Spending a decade overseas was undoubtedly enriching and fascinating for this Colombian journalist. Now back in her native Bogotá, Juanita is redefining her path while applying the life lessons she learned along the way. This is her story.
Juanita Malagón is an eloquent and strong-willed Latin American journalist. A talented writer and storyteller, Juanita turns anything ordinary into an exceptional recollection of events.
Living in Africa and Asia propelled her freelancing career. It was through her innate desire to learn more about her surroundings that most of her editorial articles were inspired. This one for example, titled The Butterfly Effect, talks about the diversity of butterflies in Nepal. It was one of many that were published by the Nepali Times, a local newspaper where Juanita worked for over a year.
Before moving overseas, she was living in Colombia. She was a full time mom taking care of her one-year old baby Antonia and of her older daughter Leticia, who was two and a half at that time.
When I asked Juanita if she had always wanted to live in a different country she said: “Yes, since I was a child I was very much interested in different cultures, learning how people live and trying to understand how they’d see life. Somehow, I always had the idea of living abroad in my adulthood.”
After living in Kenya, Uganda, Sudan and Nepal I was intrigued to know what had been her most rewarding experience of living as an expat. Juanita shares:
“Overall, it’s been the privilege to get to know completely different cultures than mine and not only while travelling but while living in the place. Getting to know and understand the daily life of “faraway” countries, meeting people who are so different than me and visiting worldwide known places not as a foreigner but as a local resident is amazing. Also, learning that despite the differences we are all very similar: Same goals, same relationships, same love.”
And what about the challenges? What was the most difficult aspect for Juanita of living as an expat? This is what she had to say:
“I’ve had many challenging experiences and at different stages of the post. I’d begin with a quite difficult one for me: When I leave the country that’s been my home for some years and I say goodbye to friends who’ve become my family, neighbors, people I’ve met in daily life, my routine, my roots to that place. That’s tough.
In the first stage of the post, I’d say the whole process of settling in. I’d skip too much detail on schools for the children, a house or a car, the import of your shipment -if you brought your own things.
Apart from that, a challenge is learning the language to communicate, and not only orally but gestures, expressions, jokes, perceptions, things established in the society that nobody verbalizes, but assumes that you know when you live in a community. Some examples are the traffic, the way you eat, how you treat others, the hygiene, the security, the manners, etc.”
I can relate to the many challenges we face when we first move to a new post. The logistics are difficult, but so is understanding and assimilating where we are. Starting anew requires for us to have an outlet, a way to help us process what we’re facing and feeling. For many of us it is creativity. And this is why I wanted to know how did Juanita decide to give it a chance.
“In the expat life you really need to be creative every time because you’re exploring, discovering, adapting and living in a state of alert all the time. You need to solve problems ASAP, whether you know how things work or not.
Also, artistically, a new place inspires you to write about it, to understand it and explain to your loved ones faraway what your new home is like now. It inspires you to take pictures, to write about your experience, and explain what you see in daily life that is really new for you.
Living abroad makes you feel as a child again. You want to open your eyes widely to catch what you are experiencing. Try to understand your whereabouts and somehow replicate it in your life.”
Since Juanita has been one of those remarkable expat women who have been able to pursue their passion of writing and documenting foreign cultures, her advice to those creative entrepreneurs living the nomadic lifestyle on how to pursue their passions comes in handy.
“My advice is to stick to your principles, to what you believe in. Stick to your identity because when you live in different places you reach a point where relativism comes in and somehow you lose a common background and might lose your way. However, it doesn't mean that you cannot change, transform or modify yourself but your identity shall stick with you.
Take the best of every place, don’t step on people and recognize others for who they are. Everything can feed your mind and help you create something meaningful and achieve a better version of yourself.”
Putting our passions aside, we all long for moments of calm. We have different pursuits and ways to reconnect to our inner self. For me the way to do that is drinking tea. And that is why I always ask my blog guests what their favorite thing to do is when they’re not busy creating and what their favorite tea is. Juanita shares:
“When I’m not creating I’m with people who give me good vibes and motivate me -without telling me- to keep going.
My favourite tea, I would say, is the Nepali and the Kenyan ones. But what I love the most about the tea is its ritual and the concept of togetherness it brings. I happen to have lived in Kenya and Nepal, that’s why I know how important the tea is, not only for the economy, but for the sense of culture it embraces.
I confess something here: I like tea only because it reminds me of the countries I lived in and where it was a huge part of the culture. But, because I’m Colombian I prefer coffee, and not any kind of coffee, but a nice mild and delicious cup of Colombian coffee.“
We couldn’t end this interview without talking about spirituality, one of the topics of interest here at The Elephant Soul blog. My last question for Juanita is: What is one spiritual practice that you incorporate into your daily routine?
“If I need to choose only one spiritual practice I follow everyday I’d say observation. I observe the good behavior of others anywhere and anytime. In some societies where the public space seems to be chaotic I always find someone who follows the rules, doesn’t push others around or is kind. I focus my attention on those individuals who I can follow.
For example, it’s easy to draw your attention to the one who doesn’t stop at the right light and not see the five who are patiently waiting. I consciously choose to acknowledge and praise the five.”
A proud Colombian, Juanita currently spends her time writing for local media outlets and traveling often to the Middle East, always keeping comprehensive notes and unbiased views of the world that surrounds her. Her observations are later shared with her loyal international audience. You can follow Juanita on Instagram as @juanitadidi