Being Wayne Branch, I say R. Wayne Branch and others say Dr. Branch, from Rand, West Virginia and now living in Barranquilla, Colombia. Has been a hell of a journey. I am blessed.
1. Why did you move abroad?
I have always been a little different. So it was not surprising to hear some of my friends say “… you never cease to amaze me.” So perhaps moving outside of the country has always been in my DNA. I am ready to live life more simply; less focused on what I can accumulate and more focused on creating opportunities to live my passions. I am ready to consume myself with family, of enormous value in Latin America, and projects that secure my future. I am ready to be more giving to myself, less stressed, in better balance and in better health. I have always been, and now I am ever more so, less accepting of the racism I feel here in the United States. I am less tolerant of the negativity and frustrated by our inability to improve the infrastructures supporting our society. I want to be in a place where I feel nurtured. I want to be in an environment where people care about our connection to the earth and to one another. I feel those things on the coast of Colombia.
2. How do you make a living?
I have over twenty five years of higher education leadership experience. I am a former community college president. I have also taught, been a consultant and lead nonprofit organizations. They say the politics of education make corporate America seem like a walk on the beach. I have never worked in corporate America, but I am ready for walks on the beach.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
I talk with my sister about once a month. My son is going through an elongated phase of adolescence. Unfortunately we do not talk. My friends, those with whom I grew into adulthood, and I talk almost every week. I talk with former colleagues regularly. By email, I probably exchange messages with someone every day. In many ways I have friends who are family.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Barranquilla?
I love being in that culture, in that environment. I feel at home in Barranquilla. I find the people here, they are generally referred to as genuine here, even those who do not want to associate with me. That is so very refreshing and nurturing. I have met people who have gone out of their way to help. The kindness of people; their value for family, the culture, a healthier life balance, their belief that life must be enjoyed, and yes those gorgeous Colombian women
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Barranquilla?
The amount of money it takes to ship things there. A box weighing 25kg (a little over 55lbs) costs $594.36 with FedEx. DHL quoted me $1000.00. The impuestos, taxes, to bring my car, a 2010 Audi A4, into the country are more than I paid for the car. There has got to be an easier way.
And while I am on a rant about the bad stuff – you asked – traveling between Costa Rica and Colombia is ridiculous. It is cheaper to return to the US and then go to Costa Rica then flying the actual 3 and a half hours it takes to get there. Horrible.
6. What do you miss most?
CBS Sunday Morning. Fage greek yogurt and good to great red wines.
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
In the past I have internet dating sites to make friends. Some of the women I have met have introduced me to other people. For those curious yes, I have been known to go out on a date or two also. In fact I met my girlfriend on one of the sites. I also email the people I want to meet, asking for informational interviews. That strategy has helped me learn how to find out about what is happening in the region, in terms of art and culture. Using the same taxi driver has helped me meet people. We have become more than acquaintances. He has educated me a lot. He has taken me to his home and introduced me to his family and others he knows. I have a Spanish tutor. I make a point to meet with her at the mall. That gives me an opportunity to meet other people. I have moved a lot in my life. I have learned to be pretty assertive about establishing a network of friends and colleagues.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
I am the only African American I have seen in Barranquilla, besides the ones on relationship tours. People will look at me. Some out of curiosity. Hopefully some think I am handsome or cute. People say that Colombia is a racist country. I am certain that there are racist people there. I have felt their presence. I have also felt the pride many Costenos (people from the coast of Colombia) have in their African heritage, as well as others in their own cultures. The country, and its people, can sometimes be a weird complication of conflicting values and attitudes.
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
That Colombia is dangerous, full of drug dealers and murderers. It's cities are no more dangerous than many U.S. cities. Certainly they have remnants of the culture that people associate with Colombia. I have never felt unsafe there. Children play in playgrounds, people take buses to the malls, folks of all ages go to the clubs and families go to the parks. I agree with their tourism slogan, “Colombia, the only risk is wanting to stay.”
10. What advice would you give other expats?
It is easy to fall in love with a place while visiting. Take time to be there on a day to day basis for a few months to get to know a place before deciding to move there. Establishing supportive relationships will take time. And it will be the relationships that will make a new place home.
11. When and why did you start your blog?
I decided to write my blog before moving to Barranquilla. It took me about a month to get organized, to do the research, to establish a plan, the look and the feel I wanted. My blog is about making connections, establishing trust and giving people a sense that they have a choice in where they live, what they do and how they handle stress, especially African Americans. Latin America offers a different way to connect with the world and one’s self. My goal is to give people/readers the opportunity to experience those connections through me and one day to experience them for themselves.
12. How has the blog been beneficial?
My blog is both cathartic and one of inspired discovery for others. My writing chronicles a journey towards a life in balance and better health. I am learning and growing. I hope that through my blog others are also.
R. Wayne Branch's blog, Black in Latin America