3 Realities of Being a (Digital) Nomad That Nobody Ever Talks About

While I’ve technically only been a “digital nomad” (for lack of a better word) for a year, I’ve always been a bit of a wanderer.

Over the past ten years, I’ve moved around a lot. To give you an idea, I’ve lived in Winston Salem, North Carolina (for college); my hometown of Greenwich, CT; Toulouse, France; Paris; Rio de Janeiro; Delray Beach, Florida; Los Angeles; San Diego; Buenos Aires; Medellin, Colombia..and now Florianopolis, Brazil.

Have I had unforgettable experiences in every one of those places? Absolutely. Would I trade those experiences for anything? Not a chance.

But here’s the thing: When you enviously scroll through your Instagram feed or are overcome with wanderlust reading through all those travel blogs, all you ever see and hear about is how incredible the “digital nomad” lifestyle is. And don’t get me wrong–it is. I could never go back to the corporate, 9-to-5 life, and having the ability to live anywhere in the world is something that I truly cherish and am so grateful for.

But I’d be lying if I said that the nomad lifestyle doesn’t have its downsides. For all of you out there who are considering being a “digital nomad,” make sure that you consider these three things first.

1. It can get lonely 

One thing that I love about traveling and living abroad is how easy it is to meet other people–especially gringos. You automatically share this special bond with other foreigners, being together in this foreign land. You also have some things in common with them (a love of travel and, hopefully, an open-minded outlook on life).

Personally, I love working from coworking spaces and coffeeshops, because a) I need to escape my house or I would probably go a bit crazy and b) It gives me the opportunity to meet other people.

My point? Sure, it’s easy to meet people. But you will miss your friends and family from home. You will also inevitably miss out on things like weddings, birthdays and baby showers.

And picking up and leaving every few months (or however often you travel) makes it difficult to establish meaningful, lasting connections. You might meet some nice people, but many of them are transient too. And, like anywhere, finding real friends–who are there for you through thick and thin–is not easy.

So unless you have a traveling companion (and sometimes, even if you do), the nomad lifestyle can get lonely…really lonely at times.

2. It gets tiresome 

Rather than constantly be on the go, I prefer to “slow travel” or spend several months in one place at a time. Not only is it less exhausting, but it allows me to get a bit more settled and it gives me the opportunity to really get to know the culture, language and country that I’m in. It’s also easier to make friends when you’re situated in one place for longer than a few weeks.

But even so, starting over somewhere new every few months can be emotionally draining. Just when you start to feel settled somewhere, you have to pack up and leave again. You’ll have to continuously adapt to totally new environments and start new routines.

And don’t get me started on the stuff. You’ll find that you don’t need–or use–nearly as much stuff as you think you do (which is why many “digital nomads” are also minimalists…I, myself, am not yet one of them…but #goals, right?!).

But still, whether you have 10 possessions or 100, having to pack up every few months can get tiring.

It’s for those reasons that, at the ripe old age of 31, I’ve found myself craving more and more a “home base.”

3. Dating is difficult 

Unfortunately, when you live a nomadic lifestyle, nobody takes you seriously in the dating world. After all, it’s hard to take someone seriously who moves to a new country every few months.

The reality is that many people are scared of getting hurt. And it’s easier to just not get involved with someone who has had an unconventional lifestyle than it is to take the chance on something (or someone) that could be the real deal.

Side note: Here’s why you should date a digital nomad.

Bottom Line

There are a lot of ups and downs to the nomad lifestyle. You will miss home. You’ll struggle to adapt to new environments and communicate in languages that aren’t your own. You’ll get frustrated with things like power outages and bureaucracy issues (oh hey, Brazil).

But then you’ll get to experience all of the amazing things that come with traveling and living abroad. You’ll become a more open-minded, well-rounded and interesting person.

Having the freedom to live anywhere in the world means that you can also pay off all your debt by living somewhere like Bali or Chiang Mai for under $1,000 a month. You get to perpetually chase summer and work from the place that you are most productive.

So yes, there are some downsides to the digital nomad lifestyle. But you might just find that all those upsides make it worth it in the end.

What it’s REALLY Like to Live in Medellin, Colombia

After spending seven unforgettable weeks in Buenos Aires, I once again packed my bags and this time, relocated to Medellin, Colombia, where I ended up living for another two months.

Why Medellin? I was drawn to the fact that there was a huge digital nomad (pardon the douchy term) and entrepreneurial community there, thanks to the city’s high quality of life, low cost of living and friendly people. Medellin is also known for being one of the most creative cities in South America; many entrepreneurs from all around the globe move to Medellin to start businesses (I lived with three of them).

I certainly had my preconceptions about what it was like to live in Medellin, but not all of them proved to be accurate. So for those of you who are curious, here’s what it’s REALLY like to live in the former drug capital of the world…

It’s safe (really!) 

Before I moved to Medellin, I had received my fair share of warnings. A lot of my friends and family back in the states thought I was certifiably insane for moving to a place that was once the drug capital (and the most dangerous city) of the world. One ex-colleague of mine relayed warnings to not go anywhere near Colombia, because the entire country was replete with drug trafficking, kidnapping and violence.

Rest assured, these warnings were nothing more than vast, unfounded generalizations based entirely on anecdotal evidence and stereotypes. Even just a little bit of research on Medellin shows that this is a far cry from reality.

Here’s my take on things: Like any city, it depends on the neighborhood you’re in. I lived in El Poblado, which is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Medellin, and felt like I could have just as easily been in a suburb of the U.S. All of the bars and restaurants were within walking distance from my place or a short cab (or Uber) ride away and I honestly felt safe walking home at any hour of the night.

But when I ventured out to other areas (like the slums, for lack of a better word), I definitely didn’t feel quite as safe. I visited Comuna 13, known for once being the most dangerous neighborhood of Medellin. Over the years, it has undergone a massive transformation; home to a library park, an outdoor escalator and some colorful graffiti art, the neighborhood is now liveable and relatively safe (at least comparatively). But I wouldn’t recommend flashing your belongings or meandering down any dark alleyways.

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Comuna 13
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Comuna 13
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Comuna 13

Bottom line: Like any city, you just have to “keep your antenna up,” as my mom always used to say, and be aware of your surroundings. But honestly, most of the time, I felt safer in Medellin than I did in the U.S.

People are very honest 

I gotta say, as bad as it sounds, this one surprised me. Being in a developing Latino country (not to mention a city that was once the drug capital of the world), I would have expected the locals in Medellin to try and take advantage of gringos like myself whenever they could.

Au contraire. There was not one, but multiple instances, where I nearly overpaid by quite a lot (the Colombian currency takes some getting used to, okay?!). The taxi drivers/cashiers could have easily pocketed the extra money, but instead, they told me that I was paying way too much and gave me back the money I didn’t need to pay.

It’s cheap–but not THAT cheap

Compared to a city like Buenos Aires, Medellin is definitely cheap. And when it comes to housing, the dollar and euro go a long way. Because the city has developed so much over the last ten years, many of the apartments are modern and new and come equipped with pools, saunas and gyms.

Just to give you an idea, I paid $500 USD a month to live in a shared penthouse where I had my own private bathroom, desk and a queen-sized bed. The two-floor apartment had a large terrace with a big screen projector and a kick-ass view of the entire city, as well as another large balcony (which also had an awesome view). It also had a treadmill, which proved particularly advantageous due to the city’s unpredictable weather.

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Our terrace
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The view from my bedroom
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#digitaldouchebag

And for all that, I still think that I was overpaying a bit.

I found my place through one of the Facebook expat groups (so no, I didn’t live with any Colombians)–but Airbnb is also really cheap and honestly an option for long-term rental. When I went back to Medellin (on my way to Brazil), I rented a room in Poblado for a week and paid about $10 per night. The apartment was nice and fairly modern; I had my own bathroom; and my bedroom had a panoramic view of the city. Like so…

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Yup, $10 USD a night for that. True story.

In Medellin, I was able to afford things that I currently wouldn’t be able to afford back home (or in many other places for that matter).

I never go to get my nails done in the U.S. because it’s not worth it to me to spend $60 to $70 on a mani/pedí every couple of weeks. But in Medellin, this was something that I could easily afford. I paid a total of $15 for a gel manicure and pedicure at a nice salon in Poblado (which would have cost me nearly $100 back stateside). Imagine what I would have paid at a “cheap” salon!

I also paid $10 for a haircut at a high-end salon in Poblado (something that would cost me a minimum of $60 in the U.S.).

We had a housekeeper come to clean the apartment several times a week, and each time, it cost us a total of $20 USD (so $5 each) for about six hours worth of cleaning. Given the fact that she worked so hard, traveled for several hours to come to us and had a son to provide for, I felt bad about paying her so little. I talked to my roommate about paying her a bit more, but he said that if we paid much more than the going rate, we would then become the dumb gringos who get taken advantage of…so alas, that stayed the same…

We also had a full-time chef, who came five days a week and cooked all of our meals (that cost about an additional $500/month per person for the food ingredients plus her services). As someone who reallyyy does not like to cook (at least not on a daily basis), this was a huge bonus for me.

Here are some of the gourmet meals that she cooked for us…

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Your mouth watering yet? Ok sorry, I’ll stop. Moving on…

Uber and taxis are also very inexpensive. I never felt guilty about taking them because they almost never exceeded the cost of what I would pay in NYC for a subway ride.

To give you an idea, a 20-minute taxi or Uber ride will set you back about $3 USD. There was one time (in Cartagena) where I think I paid about 50 cents for a ten-minute Uber ride…yet again, I felt pretty bad about not compensating the poor driver more for his time.

As for groceries, you will probably spend about $70 on a week’s worth of groceries, give or take, depending on what you buy.

What’s not cheap? Going out to eat. If you want to eat at a nicer restaurant in Poblado, you will probably spend just a bit less than you would at a similar restaurant in the U.S.

The medical care is amazing 

The medical care in Medellin is inexpensive; the facilities are state-of-the-art and modern; and many of the doctors are top notch.

To be seen (and tested) by a good doctor, you will pay about the same without insurance as you would pay with insurance in the U.S. To give you an idea, I paid about $30 USD for a very full and extensive teeth cleaning. A procedure that would have cost me between $1,500 and $10,000 in the U.S. (an upper endoscopy) cost me a mere $150 in Medellin.

If you’re looking for a doctor in Colombia, I recommend searching for one on Doctoralia.

Oh and don’t be sketched out if the doctor gives you his or her Whatsapp number. It’s totally normal in Colombia (and all of South America–or at least Brasil and Argentina) for doctors to converse with their patients via Whatsapp.

It’s really easy to meet people & network

I normally worked from home, but almost every time I worked from a coffee shop, I would meet other gringos/expats/travelers. On my last day in Medellin, I probably met at least ten different people (all gringos of course), some of whom I ended up going out to dinner and dancing with later that night. That’s how easy it is to meet people in Medellin.

It’s also inspiring to be surrounded by–and meet–so many ambitious and creative people. On my last day in Medellin, I was working from a restaurant and started talking to the guy sitting next to me, who was also working from his computer. Then the other guy next to me (also working) chipped in and goes, “I hear you talking about content marketing…I started a content marketing company.” And then revealed that he was one of the founders of Contently, a company which is pretty big in the marketing world and one that I was already well familiar with. As a content marketer, that was a pretty exciting moment for me.

The digital nomad/expat community in Medellin is huge and all the gringos/expats tend to know one other and stick together, for better or for worse. To be honest, I didn’t have much luck meeting Colombians. I suppose like anywhere, it’s always easier to meet other expats and travelers than it is to meet locals.

It rains a LOT 

Known as the city of eternal spring, Medellin has a pretty ideal climate. It never gets too hot or cold and the temperature hovers in the 70s Fahrenheit (mid 20s celsius) year-round.

The downside is that it is always a bit chilly at night (so not quite comfortable enough to go jacket- or sweater-free). And it rains (ie: pours) a LOT, which can get annoying if you are unprepared. I learned the hard way to always bring an umbrella (and sweater) with me wherever I went. Luckily the rain never lasts too long (normally only a few hours) before it’s sunny again.

Spices don’t really exist 

If you like spicy food, then I’ve got some bad news: You’ll probably be disappointed by the food in Colombia, which is notorious for being quite bland and spice-free.

The typical to-go food in Colombia is fried…think: plantains, arepas (corn cakes) and empanadas.

Most of the time, the to-go food also looks pretty unappetizing, like it’s been sitting out for several days (and judging by the taste, probably has been).

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Super fresh hamburger patties and sausages…yum

But go to a nicer restaurant and the food can be pretty amazing…

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The amazing food at Alambique, a restaurant in El Poblado

Pollution is bad 

Because Medellin is situated in a valley, surrounded by mountains, pollution can build up and get pretty bad at times, like during rush hour when there are a lot of cars on the road. Good news is that the frequent rain helps to clear the atmosphere.

Also, if you live higher up on a hill, the pollution isn’t really an issue. Where I lived (in El Poblado), I didn’t notice it, but when I ventured out into certain parts of the city, I sometimes felt smothered by the polluted air.

The paisaje is breathtaking 

One of the reasons that I wanted to live in Colombia was because I wanted to be surrounded by nature. And Medellin definitely turned out to be a good place for that.

I loved looking out of my apartment window and seeing green mountains in the distance and cows lounging in nearby parks…

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See the cows?? View from one apartment I stayed at

I loved walking through the streets of my neighborhood and passing by streams, bamboo trees and lush plant life I’d never seen before.

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One of the streets in my neighborhood

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I loved the open-air restaurants and bars and always feeling like I was surrounded by nature.

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37 Park – my favorite bar in Medellin. Can you see why?
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37 Park

I also loved being able to hop on a bus and in 40 minutes, completely escape from city life and be surrounded by, well, this: 

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Can you blame me?

For mini outdoor escapades, caminadas (walks) and hikes, I went to Envigado (which is technically a separate town, but practically in the city of Medellin).

There are also many pueblitos (small towns) close to Medellin, which make for some amazing weekend getaways. During my two months there, I didn’t get to see as much as I wanted to, but I did pay an overnight visit once to the colorful town of Guatapé (an absolute must-see).

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It has a thriving cafe culture 

Being a city full of digital nomads (again, there goes that douchy term again) and online entrepreneurs, it makes perfect sense that there are a ton of coffee shops and places to work from in Medellin.

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Cafe Zeppelin in El Poblado
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Cafe Zeppelin in El Poblado
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Cafe Velvet in El Poblado
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More cafes in El Poblado

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More of a restaurant than a cafe, but I loved this place (and yup, worked from there too)

And unlike the U.S., where waiters and waitresses bring you the check practically before you have taken your first bite or sip, in Colombia (and pretty much anywhere else in the world, to my knowledge), it’s considered rude to bring patrons the check or offer them their check before they have asked for it.

In the U.S., waiters will ask you about a hundred times how everything is and if you need anything (which gets so annoying). But in Colombia, waiters will only come up to you if you summon them. In other words, you can sit at a coffeeshop or restaurant all day long in Medellin and not be bothered or feel pressured to leave.

And now, I know you’re probably wondering about the coffee itself…apparently, the best coffee in Colombia is exported. But it is still home to (hands down) the best coffee that I’ve ever tasted: Pergamino coffee.

Like many of the cafes in Medellin, Pergamino has a variety of brewing methods and beans to choose from, so there’s something for everyone.

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Home to the best coffee in the world, hands down

My other favorite coffeeshop in Medellin, Urbania, is also in Poblado…but is much less touristy. The coffee is also (probably equally as) delicious and beautifully presented:

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Only in Colombia do they have 7 different coffee brews to choose from…

The locals are warm and friendly 

Before moving to Medellin, I had heard rave reviews about how friendly the people were. Perhaps because I went with such high expectations, I was a bit let down by the friendliness of locals. I imagine it has something to do with the fact that the city has received a massive influx of tourists and expats over the past few years.

But with that being said, I did encounter some very friendly people. On my first day in Medellin, I had not one, but two different cars of people stop me to ask if I needed help or a ride (and no, they weren’t males with ulterior motives…they were females!). I did accept the first ride from two Colombian women (mother and daughter) and they drove me to a nearby coffeeshop.

And on my last day in Medellin, I had an Uber driver pick me up and take me to the airport. Except instead of dropping me off curbside and helping me unload my bags, as would have been expected, he parked the car, paid for parking himself (actually refused to let me pay), and then proceeded to help me take my bags to baggage claim and didn’t leave me until I was in line at check-in.

I had to get photographic evidence of whom was probably the world’s best Uber driver:

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Not a bad note to leave on.

So there you have it. The good, the bad and the ugly (well, there wasn’t much ugly) of living in Medellin.

My final verdict? With its low cost of living, temperate climate, vibrant community and excellent medical care, Medellin has a great deal to offer both expats and tourists alike.

So what do you say…ready to pack your bags?

Observations from 7 weeks in Buenos Aires

In November of 2016, I left my 9-to-5 office job and started working for a remote-based marketing agency, which has since given me the freedom to work from anywhere in the world. I first set my sights on Buenos Aires, where I ended up staying for 7 weeks.

A little context: When I first arrived in Buenos Aires (or “Bs As” as the locals refer to it), I stayed with my friend Carolina and her brother, who were both total godsends when I arrived. They took me in while I looked for a place to stay (which turned out to be much more difficult ordeal than I had originally predicted).

After staying with them for a month, I moved to an AirbnB for another month, where I stayed with two Argentinian guys in a different part of the city. They often had asados (barbeques) at the house and invited me to join them whenever they did.

So…after all of that, here are a few things that I learned about Argentinian (or Porteño culture)…

Driving 

I think this might be more of a South American thing, but pedestrians don’t have the right of way in Buenos Aires. Cars just don’t stop for pedestrians (even at crosswalks where there is no pedestrian signal). You can be in the middle of a crosswalk and cars will just continue to barrel towards you.

After nearly getting run over several times (quite literally), I learned my lesson: always cross with extreme caution and NEVER assume that a car will stop for you!

The Language

Pretty much every Spanish-speaking person I’ve met seems to be obsessed with Argentine Spanish. It sounds like Italian-influenced Spanish, singsongey and melodic.

One Argentinian guy friend of mine lived in Barcelona for some time and told me that Spanish girls would go loco for his accent. I found the same to be true of my friend, Carolina. Personally, it also happens to be one of my favorite accents, as well.

To the outside ear, Argentine Spanish can take some getting used to. My Spanish is still pretty basic at this point, but here are a few things I’ve found…

The “y” sound becomes a “sh” sound. So instead of saying “yo,” it sounds like “sho.”

“LL” is pronounced as “Sh,” so “llevar” is pronounced like “shevar” and “calle” is pronounced “cashay.”

What I love is that Argentinians don’t say “de nada” (you’re welcome), they say “no, por favor” (no, please). They don’t say “todo bien (all good),” they say “todo bien, por suerte” (all good, thankfully).

Argentine Spanish (or at least Porteño Spanish) has a lot of Italian influence, with many words that are taken from Italian. Laburar (to work) is a slang word that is taken from the Italian word “lavorare.” Fiaca (laziness) is another word that is taken from the Italian word “fiacca” (weariness).  The list goes on…

There is one expression I recently learned which I love: viejos son los trapos, which means basically that things are old, not people. You will probably never hear an old person being called viejo or “old” in Argentina. I noticed that waiters, for instance, even address middle-aged (and older) women as “chicas” (girls). In Argentina, everyone is treated young, no matter their age. “Old” doesn’t exist.

One thing I’ve found is that while I tried to speak Spanish all of the time, many people would respond in English to me (to which, I would respond back in Spanish or simply say “español esta bien”). I found that this very rarely happens in Colombia (where far fewer people speak English). So if you are just passing through Buenos Aires, you could probably get by on unicamente ingles (only English). But the polite thing is to at least ask “Hablas ingles?” before assuming. You’d be surprised how many foreigners (ahem, Americans) don’t seem to do this.

Fashion

Women in Argentina seem to love wearing these hideous five-inch platform shoes (referred to as “tacos”), which for whatever reason, have become a trend in Buenos Aires. They look a little something like this…

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And EVERYONE (at least all young people) wears them.

Cost of Living/Prices

Word on the street is that Bs As used to be quite cheap. Not so much anymore. Everyone warned me that it was an expensive city, but I guess I didn’t realize just how expensive it was. While definitely less costly than other major cities like London, New York and Paris, it’s definitely not cheap.

For a decent room in a shared apartment in a desired neighborhood (like Palermo or Recoleta), you’ll pay upwards of $600 USD. If you don’t mind living a bit off the beaten path or in a tiny (and I mean, tiny) room, you can pay less than that, like $375 maybe.

A coffee in a nice coffee shop will run you about 50 pesos or $3 USD. A take-out meal normally doesn’t cost less than 150 pesos or $10 USD. If you want healthy, organic food, you’ll pay closer to $20 USD (or more). Prefer to dine in? Lunching at a nice, healthy restaurant in Palermo (admittedly one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city) will set you back about $30.

Alcohol isn’t cheap either. Expect to pay about 200 pesos or $13 for two beers in Palermo (the place to go out in Bs As). A cocktail at a nice bar costs about twice that, 200 pesos (or more), for one cocktail.

Groceries are probably even more expensive than the U.S.–for lower quality. I would pay about $100 USD for a week’s worth (maybe less) of groceries.

As someone who is quite health-conscious and picky about what I put in my mouth, I found it difficult and frustrating to grocery shop in Buenos Aires.

The selection is much more limited for health-conscious eaters and finding things like Himalayan sea salt, seed-based crackers, goji berries and the like isn’t easy (I realize I probably sound like a spoiled, pretentious brat even saying that!). Also, many of the fruits and vegetables look practically rotten, sometimes with flies all around them. Not very appetizing.

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Frankly, I found it difficult to find what appeared to be fresh fruits and vegetables. There are some smaller markets that sell healthy, organic foods, but still not even close to the same selection that you can find back stateside or in neighboring Brazil.

Food & Drinks 

On that note, it’s not easy to be vegan or vegetarian in Buenos Aires. While there are more and more healthy, plant-based restaurants opening up around the city, this is, first and foremost, the land of meat. Porteños love to have asados, or barbeques, on the weekends, and the abundance of rooftops and terraces (every house or apartment seems to have one) bodes well for that.

A typical breakfast here consists of some medialunas (croissants) and coffee.

And, oh, the wine…This is not only delicious in Argentina, but also one of the few things that is relatively inexpensive. Wine-lovers rejoice.

Fernet, which, let’s just say, is an acquired taste, is another alcoholic drink that you will hear and see a lot of in Argentina. No party is complete without it.

And then there’s mate. Mate is like an herb tea and is everywhere in Argentina. People drink it out of a tin cup filled with herbs. At parties and get-togethers, you will probably see a thermos filled with hot water, which is poured into the tin cup every so often and then passed around for everyone to drink. Like so…

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One thing that I love, which I had never had before, is coffee tonic, which is a cold brew coffee with tonic water – expensive but surprisingly delicious. This is a thing in Buenos Aires I found.

Getting Around

There are three ways that I got around: Uber (or taxis); the bus or the metro. The metro is very limited, so in terms of public transportation, you’ll probably be relying mostly on the bus. In order to take the bus or metro, you’ll need to get a card–and recharge it before boarding. If the card runs out while you’re on the bus, you have two passes which you can pay off another time and then you won’t be able to use it all. If that happens, you will have to ask a fellow passenger to pay for you (and give them the 7 pesos or whatever it is).

Uber exists only for people who have a foreign bank card–because of the taxi competition, people with Argentine bank cards are prohibited from using Uber. Uber drivers will often ask passengers to sit in the front seat (and pretend that they are a friend), because if a taxi driver notices an Uber driver, he may pick a fight (Yup, I have heard of this actually happening). Unlike many other South American countries, Uber and taxis are not cheap.

Culture

Buenos Aires feels more like a European city than anything else. And this isn’t just in the architecture (Recoleta, in particular, feels like a little Paris) and the city itself, but in the behavior of the people, as well. Everyone greets each other with a kiss on the cheek. Men will even greet other men this way.

People tend to be very nice and friendly once you start talking to them, but at least from my experience, they generally won’t strike up a conversation with you on the bus or in the middle of the street. Of course part of this surely has to do with being in a big city–I’m sure it’s also a bit different in other parts of Argentina.

What’s interesting to me is that, despite its proximity, Argentina is culturally so different from neighboring countries (like Brazil, for instance). Argentinians themselves have told me that people are happier, more carefree and laid-back in Brazil (or at least seem to be).

Another example: In Brazil, there isn’t much of a cafe culture. People tend to drink coffee standing up at juice bars. In Buenos Aires, like Paris, there is a huge cafe culture. Cafes are everywhere, and you will often see people sitting outside with friends, sipping on a coffee and talking about life.

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The vibe is just completely different from Brazil–and it seems, the rest of South America. It really did feel like I was in a European city in South America.

Nightlife & Dinner Culture

The proverbial nightlife and late-night dining of Buenos Aires is really something else.

I went out to dinner one night–and at 12:30AM, the restaurant was packed (so loud that I could barely hear the person I was with). And that was a Wednesday night.

Most restaurants close at 2AM, at least on weekends, because people generally don’t dine before 10-11PM here. Restaurants will be completely empty if you go at 7:30PM (the most popular time to dine in the states). Most restaurants don’t open until 8PM, but that is considered a super early hour to eat (probably equivalent to eating at 5PM in the U.S.).

When it comes to partying, people (at least young people) tend to pregame (or have prévia) until 2-3AM and then go out to clubs. Which, let me tell you, wasn’t easy on my ancient, 30-year old body!

On one of my first weekends there, we got to the club (or boliche as they call them here) around 3AM and it was only around 4AM that the place started to get super packed and everyone started to arrive. It was really unlike anything I’d ever seen before (except maybe Spain).

Given all of that, what surprised me was the fact that the streets themselves are actually pretty quiet, even on weekend nights. People tend to do their partying either at a friend’s place or at a bar or club–and not so much on the streets.

Despite the fact that people party super hard (and late) here, the hard-partying only really goes on during the weekends (at least Thursday, Friday and Saturday). On Sundays-Wednesdays, everything is dead and streets are empty after around 1AM. So porteños (or people from Buenos Aires) save their real partying for the weekend.

I was talking to a Spaniard who was visiting Buenos Aires and I asked him where the parties were better–here or Spain–and he told me Spain, because, in Spain, there is a party every single day (and Buenos Aires, people only party on certain days).

Side note: I can attest to that. I remember arriving in Madrid one night around 1AM, after having taken the train from Toulouse, France. A group of us from the hostel I was staying at all went out together, and we tried to go to a bar with live music, but found that it was closed…until 3AM…

So we went to a karaoke bar in the meantime, and when we returned to the other bar around 3AM, the place started to get packed. And this was a random Sunday at 4AM…

Not sure I could handle that degree of party-crazy. Buenos Aires is already more than I can handle!

Safety

After living in Rio, where assaltos and robberies are commonplace in pretty much every single neighborhood, Buenos Aires feels very safe to me, especially neighborhoods like Palermo, Recoleta and Colegiales (where I lived). So safe that I would even walk home from my coworking space at night with headphones in my ear.

But like many other large cities, Buenos Aires can also be pretty dangerous, depending on what part of the city you’re in. Venture much outside of the aforementioned areas to places, like to Microcentro, La Boca, and it can get pretty sketchy, fast…even in broad daylight.

Architecture & Design

Buenos Aires is a city of contrasts.

From the European-inspired architecture of Recoleta, to the colorful, artistic buildings of Palermo, to dilapidated buildings in between, this city is a blend of many different styles. Each street corner is different from the next…

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Graffiti and street art are omnipresent in Buenos Aires, thanks to the fact that there are almost zero restrictions on where artists can paint in the city (they only need the permission of property owners).

The plethora of abandoned buildings throughout the city means that there’s a profusion of blank canvases for artists to freely express themselves. On almost every street corner, there is yet another incredible mural to look at and try to interpret. Much of the art is politically-charged or depicts the history of Argentina (which was ruled by a dictatorship for many years).

Here’s another little slideshow to show you what I mean:

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Buenos Aires may be a concrete jungle, but greenery and plants are everywhere. Even though you’re in a big city, it feels like you are surrounded by nature.

From the tree-lined streets to the foliage adorning restaurant walls and window sills, there seems to be almost an obsession with plant-life in Buenos Aires. I’ll let these photos speak for themselves…

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The Weather

I have yet to experience winter in Buenos Aires, but I hear that it gets really cold (0-5 degrees Celsius), and because it stays humid year-round, the wet air makes it feel much colder than it actually is. One Argentinian told me that Buenos Aires winter felt much colder than winter in Stockholm, due to the humidity. Brrr!

Autumn is really nice and temperate though. Summers are supposed to be super hot and humid. And be prepared–when it rains here, it pours. 

La gente (the people) 

Get a little alcohol in them or put them in a party setting, and Argentinian men can be pretty aggressive and persistent (they are also, for the most part, incredibly attractive). My friend, Carolina, and I went to a club one Thursday night. I kid you not, three or four separate instances, different guys literally grabbed my face and tried to plant one on me. And this, I’ve heard, is normal behavior. Granted, most of the people in the club were probably under the age of 25…but still.

While generally, people are not quite as warm, relaxed and friendly as Brazilians (the bus drivers would never strike up a conversation with me, for instance, as would sometimes happen in Rio), overall, I have found people to be quite friendly in Buenos Aires. All of Carolina’s friends and brother’s friends were very warm and hospitable. The same goes for my Airbnb hosts and their friends. They could not have been nicer.

Here are some more examples of the buena gente I encountered in Bs As:

Once, I was looking a bit lost, trying to find my way, and an older woman stopped and asked me (in English — because I guess it was that obvious that I wasn’t Argentinian), “what are you looking for?” and then pointed me in the direction that I needed to go.

Another time, I was riding the bus and my card had run out of money, so I had to ask a random passenger to pay for me with their card. I asked a teenage boy and he immediately agreed, but when I handed him the cash, he refused to accept it. Granted, it’s not a lot of money (like 50 cents), but I thought it was so nice that he actually flat-out refused the money when I tried to hand it to him.

One time, I was walking by myself (in broad daylight) to La Boca, a pretty sketchy neighborhood of Buenos Aires. I was trying to find the famous “El Caminito” street and ran into two police officers. They told me that it was dangerous for me to be walking by myself, because there was a soccer game going on. They then offered to drive me to my destination in their police car. As soon as I got in, I got a bit worried–what if they are corrupt and kidnap me?! But they dropped me off, safe and sound, to where I wanted to go….But not before one of the police officers asked for my Instagram! Only in South America does stuff like this happen…

It’s also totally normal for wait staff or people in the service industry to call female customers “linda” (beautiful), as in “Ciao linda” (bye beautiful). Can you imagine a service employee or waiter saying that to a customer in the U.S.?! He would probably get sued for sexual harassment.

Sólo effectivo, porfa 

Get used to hearing “sólo effectivo” (only cash) in Buenos Aires. While nicer restaurants generally accept credit cards, they don’t accept all credit cards (sometimes only debit cards). And most places only accept effectivo or cash.

It’s pretty much impossible to get by on just credit cards in Argentina, and I found myself having to make frequent trips to the ATM there.

The Verdict

Crazy nightlife and late-night dining. Delicious wine and steak. Fernet and mate. Tango. Neoclassical architecture and edgy street art.

My verdict? Spend some time getting to know Buenos Aires. I think it’ll be worth your while.

46 Awesome Words and Expressions That Don’t Exist in English…But Should

It’s no secret that language and culture are inextricably connected. We can learn so much about a society’s cultural norms and ideals through its language alone — which is one of many reasons why I love learning languages.

Take the English word “workaholic”, for instance. This word, unique to the English language (and invented by an American, named Wayne Oats), is exemplary of the fact that Americans tend to work compulsively — and the fact that a mind-boggling 41% of the U.S. population didn’t take a single vacation day in 2015. One single word can reveal a great deal about American society and cultural ideals.

Think about the word “PDA” (public display of affection), another commonly used English (or at least American) word that speaks volumes about how prudist American society is. The very fact that we have invented an expression/acronym for displaying affection in public implies that it is something out of the ordinary. Whereas in Portuguese, French, Spanish, Italian…no word exists for “PDA” because such behavior is simply the norm in the countries where those languages originated. Not convinced? Take a trip to Portugal (or Brazil), France, Spain or Italy and then get back to me!

Now, here are some of my favorite words that don’t seem to have a direct English translation; many of them can explain a lot about the culture and country from which they were derived.

Abbiocco (noun, Italian): Because Italian food is so rich and heavy, it has the tendency to induce sleepiness. Given the sacred role of food in Italian society, it makes sense then that Italians have a word specifically devoted to this very drowsiness that comes after feasting on a large meal: Abbiocco.

Apaixonar (verb, Portuguese): Somewhere between to like and to love, apaixonar is the Portuguese verb that defines those incredibly strong feelings of infatuation that you have for someone that you really like (but might not be completely in love with just yet).

Apericena (noun, Italian): A take on the word “aperitivo,” apericena is a relatively new development in Italy and a likely result of the nation’s current economic crisis. It refers to a buffet of hot and cold appetizers that accompany drinks — all which generally cost under 10 euro. Can we introduce that trend here?

Bouquiner (verb, French): The French take their reading quite seriously. This is evidenced by the fact that, while bookstores are sadly dying out around the rest of the world, they are staying afloat in France. While the U.S. only has one, France has multiple organizations designed to support independent booksellers, and the French government has actually enacted several laws to protect bookstores from dying out (the Lang Law is one, which prohibits online services from offering free delivery).

My own personal experience can attest to this — while living in France, I rarely (if ever) saw people reading from kindles or iPads — they always seemed to be reading print books. Given the love that the French have for reading, old-school style, it makes sense that they have an even more specific word for “read” (which is “lire” in French). Bouquiner is a verb which means to get lost in a book, often one that is old or special edition.

Bon courage (French): This expression is used habitually in France. Directly translated, it means “have good courage” — its closest English equivalent is “good luck” — but the French have an expression for “good luck,” as well (bonne chance).

Here is the difference: Bonne chance suggests that the person will succeed or fail due to factors outside of their control, while bon courage implies that success will come about due to the person’s strength and tenacity. Bon courage suggests some sort of difficulty, however big or small, that one has to overcome. For instance, if you are leaving work and want to wish your colleague the energy to finish their work and get through the rest of the day, you might say “Bon courage!” while leaving. You would not say “Bonne chance.”

Botellón (noun, Spanish): Directly translating to “big bottle,” this word describes the act of a group of people (generally young) joining together in public, open-air spaces (like streets, plazas and parks) to socialize and drink. Think: street parties.

The word is so ingrained in Spanish youth culture that stores even sell kits with mixers and plastic cups. If only it were actually legal to drink in public areas in the U.S. and who knows, we might have invented a word for this here too…

Cavoli riscaldati (noun, Italian): literally translating to “reheated cabbage,” this is the expression that Italians use to describe an attempt to revive a failed relationship.

Cafuné (noun, Brazilian Portuguese): Brazilians are an affectionate bunch; they even have a word to describe the act of tenderly running fingers through someone else’s hair (ie: fazer um cafuné).

Fernweh (noun, German): Fernweh is a longing to travel/missing a place you have never been to (similar to “wanderlust” but fernweh is more of a need than a want).

Dépaysement (noun, French): A very popular word that alludes to the homesickness, disorientation and culture shock that comes from not being in your home country.

Dolce far niente (Italian): This is one of my all-time favorite expressions. Unlike many Americans, who feel the need to stay busy all the time (I am guilty of being one of those), Italians don’t feel bad about being lazy every now and then. Au contraire — literally translating to “the sweetness of nothing,” this lovely expression refers to the simple relaxation and pleasure (not stress and guilt) that comes from doing absolutely nothing.

Estadounidense (noun, Spanish): Since “American” is not the globally PC word to define someone who is from the U.S., our Latin American counterparts have come up with one that is: estadounidense. So if you are estadounidense and traveling through South America, say “soy estadounidense” instead of “soy americana” when introducing yourself, and you will avoid confusion and be much better received.

Fika (verb/noun, Swedish): Used as both a verb and a noun, this word refers to a coffee break that happens throughout the day–and can sometimes last for hours. It often comes accompanied by pastries and sweets. But Fika is about more than just sipping coffee and munching on pastries — while it can be done alone, fika is essentially about relaxing and enjoying the company of people you are with. It is so much more than just a coffee break — in Sweden, it refers to a way of life. Let’s just say that the Swedes know how to really enjoy a coffee.

Forelsket (noun, Norwegian): the euphoria that comes with falling in love for the first time

Flâner (verb, French): To leisurely meander the streets of a city; exploring without a particular destination in mind, for the simple pleasure of soaking in a city’s beauty. This word, as you can probably imagine, was invented in the 19th century by the Parisian literary crowd. What more perfect city to be a flâneur in than Paris?

Fremdschämen (noun, German): the empathetic shame one might feel witnessing someone else in an embarrassing situation or making a fool of themselves

Empêchement (noun, French): This word, which means a last-minute change of plans, makes it easier to get out of something that you don’t want to or don’t have time to do. So if you can’t go to meet a friend because something came up, you might say to him/her “Desolée, je peux pas te rejoindre…j’ai un empêchement.” (Sorry I can’t meet you…something else came up).

Gezellig (Dutch): This is a word that you are likely to hear a lot in Holland. Gezellig is everything that is homey, cozy, comfortable, relaxing and enjoyable — all at the same time. It is closely tied to the people that you are with and the atmosphere that surrounds you. There must be a connection with the person in order for it to be gazellig. You can have a gazellig conversation with a friend or enjoy a gazellig coffee in the morning.

Gigil (noun, Tagalog): that urge to squeeze someone or something that is irrestisibly adorable

Hygge (noun/adjective/verb, Danish): Perhaps one of the most commonly used words in the Danish language, hygge (pronounced: hoo-gah) is a word that actually originated in Norway. It describes a snug feeling of coziness, contentment and peacefulness. But much more than that, hygge is about feeling grateful and enjoying the simple pleasures in life; it’s not about excess. You’re unlikely to feel hygge while dining at a fancy restaurant or checking in to a five-star hotel. You’re also unlikely to feel hygge while at work, although it’s not impossible.

Rather, hygge is something that is felt in a more relaxed, low-key environment. It’s something that is experienced while amongst just a few people, not within a large group. Since Danes tend to be quite introverted, they generally prefer spending a more hygge evening at home with just three or four friends than going to a large party and making small talk with a bunch of strangers (which would probably be the exact opposite of a hygge experience).

Here’s a typical hygge moment: You’re all bundled up, sitting by a blazing fire in the middle of winter, drinking a cup of warm coffee and chatting and laughing with some close friends and family. Even better if there’s a raging snowstorm outside and candles flickering around you.

Given everything that hygge stands for and the integral role that it plays in Danish society, it’s no wonder that Denmark has been ranked as the happiest country on earth several years in a row. I’d say we could all introduce a bit more hygge into our lives.

Kokusaijin (noun, Japanese): “an international person; someone who is cosmopolitan, flexible and open-minded” (http://www.drtimlomas.com)

L’esprit d’escalier (French): you know when you think of that witty retort after the conversation is over? Happens to me all the time. And apparently it happens enough to the French too that they have created an expression for it.

La douleur exquise (French): Perhaps it’s partially due to the melodic language…the delectable food…the beautiful capital city…the forward men…well, pretty much everything — but the French have long held a reputation for being romantics. Whether or not that’s the case (this merits a different discussion), they certainly have a plethora of romantic words and expressions in their vocabulary. La douleur exquise is one of them: that heart-wrenching pain of wanting someone who doesn’t want you back.

Lagom (noun, Swedish): Translating to just the right amount/doing everything in moderation, lagom is a word that seems to perfectly sum up the Swedish mentality. Unlike the U.S., which is a country of excess and inequality, Sweden is a nation based on moderation and equality.

Lagom can be witnessed in everyday life in Sweden: the work-life balance (unlike in the U.S., working overtime is actually frowned upon in Sweden); gender and social equality (I’d say it comes pretty close to being a classless society); the fact that Swedes are not showy about what they have (you won’t see many massive mansions or Ferraris in Sweden)…If only every country could practice more lagom

Malandro (noun, Portuguese): Living in Brazil, I heard this word a lot — but still have a difficult time explaining it in English. Here’s my attempt: a malandro is basically a guy who lives a lifestyle of malandragem (idleness and petty crime) to get by; is generally unfaithful in relationships; and uses his charisma and clever, street-smart ways to manipulate his way to success.

The female equivalent would be malandra, but is not as widely used. Generally it has a positive connotation for females — but Dilma (the former president of Brazil) might be an exception to that.

The malandro relies heavily on the jeitinho brasileiro — another untranslatable expression that refers to the popular Brazilian habit of bypassing rules and disobeying social norms to achieve success. The word malandro is therefore one that is illustrative of Brazilian society as a whole –malandragem and jeitinho brasileiro are deeply ingrained in Brazilian culture, for better or for worse.

It’s why, when dining out at restaurants in Brazil, you always have to be on the lookout for mysterious add-ons to your bill…or why, when going to the beach, you cannot take your eyes (or hands) off your belongings for one second, lest they get stolen…or why, when waiting in line somewhere, you have to be weary of those behind you who will subtly cut in front of you…and it’s why many Brazilians have a hard time adjusting to life in the U.S., a country with admittedly excessive and enforced rules for every. little. thing. A country that makes it quite difficult for anyone to be malandro — which also might help explain why this word has no translation in English.

Meriggiare (verb, Italian): the act of escaping the sun by resting in the shade

Merendar (verb, Spanish): to have an afternoon snack

Mudita (noun, Sanskrit): vicariously living through someone else’s joy/being genuinely happy for other peoples’ joy and success

Namorar (verb, Portuguese): I can’t attest to how the Portuguese do it, but after spending some time in Brazil, I realized that Brazilians have a totally different approach than Americans when it comes to dating. In Brazil, if you like someone a lot, you will generally start to date him or her exclusively shortly after meeting. None of this are we or aren’t we a couple? ambivalence and hesitation that is the norm in the U.S. They also have a much easier way to define dating someone exclusively: namorar.

Não falta vontade (Br. Portuguese) (literally: Will is not missing): This roughly translates to “trust me…I want to!”

Orka (verb, Swedish): being too tired or lazy to do something

Profiter (verb, French) This is a word that I love to use. It basically means “to take advantage of” something or a situation (in a good way). You might say to someone “profite bien de tes vacances!” (take advantage/make the most of your vacation). Or you can keep it simple and just say “profite!”

Retrouvailles (noun, French): that sheer joy of being reuinted with someone you haven’t seen in a while

Saideira (noun, Portuguese): a last drink before leaving to go out

Saudade (noun, Portuguese): One of the most popular words in the Portuguese language, saudade is a nostalgia and longing for someone or something that is no longer there or no longer exists (ex: Eu tenho muito saudades de você — I really miss you. Or a more colliqual use would be: Saudades de você).

Sisu (noun, Finnish): the psychological strength and determination required to overcome immense challenges

Sobremesa (noun, Spanish): In the U.S., going out to eat generally consists of ordering food, eating, paying the check and leaving. Because the U.S. is a consumerist society and since waiters live off of tips, restaurants generally try to get as much turnover as possible (which is why waiters ask customers about a million times how the food is and will generally rush them out of the restaurant by handing them the check before they even ask for it).

Compare that to Spain, where it’s actually considered rude for the waiter to bring the check to a table unsolicited. While it’s often nearly impossible to get a waiter’s attention, this also means that customers don’t have to feel guilty about lingering at the table for hours on end. Sobremesa is that time post-meal when the food has been eaten but the conversation is still flowing. To me, this word sums up quite well the laid-back Spanish lifestyle made up of late, drawn-out dinners preceded by lazy afternoon siestas.

Sumida (noun, Portuguese)- This is the noun version of “sumir” (to disappear) and is often used by Brazilians to greet someone who they haven’t spoken to in a while. For instance, if your friend has gone M.I.A. for several months, you might say to them, “E ai sumida” (hey, person who has disappeared). See, how do you translate that into English?

Te quiero (Spanish): In English, we only have one way to say “love,” which we use with friends, family, lovers and even our favorite pasta dish. In Spanish, there are different ways you can say “I love you” to someone, depending on who you are speaking to and how you feel about the person. Like apaixonar, te quiero falls somewhere in between “I like you” and “I love you.” While te quiero can be said to friends, family, as well as one’s significant other, te amo is only used romantically and is reserved for the most intimate forms of love.

Terroir (noun, French): Being a country that produces the most, and arguably the best, wine in the world, it’s only fitting that the French have a word that relates to the origins of wine production. Terroir is how certain environmental factors (such as soil, topography and climate) can affect the taste of wine.

Torschlusspanik (noun, German): the panic that people start to feel as they get older and worry about things that they should have done or should be doing before it’s too late

Toska (noun, Russian): there are many different levels of toska. At its most intense, the word translates to great spiritual anguish and yearning that often has no cause. It can also mean a simple longing and restlessness. It can be the desire for someone or something specific (similar to saudade in Portuguese). Finally, it can also translate to boredom.

Trouvaille (noun, French): something wonderful that is discovered by chance

Wabi-sabi (noun, Japanese): “a way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural cycle of growth and decay” (Altalang.com)

Verschlimmbessern (verb, German): the act of trying to make something better but actually making it worse

Voorpret (noun, Dutch): Know that feeling of excitement and enjoyment that comes before a party or event? This is the word for that.

And the list goes on…these were just a few of my favorites. What are some of your favorite untranslatable words/expressions?

Beyond the Beaches: Getting to Know Some of the Real Mexico

I think it’s safe to say that most gringos visit Mexico for the beaches. I’ll be honest: I’ve been guilty of being one of those gringos too.

Up until last week, the only places I had visited in Mexico were Tijuana, Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. In the latter two cities, my friend and I stayed at all-inclusive resorts and the only time we ventured out was to go to a few local bars (chaperoned by the resort staff of course).

While this was undoubtedly a relaxing and fun experience, I wouldn’t say we gained any sort of understanding of the Mexican culture or way or life. Culturally, we may as well have been in Florida.

I was curious to see what else this massive, neighboring country of mine had to offer. A few Google searches showed me that there was much more to see there than just exotic, white-sand beaches.

So I booked a trip for the long Memorial Day weekend. None of my friends could join, so I ended up going solo.

Many people would probably think I’m crazy for going to Mexico by myself. In the U.S., Mexico is perceived as being incredibly dangerous and off-limits to travel to. When I first moved to San Diego, I was initially terrified of going to Tijuana, based on everything that people told me. In the end, I realized it’s like any other city. Side note: Word on the street is that if Tijuana were a U.S. city, it would be ranked number #35 or so on the list of most dangerous U.S. cities. True story.

While it’s true that kidnapping, drug trafficking and assaults are more common in Mexico than many other countries, it also depends on where you go (border cities are obviously not as safe) and how you travel.  As my wise mother always told me, keep your antenna up. Don’t be stupid (and by “stupid,” I mean get excessively inebriated, leave your drink unattended, be loud, accept rides from strangers, or wander down vacant streets at night), and chances are, you’ll be fine.

Even so, I was a little nervous about traveling to Mexico by myself, given the bad rep that it has stateside. I had heard enough stories to incite a little fear in me.

Getting to Mexico 

I booked my flight from Tijuana to Mexico City–or DF (Distrito Federal) as the locals call it.

Tip: If you live in the San Diego area, you should seriously look into flights from Tijuana if you are heading south of the border; my flight was at least $200 cheaper than it was from San Diego.

There is a bridge from San Diego that will take you directly to the Tijuana airport, but I found it a bit ridiculous to pay $15 just to cross the border, so I parked my car on a random street by the border, then took an Uber to the border, walked across, and from there, took a taxi to the airport. With my broken Spanish, I somehow managed to bargain my taxi fare down from $20 to $8! Lesson learned: Don’t accept the first price you’re given, a.k.a. the gringo price.

Once at the TJ airport, it probably took me all of five minutes to get my boarding pass and walk through security–couldn’t have been easier.

When I arrived in DF (around 1AM), I took a taxi to my hostel, Casa San Ildefonso. The location was central (Centro Historico de la Cuidad) but in a pretty (supposedly) touristy area. Funnily enough though, I barely saw any other tourists outside of the hostel.

I expected to be sharing a room with like five other people (as is the case in most hostels), but instead, I had an entire room to myself the first night and the second night, had to share it with just one other person.

There were three spacious bedrooms connected to one another, with two beds in each room, all of which shared a common bathroom.  Set in a gorgeous colonial-style building, with high ceilings and hardwood floors, it felt almost more like a hotel or European mansion than a hostel.

It looked a little something like this:

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The area immediately surrounding the hostel was pedestrian-only, and it sat behind the beautiful Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso (Former College of San Ildefonso). So when I stepped outside, this was the view I was greeted with:

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Exploring DF 

I only had one day and night to spend in Mexico City, since I also wanted to visit Guanajuato, further north. I chose to spend my time just walking around and checking out the different neighborhoods and architecture.

Since I’m a big fan of rooftops, my first stop was El Mayor, a Mexican restaurant set on a rooftop overlooking Templo Mayor, one of the city’s major archaeological sites.

The food was expensive by Mexican standards, but average to cheap by most U.S. standards (I paid like 60 pesos or a few bucks for a delicious, seemingly bottomless pit of guacamole).

And the view made the above-average cost worth it…

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Next, I went to check out the more ritzy, upscale neighborhoods of La Condesa and La Roma. When I got to the metro station, I found that I was unable to pay with a credit card–and had no pesos on me. Luckily, the kind woman working behind the counter paid for my fare. I cannot imagine something like that ever happening in the U.S., where if you are so much as two pennies short, the cashier won’t let you make a purchase.

Once I made it to La Condesa, I passed by this beautiful, tranquil park. DSC_0497

The buildings in the neighborhood looked a little something like this:

I then wandered a bit further, into the neighboring La Roma. Out of all the places I saw in Mexico City, this was my favorite district. Populated by trendy cafes, chic restaurants and avant-garde boutiques, La Roma has got it going on. It’s also got a vibrant nightlife scene for those who are looking for a fun night out.

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I eventually took an Uber back to my hostel, and along the way, I saw some more stunning historical sites in the central neighborhood of Zócalo

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And then walked around some more…

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A few observations about DF 

One thing I loved about Mexico City was that, despite being a massive city with a population of over 21 million (fun fact: that’s more than five times the size of New Zealand), I’ve never met such friendly, helpful people. If I so much as looked a little bit lost, whether on the street or on the metro, people would come up to me and ask if I needed help. This happened not once, not twice, but multiple times.

Everyone I encountered was also so polite. For instance, Uber drivers would actually get out of the car and walk over to the other side just to open the car door for me.  Nice to know that chivalry is not dead after all!

Here in the US, my pet peeve is being called “ma’am.” In Mexico, I loved that everywhere I want, people called me “senorita” (“miss”).  I imagine that this is a result of the more casual, friendly Mexican approach.

To be expected, everything was so cheap in comparison to the U.S. It was nice to be able to eat out at a nice restaurant and not feel like I was spending half my weekly income. And considering the fact that a 20-minute Uber ride costs only about $2 (no exaggeration here), which is cheaper than the cost of a metro ride in New York City, I could take an Uber everywhere and not feel guilty about it.

Despite the warnings I had heard about Mexico City (I had actually heard of people who came to DF and hired bodyguards), I felt incredibly safe walking around by myself.

I definitely felt safer walking around than I did sitting in the backseat of Ubers or taxis. It doesn’t seem like traffic laws are really obeyed or enforced in DF. Even when the streets were congested with people, drivers would just keep driving. Whatever happened to stopping for pedestrians? There were also multiple instances where I actually thought that another driver was going to run into us!

Onwards and northwards 

After soaking in all of DF’s madness, I headed north to the colonial city of Guanajuato.

I took an Uber to the main bus station in the north of the city and from there, took a bus to Guanajuato. The ticket was quite expensive (around 600 pesos or 30 dollars for a 5-hour bus ride), but each passenger had their own reclining chair and TV with a wide selection of movies and TV shows.

I arrived in Guanajuato later than expected–around 8:30PM–without a place to stay. But I ended up lucking out and finding an awesome place at the last-minute.

I stayed in yet another quaint, beautiful hostel (called Casa de Dante), a bit aways from the main city center (but within walking distance). To reach the hostel, I had to walk up a seemingly endless flight of stairs–not easy when you’re lugging an approximately 25-pound bag along with you!

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Like Casa San Ildefonso, this hostel had a very open, airy feel to it. There was also a massive two-level balcony with amazing views of the city…

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Besides the hospitable staff and endless supply of free earplugs (!!), one thing I loved about the hostel was all of the distinctive signs and decorations throughout. As you can see, there was a heavy emphasis on drinking!

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After I arrived at the hostel (around 10:30PM), I went out and explored the town with a Kiwi guy and a Mexican guy who were staying in my room.

Not sure if this was just coincidental, but I found it interesting that I was the only female staying at Casa de Dante and was also one of the few (if not the only) females staying at my hostel in Mexico City. Girls, don’t be scared of Mexico!

Saturday night on the town 

Even though the streets were packed and alive with music everywhere, many of the restaurants were already closed by the time we got into town.

So what exactly do you order on a night out in Guanajuato? I’m not a huge beer person, but apparently, Corona is not the type of beer you should be drinking in Mexico. From what I’ve heard, the best Mexican beers (and the ones that you will probably see the most people drinking) are Dos Equis, Victoria and Leon.

Mexcal, a distilled beverage made from the agave plant (native to Mexico), is also a must-try. It is basically like tequila, but tastier, traditionally served with orange slices instead of lime slices. And instead of being served with normal salt, mexcal is accompanied by chili salt or sal de gusano, which is sea salt ground with the dried caterpillars that infest agaves. Gross, I know. I actually didn’t know that until I looked it up afterwards–and probably would have been better off not knowing that.

Anyway, mexcal comes in many different flavors, and you can drink it as a shot or sip it, whatever suits your fancy.

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Daytime exploring 

The next day, Sunday, I had planned to spend the morning and early afternoon in Guanajuato and then head on to San Miguel de Allende (which is only an hour away and on the way to Mexico City, where my flight was flying out of on Monday night), but I was so entranced by Guanajuato that I couldn’t bring myself to leave.

You can see why…

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Like DF, I also felt very safe walking around the city, both day and night.

I spent another day touring around, and on my last night, I went to get a drink with the guys from my hostel at a bar that boasted one of the best views of the city (and a shot of mexcal for 50 cents). This view (seen below) is also about 100 times better in person.

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We then all went out for some dinner and drinks. Even though it was a Sunday night, the town was full of people out and about. There’s really no off-night in Guanajuato!

One thing I appreciated was how few tourists there were in Guanajuato. During my time there, I only heard English spoken a few times outside the hostel. It definitely was nice to be in a foreign country and actually feel like I was in a foreign country.

The next morning, before I left, I had a delicious, homemade breakfast at the hostel (which was included with my stay).

I was shocked to discover that the hostel actually had its own private chef on staff, who cooks and serves the guests each day. The most I’ve seen a hostel ever have for breakfast is bread and maybe waffles if I’m lucky! This put all the other hostel (and hotel) breakfasts I’ve ever had to shame…

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Shortly after breakfast, I headed back to the bus station, where I took a bus to Querétaro, and from Querétaro, hopped on a bus that took me directly to the airport in Mexico City.

It may have been a lot of traveling, but hey, at least I had some nice views on the way there…

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I bid farewell to Mexico with some delicious tacos. Even the airport tacos in Mexico put US tacos to shame:

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Hasta luego, Mexico!

18 Life Lessons I’ve Learned in My 20s

I just turned 29.

While it’s hard to believe that my 20s is nearly over, I will say that I’ve had a pretty awesome decade. And while in some ways, I wish I could be 23 again, I am also grateful to be where I am today and excited to enter a new decade.

One of the privileges of getting older is that, as the old saying goes, you also become wiser. I know so much more about myself and life than I did when I was 20. I know my strengths and I know what I need to work on. In many ways, I’m a completely different person than I was even six years ago.

Here are 18 important life lessons that I’ve learned in my 20s:

  1. Live in the moment 

Human beings spend about 47% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are doing at that moment.

And contrary to what you might think, all this thinking makes us unhappier–not happier. Thinking about the past often makes us depressed…and thinking about the future makes us anxious. Living in the present moment is what makes us happy.

It’s easy to get lost in our own heads sometimes and forget about what’s going on around us.  But life passes by so quickly–and the older we get, the faster it goes.

Try to set your worries and thoughts aside and just focus on what you’re doing in the present moment–practice mindfulness. If you can achieve that, trust me, you will be a much happier person.

2. Don’t overanalyze 

Many of us (myself included) have a tendency to read into things a bit too much. Our minds have a tendency to jump to the worst case scenario. We take things personally and make everything about us, when oftentimes, it has nothing to do with us at all. The problem is that overthinking can be self-destructive.

So instead, train your mind to develop more positive narratives. Is your roommate giving you the cold shoulder? Maybe he just had a bad day! Is your friend not responding to your text? Maybe she’s just been busy! If you catch yourself overanalyzing something, stop, and ask yourself if what you’re thinking about is really rational. And then try to focus on what you’re doing in the present moment instead.

3. Claim your own self worth 

Probably more than any other generation that preceded us, we millennials tend to seek validation in every which way. We count Instagram likes and followers, as if those numbers define our self worth.

And I’ll admit–It’s easy to get caught up in seeking such superficial validation. But seriously…who cares?

What matters is how you think of yourself. Who cares what everyone else thinks? Be confident in yourself and know that you are great–without needing to hear it (or see it) from other people.

Treat yourself and talk to yourself like you would a good friend.

Did you not get that job you really wanted? Don’t take it personally. Move on. Did that guy you really like never call you? Clearly he didn’t realize just how special you are. His loss. You’ll find someone better who does appreciate you.

Rejection is not easy to deal with. When we get rejected, it’s so easy to get down on ourselves and question ourselves. Which is why it’s so important to believe in your own self-worth and not let others define it for you. If you always seek the approval of others, you will never truly be happy.

So remind yourself of all your wonderful qualities–and love yourself.

4. Don’t care what other people think

No matter how hard you may try to be nice to everyone, there are always going to be people talking badly about you and people who don’t like you. It’s just the reality.

Try and forget about the negative things that people say about you, and focus on the positive instead.

And…

5. Don’t remain friends with judgmental or negative people 

They are toxic and will always find a way to bring you down. It’s not you–it’s them (even though they might try to make you believe otherwise). But it’s up to you to get rid of them.

6. But do keep the good people in your life

Good friends are hard to come by. I mean the really good friends. The ones that don’t judge you when you tell them your deepest, darkest secrets…the ones who will tell you if that dress really doesn’t look that good on you (tactfully of course)…the ones you can call at 2AM when you are crying over that guy or girl who broke your heart…the ones who come to your house and keep you company when you are feeling bad and can’t get out of bed…the ones who are always there to support you, no matter what.

Those kinds of friends are few and far between. As you get older, you will inevitably go through difficult situations. Some of your friends might stick around. And others might abandon you. It’s the sad reality.

Plus, you change so much in your 20s, so you will grow apart from some friends, as sad as that may be to think about. People change–and so do friendships. But the really strong friendships will be there for life. 

7. Learn from your mistakes

You are going to mess up and do things that you regret. You are going to fail. It’s part of life.

What matters is how you handle it. Don’t dwell on your mistakes or let them bring you down too much. Learn from them, pick yourself up and move on.

8. Never stop learning 

In college, we’re always learning new things. We’re reading and soaking in new information on a daily basis.

But when we finish school, we have to make more of an effort to accumulate knowledge. We have to be intentional about our growth.

Whether you prefer listening to podcasts, reading books or watching videos, find ways to keep learning on an everyday basis. Pick up a new language. Read about the history of mankind (I recommend Sapiens for that!). Watch TED Talks. Whatever you do, just keep learning.

Not only will this increase your own self-worth and confidence, but it will make you a more interesting, smarter individual. And a better conversationalist!

9. Stand up for yourself

Is your boss not paying you what you deserve? Speak up!

Is that guy you’re seeing only texting you at 11PM at night? Don’t put up with it!

Did some punk cut you in line at the grocery store? Politely tell him that he is behind you.

Not totally satisfied with your meal at the restaurant? Say so!

For people that aren’t very assertive, this can be hard and take some practice. But the older you get, the easier it will get to stand up for yourself.

Train yourself to say “no” and put your foot down. And don’t let anyone take advantage of you.

10. Take risks 

Some of the greatest experiences I’ve had have been a result of risk-taking. Life is just too short to not take risks! Period.

11. Treat your body well 

When I was 20, I didn’t think too much about my diet…I would party multiple nights a week…Let’s just say that I wasn’t living the healthiest lifestyle.

My two cents? Be kind to your body. Your habits now can dictate your future, so start developing positive habits now. Exercise regularly. Eat a healthy, plant-based diet. Drink alcohol in moderation. Get 8 hours of sleep a night. And wear sunscreen!

Your body will thank you in the end.

12. Open your mind 

Just because someone has a different or unique way of doing something doesn’t mean that it’s wrong—or that your way is right.  To think that your way is or should be the only way of doing something is the definition of close-minded.

Living abroad and traveling has really helped to open my eyes and learn to be more accepting of differences, even if they may differ from my way of doing things.

13. Fake it till you make it. 

Let’s say you really, really want this job…but your confidence is wavering a bit and you are worried about the interview, not quite sure that you can handle the workload…What do you do? Fake it!

Pretend like you have all the confidence in the world, act confident, pretend like you believe in yourself and you can handle it all–and my guess is, you will get the job. And you will succeed at it too.

If you act like you believe in yourself, other people will too. And the best part? If you fake it, eventually, you will actually believe in yourself too– eventually you will “make it”. Guaranteed.

14. Relish singleton.

Most of us get married at some point in our 30s. So live it up in your 20s. Move to some exotic country. Live in a house with a bunch of friends and throw house parties on weekends. Party on a weekday when you have to work the next day. Go on bad dates and moan about it to your friends after. Go on good dates. Kiss many, many frogs before you settle down on just one.

Do all the things that you won’t be able to do (or will be much harder) once you settle down and start a family.

15. Know what you want – and go after it

My mom was the definition of go-getter.  If she wanted something, whether it be a job, a pay raise or a doctor’s appointment in a jam-packed schedule, she would go after it–and almost always get it. She had a way of being able to convince people to do just about anything she wanted.

Over the years, she taught me how important it is to go after what you want. Know that things will not be handed to you on a silver platter, so don’t expect them to. If you want something, you’ve got to give it your all and chase after it.

16. Don’t plan things out too much 

When my dad goes on a trip, he writes out the exact day-to-day itinerary. He buys the travel guidebooks and highlights the things that interest him. He knows exactly where he will be staying and what he will be doing.

Let’s just say that I do things a little differently.

Personally, I think the beauty of life is not knowing what is just around the corner. I like that I don’t know where I will be or what I will be doing in two years–or even one year.

If you plan out your life too much and set too many timelines for yourself, you are likely to either a) rush into something that you aren’t ready for or b) end up disappointed.

17. Spend your money on experiences–not things 

It’s funny to think that I used to place any sort of value at all on material things.

I went to a high school where you were looked down upon if you drove a beat-up car or wore non-designer jeans. It’s laughable now, but at the time, I thought that those things were important.

But think of it this way: What do you think you’ll remember years down the road? That Gucci handbag or that incredible vacation you took with your friends? I think you can probably guess the answer to that one.

I definitely don’t live a completely minimalist lifestyle now–and don’t get me wrong, every now and then, I still like to go shopping just as much as every other girl. But I’d much rather spend my money going skydiving or jetting off to Bali than on a few material possessions.

18. Value your time 

In our 20s, we tend to think that we have an endless amount of time at our disposal. At least I did. I would do things here and there to maybe save some money–but would end up wasting my precious time in return.

Over the years, I’ve learned to place much more value on my time than money. For example, if I go to the grocery store 10 minutes away and end up buying what turns out to be some rotten fruit, I probably won’t spend the time to return it.

If someone that I’m not totally crazy about wants to hang out, then I will most likely decline. If a job wants to pay me below what I know I’m worth, then I won’t accept it. If it’s going to take me 1.5 hours by bus to get somewhere…and 30 minutes by taxi…then I’ll take the taxi (assuming it’s affordable).

Time is our most valuable commodity. So treasure it. Make the most of it. And don’t waste a single second of it.

17 Razões para Ter Adorado Morar no Brasil

Após ler um artigo, escrito por um americano que morou em São Paulo, notando todos os razões que ele odiou morar no Brasil, pensei em fazer o contrario.

Não me entende mal – concordei com muitos pontos no artigo – e tinha as diferencias na cultura que eu não gostei e achei difícil morar no Brasil por vários razoes (os preços altos, salários baixos, ineficiência, serviço de cliente etc). Mas, nenhum pais é perfeito. Como eu já falei, existem as coisas que prefiro no meu pais, as coisas que eu prefiro na Europa e as coisas que eu prefiro no Brasil.

Bom, eu passei 9 meses no Rio de Janeiro, voltando em junho.  E esses são os razões para eu ter gostado (quis dizer, AMADO) de morar no Brasil…

(A propósito, peço desculpas para meu português, que está longe de ser perfeito!)

1) A cultura é bem descontraída

“Relaxa”, “fica tranquila”…esses expressões são bem comuns no Brasil. Adorei isso. Se você não tem troco, “fique tranquilo”….se você está atrasado por um compromisso, “fique tranquilo, vai dar certo.” Se você está agitado, “relaxa”…a internet caia e você não tem acesso ao internet pelo dia…sem problemas. Até o jeito de falar (e cantar) é descontraído.

No Rio, reparei que é normal ver uma pessoa usando apenas sunga na rua, no supermercado ou no ônibus. Nos EUA ou na Europa, você nunca veria isso. As vezes, os ônibus param para você montar-se, mesmo se não seja o ponto. De novo, nos EUA, que sempre segue as regras, isso não aconteceria. Dançar na rua? Normal no Brasil. Musica tocando em todos os cantos? Normal também. Rico ou pobre, as pessoas realmente sabem viver no Brasil e eu adorei isso.

2) Todo o mundo tem sua própria beleza

No Brasil, não importa se você esteja velho ou gordo, magro ou jovem – todo o mundo usa sunga e biquíni na praia e ninguém julga. Nos EUA, as mulheres só usam biquínis se elas são jovens e magras. Mas no Brasil, todas as mulheres usam biquínis pequenas e elas são orgulhosas de seus corpos (ou pelo menos, parecem). Mesma coisa com os homens.

Ao contrario, eu acho triste que aqui nos EUA, todo o mundo pensa que tem que ser jovem e sem rugas para ser bonita. Quando passamos uma certa idade, tem que encobrir-se. Mas por que? envelhecer é uma coisa normal, acontece com todo o mundo e porque temos vergonha disso? Por que encobrimos nossos corpos se eles não estejam bastante magros, jovens ou perfeitos? Acho que poderíamos aprender umas coisas do Brasil – seja orgulhoso/a do seu corpo porque a beleza vem em muitas formas e tamanhos.

3) Musica em todos as lugares

Eu adoro a musica brasileira – de forro, samba, funk, sertanejo (minha preferida!)…tem vários estilos bem únicos.  Na rua, você quase sempre pode ouvir alguém tocando musica. A musica faz parte da cultura brasileira e um parte bem importante. Eu adorei as bandas que tocavam nas ruas do Rio no domingo…enquanto transeunte andava bicicleta, andava de skate, ou levava o cão para andar…eu nunca tinha visto um estilo de vida tão descontraído e legal…talvez em Venice Beach, Califórnia. Mas tipo assim…

4) As pessoas apreciam as coisas pequenas

Tipo…apos o por de sol na praia (algo que acontece todos os dias), todo o mundo aplaudem! Que coisa linda.

5) A variedade das frutas e verduras

Cada vez que eu ia ao supermercado, conhecia mais uma fruta nova – tem açaí, 6 tipos diferentes das mangas, tem maracujá, as abacates enormes…etc etc. Se você pede uma caipirinha, pode garantir que vai ser feita com fruta verdadeira (nos EUA ou na Europa, isso não é o caso no geral…as bebidas são feitas com suco ao invés de fruta…depois ter vivado no Brasil, não da mais para beber desse jeito!).

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6) As festas nas ruas

Nos EUA, não pode beber álcool na rua (o exceção sendo Nova Orleans)…acho isso uma besteira e acho que não faz sentido. Eu adorei festejar nas ruas do Rio, seja BG (Baixo Gavea), Lapa ou samba nas segundas ao Pedra do Sal…Sinto muito falta disso.

7) Os Brasileiros sabem festejar…

Quando eu fui para Ouro Preto, eu fiquei em 2 republicas – festejamos quase todas as noites – fomos para varios “rocks” – e eu me diverti muito. Eu deveria ter assistido faculdade lá…As festas no Rio também eram bem legais – talvez mais descontraídas (todo o mundo usando tipo chinelos e bermudas, ao invés dos saltos e vestidos)…mas ainda assim…em qualquer lugar, os brasileiros sabem festejar!

8) A cultura de praia

Um tempo atrás, eu fui pra praia aqui em Delray Beach (na Florida) e eu quis alugar uma guarda-sol – quer adivinhar o preço? 40 dólares por dia. Um absurdo, né? No Rio, isso custa 5 reais!

Além do alugamento barato, eu adorei a cultura na praia no Brasil. As barracas, as pessoas vendendo agua de coco, açaí ou até biquíni…as pessoas jogando futebol na praia até 19h…as sungas e biquínis pequenas…a praia é realmente uma coisa importante da cultura do Rio e eu adorei.

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 9) Ademais das pessoas que trabalham nas lojas e tal, as pessoas são bem amigáveis, felizes e educados.

Por exemplo, quase cada vez que eu comecei falar português, um brasileiro falava alguma coisa assim para mim: “Nossa!! Você fala português melhor do que eu!” Claro que isso não é verdade – mas esses elogios são bem simpáticos.

Marcar algo no Brasil não quer dizer a mesma coisa do que nos EUA. Se você marcar aqui, você tem que aparecer, senão, é grosseiro e mostra falta do respeito. Mas eu reparei que no Brasil, é simplesmente educado falar tipo “Vamos marcar algo!” ou convidar alguém para fazer algo e não quer dizer nada. Eu fiquei um pouco frustrada as vezes por causa desse confusão (e percebi que quase todas as coisas acontecem no ultimo momento no Brasil), mas ao mesmo tempo, reparei que isso é apenas um jeito de ser educado. E falar “não” para alguém é falta do respeito – é mais simpático falar “talvez” ou “sim” e não aparecer do que falar “não”.

O povo brasileiro é bem aberto e terno. Um brasileiro/a vai imediatamente te acolher na casa dele/a – quando eu estava namorando meu ex por exemplo, toda a família dele me acolheu nas suas casas como se eu fosse um membro da família. E quando eu visitei Ouro Preto (sozinha), alguém na site couchsurfing me convidou ficar na casa dele (numa republica) – eu fiquei lá 5 noites e, além de me dar meu próprio quarto (numa republica, a maioria das pessoas dividem um quarto entre varias pessoas), eles me deixaram com o sentimento que eu era uma parte da republica.  Eles me fizeram sentir em casa – me levando para todas as festas e eventos, fazendo comida para mim, me ajudando com o português…e ate dizendo que eu podia morar lá se eu quisesse (um exageração eu imagino! Mas foi simpático ainda assim).

E no geral, os estranhos na rua vão tentar te ajudar se você está perdido ou precisa de ajuda. Conheço uma americana que mora em Belo Horizante, e ela falou que as pessoas ai são os mais amigáveis que ela já tem conhecido. No Rio, eu admito que eu não achei a maioria das pessoas tão amigáveis que eu tinha esperado…mas isso pode ser por causa do grande tamanho da cidade e a quantidade das turistas. Porque quando eu fui pra Minas Girais, eu achei todo o mundo muito amigável.

Acho que sendo gringa ajuda com isso, porque as pessoas imediatamente são bem curiosos de onde você é etc…mas ainda assim, no geral, acho que os brasileiros são bem abertos e (de novo essa palavra) amigáveis.

10) A beleza natural do pais 

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Um trilha perto de Paraty, RJ

As praias, montanhas, cachoeiras, colinas rolantes e verduras, as selvas….Eu deixei a Paris porque eu queria uma mudança – queria morar num lugar descontraído, com beleza natural…como o Brasil. Eu não fui decepcionada. “A cidade maravilhosa” nao é um exageração. Mais do que isso, eu visitei Floripa, Paraty, as praias isoladas perto de Paraty, e Ouro Preto…eu fiquei ainda mais apaixonada pelo Brasil. Nossa senhora, esse pais tem uma beleza que eu nunca tinha visto na minha vida. E essa beleza deixa a oportunidade para fazer quase todos os tipos de esportes imaginável. O surfing, o SUP (stand-up paddle), escalada, trilha…A Europa tem arquitetura linda e tanta historia, sim…mas sejam orgulhosos, brasileiros, porque seu pais é lindo demais.

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Praia Vermelha no RJ

11) Brasileiros são bem carinhosos

Não importa se você esta namorando ou apenas ficando com alguém, os brasileiros são bem carinhosos. Alem disso, os homens sempre vão elogiar uma mulher. “Voce ta linda” é uma frase muito falado no Brasil. Muitos brasileiros dizem que os Americanos são frios” – eu não concordo com isso – somos mais independentes, sim…e as vezes, moramos longe da família, sim. Mas não quer dizer que a família não é importante para nós. E não estamos acostumados ao mostrar muito carinho em publico – mas tudo isso não quer dizer que somos “frios”!

Em qualquer caso, eu gostei do jeito brasileiro de mostrar muito carinho. Eu estava saindo com um brasileiro aqui na Florida – e até em frente dos amigos dele, ele me mostrava muito carinho– me beijando na bochecha, pegando meu mão etc. A gente nem estava namorando, mas ainda assim – o carinho não faltava. O americano é mais reservado quanto a mostrar carinho.

Até o jeito de falar é bem carinhoso – tipo falar/escrever “abraços” ou “beijos” – eu lembro que eu tinha dado meu currículo para uma empresa na Floripa – um cara respondeu para mim e falou que eles não precisavam das pessoas naquele momento mas ele assinou o e-mail “abraços” – eu nunca tinha conhecido esse cara na minha vida, nem falado com ele, e ele estava me dando abraços!! 🙂 Um outro exemplo: quando eu estava com alguém na rua – ele pediu direções e o ajudante falou “abraços” depois. Eu adorei isso.

12) A língua

A língua português é simplesmente musica aos meus ouvidos. Eu adorei morar no Brasil e sempre escutar essa língua maravilhosa. Nem preciso da musica – só preciso dos brasileiros falando português…

Eu acho muito interessante que a língua muda com cada região. E tem muitas frases que não traduzem em inglês – eu acho essa língua muito bonitinho também – o jeito de falar….tipo “Beleza” por exemplo – em inglês, a gente não tem nenhuma frase igual! “The beauty”? Faz sentido não, galera!

13) Tomando ônibus é como tomar uma montanha- russa!

No Rio, muitas vezes (especialmente sentado em frente do ônibus), parece que o ônibus vai virar! É foda mesmo. Mas eu adorei pegar ônibus porque (quando eu não estava com medo da morte), eu achei a viajem relaxante, divertido e as vezes excitante (como uma montanha-russa!).

14) O chopp sempre servido quase congelado 

No Brasil, só tem alguns tipos de cerveja, enquanto nos EUA, temos provavelmente milhares.  Eu prefiro a variedade da cerveja nos EUA, mas eu prefiro a temperatura da cerveja no Brasil – sempre servido bem frio, quase congelado.  Quando esta assim…uma delicia!

15) As lugares caseiros tipo…

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Um lugar bem caseiro no meio de Lavras Novas, Ouro Preto

Nesse lugar, a cozinheira/dona até deixou o amigo que estava comigo fazer caipirinhas para a gente! Nunca vi uma coisa assim.  Eu tinha impressione que eu estava na casa de um amigo duradouro, não um restaurante.

16) A campanha do Brasil 

Sim, tem talvez as praias mais lindas do mundo no Brasil. Mas eu adorei também o interior do pais. Eu só visitei Minas Girais, mas eu adorei e apesar do fato que era apenas uns horas do Rio, reparei um grande diferencia não só no sotaque, mas também na cultura. As pessoas eram ainda mais simpáticos e abertos, todo o mundo ouvia sertanejo (não samba ou funk como no Rio) e tinha uma beleza diferente, com colinas e montanhas.

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Ouro Preto – cidade linda…

E uma vez, em Lavras Novas (Ouro Preto), eu vi um cavalo e algumas vacas andando no meio da rua e grama!! Normal lá! Completamente diferente da vida no Rio…

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17) As coisas são as vezes mais simples do que aqui, mas não importa

Quando eu fui pra as praias perto de Paraty com minha amiga, eu percebi que todo o mundo levava uma vida bem simples, sem muitas coisas matérias.  As áreas foram isolados e longe de civilização…as casas eram bem simples e as pessoas viviam com muito pouco…mas não importa.

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Pessoalmente, eu gostei de escapar a vida normal por uns dias – sem telefone e internet…a gente fez uma trilha que durou 3 dias e acampou a noite.  Foi um viagem bem legal, mas também foi legal ver como essas pessoas viviam.

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Uma praia mais povoado na peninsula

Ta, tudo isso esta me deixando com tanta saudade do Brasil que eu preciso parar agora…mas espero que agora, vocês sabem que tem muitas pessoas (e americanos!) que adoram viver nesse pais maravilhoso.

Hiking Around Paraty and Surrounding Beaches

While I was living in Rio, one of my best and oldest friends from home, Mareill, came to visit me to help me celebrate my 27th birthday.

As if visiting me wasn’t enough, as a birthday gift, she generously treated me to a three-day hiking trip around Paraty, a small coastal colonial town in the state of Rio de Janeiro. I know, I have some pretty awesome friends.

To get to Paraty, we woke up before the crack of dawn (around 3AM) and got on a bus from Rio, which was about five hours away. From there, we hopped on a boat and headed to a nearby beach, where we began our hike.

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The beautiful pink boat we took

Paraty runs along the coastline (Costa Verde) of the state of Rio and is surrounded by untouched beaches and lush green mountains and forests.

During the boat ride, we passed by little islands like this one…

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And about an hour later, we finally reached the beach where we started our hike…

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I know. And that’s not even photoshopped.

Before starting the hike, we explored the beaches a bit, finding that, while they were not entirely secluded (there were actually people living on and near the beaches), they felt completely cut off from civilization. It was definitely a nice escape.

After the first day of hiking, we set up camp at a campsite, where a local of the area  prepared and served us a homemade dinner. We were both so exhausted that we passed out shortly afterwards, at around 7PM.

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Our campsite the first night

The next day, we hiked by some jaw-dropping landscape…

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And that evening, after a long day of hiking, we finally arrived at our next destination: an adorable, bustling little village (well, comparatively anyway).

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Bar/restaurant on one of the beaches

For dinner, we went to a local villager’s home, where we were cooked yet another meal. Something I could definitely get used to!

And we spent the night in a tiny house that had just a bathroom and a bedroom.

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The next day, we woke up early again for a third (and final) day of hiking, which led to even more beautiful, pristine beaches.

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And towards the end of our hike, we finally reached the best view of all…

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We hiked down to the bottom of the trail and arrived at yet another little beach village (perhaps the biggest one yet).

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One of the beach bars/restaurants on the last beach we trekked through

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Loved the carefully crafted, handmade chairs and tables

 

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A school on the beach

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Loving the creativity here.
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Bathroom/outdoor sinks of one of the homes

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After a little much-needed R & R, we were off once more to start the last leg of the hike.

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One final view before leaving
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The last leg of the hike…at this point, I was about ready to collapse!

Once we finally finished the hike, we caught a bus back to Paraty, where we explored a bit more before heading back to Rio.

Even if you don’t make it to the beaches, Paraty itself is definitely worth a visit. The historic center of the town is made up of narrow, cobblestone streets and whitewashed, red-roofed buildings adorned by colorful doors and windows. Cars are prohibited, so people get around by horse and carriage or bicycle. It looks a little something like this…

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Now, how can you not fall in love with that place?

After the sun set, we caught the bus back to Rio. It was hard to leave Paraty, but it’s a little hard to complain when your home looks like this…

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Morro Dois Irmoes, Rio de Janeiro

10 Reasons Why Moving Abroad Alone is One of the Best Things You Can Do

I was 22 when I moved abroad alone for the first time.

I had finished college a few months earlier and had decided that I wanted to take a gap year before entering the “real world.” So I chose to teach English in Toulouse, France for the school year.

Well, I loved it so much that one year turned into two. Then, after spending another six months at home trying to figure out my next step, I decided to move back to France–but this time to Paris to continue my studies.

A year and a half later, with one Masters degree under my belt, I once again moved abroad alone–this time to Brazil–and this time, without a job or Masters program lined up ahead of time. I spent nine months in Rio looking for a job, teaching some English and doing a bit of journalism before I ultimately decided to move back to the U.S. (it was too hard to find a work visa in Rio for the type of career that I wanted to pursue…and this was before I even considered remote work as an option).

I have found that it’s one thing to travel – but living in a foreign country is a completely unique and life-changing experience. Here is why moving abroad alone is one of the best things you can do when you are young, free and independent:

1) You will become a stronger, more self-reliant and independent individual.

If you can face the challenges that come along with moving alone to a foreign country, then you can do just about anything.

Moving abroad alone has made me far more self-sufficient and independent than I used to be.

For starters, I am now totally comfortable doing things on my own – going to a cafe by myself with nothing and no one but my own company? No problem. Going to the movies by myself? Sure! Couch surfing solo in the apartment of a total stranger? Check.

Whether you move abroad thanks to a job transfer or with no job and only a few hundred dollars in the bank, you will inevitably encounter problems along the way that you will be forced to solve on your own (especially if it’s the latter).

I know I dealt with my fair share of stressful situations, especially that first year in France…here are a few examples of some situations that I had to deal with and solve on my own:

Problem #1: When I got to the airport to check my luggage, I found that I would have to pay some ridiculous fine, like $500, due to my overweight bags (I did try to weigh my luggage before going to the airport, but clearly that didn’t work out so well!). Luckily, some nice American guys, who were standing in line behind me, overheard the situation, and offered to carry my belongings in plastic bags as their carry-ons for me. A bit of creativity, resourcefulness, and kindness from random strangers helped save me $500!

Problem #2: So I got to Germany (I was stopping over in Munich for Oktoberfest before heading on to Toulouse) without an international phone and realized that my couchsurfing host still had not gotten back to me with his address. For those of you who don’t know, couchsurfing is a website in which people host travelers in their home–free of charge. Lesson learned: always make sure to get the address and phone number of where you are going before leaving the country (duh).

I still clearly remember this scenario: I ended up, with all of my ridiculous amounts of luggage in hand, on the streets of Munich, trying to figure out a game plan.

Fortunately, it wasn’t too long before I spied an Internet cafe, where I was able to look up the phone number of my couchsurfer who I then called using the phone of a random, kind German guy (thank goodness for nice strangers!).

That nice stranger then helped me haul my luggage down the stairs of the subway. Why in God’s name I decided to take the subway and not just hail a taxi is still beyond me. The things you will do to save a few dollars when you are 22…

But I finally made it. And proceeded to have several of the most memorable days of my life.

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Prost! While I had a rocky start, Oktoberfest ended up being totally worth it.

Minor Issue: In France, I was teaching in a small town called Lannemezan, in the middle of nowhere, about an hour and a half from Toulouse. I chose to live in Toulouse and make the commute three days a week, because for me, commuting costs and waking up at 5AM once a week was a small sacrifice to make to live in La Ville Rose (Toulouse).  The other Chilean teaching assistant from my town chose to live in Lannemezan. I am so glad that I lived in Toulouse, because I know that I would have had a completely different experience had I chosen to live in that little small town.

Problem #3: I moved to Toulouse not knowing a single soul. That quickly changed when I joined the Facebook group dedicated to Teaching Assistants in Toulouse (thank goodness for Facebook!). Before moving abroad, I have to admit that I was totally closed to the idea of meeting people online. This was before couchsurfing and meetup.com were really popular…before the advent of dating apps and the like. But when you move abroad not knowing anyone, you have to meet people somehow!

One of my first nights in Toulouse, I ended up going out with some new friends I made through that Facebook group.

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One of my first nights out in Toulouse, with some new friends

Before arriving, I had also started speaking with an Irish girl from the Facebook group and we even talked about living together. In the end, it didn’t work out since she had to live in the small town where she worked (and commuting wasn’t an option for her).

But we met up in person when we were both in Toulouse and ended up becoming good friends. We even went traveling together during one of our many vacations — and just last year, we met up in Toulouse for a mini three-year reunion.

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Toulouse reunion at Café Pop – one of my favorite places to go out in Toulouse (only on Monday nights though!)

If I had come to Toulouse with a friend, I wouldn’t have been forced to get out there and use the Internet to my advantage like that – and I may never have made all the wonderful friends that I did.

Problem #4: When I moved to France, I also arrived with nowhere to live (Airbnb didn’t exist then and, well, good luck trying to find a permanent living arrangement from another country). I ended up getting lucky and living with a friend, who I had met upon my arrival, for several weeks…before finding an apartment. The problem in France is that, in order to get an apartment, you must have a bank account set up. But in order to set up bank account, you have to have an apartment/address. You can see my predicament…In the end, I sorted it out and ended up living with an Italian girl that I met through another friend I made on couchsurfing.  Let’s just say that it did not end well…

Problem #5: Due to some serious miscommunication over an apartment guarantee (thank you language barrier), I found myself suddenly apartmentless in the middle of a trip to Spain.  My roommate, who had made plans to move out, informed me, via a Facebook message, that I would have to leave the apartment immediately – despite the fact that she knew I was out of the country! Since flying back to Toulouse right away was out of the question, my friend and I spent the entire day trying to sort out how to get all of my belongings packed up within the next few days — without me being there (I had a lot of stuff too).

Problem #6: After getting kicked out of my apartment at the last minute, I was so desperate to find a new place that I ended up living with an older French lady — bad decision. It’s amazing how deceiving appearances can be. One minute she would be coddling me, saying things like “Ahh tu es très mignon” (you are so cute) and the next minute, she would be yelling at me for accidentally leaving one broccoli crumb on the kitchen counter or for flushing the toilet while she was sleeping (yup, true stories).

Ultimately, the situation was just too difficult and I decided to look for another place to live, but I knew that if I informed her of my decision, she would go ballistic and probably kick me out of the apartment right away (needless to say, she was a bit crazy).

I had already paid for the entire first month’s rent and didn’t have anywhere else to live, so getting kicked out wasn’t the most favorable option…I decided to wait until I had another apartment lined up to break the news that I was going to move out. Sounds reasonable right? Not to her. Two weeks into my stay, she found out about my plan by sneaking into my room while I was gone and snooping through my things (this was also something that she did on a regular basis…yet another reason why I had wanted to move out). Crazy, right?

After finding out, she said that I could stay there until the end of the month….then a few minutes later, she changed her mind, ordering me to leave her place that very minute. Amidst yelling at me, she started throwing my stuff out of the apartment – “Tu t’en vas” (you must leave) she repeated over and over.

But I told her that I would not leave until she gave me back the money I had paid for (two weeks worth of rent). Initially, she refused and I actually had to lock my bedroom door to keep her from literally throwing me out of the apartment. It was a pretty frightening situation and in retrospect, maybe not worth it (this woman could have been dangerous for all I know).

The neighbor also ended up getting involved and finally, she reluctantly handed over my money.  But not before cornering me against the wall and grabbing my ear – physical abuse, I tell you!

Once again, I was left homeless. This time, I went to a nearby motel where I spent the night. And I still managed to make it to a friend’s party that evening!

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I then spent a few days with a friend before landing my third apartment that year.  I swear that I am actually an easy person to live with! Luckily the last situation ended on a good note. Sure, the guy I lived with left his nail clippings on the living room floor and smoked cigarettes in the apartment (not sure which is grosser)…but otherwise, no problems there.

Problem #7: Anyone who has lived in France knows about the infamous, nonsensical bureaucratic system that can cause extreme bouts of frustration amongst expats. If you can deal with this insane bureaucratic system, you can deal with anything. I learned that “no” does not actually mean “no” in France; it means, push me some more and I will say “yes.” You learn to be both patient and persuasive living in France.

I could go on but I won’t bore you with any more of my tribulations.  For more on my adventures in France, you can click here.

What’s my point in all this? Moving abroad alone (especially the first time around) was so incredibly exciting–but it did not come free of difficulties.  Dealing with all of these issues, both minor and major, made me a much more confident and braver person. I now know that I can cope with pretty much anything as it comes along–and I can do it all on my own.

How’s that for problem-solving skills, future employer?

2) You will gain a new worldview 

When I was 16, I went to New Zealand for a one-month exchange. I stayed with an awesome kiwi girl and went to school with her, attended parties, traveled a bit. It was an eye-opening experience for me. Coming from an all-girls prep-school where everyone was so concerned about piling their workload with Advanced Placement classes and getting accepted to Ivy Leagues, here were people who looked at life a bit differently.

Getting into a good college was not the only thing that mattered. I was fascinated by how different the classes and school were from my own, as well as the lifestyle. Even through this short three-week immersion, I came to realize how different the US was from the rest of the world. I left craving more.

It’s impossible not to see the world in a new way after living abroad.  I also see the impact my home country has made on the countries in which I have lived.  And I see the US itself in a totally different way than I used to–for both the good and the bad.

I was lucky enough to have a privileged upbringing. Growing up, and even in college, it’s not something that I thought about too much. But when I moved abroad, and saw how the majority of the world lives, I began to realize just how fortunate I really was.

In addition to greater appreciation for the things that I have, there are little things about the US that I value more now.  Like the wide grocery store aisles and unlimited options (I forgot how overwhelming it could be to go grocery shopping in the U.S.!); the efficiency and how fast things move; the good customer service; the friendly people; the high salaries and good jobs; the ease of starting a business; the unlimited water (and soda and coffee) refills at restaurants; the healthy food selection; American breakfasts etc..

And of course there are other things that make it hard to readjust here…like the overall lack of culture/history/beautiful architecture…poor healthcare and education systems… mediocre/nonexistent transportation systems and how spread-out everything is–no longer can I just hop on a train and be in a totally different country and culture in a few hours.

What also bothers me are all of the rules in the States. No drinking allowed on the middle of the street? Why should this matter if you are of legal drinking age? Since I’ve been back in the U.S., it feels like the cops are always out to get me.

For instance, the other day I was driving in a lane that is apparently closed off to less than two passengers during certain hours of the day. I literally could not have been driving in that lane for more than two minutes when a cop pulled me over. He was about to slam me with a $150 ticket, but I luckily talked him down to giving me a $10 fine (thanks to my persuasion skills partly acquired in France!).

Ant he week or so before that, I was driving and stopped at a red light.  I never run through red lights, but this one time, I thought to myself: why not? there is nobody here? In Brazil, people run through red lights and stop signs all the time. And so the Brazilian in me went through that light. Of course, cameras caught it all on videotape, so I received a nice surprise in the mail one day: a $160 ticket.  After living in Brazil, where things are just so much more relaxed, all of these strict rules are a bit hard to put up with.

Other things are simply surprising: the ENORMOUS portion sizes and the massive drink sizes. A medium here is easily the size of a large anywhere else–and maybe even bigger than that. Or the American flags everywhere — definitely never saw this kind of thing in France or other European countries.

Talking with foreigners also helps you to see your country through another set of eyes. Quite a few French people have told me that they found Americans to be fake and superficial–that they were just so nice to everybody but then would fall off the face of the earth.

They found the ties between Americans to be very weak. Whereas in France, people are generally not friendly. They have their friends and do not care to branch out much; but when they do make new friends, those are meaningful ties that they wish to preserve for life.

In what seems to be direct contrast, the Brazilians see Americans as cold because of the lack of physical contact (no PDA, we don’t kiss each other on the cheek upon greeting, we’re not as affectionate…), the fact that Americans are incredibly independent (in contrast to the dependent Brazilians, who live with their parents until they get married) and are not as welcoming.

Sure, you could learn a bit about these things by reading or by talking to French or Brazilians in your home country–but living abroad, you can actually see the difference yourself. You will likely return home with both a newfound appreciation for your own country, as well as disappointment in how you feel things should be or wish they were.

Traveling is like having a fling with someone. It’s more superficial and surface-level. You see all the wonderful things from the tourist perspective, but probably not how things really are. Living abroad is like being in a relationship…you are able to actually soak up the culture and experience the true depth of a country; you will see it for both the good and the bad.

Now, I see France as so much more than just the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and baguettes – I see Brazil as so much more than just bikinis, beaches, soccer and Carnival…I understand all the characteristics and idiosyncrasies of these incredible nations…and how the US compares.

3) You can learn a new language 

“To have a second language is to possess a second soul,” Charlemagne once said. And I truly believe that. Speaking another language changes your way of thinking.  Like your understanding of the country in which you reside, you will become someone of greater depth.

At first, being thrown into a culture where you have to speak the language will be challenging. You will struggle to express yourself and find the right words. And when you are frustrated or angry, you will find it even harder to get words out. Getting into an argument or fight with someone in a language that is not your own is really not fun (I have fortunately only experienced this several times, but it was very frustrating to say the least). But if you can learn to put your foot down in a foreign language, then it will be that much easier to do in your native tongue when you need to.

Need I add that it is great mental exercise (and being multilingual has numerous cognitive benefits, like the prevention of Alzheimer’s, for one).

Learning another language also helps you truly understand the culture you are in. You will discover new words that have no English translation–words that make sense given the culture. For instance, the French phrase “la douleur exquise” is a phrase that describes that gut-wrenching pain of wanting something you can’t have.  As a whole, the French are a pretty gloomy, pessimistic bunch (this has been proven on more than one occasion). Knowing that, this depressing phrase seems to make a bit more sense.

I found the relaxed, melodic Brazilian Portuguese sound to fit perfectly with the laid-back Brazilian lifestyle. “Fique tranquila” and “relaxa” (relax) people would often say to me when I looked the slightest bit stressed about something.

I took French for many years in middle school and high school, but I never really learned it until I moved to France. Only after living abroad and speaking with natives did I really learn the slang and how to actually speak like a French person (or try to anyway).

I remember, at the beginning of one of the first English classes I taught in France, one of the students requested that I say something in French. So I said “Je ne sais pas” — pronounced just a typical American would – “je neh say pah”.  They all laughed and thought it was the funniest thing ever and I had no idea why…I thought it must have been my cute accent perhaps. Despite my many years of French and even having taken a French course at the Alliance Francaise in New York that previous summer, I still sounded like a total idiot. I would later find that I was actually supposed to speak it much faster and blend the words, so it sounded a bit more like “Shay pah”.

Another example: In French class, I always learned to say “nous.” But when I moved to France, I learned that few people actually say “nous.” In colloquial speech, most people say “on” instead.

You get the picture…living in a country, you get to learn things that you just don’t learn in a normal language course.

Personally, I think that learning a new language is one of the best things about living abroad. I loved being surrounded by French when living in France, Portuguese when living in Brazil and Italian when in Italy (I spent a semester of college in Rome). One of the worst things for me about coming back to the US is having to speak English on a daily basis — I now miss speaking French and Portuguese so. much.

4) You become a more interesting, well-rounded person

Coming back to the US after nearly five years abroad (on and off), I may not have all of the professional experience as my peers, but I have something a lot of other people don’t have: experience living abroad and a unique worldview.

Good stories and amazing memories? Got plenty of ’em.

5) You get to be the gringo.

Okay, this is obviously not one of the principal reasons why you should live abroad. But personally, this was one of many reasons why I loved living abroad. I admit it: I loved feeling a bit unique and special.

Sometimes, you can even play the dumb gringo card to your advantage. Say, if you are trying to do something a bit sneaky, like boarding a train without a ticket (confession: I’ve done this). You can just say “oops, sorry! I’m American…I don’t really speak French”…Works like a charm. Hey, you might as well use it while you can!

I also loved being surrounded by foreigners/non-Americans all the time. And then when I was around other Americans, I felt a special bond — simply for sharing the same background in a foreign land.

Plus, being the outsider is an invaluable experience that everyone should go through. Once you come back to the US, you will emphasize more with foreigners in the US, as many of them struggle to adapt and speak this foreign language called English.

6) You meet people from different cultures and create lasting friendships around the world. 

When you move to a foreign country by yourself, without the comforts of friends and family close by, you are forced to branch out and interact with people that you would probably never meet otherwise.

Having friends from various countries will also encourage you to look at things with a more wordly perspective than you would if you were with your American friends back home.

It’s the blessing and the curse that comes with living abroad. I love that I now have friends all over the world; but at the same time, it means that I only get to see some friends once every five years or so — if I’m lucky.

7) You get to date a foreigner. 

Dating someone from another country opens up your eyes to an entirely different culture and background from your own.

When I dated a French guy (in Toulouse), he took me home to meet his family and friends several times to a tiny village in Provence. While there, I was introduced to some of the most amazing food I had ever had in my life and was able to further enhance my understanding and appreciation of French culture.

Your partner will help you to look at your native country with a new set of eyes.  You will have so much fun teaching each other things (such as your respective languages) and sharing national pastimes and traditions.

Whether you are casually dating several guys at once or whether you have fallen in love with a local, you will quickly discover that the dating rules are different in each country. For example, Swedish and British men do not tend to strike up conversations with people they don’t know…Brazilian men are pretty much the opposite….You will be forced to adapt to the new dating scene, however it may be.

Sure, at times dating a foreigner can be harder and more frustrating than dating someone of your own nationality, but it is well worth it. You will become a more open-minded person and a better partner overall after cultural conflict forces you to compromise.

And if you eventually get married and/or have kids with your foreign partner…the list goes on! Like raising multilingual, cultured children.

8) You get to share your traditions and adopt new ones. 

During my second year in Toulouse, my American friend and I held a Thanksgiving dinner at my apartment (or the apartment I shared with an Italian guy). About 30 people ended up coming, all squeezed into my (or our) tiny living room.

Some people brought wine, others brought baguettes (always good choices in France) and others came with homemade dishes to represent their own cultures. The funniest part? Despite the fact that we were celebrating Thanksgiving, me and my co-host were the only Americans present.  I loved that we were sharing one of our major cultural traditions with a bunch of non-Americans.

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Some of the Thanksgiving crew (representing Spain, England, France…)

During my second year in Toulouse, my roommate and I threw a lot of parties at our apartment. They would get absolutely packed with people – suffice it to say that they were a lot of fun. See photos below for proof:

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A crémaillère at our apartment

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The parties chez nous (at our place) were legendary.

We liked to throw theme parties – which didn’t seem to be very common in France.  Most people would not dress up, but occasionally people would and there would be some pretty awesome outfits. Like that 80s party we had…

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Introducing themed parties to France (this one was 80s)!

We also introduced the wonderful games of flip cup and beer pong to our French (and other non-American) friends.

9) You will become more open-minded. 

I remember when my French boyfriend told me that his parents were still together–but they were not married. I wasn’t sure that I had understood him correctly. Why would they not have gotten married? Coming from a conservative, WASPy town in Connecticut, where all of my schoolmates’ parents were married (or divorced), I had never known anything else.

I would later find that it’s actually quite common in Europe for a couple to stay together many years and raise children together–but never tie the knot. While I used to see this as strange, I now see absolutely nothing wrong with it. It made me realize that so many people in the US see marriage as the ultimate end goal. So many people put pressure on their relationships and feel that they have to get married by a certain time.

But why should people have to sign a bunch of papers and declare their love under the law in order to be together forever? Why should it be the ultimate end goal?

Don’t get me wrong, I do think marriage is a beautiful thing and I would love to one day get married myself. But I also recognize that it’s not for everyone and now have equal respect for those who choose to never get married.

I also remember the first time I heard about couchsurfing (from a fellow teaching assistant, just before going to France). What?! You are going to stay on the couch of a random stranger?? I thought the idea was absurd. But once testing it out myself, I realized that it was generally quite safe, as long as you use good judgment and pick someone who has good reviews.

Bottom line? Living abroad has allowed me to try these new experiences and meet people from different backgrounds, which has made me a much more open-minded and less judgemental person.

10) You will learn more about yourself. 

I learned that not everyone loves change, adventure and spontaneity.  But that I do – I live for it.

I learned that I am not someone that likes to plan things out too much; I think the beauty of life is letting the unexpected happen and just going along for the ride.

I learned that while I am a relatively shy and reserved person, I also love meeting new people and socializing. I may not be the loudest person in the room, but I no longer feel that I have to apologize for that–and I will definitely stand up for myself if I am being treated like a doormat or with disrespect. So don’t mess with me!

When you step outside of your comfort zone and encounter tough situations (which tend to be inevitable when you live abroad), both your strengths and weaknesses will emerge. Not only will you get to know yourself better, but you will also grow up much faster and likely evolve into a different person than if you were to have just stayed put in your home country.

Finally, you are sure to acquire one trait that will increase your overall happiness and prove to be useful your entire life: adaptability.

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