Excerpts from expat life in Colombia
Welcome to Marta Guarneri, a very well-travelled Italian expat currently living in Colombia. She is a global business nomad and has a refreshing, positive and practical outlook on expat life which she now shares with ExpatChild and you.
Where do you currently live and how did you come to be there?
We live in Bogota, Colombia. My husband’s company offered a relocation here about 3 years ago. I wasn’t thrilled at first, but Bogota proved to be a very lively city, with a distinct cultural life, Colombian people are extremely friendly, there are excellent schools, lush residential areas and a big expat community. The downside is the awful traffic. It will be very hard to say goodbye in June when we’ll be moving again. Very excited about it anyway…
What does ‘home’ mean to you?
We tend to settle easily, so it takes us usually about 3 or 4 months to start feeling ‘at home’ in the new location; so home it’s where we are together, comfortable in the new routine, enjoying our activities, a place to be happy to be back to after school and work.
Nonetheless, it always feel very special for me going back to my childhood home in northern Italy, where my parents live. The familiarity of the surroundings, tastes and smells, old friends, my favorite shopping places, and the pleasure of cycling around, make it the best place to return to.
Do you have a few words of advice on coping with the first six months of a move?
I love the challenge and excitement that each move involves, but there is no point in sugar coating it: the first few months in the new location are always the toughest.
I don’t believe much in the so called ‘honeymoon period’ depicted in the famous U-curve of ‘culture shock‘. For me it’s more a J shape. The first months are made of hard work, sometimes loneliness, even frustration and nostalgia for what we have left behind. I always make sure to focus on the reasons that supported our move, the advantages that the move entails, the short and long term benefits, career and academic-wise.
Our kids are our priority, so the first step is to have them happy in the best school possible and have their favorite sport and activities organized, with the relative logistics. Having them settled gives me peace of mind. Setting up the house, for me, means getting rid of all the cardboard boxes as soon as possible, leaving the details for later, there’s no need to be overly precise here, as long as it’s functional.
[x_pullquote type=”left”]I believe it is crucial to find support, and not being afraid to ask for help if we need to.[/x_pullquote]I believe it is crucial to find support, and not being afraid to ask for help if we need to. It surely makes a difference to have help in the house, if possible (e.g. trustful nanny, maid), as well as finding the time, every day, to do something that makes us happy (sport for me does the trick, as well as a phone call to my mom, to relate all the ups and downs of the day).
I strongly believe in building ties and good memories from the beginning, so going out and explore the new location is very important for me. Meeting peers and locals is certainly the key to start creating a familiar environment, for support and socialization; getting involved with local activities is always a good strategy. I usually enrol in a club or a gym; the kids’ schools often offer multiple opportunities to meet people and to join a committee or group. Cultural visits with local guides and local history classes are a great way to understand and appreciate the host country and it’s peculiarities, and even understand those aspects that might strike as odd and annoying to a foreigner’s eye.
In many locations there are international associations and groups that are eager to welcome new members: these are a very good option to share experiences, receive useful tips on local life and, why not, occasionally vent if you need to… Sometimes consulates offer lists of associations of fellow citizens, it’s definitely worth checking.
[x_pullquote type=”right”]A positive outlook sensibly shortens the adjustment period.[/x_pullquote]Obviously, personal attitude plays a huge part in the adaptation process to a new place, and a positive outlook sensibly shortens the adjustment period. It has really worked well for me, so far, being part of a charity committee: giving to others has a soothing effect, and getting to know difficult realities helps putting into perspective your own struggles.
And last but not least, self-reflection at the end of the day is a good habit for me: reflecting on what I have done, and be grateful for what I have accomplished, gives me the strength and self-confidence for planning the days ahead.
Is there something that you wish you’d known before moving?
[x_pullquote type=”left”]Gather information on as many aspects as possible on your new destination, from climate to specific local regulations.[/x_pullquote]I reckon it’s important to do your pre-departure homework: gather information on as many aspects as possible on your new destination, from climate to specific local regulations, and, if possible, to get in touch with someone that is currently living or has recently lived there: expats love to network and it’s very probable that a friend of a friend can provide you with a number or email of someone willing share useful insights. Not to mention the many online expat forums that are a great source of tips.
Also, and probably most important of all, it is essential to have a clear picture of what your organization (f your move is being sponsored by one) is offering you in terms of support, what to expect from it, what are the terms and conditions of your relocation, in order to take maximum advantage of it from the very start, not relying on false hopes, risking disappointment and frustration.
Your best moment to date?
This is a tough one. During my nearly 20 years of traveling, 16 as a family, we have put together so many memories and unforgettable moments.
I would say that our last holiday in the Galápagos Islands is certainly a highlight. We did it as a farewell to Latin America. Galápagos offer such a fantastic natural environment, so dense and unique; we made the most out of it, diving, hiking and enjoying it all.
Also, I am already savoring another moment that will be memorable for sure: by the end of August I will submit the dissertation for my master degree. It’s been more than two years of committed study, loving it but sometimes struggling to find the time to complete assignments and papers right on their deadline. I can’t wait to be in London for the graduation ceremony. Keeping my fingers crossed that all will go as planned.
I started my life as a “global business nomad” in 1997, when I left Italy, just after graduating from university, to join a multinational company in Venezuela. After that first move, another job offer took me to the USA; then love took me back to Venezuela, first Maracaibo then Caracas where my fiancé and I got married. A couple of years later our first son was born and soon after we moved together to Australia, Perth where we had our second son, then Adelaide.
For a twist of faith, another assignment took us to Milan, my beloved city of origin, where we had our third son. Afterwards we settled in Spain, and three years ago we moved to Bogota, Colombia.
We are about to move back to Europe, very grateful for these last three years, full of experiences, stunning beaches, great food and amazing friends.
Expat life, as we live it, is certainly not easy at times, but never boring and certainly very rewarding from many viewpoints. It is definitely worth the effort and I hope we could keep it up as long as all of us, as a family and a team, are enjoying it.
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