18 Months In, I Still Choose Ecuador

Hard to believe sometimes, but I’ve been living in Ecuador for over 18 months now, and I’ve been a legal resident for a year (gasp)! Moving to Ecuador was one of the biggest decisions of my life. I took a big risk with a one-way ticket and an unknown future, and I’m happy to report that I’m still standing strong! I’d like to share with you not only why I decided to move to Ecuador, but more importantly why I choose to stay every day. I often get the questions – don’t you miss your family? Yes. Don’t you miss where you’re from? Yes. Does that mean that I’m ready to go back? Hell no.

If you’re an expat reading this, you’ll notice that I’m not the typical demographic. There are over 5,000 North Americans retired in Ecuador, and many other young folk temporarily living abroad to teach English. I don’t fall into either category. My life here is unique. Its special and different and spontaneous. Characteristics that I am absolutely not used to coming from a very self- planned life in Maryland, but rolling with the punches is something I am learning to do better everyday. I am a millennial living in Ecuador with permanent residency and no plans in sight to move back to my home country. Let’s take a step back. Why did I decide to visit Ecuador in the first place in the summer of 2015?

Quilotoa
Standing in awe at Laguna Quilotoa

Initial draw to a summer in Ecuador

  1. Professional international experience. I first came to Ecuador seeking a professional experience to complement my Masters degree at American University. I worked at a domestic violence shelter in Cuenca for 6 weeks. Little did I know that it would turn my life upside down and short amount of time bring me back to Ecuador.
  2. Culture. I was fascinated with Latin America in the classroom, and was looking to see, feel, taste it for the first time.
  3. Travel. I’ve been in a continual state of wanderlust since I went to Ireland at the age of 14. I had no clue what I was in for when it comes to travel opportunities in Ecuador, but man was I in for a nice surprise. (Check out these must-see travel destinations in Ecuador!)
  4. Get out of my comfort zone. I knew I was getting comfortable in Maryland/DC between personal and professional life, and if I didn’t take the solo trip when I did, it probably never would have happened.

Fast forward to my return to the states at the end of the summer of 2015. I had fallen in love with a beautiful man in Cuenca, was finishing my Masters degree, and preparing for my dad’s wedding that fall. When I left Ecuador I knew that this crazy chapter was not over, but I did not have any plans of moving back so quickly. After months facetiming with my boo every night, and realizing what my future could look like in the DC area I knew now was the time. Now was the time to take a leap, and see where this path in life would take me.

Kelly Mitchell Wonder My Way Ecuador Travel Blog
Overlooking the city of Cuenca at Mirador de Turi (photo by my bestie Sarah Laugland Photography)

Making the move

So, I did it. I made the move. I applied and was granted the Professional Visa, a lifelong visa that would make me a legal permanent resident of Ecuador. Eduardo and I moved in together. I became part of a new family. I found a job, friends, new networks, developed a new program for nonprofits, became a runner, started a modeling career. We traveled Ecuador by motorcycle as much as we could. I learned (and continue to learn) more about myself that I didn’t even know was there. I’d be lying if I said it was perfect every day, but that’s part of life. I choose to stay in Ecuador for many reasons, and I’d like to share them with you, in the case that you are thinking about living abroad in Ecuador or else where.

puenting in banos
Jumping off the bridge in Banos de Ambato

Major Principles that make me say “yes” to Ecuador everyday:

1. Love.

I’ve found the love of my life. I wouldn’t leave his side for the world. We have each other, we have our life together, and it is beautiful.

2. Enjoyment.

If I’m going to be real, life in Ecuador is freaking awesome. I couldn’t speak highly enough of this country and all its beauty.  I’m enjoying myself and the way my life is. The stress levels of day-to-day life here have no comparison coming from the DC rat race and that is A-OK with me!

3. Live outside the comfort zone + grow from it.

Living abroad is a unique experience for each person that goes through it. Without a doubt, one thing we all have in common no matter where you are in the world is that you are pushed out of your comfort zone and, in time, you grow from it big time. It is natural to grow and change with the experiences in our lives, and I’m proud of myself for it all.

4. Experience another culture.

Obviously, living in Ecuador has given me great exposure to another culture and dozens of sub-cultures. Between family, work, and social life I really feel like I’ve gotten to know Ecuador on so many levels. Motorcyclists. Nonprofit industry. Models. High fashion. Family traditions. Runners. Athletes. Backpackers. Community-based initiatives. Upper class, middle class, poverty, extreme poverty. Rural, urban. My eyes have been opened to the very many ways life presents itself in Ecuador. Not to mention, we’re in the country of 4 worlds – Sierra/Andes, Amazon, Coast, and the Galapagos. If you think you know Ecuador yet you’ve never been, you’re in for a real treat!

5. I’ve found my tribe.

Finding people you connect with and feel comfortable with is critical to living a healthy life abroad. I’m so grateful to have found real friends, to have a sisterhood where we truly support each other. As anyone living abroad or in a transient city would know, many friends will come and go. This ain’t easy, but it helps you to cherish new friends that you have made in a very special time in life! Shout out to Anita and Crystal both of whom I miss dearly everyday! 😉

Cajas National Park
Cajas National Park

Bonus Points that put Ecuador on top

+ Travel.

The travel opportunities in Ecuador are MIND BLOWING. For such a small country there is SO MUCH to see. I originally thought it would be easier to travel parts of South America coming from Cuenca, but that proved to be more expensive than I had imagined. To be honest, for a couple that travels a lot, we haven’t even needed to go outside of Ecuador to find new and fascinating places! Jungle, mountains, coast. We’ve got it all at the edge of our finger tips. In case you didn’t know, Ecuador is the most bio-diverse country in the world given its size and density of rare species and plants. Come #DiscoverEcuador!

+ Cost of living.

The cost of living in Ecuador brings a whole new light to being able to afford that which you need. Ecuador uses the US dollar which is amazing for those of us coming from the states. While its awesome that the cost of living is so low, you have to keep in mind that the wages are proportionally low. If you have a high school diploma, you can earn a minimum wage of $360 per month. It feels crazy that my rent is actually 25% of what I make. I can go to the market and spend $20 and have full, fresh groceries for the week. Don’t even get me started on the affordability of health care without insurance!! Of course, when it comes to imports (technology, clothes, makeup, etc) or buying international flights on a local wage, you’re looking at ridiculously high prices that only upper classes can afford. But, if you want to live a healthy life, Ecuador won’t make you pay an arm and a leg for it!

+ Language.

Learning a second language has been an absolute gift. No matter how many years you study a language in the classroom, nothing will compare until you are immersed in it. Cuenca has provided a unique experience given the high number of expats and the fact that my office is bilingual. Sometimes I wish I had more immersion when it comes to language, but being able to speak my native tongue while living abroad is a blessing.

+ Healthy lifestyle.

Living in Ecuador you can make it or break it when it comes to building a healthy lifestyle. As I already mentioned, access to fresh and healthy foods is a breeze here. However, it is also SO easy to get sucked into the new wave of processed foods in South America when it comes to the coca cola in glass bottles and endless golosinas (junk foods)! Fresh potato chips and plantain chips are my weakness! Aside from that, being able to walk everywhere in Cuenca, join in the culture of exercise (whether it be running, biking, bailoterapia aka basically zumba), being able to afford yoga classes, and eating affordable, healthy foods are all huge bonus points when it comes to living in Ecuador.

+ New experiences.

If you think you’re going to move abroad and not have new experiences, you’re crazy. However, it is also super easy to squeeze yourself into a bubble if you’re going to stick only with the backpacker or expat crowd. Whether its in terms of travel, personal growth, friendships, careers, or cultural traditions, Ecuador has no limits when it comes to new experiences!

Devil's Nose Train in Alausi
Devil’s Nose Train in Alausi

The best decision I ever made

If you take a look at my Instagram account (@kellyimitchell), you may think that my life is full of love, travel and a modeling career. I want to assure you that while life has all of those things, that is not my only reality of living abroad. I have a real life here. I work 9-5. I have good days and bad days. Living abroad is not a fairy tale, and it is not something I would classify as easy. But, it is arguably the best decision I’ve ever made and one that I continue to make every day. Thanks to an amazing support system and a beautiful country I have the privilege to call home, I choose Ecuador. <3

Finishing the Ruta del Hielero at the Chimborazo Volcano
Finishing the Ruta del Hielero at the Chimborazo Volcano

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