Expat Stories: As a Peace Corps Worker, I’ve Always Found South America Alluring and Now Live in Cochabamba, Bolivia

by Anonymous Male - from USA
(Cochabamba, Bolivia)

1. How did you first hear about Bolivia and/or become interested in Bolivia as a possible place to live?

- I heard about Bolivia, and stopped over briefly via a few connecting flights, when I lived in Chile in the 1990’s. But I’ve always found South America alluring, especially the Andean countries.

2. Where are you from originally and why are/were you considering living overseas when you first took Bolivia into account as an option?

- I’m from Philadelphia but was living in Spain when I decided to join Peace Corps, with a preference for South America. A Bolivia assignment was offered to me, and I accepted.

3. Which languages do you speak? If you do not speak Spanish, has this made adjusting to, and living in Bolivia more difficult for you?

- I spoke Spanish fluently when I first arrived. Certainly helpful.

4. Did you come here as an individual, couple or family?

- Individual.

5. Are you planning to live in Bolivia short-term or long term?

- Long-term

6. Do you work or plan to work or start your own business in Bolivia?

- In the process of starting a food business.

7. Is Bolivia the only country to which you contemplated moving, or did you consider other choices? If so, why did you ultimately choose Bolivia?

- I had lived in other countries (Belgium, Spain, Chile) but moved back to Bolivia as part of a joint decision with my wife, who is from Cochabamba. We considered Colombia but felt confident Bolivia was the right choice because of our family/connections here.

8. What steps did you take to research about Bolivia to prepare yourself prior to arriving?

- The first time I came, I basically bought a few travel books and spoke with some friends who had been to Bolivia.

9. What do you miss most about your home country?

- My family. Food and shopping options (Whole Foods, Costco, Target, clothing stores etc.). Culture, especially museums and other public/civic spaces. Activities for kids that don’t involve copious amounts of sugar and soft drinks.

10. What do you like/love/appreciate most about Bolivia?

- The weather. Diversity (cultural, geographic). The sense of adventure and sponeity. The scenery / geography.

11. Did you relocate on your own, or do you work for a company that relocated you to Bolivia?

- On my own.

12. If your plan is/was to retire in Bolivia permanently, how did you prepare financially, and in other ways to make that possible?

- Working with a financial advisor, and investing independently, set up a long-term investment portfolio that will become more conservative as the years pass. Moved as much online as possible, carefully researching banking services and financial products. Since I don’t use credit cards much here, I try to have a system to carefully track cash expenses.

13. For those of you who have lived in Bolivia for at least 6 months, now that you are here, what have you learned about Bolivia that you did not know before?

- Hard to say since one learns many new things over 5 years...

14. Is there anything about Bolivia that turned out to be very unexpected to you?


15. What special skills or attitudes do you think a person or family needs in order to ensure their stay in Bolivia is enjoyable/successful?

- Patience. Spanish. Flexibility. Negotiating skills for many transactions. Common sense.

16. Is there any reason you would NOT recommend Bolivia as a place to live, work or retire?

- People with special health considerations, especially those related to stomach, high blood pressure, or very uncommon conditions may want to think twice, as well as those who prefer order and rigidity.

17. What is the most negative aspect about living in Bolivia in your opinion?

- This may be more pronounced in Cochabamba, but among some people there is an element of envy and/or an inherently conflictive nature. The other thing that I have trouble with on a daily basis is the trash/hygiene issue. Finally, there is not much of a service mentality.

18. What are some of the most positive aspects about living in Bolivia in your opinion?

- Cultural pride. Love of family. Minus the urban traffic and graffiti, the scenery is gorgeous. A stress level that is much lower than the US, even with the occasional “bloqueo”. Some costs, such as doctor visits, flights or gasoline, are much lower (though not as big an advantage as it once was). Generally decent quality of life – a good “value proposition” for people who like Spanish language and Andean culture.

19. Have you faced any unexpected difficulties while living here? Were you able to overcome those obstacles? Are they serious enough to cause you to want to leave?

- I don’t like to generalize/stereotype, but I find it sometimes frustratingly hard to hold people accountable here. As a result, I feel I have to nag and waste lots of time to get certain tasks done. Not serious enough to make me want to leave.

20. If your children moved overseas with you, how did you prepare them for the differences in lifestyle or culture shock?

- They were bi-cultural to begin with, so not as applicable. I think the changes are more significant for the parents (even my Bolivian wife). Would be harder if my kids were older, but at a young age they are very adaptable and enjoying life here.

21. For future potential expatriates who are considering living in Bolivia, what advice would you give them (how to prepare, what to bring or not bring, etc.)

- Bring: a few key practical or comfort items and stock up on trips back. Bring key pharmacy products (like liquid Pepto), hard-to-get condiments or spices – whatever. Good sunglasses and walking shoes are a must.

- Not bring: A rigid way of thinking. Stuff that the supermarkets here have, which now includes most of the essentials.

22. What are some of the things that were most difficult for you to accept or adjust to in Bolivia?

- “Old-school” mentalities such as macho behavior and gender-stereotyping. The bureaucracy sometimes feels like it was imposed by the Spanish viceroyalty just last year. In general, everything takes twice as long as it should.

23. Prior to moving here, what aspects of living in Bolivia would you have liked to know more about or have more assistance with? Is there anything anyone could have done, or informed you about that would have made your choice to move to Bolivia, the relocation process itself, or your initial adjustment period easier, less stressful, less frightening?

- Suggest making a few trips down (also to bring items in your baggage allowance – get a cheap bag weighing device) and meet as many helpful people as you can. It’s important to know who is fun to grab a beer with versus who can refer you to good people such as a lawyer, accountant, doctor, dentist, etc. Often these are not the same two people. And there is no local equivalent of Angie’s List -- as far as I know -- so much is still based on personal relationships and referrals. And bring lots of cash – you won’t use credit cards often here and the banks charge high fees for incoming wire transfers.

24. Hindsight is 20/20. If you could go back in time to the months before you moved to Bolivia, is there were anything you would do differently to prepare for living in Bolivia?

I would not have shipped my car here, which was a horrible experience. Far better to do your homework and just buy one here.

25. Just for statistical purposes, had you heard of BoliviaBella.com or Expat Services prior to moving to Bolivia? If so, which parts of our website were most helpful to you? What information would you like to see added for future potential expats?

No/haven’t looked at the site yet but I will!

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Comments for Expat Stories: As a Peace Corps Worker, I’ve Always Found South America Alluring and Now Live in Cochabamba, Bolivia

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Jan 16, 2015
Thanks for sharing
by: Anonymous

Thank you for sharing your story. All of these stories are really invaluable. It's a great idea to post them online. Very helpful.

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