirable as living in the Western countries.
There’s no law of the universe that says you have to stay in the exact local you were born in, nor the one you’ve been living in. There may be an adjustment period, but you may find life abroad to be more appealing to you.
I, for one, prefer to live in Medellin over many places in the US, just as anyone would prefer to live in certain neighborhoods or communities over other ones.
Those are some reflections I’ve had over these 6 months.