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Expat Life: What's Expat Life REALLY Like?

Cynthia:  A big welcome to the many subscribers who have joined us in the past few weeks. We’re incredibly grateful that you are interested in the idea of living abroad.

Edd:  A question new followers often ask us is, “What is it really like to be an expat?”

C:  Or more bluntly, “What do you do all day?” We get it. If your experience with life outside your native country has been cruising or trips abroad for a week or two, it’s hard to put yourself in the picture.

E:  Just the thought of waking up each morning in a foreign country seems so exotic, doesn’t it? All the unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells. And that’s exactly the way it is in the beginning.

C:  Of course, the degree of this depends on how often you visited the place before actually settling there. And how well established the expat community is in your new home.

E:  In our case we’d made one 10-day scouting trip, and there weren’t a lot of foreigners living in Cuenca at the time. What an adventure. We showed up knowing nothing and no one!

C:  Oh, the stories we can tell about the “old days.” Thankfully, we preserved the memories by writing about our experiences which later became our trilogy of books.

E:  Those early months were a blur of stumbling and bumbling our way along. Some days the frustration almost brought us to tears. But mostly we had a blast meeting so many other expats who kept arriving, and figuring out how to make a go of living in Ecuador.

C:  A lot of people curious about becoming expats seem to forget that daily life goes on no matter what. After living abroad almost 14 years and traveling full time for 2½ of them, guess what? Just like everyone else, we shop for groceries, cook, and do laundry wherever we are.

E:  And after a while, all the newness isn’t so new any more, is it? There’s no “aha” moment when everything changes, but gradually your surroundings become more familiar to the point that you really don’t notice anymore. It’s now just your life, albeit in a really different place.

C:  Something else that has changed for us, and many other longtime expats we’ve talked to, is the overall level of activity. Granted, we’re older than when we first arrived, but in the beginning we thought nothing of scheduling multiple social events for the same day. And this often was the case several days per week. Thank goodness we survived! Now it’s an occasional lunch with friends and a rare evening out.

E:  It’s not because we have trouble seeing to drive at night, because we haven’t owned a car the whole time we’ve lived here. That’s another factor that determines what daily life is like though. Whereas most of our activities are within a 15-minute walk, the expats with vehicles have a much wider perimeter and think nothing of driving across town.

C:  A $2–$3 taxi ride to go most anywhere in the city is certainly affordable. We just enjoy our pedestrian lifestyle and don’t think about venturing miles away unless we’ve been invited to a friend’s home or there is something special happening we want to attend.

E:  We’ve definitely become more selective about how we spend our time. In 2010 we were told there were several hundred expats already here in Cuenca, but we rarely saw any of them. It seemed they had faded into the woodwork. Interestingly, I think the same thing has happened with us! I wonder if new arrivals still have big (and frequent) parties to get to know each other.

C:  I would guess not. There’s no need anymore. We had one Gringo Night a week at a downtown bar and restaurant until you started a second one. So many new expats would show up to connect and exchange information.

E:  Now we have a daily online bulletin board posting activities galore and the gamut of goods and services for sale. There are tons of restaurants and bars that gringos frequent and all kinds of special interest groups. Even community theater and English-speaking church services. It was exciting to help build this established expat community you mentioned earlier.

C:  Back to the original question. Hopefully, we’ve given a bit of an overview of the evolution of expat life, although we neglected to mention one important fact. The average “lifespan” for expats is about 4 years. After that amount of time, they’ve either folded the tent and moved on to try a different location, or have returned to where they came from.

E:  Returning home isn’t necessarily because things didn’t work out. We’ve said goodbye to many friends because of aging parents, family problems, and health issues. Let’s wrap up with what daily life looks like for Edd and Cynthia.

C:  Not exactly riveting subject matter. Except for my early yoga class that requires setting the alarm, we are normally up by 7:30. We eat a variation of the same healthy breakfast every day with lots of fresh fruit. On Sunday you cook a more traditional style brunch of some kind.

E:  Mornings are geared toward our fitness. Strength training and cardio at the gym three times a week, and yoga on the in-between days. Our biggest meal is often lunch. A nearby restaurant serves a substantial and delicious almuerzo (fixed menu lunch) which includes fresh juice, soup, and a small dessert. The main plate has a portion of protein, either rice or potatoes, and a side of vegetables or salad. We still marvel that all of this I’ve just described is only $3.50.

C:  In the afternoon we sometimes run errands and go to appointments. Also, we spend time writing, doing research, reading, or other activities that contribute to managing our website. After dinner we usually watch an hour or so of a show we’ve downloaded, then lights out by ten o’clock. Speaking of which, we’ve probably put our readers to sleep by now.

E:  Ha! The whole point of this conversation is, daily life abroad isn’t that much different. It’s just often in a way cooler place. 😉


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