Staying and Leaving

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Last night I was trying to make my blog a little more user-friendly – I know I need to do this pretty badly – and I was reading through some of my old posts from when I was living somewhat unhappily in Bogotá. This post was written right before I met my ex, in a moment of restlessness when I was deliberating returning to the U.S. I hadn’t found the permanent peace of mind I was hoping to find by living abroad and I remember feeling like I was standing still, that I was frustratingly stagnant as life passed me by so casually and unapologetically. I didn’t leave then – I ended up staying another year and a half. I sometimes wonder how my life would have been different – how I would have been different – if I had come home in March 2010 instead of October 2011. I know it’s impossible to know and pointless to wonder – and things turned out just fine (eventually) but it’s funny how our lives can be so profoundly affected by the choices we make. My choice to stay in Colombia an extra year and a half was so wobbly and flippant, and I’ll admit I sometimes wish I could tell the 25-year-old girl in this post go back, go back go back! Happiness is not a country or a place or even permanent – but I suppose I wouldn’t be who I am today – for better or worse – if I had come back then. At the time, I didn’t have the attitude or mindset to be able to be fully content in Colombia (or anywhere, really).

I wanted so badly to love Colombia, to feel like I belonged there and to know there was finally a place that felt like home. Because I honestly believed you were supposed to look for happiness in places, that you carved it out in some specific geographical location and if you found the perfect spot it stayed with you forever. That’s why I traveled and moved around so much during my early to mid-twenties…I was on an unofficial quest to find happiness. At the time I wrote this post, it was slowly dawning on me that Colombia might not be that place – in fact, no place was that place – and that my whole theory on happiness was hopelessly, pathetically flawed. I know now that happiness in a very general sense is the ability to be happy just about anywhere. But back then, I wanted to bend Colombia to my will; I wanted to understand Colombia through an American perspective and I was unwilling to negotiate or compromise. If I had been more flexible and more open-minded I probably would have enjoyed my time in Bogotá more. But the past is the one component of time that you can’t change or influence.

Old Blog:

Last night I was doing a little Facebook stalking and started getting a little depressed. As it is with Facebook photos, my Facebook friends (some actual friends, most people I know and am nosy about) were posing in all sorts of happy-looking photos: On vacation with friends, partying in D.C., drinking cocktails on a nighttime Alexandria cruise, celebrating birthdays, white water rafting, getting engaged, getting married, having babies, buying houses – always these smiling, dynamic nano-second stills of life moving forward. It made me feel like my life is somewhat on stand-by, that everyone is making strides toward something and I’m missing out. I think to move forward I need to make a decision: Am I here for a year? Two years? Forever? At any rate, I’ve decided against late night Facebook stalking…

I used to feel I was moving forward here. I used to feel passionate about Colombia. I don’t have that feeling anymore. Maybe I’ve been here so many times that it’s all more familiar now. Even in the most passionate of romances, love fades. Or maybe living abroad for the better part of three years has made me realize how much I enjoy being American. How free being from the U.S. is, at least to me. In fact, I am realizing lately how very American my mindset is, and how I’m trying to impose my U.S. mentality on my life in Colombia. This isn’t particularly right either.

Sometimes I think there are aspects of my personality that are irreconcilably incompatible with Colombia. I have never been a particularly delicate or diplomatic person and have always just kind of been myself (sometimes difficult, distant, rough, short) without apology, not caring too much how much or how little people liked me. I always had a nagging feeling that this was something I should work to improve, but I had enough friends to feel like I couldn’t be that bad of person, and got away with a lot just by being myself. I enjoy being alone (though not in hermit-like proportions) and need a lot of space to feel comfortable. I don’t particularly enjoy unsolicited advice (though I tend to give it), and I like to do what I feel like doing. Here, it seems like someone eating lunch by themselves is pity-worthy. And forget about going to a bar alone. As for advice, it’s everywhere.

It’s harder to be myself here. I don’t know if this is specific to me or a more general thing. I love my Colombian family and am thankful for them – I’d probably be back in the U.S right now without them – but sometimes I envy other expats because they do what they want without the fear or dread of reproach or judgment. They hang out with and date whoever they want, party wherever they want and live wherever they want and there is no one asking them what so and so’s last name is or asking them what the hell were they thinking going to this place or that place. They experience Colombia from a completely foreign perspective and I experience it from a sort of undefined middle area, where I’m not really Colombian but not entirely foreign either. I’m not completely excused from social norms, so I always feel a certain degree of pressure. If I go out with a guy, it’s always, what’s his last name, where is he from, what did he study, what company does he work for, what neighborhood does he live in? And when I answer that I don’t know on any count, I’m informed that I still don’t get it, that I just don’t understand How Things Are Here. But because I’m not from here, I just can’t bring myself to care what someone’s last name is or what part of the city they live in.

I grew up in a place where 85% of people were middle class and the small remaining percentage was divided between super rich and quasi-lower middle class. I don’t have experience with massive class/social/economic differences. So basically, I can’t make sense of this social/class system. I try to wrap my mind around it, dissect it, analyze it, come to some kind of understanding of it, but I just haven’t been able to figure it out. In the U.S., if an investment banker married a public school teacher it’s not that big of a deal. Not the case here. And I can’t help wondering if maybe I’m just really not made for this.

But then again, there are so many things I love here that I know I could never get in the United States. I suppose every country has positive and negative qualities and I just need to figure out what qualities I can live with. A slightly more honest post than I usually write.



Categories: Bogota, Colombia, Colombian culture, Serious Stuff

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

11 replies

  1. Maybe I didn’t arrive at the right point in time but I can’t be sure whether you’re resigned to being “a Colombian” or planning an imminent return to the US? If not, why not, because I surely don’t have a sense that you’re happily settled, new blog name or no. 🙂

  2. I can relate So much to you. I left the U.S. last September not in search, but knowing, that there is so much more in the world to see, experience, and grow from. I left my little town in California, and with only enough money to travel for two months, remained so inspired to stay abroad through working side jobs, couchsurfing, and living a simple, nomadic life!

    It’s so easy to question yourself in these moments though right, seeing your peers starting their careers etc… I have moments that I wake up and ask myself “what am I still doing here?” and “what is really here for me?” But I have learned to just trust in myself that while it may not be easy, I know myself enough by now, to know that it is worth it, some how!

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this!

    • Hi Sarah, thanks for your comment!

      I think that it depends a lot on why you are traveling/living abroad. It sounds like you are doing it for the right reasons. I’d move around because I’d start feeling restless and bored and I’d always blame the place, thinking that if only I were somewhere else I’d be happy. But of course, it doesn’t really work out that way! Changing your surroundings brings on short, intense bursts of exhilaration, but for me, the joy would slowly level out as everything became more familiar.

      I don’t like to hold on to too many regrets, but I do regret a little bit that I didn’t embrace the culture in panama and Colombia more, because I think I would have enjoyed my time there a lot more if I hadn’t been constantly comparing it to the U.S.

      I think living abroad can be wonderful and well worth the sacrifices but for me, I think I used it more as an escape.

  3. I think you are absolutely right that you should be able to be happy anywhere. I think the environment you live in affects you in some ways, like living in a warm, sunny place with nature around must be really nice, but I think true happiness is based on things that are a little deeper than that.

    I know a guy from my university who started an organization called “the happiness post” which is based on the question of “what is happiness?” and asks people to write what makes them happy on a yellow post-it note to be stuck on a wall in a public place. It is interesting how everyone writes such different things, but there are many common themes… “being healthy and loved”, “family, friends, sunshine,” “salsa and dancing”, “laughing as loud as possible,” “ending up somewhere unexpected,”… etc. I think happiness is more of a mindset in which you are aware of the little treasures of life and take the time to appreciate them. I also think it is about finding balance between work, relationship, family, friends, hobbies, taking care of myself, etc.

    https://www.facebook.com/HappyPost?hc_location=stream

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