Life as a Foreigner Living in Colombia

When you live in a foreign country, routine gets thrown out the door. You can’t always count on a seamless experience. Tasks that would be simple in your home country soon become complex endeavors.

For example, yesterday I attempted to sign up for a gym membership. This would have been very simple if I were in Los Angeles. However, I now live in Colombia, and it was anything but simple.

The Saga of the Gym

I decided to walk to the gym directly to sign up. I thought this would be the simplest course of action. Once I got there, the woman at the front desk said I had to sign up on my phone. And so it began.

My data is quite slow in Colombia, so I returned to my apartment to use the wifi. After unsuccessfully attempting to enter my +1 number multiple times, it became clear I needed a Colombian phone to register. I sheepishly returned to the gym to ask for instruction. The patient woman at the front desk said I could just use a friend’s phone number.

Back to the apartment. I borrowed a friend’s number. One more hurdle crossed. I felt a surge of accomplishment as I was one step closer to my goal.

Of course, when I reached the payment screen, it became clear they only accepted Colombian credit cards. I was baffled. Thinking I might try to trick the system, I made an attempt at using my US card. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I failed.

Thoughts of opening a Colombian bank account just to join the gym crossed my mind. This was getting ridiculous. Then a friend asked why I didn’t just pay in cash (at this point there were probably only about 11 people in Colombia who didn’t know I was failing at signing up for the gym).

It turned out I could pay in cash if I paid for three months in advance. Fine. Sounds good to me. Except my attempt at deceiving the system with my Chase credit card (definitely not Colombian) had the system resentful. It wouldn’t cooperate.

So then I messaged customer support. I had actually already contacted customer support earlier when I was still at the “I don’t have a phone number” stage, so at this point they had a nice record of my stream of consciousness. This gringo was out of control.

Finally, after clarifying my situation, they sent me a special link. Evidently, I’m supposed to go get some cash, give it to a store, and they’ll give me a receipt to show to the gym.

I assume-I hope-this is the last stage in the process. I’ll be attempting today, so we’ll see how it goes. I have about 60% confidence. I just want to go to the gym.

The Essence of Living Abroad

As you can probably tell, this was much more of an ordeal than I expected. I thought signing up would take an hour at most. How wrong I was!

But this is the beauty of living far outside your comfort zone. Jumping through all these hoops, I practiced Spanish along the way. I am also becoming familiar with a new payment system. I will certainly feel a titan sense of accomplishment when I am finally allowed to start working out. I will have a new story for overcoming challenges if asked in a job interview.

Living abroad makes everything an adventure. You force your brain to learn new maps and transportation systems. Here in Manizales, the buses don’t have stops. You just wave your arms and they pick you up. When you want to stop, you just ask. It costs $0.70. Not bad at all.

The language barrier can be very entertaining. Even now, I sometimes make blunders that make locals roll their eyes. I remember distinctly in March when I told a girl, “I hope your friends like me”-this seemed like a reasonable thing to say. However, it turned out the connotation of what I said was “I hope your friends are romantically interested in me. “ Whoops!

Everything is more difficult when you live abroad. Amazon doesn’t deliver to your door. The addresses aren’t easily located. The grocery store doesn’t have what you’re used to.

But you learn. You learn so much more. You realize you don’t need Amazon. You memorize the streets so you eventually don’t need the maps. You find wonderful new foods at the supermarket like the massive avocados that I’ve only seen in South America. They’re almost the size of a cantaloupe-I’m not exaggerating.

Your brain forges new neural pathways. Instead of steadily reclining into routine, you’re forced to stay on your toes. You have the opportunity to learn completely different ways of life which turn your worldview on its head. You hear new music. You see new sunsets.

Uprooting yourself isn’t for everyone. It definitely takes a lot more energy (mental and emotional) that living where you grew up. But it’s 100% worth it. But ejecting yourself from your comfort zone, you eventually become comfortable in more zones. Your circle of friends expands. The world becomes your home.

If you have any interest in moving to another country, I wholeheartedly recommend it. You’ll learn more than you can imagine. You’ll never be bored.

Alright, now it’s time for me to go back to the gym. Wish me luck.

Originally published at https://columbia2colombia.com on July 31, 2019.

Michael is a freelance writer for hire, specializing in health, wellness, and travel. Visit bjorn2write.com for more!

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