Interview: Being a Non-Foreign Service Expat in El Salvador


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el salvador half marathon, el salvador running, meeting friends on blogs, blogging overseas, foreign service blogsI know my blog makes expat life as a Foreign Service wife sound glamorous and exciting. It is, and it isn’t. Certainly, living in El Salvador has its perks. Living here and being affiliated with the Foreign Service does as well. But what about all those other expats out there, brought to El Salvador by work, love, adventure, or something else?Today I’m interviewing my “blog friend” (turned real-life friend) Jen, who blogs over at Me Llamo Jen, about her experience as a non-Foreign Service Expat in El Salvador. Jen has lived in San Salvador for just over a year, teaching at Escuela Americana. Originally from South Dakota, Jen arrived in El Salvador by way of Arizona, where she began her teaching career several years ago.Be sure to check out previous interviews: First-Post Tips for a Trailing Spouse, Parts 1 and 2Raising Third-Culture Children: The Other Side; Running Abroad; and Packout Prep.Natasha: First things first: How did you end up in El Salvador?Jen: I did not like my job in the U.S., where I was teaching at a public charter school in the Phoenix area. Large class sizes, no support, lack of supplies, very stressful. I was also finishing my master’s degree, which I knew was necessary for a lot of overseas teaching jobs, which probably added to my stress! My aunt taught overseas years ago, and she and her husband always encouraged me to check it out. So, I went to an overseas teaching fair at the University of Northern Iowa and this job seemed to fit me the best! I was really wide open to teaching anywhere in the world.N: This is your first international teaching job. Are you interested in renewing your contract here and staying in El Salvador, moving to a new country or returning to the U.S.?J: Hmmm, that’s a good question! I would like to move to a new country in the future! I’m just not sure where yet …N: One of the benefits of the Foreign Service is that we have a built-in community right from the get-go. Is it the same with teaching? How do you make friends/meet people — whether it’s inside or outside the teaching community? J: I live in what is lovingly referred to as “The Complejo” (Spanish for “complex”), which means I live in an area about the size of a city block with about 35 other Americans. So, I definitely feel like this is a built-in community! Almost all of the friends I have here are from school. I have met a few people through friends and through church. I met you through the Internet!N: You’re a runner. One of the things that surprised me about living in El Salvador is the running culture. There are lots of running groups hitting the pavement everyday, and various races throughout the year. What’s your favorite running experience so far (race or otherwise) in El Salvador?J: Ohmygoodness, for SURE the race we both did last year on Volcán Santa Ana was the best!!! I’ve run in many races, and I really think it is the most beautiful race I’ve ever done in my entire life. The best part for me was standing on the crater of the volcano and in the distance seeing Lago Coatepeque, Izalco (volcano), and the Pacific Ocean. Absolutely indescribable!N: One thing I love about living in El Salvador are the opportunities for regional travel. I know you’ve done quite a bit of traveling — both in Central America and around the world — since you arrived. What’s your favorite trip so far?J: On my birthday last year, I was able to go to Lago Atitlán and then spend the night in Antigua (both are in Guatemala). The lake is so peaceful and serene, and Antigua is just such a fun city to be in. Everyone should go to both places!N: You have visitors in town. How would you spend the weekend?J: Ooh! I would do all the lame things that an 80-year-old woman would do! 1. Mercado de Artesanías for some souvenirs. 2. Jardin Botanico in Antiguo Cuscatlán to see the beautiful flowers and maybe even a giant iguana! When you’re done, head to a pupusa lunch since you are in pupuseria-land. 3. Head up Boquerón and peek inside the crater! Hopefully someone on the side of the road is selling some strange fruit for everyone to try 🙂 4. Drive to the beach and watch some surfers and the sunset from a yummy seafood restaurant! 5. Stop by Super Selectos on the way home (because who doesn’t like to see grocery stores in different countries?!?) and buy some red wine to enjoy with some gringos back in El Complejo. 6. Sleep with the windows wide open, and wake up to the beautiful sunshine and the chirping birds!N: What do you miss most about living in the U.S.?J: If I had to pick ONE thing that I miss, it would be going to the mall by myself, walking around aimlessly without talking to anyone, all while drinking a fountain Diet Coke. Never underestimate the power of some window shopping, or Diet Coke for that matter!N: What has most surprised you about living in El Salvador?J: When I moved here, I thought I would just love going to the beach all the time. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like to go to the beach, but maybe just once a month (or every two months). The things I enjoy are not what I expected: meeting new people, learning Spanish, trying new foods, seeing the small towns, and hiking in the mountains.N: What has been the most challenging aspect of living in El Salvador?J:  For me, the two biggest issues are transportation and safety. I don’t have a car, and public transportation here is not super-safe or reliable. Fortunately cabs are cheap, I can walk to some places that are nearby, and I have friends who kindly let me ride with them often. Safety is just an ongoing issue here. It kind of sucks feeling like you can’t really go anywhere by yourself after dark, which is 6:30 p.m. here. Although, I do go to bed on time every night!N: Finally, what are your favorite posts from your own blog?J: I like any of my blog posts that include lots of pictures! I’m not the best photographer, nor do I have the best camera, but I try to take lots of pictures so my family back home can see what life is like here. Since I teach 9- and 10-year-olds, and we are all really kids at heart, I try to put in as many pictures as I can so people don’t get bored and so they keep reading my blog!!Thanks, Jen for taking the time to answer my questions! Be sure to check out Jen’s blog, Me Llamo Jen.Are you an expat? What brought you to your current home?

Published by La Vie Overseas

I'm Natasha -- writer, runner and wife to a Foreign Service Officer with USAID. Current location: Frankfurt, Germany.

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