Becoming Cuenca

Cuenca Is Community

May 1, 2024

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.” ~Herman Melville

The author of “Moby Dick” is talking about “community.” One online dictionary says community is the people living in one particular area or people who are considered as a unit because of their common interests, social group, or nationality.

“Community” is a big part of life for expats in Cuenca. It is what makes life different and better for most.

Many left the United States, where community no longer exists. According to an article in The Atlantic, one potential reason for the lack of community in the U.S. is the huge emphasis on individualism. The “American Dream” promotes personal success and achievement.

It has led to a culture where people prioritize their own needs above those of the community, making the U.S. the most individualistic country in the world.

Despite not experiencing community back in the U.S., it is embraced here by people who used to live in that country. It is done on a daily basis by many expats of all nationalities because everybody has similar experiences at one point in the past.

People who move here are thrilled to find a safety net because of “community.” Many at the beginning of their new life in Cuenca do not even know where to buy what is needed and how to find it.

There is a commonality that drives expats to help whenever they can. Most have struggled for a while to adapt, even if we did thorough research. Because we have succeeded in adapting to our new homeland, we are open to sharing our knowledge and experiences to help others.

Jean Vanier said, “One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals.”

That is a big reason Cuenca Expats Magazine recently held an open house in El Centro for the expat community.

“This is the third open house,” said Ed Lindquist. “The goals are first to have a fun, free event for Cuenca’s expat community.  It is our ‘Thank You gift’ for supporting the magazine. And it is an opportunity for expats to meet other expats.”

Ed is the Managing Partner of the Cuenca Expats Magazine, the largest English-language publication in South America. It has been serving Cuenca’s expat community with “useful and uplifting information” for over eight years.

The magazine is in both print (on recycled paper) and online. It has been recognized as the best source of information for Ecuador’s English-speaking expats. Recently, Ed was interviewed by USA Today concerning his magazine.

Ed moved from the U.S. and has been living in Cuenca for over a decade. Since his arrival, he has been a leader in the expat community.

“There are plenty of opportunities for new expats to get involved in the community.  Active charities, theatre groups, military and veterans’ organizations, church groups, etc. Our Expat Open House is just one of many ways in which expats can meet other like-minded expats in Cuenca,” Ed told me.

It was quite a successful event as the reaction from both expats and the exhibitors was “When is the next one?”

“Very positive comments from everyone we talked to,” Ed said. “We are planning to now do two a year, based on the positive response we received.”

One of the ways to help the community was having four diverse charities at the open house to discuss volunteer opportunities. Many expats, including Joanna and me, want to give back to our community.

Fundación GRACE was one of the four charities at the open house. It is a 501c3 non-profit in Cuenca that exists to help refugees get back on their feet.

“We attended the open house at the invitation of Ed,” said Karla Sánchez Arismendi. “This one was my second time. My first time was last year.”

Karla is the Executive Director of Fundación GRACE. I have known this wonderful woman for four years. She has done a fantastic job helping displaced migrants in Cuenca. It is such a great organization that Joanna and I have Fundación GRACE in our wills.

My friend was at the open house to promote the organization and its medical and social programs as well as helping expats explore volunteer opportunities.

“We received a variety of responses from individuals who approached our table. Initially, a sense of curiosity was followed by surprise as they learned about the breadth of our activities,” Karla told me. “Many expressed interest in our volunteer opportunities.”

Karla added that Cuenca is a supportive community and expats “tend to exhibit kindness, support, and understanding towards newcomers.” She added that expats often actively engage in various initiatives and are willing to lend a helping hand to support worthwhile causes.

“Moreover, we were grateful to receive donations, and numerous attendees reached out to us afterward,” said Karla. “Expats demonstrate a significant level of engagement and support.”

The nonprofit health foundation, Social Vision, was also a presenter at the open house. It was their first time.

“We received a very positive reaction,” said Jennifer Cory. “People were really happy to hear about what Social Vision does to help the underprivileged community of Cuenca.”

Jennifer is the Secretary for to the charitable organization that provides medical services to the residents of Cuenca who fall through the cracks. It is for people who sometimes have been waiting for years to manage basic medical needs.

Their services include orthopedic traumatology, vision services, cardiac care, gastroenterology, physical therapy, dermatology, pediatric and adult neurology, geriatrics, pharmacy, dental, neurosurgery and pain management.

On top of that, Social Vision’s website offers referrals to the expat community for doctors and services that they have vetted and find worth recommending.

The open house in February was the first one Social Vision had attended. And the response they received was benevolent.

“Cuenca is absolutely supportive. The Cuencanos are so appreciative of the help that the expats offer,” Jennifer told me. “Many expats are here looking to support causes, and healthcare is one of the top programs that people enjoy becoming involved with.”

And speaking of healthcare, Dr. Santiago Romo had a table at the open house.

“It was my first time at the open house,” said Dr. Romo. “I wanted the new expats to know about my medical services.  I heard that more expats are coming to live in Cuenca, so it was a great opportunity to meet and greet them!”

Dr. Romo’s medical services include orthopedic medicine (bones and joints), resolving surgical and non-surgical medical problems.

“I offer stem cell and ozone therapy applied at joints or bloodstream. That helps to remove cancer cells. Stem cells help to regenerate cartilage at joints,” Dr. Romo told me. “Also, I provide for the expat community the services of primary care or general practitioner.”

For newcomers to Cuenca, healthcare is different than in the United States and Canada. It is one reason Dr. Romo (098-027-2399, santiagoromo@gmail.com) was at the open house.

“I want to offer to the expat community a service called in the Latino culture, ‘Medico de Cabecera’. It means that I’m your personal doctor who can call me or contact me anytime, any day,” Dr. Romo told me. “I can help you to resolve or address any medical problem quickly, without the necessity of visiting the emergency room at the ER hospital. I can handle the problem by phone, but if it is necessary, I can make a house call.”

Many expats travel. And the vast majority fly back home to see family. Finding a good travel agent who can speak English can be difficult, especially when looking for tercera edad airline tickets.

Those tickets for people 65+ years old are half off the fare, but not the taxes and fees. One must purchase them directly at a local office of the airline or from a travel agency in Cuenca. Only LATAM and Copa Airlines have an office here. So, if you want to fly Delta Air Lines with the tercera edad discount, you’ll have to see a travel agent.

That is a big reason why CATSA was at the open house.

“We were at the open house, because we wanted to offer our services to the expat community,” said Bryan Vidal B. “It was our first time.”

CATSA is an excellent travel agency, whose services include airline tickets, hotel reservations (Bryan made one for Joanna and me for EB Hotel Quito), tours in Ecuador, especially the Galápagos Islands and Amazonas.

They also book tours abroad. And they offer travel-health insurance as well as helping you with your car rental.

“In general people were happy to find out about our services, especially about the senior discount,” Bryan told me. “It was a nice experience as this was our first time participating in an event like this. We look forward to participating in future open houses.”

“It was my first time at the open house,” said Cristina Vázquez. “I participated because I find it interesting to exchange with foreign people to our culture and the products we have.”

Cristina’s company is RosesCuenca. Ecuador is the number-one producer of roses in the world, so she wanted to get the word out to new expats and to inform all expats about a local source for the coveted flower.

“I offer to the Cuenca and foreign community premium quality roses and flowers for their homes and gifts to their loved ones, Cristina told me. “The participants reacted positively because it is a product that beautifies.”

Cuenca’s growing expat community is estimated to be between 8,000 to 10,000. With growing numbers, “community” will be even stronger.

Despite Cuenca being different to where you live, you’ll adapt much quicker and easier with the community of expats.

And of course, because of the wonderful Cuencanos, who Joanna and I feel are the best people in the world.

It truly is a community-oriented atmosphere in Cuenca.

“I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the team at Cuenca Expats Magazine for their support and to all the attendees who made our event a success,” Karla told me. “Together, we have built a beautiful and supportive community here in Cuenca that embraces and uplifts migrants. This is precisely what newcomers need – a welcoming environment where they can thrive and feel supported.”

A lot more information on life in Cuenca can be found in my book, “Una Nueva Vida – A New Life.” Some say it is the most thorough book out there concerning moving to and living in this beautiful city.

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And please! Have several reliable sources of information before making any decision about moving to Cuenca.

Reliable information must come from dependable sources. According to the University of Georgia Libraries, a reliable source will provide a “thorough, well-reasoned theory, argument, etc. based on strong evidence.”

I consider myself a trusted source with my “strong evidence,” but you definitely need more than me for your big resettlement.

Salud, mi amigo.

Una Nueva Vida – A New Life

- by Stephen Vargha

There are over 80 professional-quality photos shot by me to give you a clear ‘picture’ about life in this historic mountain city.