South America Living

Expat Interview – Walter Rhein in Lima, Peru

Editor’s Note: This interview is courtesy of Walter Rhein who lives with his family in Lima, Peru. Vist his Streets of Lima blog which is full of info on living in Lima and their Facebook Page is here. He is an author of two books: ‘Beyond Birkie Fever’ and ‘The Bone Sword’.

Magnificent Inca Ruins Machu Picchu near Cusco, Peru

Magnificent Inca Ruins Machu Picchu near Cusco, Peru

Can you tell us a little about yourself (and family if applicable)?

Certainly, I was born in Wisconsin but I moved to Peru in 2001 after finishing college. At first I was planning on staying only long enough to learn Spanish, but I ended up finding a lot of work and enjoying the country immensely. I met my wife when the two of us were working as teachers at Lord Byron school in La Molina. We just had our second daughter back in October of 2012.

What made you decide to move abroad?

It wasn’t exactly a decision for me, it just sort of happened. I’ve always had the itch to travel. When I was growing up, I did a lot of cross-country ski races internationally and I absolutely loved going to the new places and hearing the new languages and cultures. After I got done with college, things just kind of opened up and staying in Peru made a lot of sense.

Why did you choose the country/location you are in?

Again, it was just sort of random. I came to Peru because I’d heard that the Spanish spoken here was a very “clean” version of the language. Peruvian Spanish doesn’t have some of the accent quirks of the Spanish of other countries–and I have found this to be true with subsequent travel.

Also, Peru is very economical. I lived pretty bare bones early on and only spent around $8000 a year (and I could have easily cut that in half had I wanted to).

Corso de Wong Parade in Lima, Peru

Corso de Wong Parade in Lima, Peru

How long did it take to complete the move? Some folks pick-up and go in a few months, others agonize over leaving their home country for years!

I’d been in the process of cutting back everything I owned and was down to just a couple backpacks anyway, so that part was easy. Learning the language was tough, but I figured that out in a couple months (enough to get around).

I think it’s kind of a mental state, if you really want to go,
you make it happen. If you find yourself delaying, maybe it’s not really something you want to do.

What were your greatest fears (if any) about moving abroad?

I was 26 when I came here so I was still on the late fringes of adolescence, meaning I was prone to taking stupid risks. I guess the thing that scared me the most was the prospect of abandoning the “chosen path” of what people are supposed to do as they enter the world of a professional career.

If you waste your time reading things like the “Yahoo Business” column (the name alone should tell you how foolish that is), you’ll start to think that you’re doomed if you don’t have a conventional resume with every waking moment of your professional life documented.

My resume has got year long gaps in it, but I’ve always managed to get hired by developing skills nobody else has. Actually, I’ve completely dodged this problem recently by launching my own business (which is what everybody should be doing anyway).

Did you experience much culture shock?

For the first year or so yes, but it got to the point where going from one country to the other was no more shocking than traveling from state to state in the US. I think your perspective gets diluted after a while and you come to realize that people are just people.

Once you start seeing that everybody is driven by the same needs, you see that cultural divergences are just different ways of addressing those needs. Some are more effective than others, and those often exist on the side that seems foreign to you.

Are you glad you took the plunge & made the move? Any Regrets?

Yes I’m glad and there is absolutely nothing to regret. Living internationally has been the best experience of my life. I only wish I had enough time to spend a year or two in 50 or 100 other countries in the world.

What advice would you give to someone contemplating a move abroad?

Language is the big thing, it really changes your experience from surviving to living. However, don’t let a lack of language stop you. Just go and learn it.

I find that you learn language best after you’ve had a couple drinks. You can just fly to another country, start drinking, and when you sober up a year or so later, you’ll be fluent!

Can you share any resources that were helpful to you in the planning process such as websites, expat groups, facebook groups, books, etc.?

I didn’t use any of those things. I find that you should be a little leary of expat communities honestly. It’s better to take the plunge and hang out with locals.

Also, the internet is a scary resource, everybody on there is timid and will terrify you with stories about how you’re going to be mistreated. If you’ve never resided abroad, there’s little you can read to prepare you for how much your mind is going to be blown. There’s simply no other way to get this experience other than living it. The Streets of Lima blog comes pretty close though!

Thanks much for sharing your inspiring story, wishing you and your family the best in Lima and wherever else you may choose to settle. Cheers, Molly

More Expat Interviews:
Rachel in Rio de Janerio, Brazil
Tim in Cuenca, Ecuador
Ande Wanderer in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Martin and Luisa in Tarija, Bolivia

Photographs by Walter Rheim, all rights reserved.

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