12/06/2013 07:13 am ET | Updated Feb 05, 2014

How The Internet Has Changed The Expat Experience

Every couple of weeks the thought strikes us... the Internet has changed everything, including the expat experience.

It struck us again just last night as we were sitting at home watching the World Series.

Our home is in the northern Andean mountains of Ecuador. We're surrounded by tiny indigenous communities where farmers often walk barefoot to town carrying their produce on their backs to the local market.


Photo courtesy of Hugo Ghiara,

It's glorious. It's a way of life that has been going on for thousands of years and, we're pretty sure, will go on for thousands more, even if the gas and electricity were to stop flowing, the planes were to stop flying, and the rest of the world were to go to hell in a hand basket.

We're ridiculously lucky to be here to participate in it.


Photo courtesy of Steenie Harvey,

We're also ridiculously lucky to be able to watch the World Series, live in hi-def color, right here in our living room at the same time.

And it's not because we're rich or special or in any way different from the rest of our neighbors in the village.

It's because of the Internet.

Most of our neighbors and friends in town have Internet, too. It's provided by the local phone company. And that's how we're watching the game. Our little, obsolete iPad 2 is getting it from an online service that streams U.S. television broadcasts, and it's sending it to the flat-panel screen that we bought here in the village at the local furniture store.

Voila. Live, major-league sports in the comfort of our own high-Andes home.

We remember vividly our first year abroad, a little over a decade ago. Instant Messaging was all the rage. Because we had a "fast" Internet connection (provided by a wire strung directly from the local service provider's office to our house in Quito) we could actually send text messages to people and get replies almost instantly.

We thought that was the greatest thing since sliced bread, and we wrote about it at the time... how this Instant Messaging and email thing would mean that no expat would ever be out of touch with family and friends back home ever again.

Today, of course, we get phone calls all day from all over the world on at least two VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) services. Not to mention video Skype calls with family and friends back home. ("Hold up the baby!" "What have you done to your hair?!?")

Not to mention keeping up with everyone via Facebook and Twitter. Not to mention sharing your stories, photos, and videos instantly on your personal blog. Not to mention...

Well, you get the idea.

One of the biggest hurdles (or blessings, depending on your point of view) of being an expat in the past was the relative isolation. It could take weeks or months to get letters. Making an international phone call was a major production... if the lines were working. Well-worn wallet photos were the only way to get regular reminders of the faces of friends and family.

The Internet has changed all that. Even if you don't have Internet where you're staying overseas, it's difficult these days to be more than a block or two away from an Internet café of some kind.

But in most locations we've lived throughout Latin America in the past dozen years, Internet has risen above the level of exotic luxury to become a part of life so common as to be taken for granted by expats and locals alike.

Until we're in the bottom of the inning with the bases loaded and Big Papi Ortiz comes up to the plate.

Then we have to pinch ourselves to remember where we are. And how lucky we are. And how much the Internet has changed the entire expat experience.

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