Some odd years ago before I started living in Mexico City….
I started traveling around South America for over a year and basically going from country to country.
My very first days on that continent can be read here as I got started by going to the Amazon Rainforest in Bolivia.
Anyway, my time started in Bolivia and ended up involving trips to, on top of my head, the following other countries: Peru, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and Chile.
Now, keep in mind, I hadn’t traveled much before this.
Prior to this, I spent about 2 months in Guatemala more or less and been to other countries like Mexico for example for a very brief period of like a week or so.
Anyway, my total travel time anywhere outside of the US prior to my trip to South America was like maybe 3 or 4 months more or less.
Or something like that.
Anyway, the point here to be made is that a lot of shit happened in that one year in South America.
At least from my perspective as I literally rarely ever traveled outside of the US prior to this.
And going from that to…
Seeing some of the best natural wonders of Latin America…
To just the big cultural change also – not just in one country but a variety of countries down here
As not all of Latin America is the same culturally and so there were various cultural adjustments every so often.
To witnessing a lot more crime in general and insecure areas on the more negative side…
And just meeting a shit ton more people – friends in general and random chicks from other countries that I hooked up with.
Plus more than that probably but those are just some of the first things that come to mind…
After I got back to the US though after that first year…
I remember going back to Ohio and meeting up with some old friends in that state.
And, to a degree, did feel “a little out of place.”
Not a lot but a little bit.
You know – friends move on with big events going on in their lives.
Maybe someone gets married for example while you are gone.
And also the culture and environment is so much different.
I really can’t put it into words how much different the environment and culture can be from Ohio to Bolivia for example.
Even Argentina is a little bit different but seemingly not as different.
For whatever reason.
So on and so on….
It’s not even just the little cultural things but the broader environment that is so much more different that hits you.
On top of that, being away from friends for a year is a little weird too – and it feels weird, to a degree, seeing them again that you haven’t seen in a year.
It almost feels like you are an outsider again or a new person in a community you haven’t been to in a year.
Granted, keep in mind that this is Ohio we are talking about where I wasn’t born and only spend a few years in.
In Iowa, where I was born, the feeling isn’t as different but much of what I am saying here has been true going back to Iowa to a smaller degree.
Anyway, life went on….
And I got to living in Mexico City after about a year more of living in Ohio when I got back from South America.
And have been here for about 3.5 years since as of this writing.
With about 5.5 years under my belt living in Latin America as of this writing.
So what specific differences or changes have I noticed in myself having been gone now for 5.5 years instead of 1 to 2 years?
I just wrote a bunch of ideas that have come to mind reflecting back on it all.
Of course, my own changes and experiences might not reflect the changes everyone notices.
Keep that in mind.
We all have different experiences down here and come back different backgrounds before living abroad.
Anyway, let’s get to it.
Change 1: Change in Work?
You hear it often that some gringos will say that life is more “relaxing in LATAM” because of the fact that they don’t have to work for corporate, government or academic job.
I got to be honest here.
While I did work some odd jobs as I briefly mentioned here….
Almost all of my jobs aside from one were normal jobs that some folks would say are “not real work.”
Working at Subway, Jimmy Johns, a pizza place, etc.
Almost always food places.
So, in my experience, given how young I was when I decided to move abroad…
I didn’t spend the crazy long hours at the office or some government job or anything like that.
Having said that, life can be more relaxing here overall.
Mostly because I don’t have any dipshit colleagues and no idiot boss.
And no commute.
So it can be more relaxing for me in that sense but I do have to admit that I never experienced the grueling nature of corporate America.
Because I left too early and found a way to live abroad without having to experience that.
Overall, my work experience has been pretty tame before I left for LATAM.
Change 2: Easier Life?
It becomes a question then….
Has life been overall less stressful then after moving abroad?
Well, in my first year in Mexico, it was easier.
Then, as I wrote here, it sucked ass in my second year….
As I struggled to make money online.
That issue is resolved now and my life is easier again than how it was abroad.
Also less stressful because certain factors at home that fucked with me are, to a degree, easier to work with while abroad.
Overall, yes but it required work obviously as I don’t have social security to fund me down here.
Change 3: Comparisons
One aspect of moving around from country to country is that you start comparing countries to each other.
Not just countries to back home…
But between each other.
Like comparing my time from Bolivia to the Dominican Republic.
I think some gringos don’t get that appreciation, to a degree, as some choose to only visit one country and that is it.
Change 4: Less Impressed
After you have traveled a bit…
From one city to the next…
You become less impressed over time as you go around Latin America.
For example, I remember with an ex-girlfriend of mine…
She wanted to introduce me to Pachuca – a city in Mexico.
“Here is a clock tower, here is a park, here is a statue dedicated to some random Latino general that nobody cares about!”
She knew I wasn’t so impressed.
But that is because, after a while, one city in Latin America looks like the next.
One waterfall looks like the next.
So on and so on…
Now, some amazing areas of LATAM like Iguazu Falls do impress you…
Or, historically, areas like Potosi in Bolivia impress you…
But, overtime, a lot of areas are not really as impressive after you have seen a lot down here.
Not as impressive as they would be if it was your first time down here.
Though one solution to that is to learn about the history of those smaller places you visit.
In my experience, reading up ahead of time on places and the deeper history behind them helps inspire a little bit more interest in those smaller, less touristy places.
And it does make it cooler to observe what you read when visiting such places.
Just a tip.
Change 5: More Race Conscious
It’s funny to say that I have become more “race conscious” being an American…
As people in my country tend to be fairly obsessed with race in general.
When I say “more race conscious,” it’s not exactly what you might think it means…
By going from a part of the world (Iowa or Ohio) where being white is being part of the majority…
To a part of the world where being white is very much in the minority…
It makes you more conscious of what it means to be white and your “place” in whatever society you are in when that society in not majority white.
As people treat you differently for being white – both good and bad.
And most people don’t look like you anymore.
You simply become more conscious of race relations between yourself and others.
On the other hand, when you go back home, it is weird to be again part of the majority so to speak and not be an outsider anymore in terms of race, nationality and also in terms of the native language you speak.
Change 6: Feeling “More at Place” Over Time
When you begin living somewhere new, you don’t feel as “in place” at the beginning.
However, after about 3.5 years in Mexico City and having been all over the place in this city here…
Granted, it’s a big ass city and I don’t know every spot here.
But I feel much more comfortable and knowledgeable about getting around.
I remember in my first day here when I had trouble knowing how to use the metro and some old Mexican guy helped me out.
Also much more comfortable in Latin America in general by this point as I have been around in different areas and have a better idea of certain countries than others.
In short, it doesn’t feel as “foreign” to me as it did when I took my first trip to LATAM as you can read here…
Change 7: Nuanced on the Positives & Negatives
Similarly, I’m a little more relaxed on saying mean shit about Latin America.
Which might seem odd given how negative I can be sometimes.
Such as in this recent article I wrote here basically complaining about “cleaning ladies.”
I mean really – who complains about the cleaning ladies down here?!
Well, OK, I know how to complain for sure.
But, relatively speaking, I’m a little more nuanced on life here.
Funny enough, I really become more negative on life here when I started to run out of money and struggled to keep living here as you can read here.
Once I got passed that and figured out how to live down here more comfortably, I guess the financial stress made it easier to not be so negative.
Though I’m never the one to shy away from criticism either to be fair…
I also recognize that many of my articles do take a more negative stance on things and have tried to at least talk more about some of the things I like down here also!
Anyway, I think this is one aspect of living down here…
Some gringos – most of them – break past their honeymoon phase as you can read about here…
And some go into full negative territory.
Those who stay long term usually get past “the negative stage” and become more fair and realistic on life down here without always being negative.
Change 8: Forgetting Things Back Home
There are things back home – smaller things – that I miss.
Such as the way bagels are made to certain fast food places like Jimmy Johns or Taco Johns…
Of course, I also miss bigger things like family, friends and my cats.
But I will talk about that later in this article.
On the smaller things – you tend to miss those more greatly at first but eventually move on.
Change 9: Friends & Acquaintances Move On?
Back when I was in my small town in Iowa…
I parked my truck in front of a Wallgreens….
I just got myself a Subway sandwitch and had to buy something now at Wallgreens…
Some treatment for my ears….
As I walked in, I got it and paid…
Now as I began to walk out, this young guy…
A white looking guy with long black hair approached me and said “Hey Matt!”
I looked at him and was confused when I saw him.
I genuinely did not recognize the guy.
He looked like he could be my age but I legit did not know who he was.
“Uhhh…..hi?” I responded.
He saw the look of confusion on my face in that instance.
“It’s me, Nick!”
I still have no idea who Nick is.
Not trying to be a dick to Nick because maybe he is actually Rick and he thinks I’m a slick hick for my memory giving him the kick….
Ok, sorry, sorry, I tried to be clever with my rhyming skills there…
Either way, I legit did not remember who he was and he perhaps saw that in my face.
But the point is that not only do you move away from people who you knew before…
They move away from you…
Though I believe this is a normal aspect of life….
People get married and all..
Move to completely different areas of the country or out of the country like in my case!
But I feel the issue becomes exacerbated when you move abroad – making it easier to grow apart from people you knew before.
I remember when I went back home one time…
And my mom wanted me to buy us some ice cream at this ice cream place but she didn’t want to get out of the car…
So I got out and walked up to it and saw this guy I recognized from high school.
We nodded to each other.
He was a friendly guy in school but it felt weird seeing old folks that you haven’t seen in nearly a decade.
Or it was for me anyway.
Change 10: Funerals & Deaths
Another sad aspect of living abroad…
Is you miss the deaths of people you loved and knew in life.
Simply because you couldn’t make it in time for when someone or some pet you knew died
For example, I had a life long cat die recently as you can see in this photo here.
Really liked the little guy.
Also, a few odd months ago, I had a very old aunt die who was in her 90s.
Unfortunately wasn’t able to visit the funeral.
Change 11: Formality of Life
Some odd weeks ago, I went to buy some vodka at an Oxxo.
They told me that I can’t buy any on the weekend due to Covid restrictions.
So I went to the next place and the place after hoping I can catch some cashier on the other side who is young and forgets the official rules.
Finally, I stop by one more before I finally get home as I was stopping by all of the stores along the route back to my place…
And at this place, the young kid almost forgot to tell me no.
He must have been 18 or so.
But then he turned his head back at me and said “sorry, bro, no vodka on the weekends. It’s the rules. If you going to die of COVID, we can’t let you enjoy your last few hours drunk….”
Or something like that he said…
Anyway, at this point, I was annoyed and this was the last place I could go to that was on the route back home…
So I pulled out a 20 Mexican peso bill (like a dollar in value) and said to him “if I offer you this, will you sell me it?”
He looked at me like “the fuck?” and at the 20 peso note I had…
And I repeated myself…
He paused for a second and then said “ok….”
Now, keep in mind, there were no other workers in sight or as I knew anyway…
He grabbed the bottle of Oso Negro vodka and sold it to me as I gave him the 20 peso note and that was it.
Thankfully, I don’t think there were any customers there either to see it as it was late at night….
So no witnesses to the corruption moment of the day in Mexico City…
Anyway, that wouldn’t pass in the US, I think.
The formality of things….
People not accepting bribes as often…
Granted, shit does happen in the US but things do tend to be a bit more formal…
And it’s something I think I might write on more in life…
How I like the informalities down here in a way…
Though I complain about them at times....
The informalities also have their benefits in people bending the rules for you under certain circumstances.
It does have its benefits also.
Change 12: Quantity of Money is Different
When talking with my sister at times…
It is weird to hear her talk about certain quantities of money…
“Man, my rent here is 1,500 USD”
“My car payments are 400 a month”
Or whatever it might be.
I remember her telling me how they have to pay for health insurance for her, her husband and her daughter…
And it costs overall like 10,000 USD a year or some shit…
Or something they pay that is like 10k a year – I think it was the health costs though.
And, after enough time down here, that just seems like a crazy amount of money to piss away.
Especially as healthcare is so cheap down here…
I could visit a health expert for basic visits for like 25 bucks a visit or a dollar and a half in Mexico City at some nearby pharmacy…
And healthcare beyond that is not too expensive…
To rent being, depending on where you live and if you have your own apartment or just a room….
Anywhere from 100 bucks a month to 500 maybe.
Use the metro or UBER.
Definitely not 400 a month.
In a way, you forget those payments folks pay up north after some time…
I was talking with a friend of mine named Gino who was surprised at the fact I only have rent to pay and that it is each month.
Utilities handled by the landlord.
“So just one monthly payment? No car payments, no utilities, nothing?”
So, to a degree, the lack of different bills pilling on and the smaller numbers in payments you have to make down here does make life less stressful down here.
But, overtime, I think you do forget, to a degree, how it can be in the US and the stress from that.
If that makes sense….
Change 13: More Aggressive
When I was living in Iowa, things were not really dangerous at all…
Even in more dangerous parts of my hometown, they don’t look that bad at all compared to some of the shit you see down here.
I have been to different parts down here that are fairly more dangerous than back home.
In a much larger city of 20 million people than my small town back home….
Truthfully, I feel I have become more aggressive as a result.
Just in terms of defending myself and being more conscious of someone trying to fuck with me or not.
Because when you live in a small town in Iowa….
While there are folks who will fuck with you…
The police are more reliable.
And it’s much easier to resolve conflicts through official means.
Down here, less so.
And you become more conscious of not letting people fuck with you.
I think the Colombians have a phrase for that “no dar papaya.”
I don’t remember if it means what I think it does but I think it is relevant here.
It’s been a while since I have been to Colombia though but here’s a link to the meaning of that phrase.
Change 14: More Tolerant of Struggles
When walking through the streets of Mexico City…
Like near El Centro or by Metro Insurgentes…
It’s not too uncommon to see an unfortunate person in the streets in need of help…
An aging old grandma with no money…
To the poor homeless child late at night sitting against the cement with nobody by…
I remember seeing one such child sleeping on the cement under broad daylight near Metro Insurgentes with her face down onto the cement…
An older Mexican guy stopped, looked at me and then back at her with a “the fuck?” face on him…..
To see such a young child all alone and homeless…
Over time, I think living down here does make you more aware, to a degree, of how fucked it can be for some individuals down here.
With no support from the government or family to help them out…
Such as that child who seemingly didn’t have anyone to help her.
As so many people passed by her walking along to home or to work or wherever…
As if there isn’t a homeless child living on the street face down onto the cement sleeping without a roof and seemingly no parents nearby.
Maybe it puts things in perspective.
Change 15: Adjustment to Cold
When growing up in Iowa, things got cold.
Very cold in the winter.
I remember scraping the ice off the windshields in high school to walking home from middle school with just plain shoes in big ass snow and my feet feeling like shit.
Now in Mexico?
The worst it gets is a bad breeze during December in Mexico City.
Though, over the years now, I think my body is adjusting to this new sense of what is cold.
Because it feels cold even to me!
Though it was nothing to what I had back home…
Change 16: Emails?
Back when I lived in the US, I was much more responsive to emails.
I had days I would respond to 20 emails in a day or more…
Because I am self-employed and don’t work for nobody…
And I don’t get anywhere near as many emails….
If you are lucky, I might have seen your email on the day you sent it and replied in that same day.
If you got bad luck?
Maybe in 2 weeks to a month I will respond.
Depends on when I see it and how much I feel like responding….
Perhaps because also of how relaxed life can be down here…
I’ll respond when I feel like it.
Excuse me, I’m trying to get Alejandra from Tinder to suck my dick!
So I’ll respond when I can, thank you….
Change 17: More Vices
Since traveling abroad, I have noticed I have engaged in vices a lot more than before.
I guess you could argue more sexually active but that’s mostly because I partied a lot in my first year in Mexico and life has been financially easy again in the last year so far.
But alcohol anyway has been more of a change for me as I have moved abroad – simply more time on my hands and more drinking.
Here’s an interesting video that is kinda relatable to this subject.
Change 18: Eating Better
Though the vices are not good for my health…
I do eat better when I am abroad than I am home.
Mostly because fast food is shit down here so I don’t feel as motivated to eat the fast food that is here and eat a little more at my apartment than when I was living in the US.
Though I still do like a good hamburger from time to time.
Change 19: Real Bad Customer Service
After enough time living abroad, I have come to understand what real bad customer service is.
Compared to the worst customer service I have seen in the US…
It simply doesn’t compare to the customer service you see in countries like Argentina, Bolivia….
Or, when talking about countries outside of LATAM, then I’d say Poland also.
Either way, when you go back home, you have greater patience for bad customer service in the US because you know it could always be worse…
You could be in Argentina or Poland….
Change 20: Politics Interesting
While I always had an interest in politics and modern events…
It’s even more interesting when you live abroad and outside of your home country?
Because when you live outside the US, watching shit hit the fan in the US is actually kinda entertaining.
Same thing when you see it happen elsewhere.
At that point, you become more detached from what is happening since you are not living in it…
And you kinda hope it gets really bad!
It’s almost like an HBO series – fuck, how bad is this going to get?
Get the popcorn!
Change 21: Family & Cats
When you live outside of the US, ultimately you are always going to miss your family and any pets back home.
In my case, cats back home.
Like these guys here.
Anyway, it does become easier to live abroad while being apart from all of that over time.
Change 22: Relaxed on Time
As I said under the section for emails…
You do become more relaxed on time.
While you still sometimes find it annoying with how late some things can be down here…
You adjust and move at a slower pace as well.
Which, in a way, can be relaxing for you when you move at a slower pace…
Though perhaps still annoying sometimes when others move at a slower pace.
Anyway, you adjust.
Change 23: Flights Easier
I remember the first time I ever got on an airplane ever…
It was kinda weird and made me nervous…
The times after that?
Still made me nervous when there was flight turbulence…
However, nowadays, it’s not worrying anymore.
I’ve been on more than enough flights in my life and doesn’t worry me so much anymore.
Change 24: Tolerance for Shit
Similar to growing more tolerance to bad customer service…
You also get a greater tolerance for shitty stuff happening in general…
The bus you are on breaking down on the middle of a mountain as I wrote here…
To whatever else not working…
Overtime, you start to expect shitty things to happen!
Not trying to make it sound like a bad thing here…
But it’s true – you adjust your expectations and life goes on without stressing too much about it but working around it however you can when dumb stuff happens.
Change 25: Visiting Childhood Places
Sometimes I look at photos of places that I grew up in around my childhood back home.
Just to think about my life back then.
When I am back in my hometown, it is interesting to take a truck and drive around and see different spots.
Where I grew up at, the schools I went to, some parks nearby, different roads and avenues I went down often growing up.
Just to revisit some of my childhood back then.
I think, over time, like with other things, you grow beyond it little by little.
But you are still always interested in thinking about your childhood from time to time.
Perhaps more so when you live abroad and so far away from it.
Change 26: Security
After living abroad for some time and also going to different parts “off the beaten path” in a way…
Such as this trip here or what you can read about in this article here…
You get a different sense of what is safe or not.
Your tolerance of insecurity goes up a bit – at least it did with me.
Maybe if you only hang out in Cancun, it is different.
But if you take more risks and go beyond those touristy spots…
I feel this would be true for most people.
Either way, I’m better at being aware of my surroundings than before.
I am more aware generally speaking.
But also have more tolerance for going to places that are not as safe.
When I’m back home, it’s kinda interesting to hear family or folks in general talk about how “unsafe” my hometown has gotten.
People complain about that often.
Usually they will cite some recent case of someone getting shot or stabbed and that’s it.
It’s weird, I guess, to contrast that with a lot of the stuff you see south of the border where even the cops don’t do shit and can harass you also.
Either way, it’s something you notice about yourself.
Change 27: Spanish Oddities
Sometimes when I am back home…
I fuck up sometimes because I tend to speak before I think.
So if I just want to put something out there, I say it.
Though, funny enough, once in a blue moon, I do that without thinking about the words themselves.
Sometimes, once in a blue moon, I have said stuff in Spanish when I wasn’t intending to speak in Spanish.
Like if my Spanish “leap frogged” my English in a way.
Not that I ever “lose my English” because that’s a dumb joke some have.
Just that I don’t always think ahead of time about what I’m going to say and sometimes – especially if I just got back home from LATAM – I might accidently throw out a random Spanish word or two.
Even weirder if it’s more like Spanglish – “entonces I’m hungry.”
Or something like that.
It doesn’t happen often – it’s rare – but I have seen myself do that rarely.
Change 28: Tolerance of Cultures?
This is an interesting one.
I’ve often heard the phrase that traveling makes you more tolerant of different cultures.
Is it true?
I’m not entirely sure how true it is for most people.
I’ve met some folks down here who are not very tolerant at all of other cultures – who say shit much worse than I do about Latin America
And trust me – some of the shit I say on this website – though I stand by it – probably has pissed off at least one person.
Either way, I would say it has opened my eyes at least to other cultures.
That is true and be more open minded to different ways of doing things.
Even though I don’t always agree with those other ways, it at least opens your eyes to it and makes you more understanding of why some people do the things they do.
So I’ll leave it at that.
And these are just some of the changes I have noticed over 5 years and more.
I’m sure had I written this after the first 3 years, it would probably be fairly negative of LATAM.
And had it been over the first year or the second one, it would have been very positive.
I remember someone on my website – a guy named Dazza – who wrote this:
“most people who I know who go home usually do it in the first couple of years… maybe the third but anyone who sticks it out five years of more are usually in it for the long haul.”
It’s an interesting observation.
I haven’t met enough gringos to know if this is true.
But I have heard it before from other folks on other expat blogs and just in person as well from those I know.
I guess, if I think about it, it seems true.
One guy I know who has been here for 3 years is set on going back soon.
There’s a few I know of who have been here for almost a decade or less and still seem at it and enjoying it as well.
There’s three guys I know of who have been here for at least a decade and one of them a few decades…
But most I have met have already gone back to the US or whatever country they are from.
Though, like I said, I don’t know that many gringos down here as I tend to hang out more often with locals so I don’t know if my observations are typical.
But it makes sense logically anyway.
Many come down perhaps with a specific goal in mind.
Achieve that and go home.
Others get tired of living here and end up hating it.
Either way, it’s cool if someone wants to stay here long term or go home.
Neither option is bad.
For me, I enjoy living down here more than I would enjoy living in the US so I’m still around. It’s been a good influence on my life overall.
Regardless, if you have any comments or questions, drop them below.
And follow my Twitter here for any pictures I post often of Latin America.
Or updates in general if I ever post them in regards to this blog.