Expat Life

Come to Ecuador, become an expat, stay as long as you want

On the desktop of my computer is a picture of my son walking through the courtyard of a Cuenca apartment building. It was taken a week before his fifth birthday. Everything in the picture reminds me of our time in Cuenca — the plants, the architecture, the beautiful weather, the statue of Mary, and even my son’s dinosaur t-shirt he out-grew a long time ago.

We had just arrived in Ecuador then, and it was an exciting time. The next two years would also be exciting, living in three different cities both in the mountains and on coast.

Now, having returned to the U.S., I look back through pictures of hiking in Cajas, sitting in Cuenca parks, relaxing on the beach, climbing to the lighthouse in Guayaquil, walking along the Malecon 2000, and touring Quito on a double-decker bus.

I feel a longing for that time — a feeling that I mistake for regret that we left. But I don’t regret leaving Ecuador, just like I don’t regret going to Ecuador in the first place.

The longing I feel when I see these pictures of our two years in Ecuador is the same longing I have when I look at other great moments in my life. These aren’t times I want to go back to, but they’re times I’m happy to have experienced.

A family visit to Cajas National Park.

I often wonder why I might be tempted to feel regret for leaving, and I don’t have a concrete answer. But I think a piece of it has to with a certain pressure I felt when moving to, living in, and moving from Ecuador. It’s a pressure to either ‘go big or go home’. It’s a pressure to either bring one bag or move your whole life in a shipping container. It’s a pressure to stay for a short period or obtain residency (or even citizenship).

I don’t know if this pressure comes from within ourselves, from things we read, or from an international online community. It’s likely some combination of sources. But I know it’s there. I felt it, I heard it, and I read about it. I still think about this because I regularly get emails from CuencaHighLife readers who have dreams of moving to Ecuador — they want to make Ecuador their new permanent home.

It seemed to me, before I moved to Ecuador, that you either visited another country for a week or you became an expat and settled down in that country until you died. There is (or at least was) a sort of joke floating around that says gringos have an average two-year limit in Ecuador. Person after person tells themselves, “Not me. I’m really staying. I love the country, I love the people, I love the culture, and I’m living here for a long time.” Then, they feel obligated to stay when they don’t want to anymore. They feel bad about their decision to return to their homeland, and they sometimes feel like they need some great excuse to tell others to get them off the hook.

A stroll in a Cuenca courtyard.

My wife and I left our Ecuadorian stay open-ended. It could have been six months or six years. It ended up being two years, the “average” Gringo stay.

In reflecting on my time abroad and my move back to the States, I can’t help but run through the pros and cons.

Writing this from the States, I can tell you all the great things I like about being back. I could tell you about how great and cheap the bourbon is or how nice it is to have a car. I could tell you about how I can make ends meet teaching in the U.S. whereas I struggled financially in Ecuador. I love getting a Chick-Fil-A sandwich or a Moe’s burrito. Good books in English cost me a penny plus shipping online, and my internet never goes out. I could tell you how I appreciate a place where a lot more people wash their hands after using the bathroom and fewer people stick half their finger up their nose on the bus or in the church.

But I could also tell you about how I miss the beautiful weather of Cuenca, our beach house in Playas, and the college I taught at in Guayaquil. I miss the friends I made in Ecuador, the expats and the Ecuadorians. I miss teaching in Ecuador. Right now, I could really go for one of those economical almuerzos that saved me many times when I was in a financial bind — a good meal at a low price. I enjoyed the parks and playgrounds in cities. I could tell you how I miss the cheap taxis and buses, and the ability to walk to where I needed to go. I could tell you how I miss speaking Spanish and buying a Coke in a returnable bottle. I could tell you how much I miss hornado, soups, breads, and pernil sandwiches.

Instead, I want to tell you that I didn’t make a mistake. I made decisions. I made a decision to move to Ecuador. Then I made one to move back to the U.S. And now I look back at my return to the U.S. as exciting, too. I had fun coming back to my home country, just like I had fun going to Ecuador. Now my family has memories of an experience living abroad that I’m grateful to have.

I’m not suggesting that future Ecuador residents and travelers give up their dream of retiring abroad, permanently moving their family to South America, or opening a business in another country. I’m also not suggesting that people dismiss the opportunity to simply visit a country for a week. I’m only suggesting that they recognize the third option on the table as something just as exciting.

As expats or travelers, you are are not obligated to stay in a foreign country for a lifetime. Stay as long as you want.

__________________

Christopher Lux and his family spent two years in Cuenca, Playas and Guayaquil before returning to the U.S. last year. Currently, he teaches English at John Paul II High School in Tallahassee, Florida. He holds bachelor’s degrees in theology and English from Belmont Abbey College and a master’s in English from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

  • David Brinkman

    A refreshing take on becoming an expat. Thanks for your insight.

  • Andrew

    I agree nice and straightforward

  • Larry Hanson

    My sentiments exactly. You are a better person for having spent the 2 years in Ecuador. It also brings to mind my 4 year enlistment enlistment in the Navy, which, by the way, doesn’t make me a national hero.

    • StillWatching

      You really nailed it with this, Larry: “which, by the way, doesn’t make me a national hero.”

      There are those that won’t have a clue what you actually mean by that. I’m sure the ones that actually are heroes will truly appreciate your words. My dad does.

      Thank you for your service. That’s plenty honorable enough.

  • Loren Lowe

    Refreshing to read an honest article. One of my pet peeves are those that try to claim that Ecuador is heaven on earth, and if you dont agree, and pledge your soul for life, you are a despicable heathen. It gets so emotional, and unrealistic. This article is clear and concise, and states reality. I cannot tell you how much crap I get (hate emails) when I do a video on something that doesnt paint Ecuador in the best light, but it is truth. I do the videos for those thinking of coming, because I would like them to have eyes wide open and not be shocked when they actually arrive. There are some that make comments like “Leave Ecuador if you dont like it!” as if it were a crime to speak truth. I really like it here. I enjoy every day. Yet there is no perfect place, and for all you gain you also sacrifice a lot. There are FAR too many articles writing only about the wonderful things. That is not helpful… in fact it is harmful to those planning to make a serious change in their life. And while a week or to visit can tell you many things, I dont think people remove those rose colored glasses for half a year or more. I swear the people that protest the most about speaking reality are those that are thinking of leaving, but are trying to force something that isnt real. So for those reasons, I just LOVE an honest perspective grounded in reality. Thank you Christopher.

    • StillWatching

      Superbly stated.

      I see Green Darkness has up-voted you as have I. I have never seen her/him post, but I follow her/his presence in these comments based on the thumbs up votes. For me, getting one of her/his up-votes is the highest compliment I can get.

      I’ve given the moniker “The Honeymooners” to those that you recognize have rose colored glasses for a period of time. I’ve seen them hang on and remain in that state for as long as 5 years. I’ve never seen one that doesn’t eventually pull up stakes and leave. The best predictor of that, for me, are what I call the “We’re guests in their country” crowd, or as BDev calls them, Red Dotters.

      How long do you really think you can remain a guest in somebody else’s house or country before you wear out your welcome?

  • Robert Faske

    Thanks for a fresh look at a universal part of the “ex-pat” experience…please continue to post articles for CHL…your work is always interesting, often insightful…muchas gracias !

  • nards barley

    It is good to hear why people go back or move on to somewhere else. Of course the mindset may be different for someone who is older and retired.

  • Precisely.

    Please forgive the obvious question — but why did you choose to 1. leave the US; 2. move to Ecuador; 3. leave Ecuador; and return to the US, after all? I know this is a question which could easily result in a book. But now I am very curious! Thank you!

  • Pixelvt

    As always I have enjoyed reading your articles, this included. But I do not get the guilt thing, why feel any guilt at all ? If it is because of others then yikes, who cares. You made a decision to come down and one to leave, that is it, for whatever reasons you and family had at the time.

    I am not a full time expat, but visit Cuenca quite a bit, and that is our choice. There are things I like in Cuenca, and things I like at home. Easy peasy. Good luck to you.

  • Mulligan

    I like it here, I like it there, I like it everywhere. Thank you Dr. Seuss.

  • Michael

    If you left, don’t encourage me to follow.