My Worst Nightmare: Only Child in an Exclusive Country
My only reoccurring thought the past 2 weeks is, “how come I can’t do that too?” As I sit on the bus, after a long day of trying, I longingly stare at a boy (maybe 15 years old) as he explores on his iPad. I have been told repeatedly not to have my smartphone out in public because it will uncover my gringo-ness and attract robbers. This country makes me feel so left out. I just want to belong and have the freedom to do what everyone else is doing. Or rather just live. I just want to be confident in my commute, able to browse my phone in public and maybe even enjoy the company of friends. After this brief brat attack, I calm down by telling myself this kid is with his mother and no robber would attack this cute family. Gringo or not. I’m not sure I’m convinced though…
How did I get here?
The master’s program I am in affords me the opportunity to be in the field working for the second year. During this year, the goal is not only to further my professional goals in a field I hope to create permanence in, but to also write my master’s paper on a relevant topic.
I went through all the ups and downs of practically searching for a new job. Sending out dozens of resume’s, going to all of the networking and informational meetings, stressing about the lack of responses. I finally narrowed my options to either doing intern work for a big name international NGO in Thailand, where I have some familiarity or having some real responsibility with a start-up in Colombia, a region I have never explored.
When it came down to it, I felt my skills would be much more appreciated in Colombia. The excitement of a new country was enticing enough. Plus, the gig was paid (a modest stipend, but still, paid). I immediately started bragging about my new adventure and started injecting urgency in all of my relationships. Only two months left, only one month left, only two weeks left…
With this live countdown happening, those surrounding me had a lot to say:
On safety: Don’t give them a reason
On Romance: The men will love you
On Medellin, Colombia: Everyone who goes to Medellin, never wants to leave!
All of this sounds great. I was ready for a change. Let me back up a little and give you more background on the last year of my life
Things have to fall apart to come together, right?
I moved to Boston last August still in my relationship of almost six years. Growing up together in those formative early twenties and living together for two years, we were forever… until we weren’t. We maturely parted ways about three months into my master’s program. Honestly, our lives had begun opposite tracks probably a year prior to that. I was trying with all of my energy to keep the grass from growing underneath me and he was practically throwing miracle grow on everything.
We still love each other very much and I consider him one of the most important people in my life. I am grateful to have experienced our love. Done.
My first semester of graduate school felt like hell. I was miserable, basically mourning the loss of my best friend because that was honestly how it felt at the time. Eventually I went through all the stages of grief and landed on my feet, with my claws out I might add. Friends aggressively encouraged me to try online dating and I did well for myself.
I am just a naturally social and loving person. I am obsessed with feeling those connections with people. I love being part of something. I hate feeling left out. That’s just who I am. I love hard and quick, but can easily disconnect when necessary because at the end of the day, I love me the most and my personal, professional and academic goals have never betrayed me. People do.
So here I am, finishing my first year of intense academic study emphasizing all of the quantitative skills I never had. Not really ever meshing with Boston, I am eager to get to my new adventure. This time I will be moving to a foreign country, as an adult with practically no support or transition structure like Fulbright gave me 5 years ago in Thailand.
I fall hard
The first ten weeks of summer are spent working full-time at a huge Foundation in Boston strengthening my donor and fundraising skills to prepare for my role in Colombia. In these ten weeks, I do not sleep. I am soaking up every moment I have with boys I am obsessed with, telling myself the only reason why we don’t have a future is because I’m leaving and if I wasn’t they would do anything to be with me. My friends entertain my Boston bucket list and I begin to feel a little sad I will be leaving this city and these people. My wanderlust is my reason and excuse for everything.
The friends I made this past year helped to remind me of who I was, of who I am. Ending a relationship as long and intense as mine, is difficult. We were practically married. We had to divide assets. He got the coffee table. I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t met Boston this year.
Given all of this: my break-up, Boston lovers, Boston friends and the warnings of Colombia, here I am, in Medellin. It’s week five of my arrival and I’m a bit disappointed. I’m not sure if it’s in myself or this place. I am trying to remind myself to be patient and to give myself time and to give people a chance. I think I have just forgotten how hard it is to move to a foreign country, alone, without the language. That’s what happens when the grass gets too long.
Prove me Wrong
Slowly, but surely, I am sorting through the words of wisdom people left me with before my departure. Most of the list above has yet to be proved true.
Medellin is not an easy place without Spanish or knowledge of how things work. I have one thing going for me: I am living with a friend’s mother and my friend has been here as my safety net the first two weeks.
My first huge lessons learned that do not align with the advice given to me:
Things are not cheap.
I’m not sure romance is in the cards for me here
Meals out are comparable prices to the U.S. $10 bucks here, $15 there. I will admit, it’s hard to find a super lavish and expensive $50 meal, but I’m sure it exists. The only way I am saving in this regard is that my living situation has at least one meal a day built in and I am beginning to bring lunch with me, which not many others seem to do.
Spanish lessons are pretty comparable in price to what I would be paying in the U.S. $15/hour and I am hoping to learn quickly to cut down on longevity of lessons.
Gym membership? The one closest to me, which is a chain and includes classes like spinning and rhumba is $75 a month. That is insane. I’m embarrassed to say, but I have signed up. Maybe since I don’t have any friends and don’t go out anymore, I can actually afford this. This could be my thing this year, to lose weight, but be alone.
Moving On Has A Steep Learning Curve
My social life is such a huge pillar in my happiness. Remember those last ten weeks where I didn’t sleep because I was hanging out with friends and going on dates and enjoying Boston? Well my body is definitely soaking up all the rest it needed to make up for those ten weeks.
The problem is, I am so uncomfortable with this loneliness. My motto is usually “I love being uncomfortable,” but can I at least be uncomfortable with my friends by my side? I know I am being dramatic, and things will get better, but coming to terms with the harsh realities of life in development is sometimes harsher than those realities.
The first hurdle is language, which I am trying to overcome by learning Spanish and believe me, once I learn I will force my American-ness on all of Medellin and force them to be my friends. The second hurdle is the exclusivity of social groups here. No one seems to venture out of their groups. People don’t go out to meet people, they go out to only talk with each other.
So different from what I’m used to. How do all of these other gringo’s I know meet their Latin lovers?! Do I just not look American enough to be intriguing for them? Being Asian American is proving to be an oddity internationally. You would think it’d be easier for me living in Asia, nope. Equally confusing.
So far, trying my luck in Latin America is also confusing because people don’t like to acknowledge that Americans are something other than white. I can also pass for Latina if just out and about alone.
I’m not hopeful about romance since men don’t seem to be that attractive here and definitely don’t fit the stereotype of suave, sweet talking, sex pots. They are far from it. I know I am being terribly critical, but it has been extremely difficult bridging the gap between my misconceptions and the realities of Colombia. And as we speak, I have begun another countdown. Two weeks until one of those boy I was obsessed with in Boston visits me here in Medellin.
I’m definitely not sold on the never wanting to leave concept…All I can think is when do I get to see my friends again? When will I see my next iced coffee? When will I kiss a boy again?
Time will shed more light on these topics and I won’t give up on the true set of Colombia’s characteristics. I just need to make my own list and stafrt recognizing its qualities instead of shortcomings.