Hello from Uruguay! I type to you now with a view of the sea to my left and sunshine to my right. It’s early days, but I feel happy here.
A year ago, however, I was unhappy, very unhappy.
Can living somewhere make you feel depressed?
In 2020 I moved to Ecuador (well, tried to). From what I’d read, I was very excited. Then I showed up and well… I was disappointed. I put on a brave face for a while, but soon realised Quito was not for me. Within just a few weeks, I got depressed. I felt trapped.
I knew many people were happy there, though. People who loved the city, its low cost of living, the weather, the ambiance.
However, as I eventually realised – these people were not me, I wasn’t them.
I debated writing about my experience in Ecuador as I thought it might offend some people. Writing as diplomatically as I could, it seems I still ruffled some feathers. For many, it’s painful to hear negative comments about anything you cherish.
If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all, they say. But this isn’t always fair. If I only write about the good stuff, and leave out the bad stuff, I’m giving you a blinkered view.
For sure, it’s impossible to tell you everything. And my impressions are always just that. They’re just my impressions.
You don’t need to love where you live
I lived in Santiago de Chile and I loved it. I still feel a little piece of my heart belongs in Santiago. However, I don’t love everything about Chile, or any country for that matter. I’m aware that while I enjoyed my time in Chile, it’s not everyone’s paradise.
I don’t want people to rock up in Santiago expecting sunshine, mountain views and the fresh scent of empanadas to realise that in fact there was another side to the country which I’d failed to mention. In a blog post, I highlighted that while I loved Santiago de Chile, there are of course challenges to the life there too. And some people got upset by this post.
However, I also got feedback from other Expaters saying they valued my honesty. ‘Some sites read like they’re sponsored by the local tourism board’ one reader emailed me. Another commented how they felt more confident moving to Chile knowing the bad stuff too. The bad stuff isn’t bad for everyone, after all.
It’s personal, but not personal
Take Uruguay, for example. It’s painfully expensive. Now if you’re a millionaire, this won’t be an issue. If you’re comfortable, but not rich, like me, you’ll have to make some compromises. For me, these compromises are worth it.
It’s also very quiet here. Life is slow paced, the vibe is chilled. As a mother of three young children, I waved goodbye to a vibrant night life many moons ago. So again, Uruguay’s slow lifestyle is perfect for me. But I’d despair if I lived here aged 20. No place is perfect for everyone.
I feel the bad stuff which might be considered universally bad – crime, pollution, racism, for example – need to be addressed, not swept under the carpet.
It’s painful to hear negativity about somewhere you live, and perhaps it’s even harder when it comes from an outsider. But telling me to ‘just go home’ isn’t a valid answer.
I once lived in London with friends from abroad. One day they were chatting, but quietened when I entered the room. They were talking about their negative experience at Heathrow airport border control. For sure, I was sad that this happened in my birth country, but my passport doesn’t define me. Moreover, my friends weren’t angry at me, they didn’t want to offend me.
As UK residents, my friends had every right to complain. As a British national I’d never faced issues entering the UK, and felt disturbed that people were treated disrespectfully by airport officials. I’m glad that my friends told me what happened. Through my friends I gained another view of the UK. Through their eyes, I gained a new, fresh perspective. Sometimes positive, sometimes not.
Last year, when I mentioned I didn’t like living in Quito, I was rebuked by some. ‘Oh but the people are so lovely!’ I was told. As if my comments about not liking Quito were a personal attack on its people.
For the record, my dislike of anything in any country is never an attack on its people. People are people. I’ve never been to a country and thought ‘gosh, what horrid people!’ I’ve made great friends in Angola, Chile, Lebanon… and yes Ecuador too. Your passport doesn’t define you.
Useful, not brutal honesty
In Ecuador I felt trapped. I got the impression I needed to work harder to be happy. I needed to give it more time, to meet more people, to try harder, to do more. I was depressed in Ecuador, and just needed to work harder. I was struggling for something impossible.
Pretending a place is better than it is might feel polite, but to others it can feel misleading, even dishonest. When I arrived into Quito, I assumed it was just me and that somehow I was wrong. But it’s not about right or wrong, it’s just a personal impression.
When I read about all sides of the story, my feelings are validated. I’ve had readers reach out to thank me for writing about my painful, embarrassing, challenging and difficult moments abroad. It’s good to know it’s not just you.
It’s good to know it’s not just you.
Before moving to Uruguay I asked a friend from here for her honest impressions. She shared all the good stuff, and the bad. I felt much more confident about my move here with her rounded feedback under my belt.
I appreciate that the online world isn’t the same as the real world. There are some strange folk online! And I know that with abusive comments there is generally a back story. Trolls don’t represent normal, healthy people.
It’s not my intention to hurt people when I write about the other side to a country. On the contrary, I hope it helps. It’s OK not to love where you live.
If you’ve moved somewhere new and struggling to settle in, why not head over to The Pool? The Pool is a new, free online community for women living abroad.