ExPat File #4: Looking for Her Place in the World

Born of Colombian parents, but raised in the US, Jisel Perilla, spent several years in Colombia searching for her roots.  Here is her Guest Post.



During my early days in Bogotá, I was enthralled by life abroad. I was on a sensory high and I couldn’t get enough. I found joy and novelty in exploring neighborhoods, traveling, drinking chocolate con queso with my grandmother and her old lady friends and writing for hours at tiny, atmospheric cafes. I was fascinated by the culture, the differences, the similarities, the art and the mindset. There were always new foods to try, street music to enjoy, parties to go to, sites to be seen and observations to be made. Life was fascinating and fulfilling and as a writer, I felt I had more than enough material to last a life time. Because my parents are Colombian, I felt like I’d finally come home in many ways; like I’d discovered the missing link that differentiated me from “long-time” Americans with generations of roots in the States. In my early days (2009) in Bogotá I wrote:

There are elegant, neoclassical bureaucratic buildings just a few blocks from mountain shanty-town invasions, grand avenues running parallel to  unkempt, abandoned dead-end streets and important-looking men in expensive looking suits walking alongside ancient women with head shawls and long wool skirts selling candy and cigarettes from tiny, makeshift wooden stands.

Slums of Bogota

Slums of Bogotá



But of course, that level of wonder and excitement was impossible to maintain, at least for me at the time.  About a year into my stint in Bogotá, the novelty began wearing off and loneliness started creeping in. Because I worked mostly as a travel writer and as an English teacher, I spent much of my time alone – traveling around, dining out, visiting hotels, writing in cafes – and while this was in many ways the dream life, it left little time to form meaningful relationships with other people. I started longing for the U.S.; missing everything about it, even the things I’d once claimed to hate (the suburbs, strip malls, the necessity of having a car, etc). In fact, when I look through my blog, I can see my attitude changing from one of joyful enthrallment to nostalgic longing for the home I’d left behind. I suppose you could say that my time abroad taught me to love the U.S. In the excerpt below, you can see my mindset changing.

 I used to feel I was moving forward here. I felt passionate about Colombia. I don’t have that feeling anymore. Maybe it’s all more familiar now. Even in the most passionate of romances, love fades. Or maybe living abroad for the better part of three years has made me realize I enjoy being American. In fact, I am realizing lately how very American my mindset is, and how I’m trying to impose my U.S mentality on my life in Colombia.”


I’ve been back in the U.S now for nearly two years and exploring my changing views about life abroad. Was it Colombia? Was it me? Were we just ultimately irreconcilably incompatible? Was the draw of the U.S – of my family, of the comfortable and the familiar – just too great to resist? Do I regret my time abroad as years lost, or was it an integral component in shaping the person I am today?

BogotaJisel crp

Jisel having a tipico breakfast bogotano

The truth is, I wanted so badly to love Colombia, to feel like I belonged there and to know there was finally a place I belonged. Because I honestly believed you were supposed to look for happiness in places, that you carved it out in some specific geographical location and if you found the perfect spot it stayed with you forever. That’s why I traveled and moved around so much in my early to mid-twenties; I was on an unofficial quest. At the time I wrote the excerpt above, it was slowly dawning on me that Colombia might not be that place – in fact, no place was that place – and that my whole theory on happiness was hopelessly flawed. I know now that happiness in a very general sense is the ability to be happy just about anywhere. But back then, once the novelty wore off, I was only willing to understand Colombia through an American perspective and I was uncompromising. If I’d been more flexible and open-minded I probably would’ve enjoyed my time in Bogotá more. But the past is the one facet of time that you can’t change, so the only thing I can do now is to be thankful that I’ve realized that you can be happy – or unhappy – just about anywhere. I like to think that my years abroad taught me that lesson.

You can read more at of Jisel’s blogs at : anomadslife.wordpress.com

2 thoughts on “ExPat File #4: Looking for Her Place in the World

  1. Jisel’s conclusion reminds me of Alicia (in A Place in the World), realizing that she could be happy just about anywhere. It’s not necessarily the location that matters. Thanks Jisel for an insightful essay.


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