Four years ago, September 12, 2013, I arrived in Colombia.
Check out Grupo Amos on Colombia’s first post. This anniversary post provides more and different detail on the last four years.
I haven’t been kidnapped or killed and no one’s stolen my liver. Recently arrived, just to gauge what kind of people I had fallen in with, I casually asked what a human liver sold for on the black market. Nobody knew. They only knew the prices for cow’s livers at the supermarket. In my four-year experience, Colombia is a safe, fun, and exciting place to live or visit.
What I’ve Learned
Relocating to Spain in 1997, my first living abroad experience, I arrived thinking I spoke Spanish. The language had been an academic staple throughout grade school and college. Plus, my study intensified prior to relocating. Notwithstanding, my favorite word the first months in Spain was huh (qué)? My first months in Colombia weren’t that bad. But I did have a lot of Spanish to unlearn.
All my school in the states taught the Latin American version. Living in Spain for almost five years forced me to unlearned that context. Now in Colombia, I needed to unlearn and reacquire yet again.
There are grammatical differences between Colombian Spanish and the Spanish spoken in Spain. Most prominent, in Spain they use the vosotros verb form, the plural of the second person familiar tu. Not in Colombia. Vosotros is a linguistic development that came about in Spain after their new world colonies had become independent. As such, it didn’t carry over to Latin America. I had spent a lot of time and energy learning to conjugate Spanish verbs in vosotros. I didn’t want to let it go. It was a prized ability. But persisting and insisting made adapting to Colombia more difficult. I finally abandoned vosotros twelve months after living in Colombia.
The biggest difference between Spanish in Spain and Colombia is vocabulary. I’ve had to learn a new set of words. Slang expressions are completely different too. It’s the same language, but very different.
Aside from the language, there’s the business environment, less formal in Colombia than in the United States, but also less flexible. Companies typically have one way of doing something. They give you blank stares if you suggest change.
What I’ve Learned About Myself
There are more intangible changes to how my life has changed over these four years. I’m healthier due to a better work-life balance. I’ve learned that I’m a freelancer. My mental and physical wellbeing suffer when conforming to the demands of an employer. While there’s stress in the uncertainty and inconsistency of freelancing, my system handles that much better. My natural rhythms and my creativity aren’t jeopardized. True, I didn’t have to leave the country for these lessons, but my ability to support myself as a freelancer directly correlate to my overhead, which is lower in Colombia. And the markets in which I freelance expanded with my international relocation. More importantly, when I don’t have clients to attend to, I have the luxury of being able to focus on personal projects instead of scrambling to find more paid work.
My life did take two big hits though. Moving to Colombia separated me from family and life-long friends. One thing I miss the most are the Sunday morning breakfasts with my older brother and whoever else showed. Even when living in Lancaster, PA, I’d drive the three hours for breakfast in New York, or we’d find a diner somewhere in the middle.
Then, once I had established a social network in Manizales, I decided to relocate to Medellin. Sure, I’m a sociable guy and make friends easily. But each move set me back to zero. That continual restarting takes a toll. Fortunately, the necessity to live in other places has evaporated. My new MO is to visit the world. My social and professional network in Medellin is established and growing. There’s no need to discard it yet again.
A Psychological Lesson
Four years ago, a best friend asked what I was running from. My answer was a cover up. She was right. I was running away. From myself. I’m dense and slow. Only after a couple of moves and a fair amount of therapy do I see that I really am wherever I go.
There’s more to learn and resolve, but incremental progress is progress nonetheless. And fortunately, Colombia has been a great external environment for battling inner demons.
Four Years and Counting
Overall, these past four years, I’d give my life a B+: room for improvement, but no need for a do-over. Wish me a happy anniversary and stick with me on the journey. There’s a lot more to tell … on Colombia