Who are you?
I am Richard McColl, an Anglo Canadian freelance journalist and hotelier living in Colombia. I host a weekly podcast called Colombia Calling available on iTunes.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
It’s been the process of a lifetime really. Long periods of my childhood were spent overseas and my parents had spent significant amounts of time in far off lands, so I suppose I never really thought of going overseas as moving.My first real move was to Guatemala in 1998 when I was contracted to work in a bilingual private school there. Then I spent a few years working as an expedition guide and social projects coordinator in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. Basically, it never really crossed my mind that I wanted to return to the UK. I am a specialist in Latin America and so it seems to make more sense that I am here. As for Colombia, I moved here fulltime in 2007.
What challenges did you face during the move?
The challenges, I believe, are different for every person. For me, here in Bogotá, the altitude is still something which affects me. I suppose that’s the most consistent issue, but, I didn’t face any existential crises like others. I knew what I was here to do, why I wanted to be here and that I was going to make a life here.
Are there many other expats in your area?
When I first started to coming to Colombia in 1998, when you saw another foreigner in the street you would stop them automatically to share a few words so rare an occurrence. Now, we are all over the place. Not the numbers in Lima or Rio but still, the expat community has grown significantly.
What do you like about life where you are?
I enjoy living in Bogotá Chapinero area since there is a vibrancy to the area and it is quite artistic and experimental. It seems that up and coming restauranteurs open up here first to test the water, there’s an ambiance of creativity. But, I split my life between the bustling capital and the tiny colonial backwater town of Mompos where I have the Casa Amarilla hotel. This is a schizophrenic division of two worlds.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
You cannot expect things to run as they do let’s say in the developed world. I cannot lose my Englishness of arriving on time, even after 17 years in Latin America, I still cannot be late.
What do you think of the food and drink in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
What is most exciting is that finally we are experiencing a culinary revolution in Colombia, there are new and more experimental chefs really making a go of it and succeeding. It’s great too that not all of the best coffee grown in Colombia is not earmarked for exportation now, we have small and quality coffee producers providing some of the best brews around.
What have you learned from living abroad?
A great deal of patience.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
If you are coming to live abroad, come with an open mind and with an expertise that offers something to your new home. Don’t just be an economic refugee enjoying a favourable exchange rate and frequenting expat haunts. Try and assimilate a little to your new homeland.
What are your plans for the future?
For the timebeing we are not going anywhere. I am married and have a son and so am very happy here in Colombia and everything is going swimmingly. We have a few more irons in the fire, a new restoration project of another colonial house in Mompos to make a top-end hotel, I am looking for an editorial company to publish my book “The Mompos Project” about my experiences here, the peace process in underway and so I have plenty of freelance work and I have to finish my PhD here in Bogotá. So, busy busy
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