Expat Advice: Dream vs. Reality of Expat Life in Cuenca, Ecuador
What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?
Describe how you "dreamed" expat life would be before you moved overseas. Please provide as much detail as possible.
I was focused on things like how life would be less complex, such as how food would be locally grown and available without traveling 2,000 miles. I anticipated a culture in which family and religion were center stage and people were less worrisome, less overwhelmed by the pace of life and still interested in tradition and its role in culture, not as multiculturalists but as active participants, as people actually at that place in their development.
How has your expat experience met the expectations you dreamed about before you moved abroad?
There are many good things about living here.
In general, the pace of life is delightful, people are friendly and the climate is agreeable. I relax so much more and after 6 months or so, I could viscerally feel the stress leaving my body. We live a very good life for about 1/3 the cost of what life was costing us in Washington State. The cost of living will depend on how you chose to live. There are no set rules. If you want to live large, you can spend as much as you want. There is a burgeoning middle class. The city is constantly involved in infrastructure improvements. Very impressive. New and refurbished parks, paths, roads. The current mayor and his administration are progressive and have a lot to be proud of with their achievements. Returning Cuencanos dumped almost $750 million into the local economy in 2010 alone, probably more in 2011 as more and more repatriate fleeing the sputtering economies of Spain and the U.S.. There are many ways to be involved. I am taking courses in Italian at the University. There in an active and increasingly organized expat community. It is easy to meet people and the variety of different venues, classes, groups is increasing on a weekly basis.
You are literally a half hour from the town center to Cajas National Park with its extraordinary beauty.
How has your expat experience NOT met the expectations you dreamed about before you moved abroad?
There are some differences that have been admittedly challenging for me. I did not totally get that with less complexity also come less complex moral and ethical codes, less gravitas placed on laws and enforcement and therefore the tendency to do what you can get away with. Half -truths and often larger forms of deception can be met with a shrug of the shoulders. Many expats I have met seemed to be giddy about 'no rules', living in a culture less restricted by laws, rules and regulations. This is relieving to a point, but overall I still prefer a place where rule of law has more gravitas than I have found at present in Ecuador. Of course, this will be found in any developing country and the Govt. is doing a decent job of feeling its way through this. It is all new for everyone and takes time and patience to implement. It is how nations develop, generally, going from less to more complex. I have also noted that with less complexity comes less complex thinking. The broader implications of one's actions are often not seen or adequately thought out. Impulse tends to be followed.. It can often appear like 'everyone for him/her self', which in circumspect is appropriate in a culture that is still centered on the self or the clan. This is just where Ecuador is in the overall gestalt of nations. This is especially seen in driving, where it is a free-for-all and only a very small (but growing) percentage of people know what the laws are. When I hit the road, I have come to expect absolutely anything and have found the best method is to slow down, hang back and let people do what they will. There is little fear of penalty or enforcement, as up until recently a few dollars would take care of anything and $50 got you a driver's license. I had to laugh last week when I saw an elder gent in his old truck blowing his horn persistently demanding that a police cruiser get out of his way! Lastly, I am used to cultural diversity and although the culture may seem exotic at first, it is not extremely diverse. Cuenca, prior to the recent arrival of international expats, had not been much of a melting pot. It was even difficult to access by roads until the 1970's. For many, this is not an issue, but having lived in and in the shadow of NYC for many years, I miss it.
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