Having the freedom to choose to move to a new country as an expat is a privilege not everyone in this world can take advantage of.
This morning I joked with my Colombian host mother that if I don’t find a job and get a work visa soon, I’ll have to marry a local to stay in Colombia.
The irony being that I’m American. People from all over the world want to come to my home country in hopes of having a better life, yet here I am in Colombia, hoping I can get my papers so I don’t have to go back to the United States. Ironic indeed, especially since my father emigrated to the U.S. from Venezuela.
I have been in Colombia for a month and half, but it’s been about two weeks since I moved in with a family in the north part of Bogotá and started looking for a job. I’m currently dealing with the obstacles many foreigners in a new country face, such as language barriers, culture shock, homesickness and loneliness.
But while all those challenges are tough, I am definitely in a position of privilege because of my background and home country. I have luxuries afforded to me that make this transition a whole lot smoother.
Let’s just start with my access to technology. I arrived in Colombia with my iPhone and laptop. I only use my iPhone when I have a wifi connection because of expensive roaming fees. Even though I can’t use it wherever I go, my smartphone has been extremely useful in this new country.
I have an app that tells me what bus routes to take to job interviews. I use my phone to translate words I don’t understand. I use an app called Whatsapp to communicate with possible employers and I use the social media apps on my phone to stay connected to my family and friends in the U.S. And if all those benefits weren’t enough, I just bought a Colombian smartphone so I can do all those things previously mentioned without needing wifi.
Along with not having two smartphones at their disposal, many immigrants don’t have the support system in their home countries like I do. That’s most likely why they are moving to a new country in the first place. I am a college educated, semi-bilingual woman with a savings account and a supportive family. If things don’t work out here in Colombia, I will certainly be able to have a great life back in the U.S. People migrating from other countries don’t always have that assurance.
Before I left Florida, I asked my father how he felt about moving to the U.S., only to have his daughter head back to South America decades later. He told me the beauty of being able to raise his children in a country like the U.S., is that my brother and I now have the option to choose our own paths, even if that path leads us outside the U.S. Those paths are clear and illuminated, in part, because of our American citizenship.
This experience of trying to establish myself in Colombia has given me a greater respect for people who moved to another country with limited resources. I quit my job, gave away my possessions and uprooted my life simply because I wanted to, but so many people around the world have done the same exact thing because they had to.