Thursday, September 22, 2011

Expat Profiles

Arrival in Cuenca - June 5, 2010
Since arriving here last year, I’ve been trying to figure out the typical expat profile and every time I think I’ve got it figured out, someone comes along and breaks the mold!

Most of us have some type of stereotype of the typical expat and mine went something like this: double income (double retirement), no kids (or pets) and well into their 60’s or 70’s. Yes, there is a lot of that, but a new expat profile is emerging.

Instead, we’re seeing more and more folks in their 50’s and some in their 30’s and 40’s who are tired of the rat race in America. They’re sick of working a 60-hour work week with little (or nothing) to show for it. With 401K’s tanking, a dwindling economy, and long commutes, they’re looking for a slower pace of life with a chance to do something with the little investment revenue they have left.

The expat profile basically falls into three categories: investors, business entrepreneurs, and those who are truly retired (pensioners). It’s always easy to spot the entrepreneurs: they’re always trying to sell you something—from greeting cards to a hacienda in the Yunguilla Valley!

Learning the Alphabet in English
Mark and I are not investors; we’re pensioners who like to call ourselves the “working class” of Cuenca. Mark teaches English five days a week from 4-8 p.m. and I’m a freelance writer who volunteers at “La Esperanza” orphanage. And, it looks like in January I will also be teaching at CEDEI.

Unlike many expats, we experienced “retirement” in reverse in our 20’s and 30’s, during which time we traveled throughout Europe. And then in our mid-30’s we settled down to raise our family and put in our 20 years of “hard labor”—enough to get a pension—and retired in Ecuador because of the medical benefits.

It’s amazing to me that we can live in Cuenca on the same amount that our medical premiums would be in the States. In fact, many of the expats in their 50’s have decided to retire in Ecuador for the same reason. When you realize that medical premiums can be as high as $55,000 a year in the States and you can live on one-quarter of that in Ecuador, it makes you re-think your retirement options.

The Kids at La Esperanza
We still travel, but now we look forward to having our kids visit. Jeremy, our oldest, will be arriving in November and Jon and his wife, hopefully, will be coming next summer. The experience of traveling overseas is not a new one to Jeremy (he was born and raised in Italy), but it’s been 20 years since he’s had a new perspective.

Christmas in California 2010
Oh, I almost forgot…there’s another expat profile I wish I didn’t have to mention! Mark and I were dining out at one of our favorite restaurants when we heard the words , “I owe the government $XXX,XXXX but they’ll never get it from me now!” I’m sorry, but this goes beyond the ugly American syndrome. When you’re obviously intoxicated you say things you probably shouldn’t, but repeating it over and over again (as if we didn’t hear it the first time) is totally inappropriate. We felt the need to apologize—to the Cuencanos at our table—for the bad manners of our American “counterpart.”

Thankfully, the latter is a small fraction of the expat community in Cuenca, but one bad “apple” can spoil the whole bunch. I think it’s best to remember that we are guests in this country and can be asked to leave at any time. Until such time as you get your Ecuadorian passport and become a citizen of Ecuador instead of resident, it’s best to behave yourself!

For the most part, expats are doing their part to better the reputation of “norteamericanos”  by volunteering their time, immersing themselves in the culture and learning Spanish.

Having "almuerzo" with one of the CEDEI students
Let’s continue to keep the expat profile a positive one!

Until next time…hasta luego!

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