Friday, August 10, 2012

One Helluva Week (Part 2)

Grab this related post Widget!
Several months ago Cynthia and I received a surprise request to speak at International Living's Fast Track conference in Quito. While we readily agreed to participate and were honored to be chosen as the expat representatives from Cuenca, we quickly realized there would be two major hurdles to clear:

#1--in 41 years of marriage we had never given a presentation together, and
#2--we'd be making our joint debut in front of 300+ attendees.

We were asked to tell "our story," and we decided to base the talk around the theme of "Keep Dreaming." You see, for many years we envisioned living comfortably abroad in an ideal climate, but never thought specifically of Cuenca, Ecuador (primarily because we'd never heard of it!). So we created our presentation around the idea that when dreams stay alive they sometimes come true in amazing and unexpected ways.

After only one day back from our whale watching trip, early last Thursday morning we boarded a plane and flew to Quito for the conference. The sky was wonderfully clear and en route I took some great shots from the window along the Avenue of the Volcanoes.

The event was held at the luxurious Swissotel.

As soon as we walked into the lobby it felt like we had magically left Ecuador and were---well, somewhere else.

Wonderful restaurants, full service gym and spa, indoor/outdoor pool,

and lush landscaping surrounded us.

Our room wasn't too shabby, either.

Soon after registration

two and a half days of presentations, exhibits,

cocktail parties, VIP events, and networking began that afternoon.

Every subject imaginable was addressed to assist attendees with their plans:

---Destinations throughout Ecuador
---Immigration considerations
---Purchasing and renting property
---Tax and reporting issues
---Spanish schools
---Cultural matters
---Starting a business
---Medical care and health insurance
---Shipping household goods
---Staying in touch with family and friends

And of course there were we expats sharing our personal stories about life in locations large and small, and in the highlands, valleys, and coast of our beautiful country.

This was our first International Living conference and I'd like to share my impressions. Swissotel, while the perfect venue for an event of this size, is an international chain that, as previously mentioned, in no way delivers a true Ecuadorian experience. Fortunately most everyone we spoke with (and a show of hands indicated most were first time visitors) had either arrived earlier or planned to remain afterwards, so hopefully they returned home with a more balanced and realistic impression.

The participants were far more diverse than I anticipated. I expected to look out on a sea of gray, and while the demographic was definitely skewed towards age 50+, a surprising number of young people were interested in exploring new life experiences. And I think everyone was amazed at the number of single folks in attendance.

What about the quality of information? IL is sometimes taken to task for giving unrealistic figures about the true cost of living in Ecuador. I'm pleased to report that absolutely everything presented was correct and up to date. Numerous speakers shared their personal monthly budgets, and in each case the numbers accurately reflected differing lifestyles and locations.

After living here for 2+ years even we learned some valuable and helpful new information!

And how did our presentation go? Considering it was our first time ever using PowerPoint and speaking together I think we did just fine. Most gratifying were the comments made to us afterwards that could be summed up as, "We weren't confident about doing this, but after hearing your story we now think maybe we can."

Overall the conference was well-run and extremely informative. Everyone in attendance left with a much better understanding of both the challenges and opportunities of relocating to Ecuador.

Before closing I want to share that Quito is really growing on me. The first time we passed though several years ago I couldn't wait to leave. It seemed like just another ugly, dirty big city with too many undesirables lurking about.

On subsequent visits I've noticed that particularly in the historic district Quito has really cleaned itself up. Plus I've since been exposed to lovely areas besides the slums you always drive through going to and from the airport.

We left the hotel for lunch several days and found cuisine and al fresco settings not available in our smaller city--Mediterranean tapas and Japanese, for example.

One of our fellow presenters moved from Cotacachi to Quito, and on Sunday after the conference she and her husband showed us around their neighborhood with beautiful buildings, shops, and restaurants along an avenue with a tree-lined pedestrian median. It's too easy to let first impressions become lasting impressions. Quito has taught me a lesson about keeping an open mind.

We stayed an extra night because Monday morning our attorney was accompanying us to get our cedulas, an identification card that represents the final step to becoming an Ecuadorian resident. Since Part 3 of this series is about just that one day, you might correctly assume that shenanigans were involved.

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