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From the Glam of Miami to the Chic Charms of Colombia: A Fashion Enthusiast's 5-Day Parisian Odyssey

In the vibrant city of Miami, Julie Balzano had crafted a life that mirrored the city's glamour over the course of three decades. Originally hailing from Long Island, her Miami experience reached a crossroads as the city climbed the ranks to become the 10th most expensive city globally, according to the Lifestyle Index by Swiss private bank Julius Baer. In 2021, with the intention to downsize, Balzano sold her home but faced the challenge of finding suitable accommodation within her budget. Opting to rent temporarily, she hoped for a market stabilization that would allow her to reenter the property market. However, the relentless surge in property prices, coupled with an income that struggled to keep pace, prompted a reevaluation of her plans.

As a 60-year-old divorcee with two grown children, Balzano found herself falling behind as the cost of living soared. Determined to secure a more affordable lifestyle and contemplating retirement, she pondered her next move. Drawing on eight years of regular visits to Colombia during her tenure with a trade association, the idea of relocating to this South American country gained traction. A friend in Medellin, who had recently made the move herself, offered Balzano a place to stay, further fueling the allure of this new chapter.

The decision crystallized in April, and by the end of July, as her lease concluded, Balzano embarked on a transformative journey. Over three months, she systematically divested herself of possessions, a process involving selling, gifting, donating, and stowing away belongings. What remained were two suitcases and two boxes of personal items, a symbolic shedding of the material for a fresh start.

Her adult children, living their lives in different corners of the country, proved supportive of her decision. Balzano's son and daughter, both in their 20s, endorsed her leap into the unknown. Her daughter, residing in North Florida, pragmatically noted that they were already hours apart by car and now just a three-and-a-half-hour flight away. The prospect of a new beginning in Colombia beckoned, promising not just a change of scenery but a recalibration of life's priorities for Julie Balzano.

On the wings of change, August 2 marked Julie Balzano's departure from the familiar streets of Miami to embrace the vibrant embrace of Medellin, heralding a brand new chapter in her life. A seasoned traveler, Balzano captured the essence of her transformative journey through the airport lens, reflecting on a profound shift from a life shaped by marriage, motherhood, and caregiving to one unburdened by responsibilities, both surreal and liberating.

Initially on a 90-day tourist visa, Balzano, a professional in marketing and business development, recognized the potential for a more extended stay. Opting for a digital nomad visa, she engaged a lawyer for guidance, submitting her application in mid-August and receiving approval within a month. Fluent in Spanish, she swiftly integrated into Medellin's rhythm, securing her own space, launching a new business venture, and fostering a community for expats through a dedicated Facebook group.

Emphasizing the transformative impact on her quality of life, Balzano extolled the virtues of Medellin's climate, aptly named the 'City of Eternal Spring.' Engaging in frequent walks, she noted the positive impact on her well-being. As her journey unfolded, Balzano explored visa options for a more prolonged stay, ultimately setting her sights on an investment visa. To qualify, she faced the requirement of a direct foreign investment or a real estate commitment, the latter demanding an investment equivalent to 350 times the official Colombian monthly minimum wage.

With a limited window of opportunity, Balzano seized the moment, embarking on an apartment hunt that led her to a three-bedroom gem in Laureles, Medellin—a neighborhood recently acclaimed as the "world's coolest" by Time Out. The culmination of this search resulted in an offer placed in October and the successful closure of the deal in early November. Now, with her sights set on the investment visa, Julie Balzano's narrative exemplifies a courageous leap into a new existence, underscored by resilience, adaptability, and the pursuit of a life more authentically her own.

In a deliberate choice to keep the exact price of her new home under wraps, Julie Balzano ardently emphasizes that her current abode in Medellin is an unattainable luxury in the comparable Miami locale. Living in what she proudly calls the "coolest neighborhood," Balzano highlights that her cost of living has dramatically reduced to a mere third of what it was in Miami.

Her social life in Colombia has taken on a vibrancy unmatched, fueled not only by the favorable climate but also the financial liberation she experiences. Gone are the worries of budget constraints during group dinners, a stark contrast to the financial mindfulness dictated by Miami living. Delving into the heart of Colombian culture, Balzano strategically crafted her expat group on Facebook for those over 50, seeking companionship among fellow older, single women, and those who appreciate the independence that comes with age.

Fluent in Spanish, a skill acquired during her volunteer stint with the Peace Corps, Balzano navigates her Colombian life seamlessly. Recognizing the limited English-speaking milieu, she acknowledges the richer experience that comes with bilingualism. While others are learning Spanish, she effortlessly communicates with locals, building a robust network of friends among both expats and locals, fostering a sense of deep contentment.

Colombia's warm and inviting culture, in stark contrast to the aggressiveness of Miami, has left a lasting impression on Balzano. She extols the virtues of the country's healthcare system, ranked 22nd globally by the World Health Organization. Contrary to the misconception about the superiority of the US healthcare system, Balzano found the more manageable healthcare costs in Colombia facilitated the realization of her long-cherished dream—launching her consulting business, Global Connect Marketing Services, in June.

Freed from the financial shackles of exorbitant health insurance costs in the US, Balzano seized the opportunity to embark on entrepreneurship, a feat she had deemed unattainable in her homeland. Alongside the thriving business landscape, she expresses admiration for Medellin's "world-class" shopping malls, rounding out her newfound, fulfilling chapter in Colombia. Julie Balzano's narrative is a testament to the transformative power of choosing a life aligned with one's values, where financial constraints are eased, and vibrant cultural experiences become the norm.

In the vibrant rhythm of Medellin, Julie Balzano finds herself immersed in a cultural tapestry that defies preconceived notions and reveals a city in metamorphosis. Brimming with enthusiasm, she contrasts the vivacity of Colombian shopping centers with the struggles faced by their US counterparts, highlighting the continuous vibrancy of local retail spaces.

Balzano, cognizant of her budget, opts for local products, steering clear of imported goods that come with a higher price tag. Her occasional indulgence in crunchy peanut butter serves as a testament to the delicate balance between frugality and the desire for familiar tastes. However, in the realm of wine, she acknowledges a dearth of options, with much of the selection hailing from neighboring Argentina and Chile, albeit at a relatively higher cost.

Addressing concerns about safety, a topic often broached when discussing life in Medellin, Balzano offers a nuanced perspective. Recognizing the historical association of Colombia with drugs and gangs, she underscores the dramatic drop in the country's murder rate—down 82% from 1993 to 2018. While acknowledging lingering crime concerns, she contextualizes them as comparable to any major US city, where caution with personal belongings becomes second nature.

For Balzano and her expat community, Medellin is a cherished secret, a city that has shed its turbulent past and emerged anew. Despite preconceived notions, she attests to never experiencing personal safety issues during her numerous visits over eight years. With a blend of gratitude and defiance against lingering stereotypes, she celebrates the transformed Medellin of today—a city pulsating with life, warmth, and resilience.

Having lived in Latin America previously, Balzano's affinity for the region extends beyond the superficial, encapsulating the essence of a warm, inviting, and vibrant culture. She envisions a renaissance for Colombia, a recognition of the beauty that arises from the collective resilience of its people who have paid their dues for the lives they now lead. In her words, "It’s a beautiful place. People here paid their price to live the lives that they’re living now." Balzano's narrative serves as an ode to Medellin's rejuvenation and an invitation to see beyond outdated stereotypes, embracing a city in its prime, waiting to be discovered.

For Julie Balzano, the decision to embrace a life in Colombia is grounded in a deliberate choice to embrace the authenticity and grit of Latin America. Advising prospective expats with candor, she urges thorough research and a readiness to confront the nuanced realities of a life distinct from Europe. The palpable grittiness, intrinsic to Latin American living, is a facet that resonates with Balzano, distinguishing it from the polished allure of a European existence.

Acknowledging the adjustment required in a country where driving feels daunting, Balzano candidly shares her decision to forgo a car in favor of ride shares and taxis. Navigating the motorcycle-laden streets, where they weave between lanes, amplifies her preference for alternative modes of transportation. Despite this adaptation, Balzano harbors no intention of obtaining a vehicle, firmly rooted in her chosen approach to mobility.

While she misses her friends in the US, Balzano extends an open invitation for them to visit, underscoring the bonds that transcend geographical distances. Notably absent from her list of yearnings is the contentious political climate in America. Stepping back from the tumult, Balzano appreciates the newfound perspective, unburdened by the obligation to immerse herself in the intricate web of US politics. The expat community, she notes, relishes the opportunity to escape echo chambers, allowing for a broader lens and a collective sigh of relief.

Dispelling any notion of guilt for not intimately engaging in politics, Balzano draws a clear distinction between her attentiveness to Colombian politics, as a guest in the country, and the detached stance toward local politics in Miami. This mental liberation, she suggests, contributes to her overall sense of well-being.

While candid about the ongoing adjustments and occasional challenges, Balzano steadfastly affirms her choice, emphasizing a deliberate focus on the positives. Unwavering in her commitment to the experience, she embraces the pros and cons inherent in any location, with an unwavering belief that the abundance of positives renders Colombia the right place for her. With a heart attuned to the journey and a spirit resilient in the face of change, Julie Balzano navigates her Colombian odyssey with zero regrets, a testament to the transformative power of intentional living.

In the captivating tale of Julie Balzano's transition from the glitz of Miami to the vibrant streets of Medellin, her journey unfolds as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the transformative power of intentional choices. From the decision to call a vibrant Colombian neighborhood home, reveling in the vitality of local shopping centers, to the conscious choice of foregoing a car in favor of alternative transportation, Balzano paints a vivid picture of a life shaped by grit and authenticity.

Her reflections on the challenges of adapting to a new culture, coupled with the warmth of Colombian hospitality, serve as a poignant reminder of the dynamic tapestry woven by the intersection of personal choices and cultural nuances. As a seasoned traveler and entrepreneur, Balzano navigates not just the physical landscape but also the intricate terrain of politics and societal dynamics, finding solace in the distance from the contentious political climate of her homeland.

Through her eyes, Medellin emerges as a "best-kept secret," shedding its historical notoriety for a vibrant present that stands in stark contrast to outdated perceptions. Balzano's candid exploration of safety concerns, the richness of expat friendships, and the cultural vibrancy of Colombia paints a holistic portrait of a life well chosen.

In her unwavering affirmation that the list of positives far outweighs the cons, Balzano encapsulates the essence of her journey — a deliberate embrace of a new chapter, characterized by adaptability, resilience, and an unwavering focus on the joys of the experience. In the face of uncertainty and inevitable adjustments, she holds onto a profound truth — that the rightness of her chosen path lies in the sum of its positives. Julie Balzano's Colombian odyssey stands not just as an individual narrative but as a universal reminder that, with eyes wide open, intentional choices can lead to a life enriched by the vibrant hues of a different world.

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