US expats in a COVID-19 World: A report from Medellín, Colombia


We’ve been expats from the U.S for five years now – first in Boquete, Panamá, and now in Medellín, Colombia. By definition, living the expat life means going with the flow. But we never could have imagined how much the coronavirus pandemic would upend our plans and our lives. It’s a new reality we’re now sharing with basically every other person on the planet.

Just over a month ago, we were going about our business like everyone else: working, walking our dogs, eating out, taking long bike rides, exploring new corners of Medellín, and planning our future travels. And, oh, we had big plans: at the end of March, we had a long weekend visit to Bogotá booked. In April we were flying to Europe for three weeks in Spain and Portugal. In May, we were going to Austin, Texas to see our family. We also had trips to Ecuador and Aruba/Bonaire on the books.

Fast forward to mid-April – the very week we were supposed to fly to Madrid for our big Europe trip. We’ve watched with horror as COVID-19 has tightened its grip and lead to almost unbearable tragedy in Italy, Spain, the UK., and other parts of Europe as well as New York and other hot spots in the U.S. We’ve also been awed by the courage and dedication of healthcare workers all over the world, many of whom have themselves caught the virus and died.

And now, it’s encouraging to see that many of the hardest-hit places have passed their peak with the virus. It’s a ray of hope that someday, hopefully soon, quarantine measures might start to loosen up as countries figure out the safest ways to reopen and restart their economies. We’re also encouraged by the progress being made all over the world to identify cures and a vaccine for this awful disease.

At the moment, we can’t think of a better place to shelter from a global pandemic than Colombia. Unlike other countries, the government sprang into action very early here to stop international travel, close down all but essential businesses and services, and mandate a national home quarantine that is now in place until at least April 27. After more than a month at home, we won’t lie – it’s getting a little harder, and the days are all feeling a bit more monotonous. But we also feel incredible gratitude. We and our dogs are healthy, we have a safe and comfortable apartment, and we have easy access to all the food we need.

Others aren’t so lucky, and every day we look for new ways to help. We were grateful to participate in a city-wide donatón sponsored by the Alcaldía and EPM yesterday (Easter Sunday) blew out its goal by raising over COP$13 billion and collecting more than 100,000 food packages for needy families.

We moved to Colombia from Panamá a year and a half ago for a variety of reasons: the cost of living, the wonderful climate, the excellent and affordable healthcare system, and – most important – the people. Colombians, and paisas (as locals are referred to), in particular, are some of the warmest and friendliest people we’ve ever met, and they have risen to the occasion during this pandemic. Yesterday’s donatón is a great example. And almost every day, our Colombian friends check on us and ask about our families (as we do with them). Each night at 8 p.m. we join our neighbors throughout our barrio of Laureles to cheer and make noise for the healthcare workers. It’s a celebration that’s getting louder and longer each evening.

In short, quarantine in a global pandemic isn’t exactly what we bargained for when we chose a life of travel, adventure, and multicultural experiences. But as each day passes, we realize what an extraordinary experience this is, one we’re sharing with an estimated one-third of the world’s population. It really is a gift – a chance for us as a species to set the reset button, figure out what’s truly important, and start working on the big problems that affect every single one of us. Let’s hope that comes to pass.

By John and Susan Pazera.

John and Susan are authors of the expat/travel blog Latitude Adjustment.


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