Growing support network makes life easier for Cuenca expats

22/Junio/2012 | 15:58

Growing support network makes life easier for Cuenca expats


Cuenca resident Kathy McClary recalls the day, a year ago, when she suffered what she calls an “expat panic attack.”

“I was having my morning coffee in Café Austria, in the historic district, when I was suddenly overwhelmed with the question: what am I doing here? Why in the world would I leave my home, my relatives and friends and everything I’m familiar with in the U.S., to move to a country thousands of miles away, where I know almost no one and don´t understand the language?”

At the time, McClary says, she had been in Cuenca for only three months and was struggling to reconstruct a daily routine. “I needed a dentist, a seamstress, vitamins and supplements, a veterinarian, cooking spices – you name it. I was even having trouble ordering gas for my stove and hot water heater. I felt like a child who had been thrown out the house with no idea of how to survive on her own.”

Although McClary, who is originally from Ohio, says the philosophical question of why she left her native culture remains a recurring theme, her anxiety over coffee at Café Austria proved to be a turning point in her life as an expat. “I realized that I had to take charge of my own destiny if I was going to be happy. I realized that this would require enormous effort on my part.”

What McClary discovered over the following weeks was the existence of an extensive support network that helps expats transition to life in Cuenca. “I started making friends, joined a cooking club, took at painting class and started volunteering at an orphanage. I found out that almost everything I needed was out there and there were people willing to help me. ”

Long-time Cuenca resident and journalist Sylvan Hardy says that the adjustment to expat life is not easy but agrees with McClary that there is an impressive support network that can help. “If you look at the research, you find that about half of all expats, worldwide, are back in their home country within five years. The percentage is even higher for people who don’t speak the language of the country where they relocate.”

Hardy worries about what he calls the “Ecuador hype.” “There are too many folks buying the line that you can have the same life style in Ecuador, particularly Cuenca, that you had back home at a fraction of the price. It’s true that Ecuador is cheaper, but this shouldn’t be the main reason you come here,” he says, adding, “You need to understand that you’ll be facing a major learning curve and should be prepared for culture shock.”

On the other hand, Hardy says that the support network that McClary discovered in Cuenca is impressive. “Almost none of it was available 17 years ago when I first visited. In fact, most of it wasn’t here three or four years ago,” says Hardy, who adds, that the number of English-speaking residents in Cuenca has mushroomed 500% in three years, from about 400 to more than 2,000 today.

Among the services aimed at expats, both McClary and Hardy agree that the email service, GringoTree, is one of the most important. “It´s a fabulous source of information and it really is the thing that knits the expat community together,” McClary says. “Everybody reads it. It’s like our daily newspaper.”

Hardy adds: “It´s not only a good resource for folks living here but for people considering relocating. It really captures the pulse of the expat community.”

GringoTree, which depends on volunteers to collect and post messages from expats, was established four years ago by Penny Ripple and David Morrill.  According to volunteer Deke Castleman, GringoTree has two daily email editions and publishes as many as 100 messages a week. “The subscription growth has been phenomenal. In one year, our subscriber list has gone from about 2,000 to more than 4,000.” Castleman says that GringoTree is planning major changes, possibly expanding into other expat markets, but that these will not change its basic posting format.

Other information resources for expats include the on-line news blog, Cuenca High Life, the 25 to 30 personal expat blogs that recount tales of life in Cuenca, as well as a new English-language internet radio program, “Ecuador at your service.”

The Cuenca Chamber of Commerce sponsors seminars and field trips for new-comers through its Cuenca for Expats program, while several local restaurants, including DiBaccos, California Kitchen, Zoe and Inca Lounge, provide facilities for expat meetings and seminars on a variety of topics, and also host weekly expat happy hours.

In addition, there are dozens of private expat clubs and organizations in Cuenca, with more forming every month. These cover such interests as cooking, creative writing, art, language, crafts, religion, self exploration, computers, health, volunteer work, animal rights, fishing and soccer.

According to McClary, there is no short-cut for adjusting to expat life. “You will still face all the challenges of living in another country,” she says. “What makes things easier in Cuenca is the great support network that is still in the process of developing. There’s plenty of help out there if you have the initiative to go find it.”

Cuenca Expat Resources


Email service for events, news and expat questions

Sign up at

Cuenca for Expats (Cuenca Chamber of Commerce)

Restaurants that host special expat events


California Kitchen

Inca Lounge and Bistro



Art tours:


Living and Retiring in Cuenca: 101 Questions

An eBook by Connie Pombo

(Kindle edition available through Amazon)


See list at

Technical and computer assistance

Radio Ecuador

At Your Service,

Cooking Classes

Leslie Breen, Cocina Fácil

Deportiva Cuenca Ex-Pats Fan Club

English Language Bookstore

Carolina Bookstore

Hermano Miguel 4-46 and Calle Larga


Ciudad Cuenca

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