Ecuador Expat Profile – Matt Scherr and Family, Cuenca
The Expats: Matt Scherr and Family
Where are you currently living?
As of March 2011, we’ve been in Cuenca, Ecuador five months.
What’s Your Story?
Diana and I were travelers in the era B.K. (before kids) and we hope exposure to other cultures at an earlier age will be beneficial to our kids and make them better global citizens.
We both quit our jobs for this two-year family sabbatical (Di as marketing director at a construction company, I as director of a community environmental nonprofit, in Vail, Colorado).
This is our first real international travel with the kids (not counting vacations), and it has already been (though not as easy as you’d think) worth the effort and the sacrifices to make it happen.
Where did you get the idea of living in Cuenca, Ecuador?
We decided first on South America for our sabbatical, as neither of us had traveled to the continent before.
Ecuador was the ultimate winner for affordability; economic, social, and (enough) political stability; natural beauty; Spanish speaking, and a generally welcoming attitude to gringos.
Our plan is 21 months here, though budgetary considerations will be the ultimate factor in the duration of our trip. We came on a six-month tourist visa and are currently converting to what is essentially a work-sponsorship visa that is made possible the formation of our own company here.
How’s your Spanish?
My Spanish before arriving was of the beers and baños variety: it could get us by in most tourist settings.
One of our primary goals before leaving here is minimum conversational fluency for the whole family. There are loads of excellent and affordable Spanish instruction opportunities here, so we should have no problem hitting the goal.
I think it’s fine to arrive with minimal Spanish capacity as long as you understand the additional monetary cost (inability to bargain effectively, intensifying the existing bureaucracy, or simply paying for translation service). But if you intend to spend a considerable amount of time here, commit to the language.
What do you do?
We currently do not have incomes during our sabbatical, but our new company will hopefully not only provide income, but provide greater purpose to our stay and provide further opportunity to engage with the local people and culture.
How do you find the cost of living in Ecuador?
The cost of living is higher than we expected in some areas, less in others. Overall it the monthly budget is larger than anticipated (because that’s how first-time budgets work, no?).
We believe that is due to some rising prices here, the “gringo tax”, city living (we had initially planned and budgeted for more rural life), and logistical considerations that you can only discover by diving in.
What do you love about Ecuador?
The first and best thing to love and appreciate here is that it is different from home.
That is not to say that home is bad, but we have discovered that we take so much for granted at home, that leaving it for a different experience is the best way to appreciate it.
The people in Ecuador are wonderful; the produce is cheap, abundant, and delicious; in Cuenca the cultural opportunities are remarkable for a nominal “third-world” country; and the climate is very pleasant.
The traditional food in Ecuador is, shall we say, humble, but the ingredients for cooking on your own are remarkable.
We find common sense makes the place exceptionally safe, despite reports from others (whom we generally find lacking in common sense) or from the locals (who, we feel, have an overdeveloped sense of fear, given the real threats that exist).
We rent a remarkable house furnished for just $400/month, cheap, but also relatively far from the city center.
We would not recommend buying for at least your first year here, so you know you like it, know where you’ll be happy for the long term, have developed relationships (the best way to avoid the gringo tax), and understand the way things work in Ecuador.
We frequented “gringo nights” for awhile upon arrival to get loads of useful information and experiences from “gringos on the ground”. (It is tempting to let these events become venting sessions for your shared frustrations. Try to keep that to a minimum to keep yourself from focusing on that.)