More Expats Proving You Can Broaden Careers, Raise Young Families in Medellin
Not long ago, about the only expats seen here in Medellin for relatively long-term stays were 30-something digital nomads or else retirees from North America or Europe seeking first-world amenities, fine weather, good health care, friendly people and bargain prices.
But this stereotypical notion of the Medellin expat is starting to change as more mid-career professionals and entrepreneurs move to Medellin to launch or broaden their businesses – and bring their partners, spouses and children with them.
One outstanding recent example is Zohar Elnekave, a multilingual, 15-year-veteran information technology (IT) engineer with lengthy experience working all over Latin America -- but who now resides in Medellin with his wife, Danit Lauren, and their three young children (ages three, five and seven).
Moving to Medellin can present formidable challenges to mid-career expats with children – although having at least one parent that already speaks Spanish is a huge advantage.
But fortunately, the Elnekave children were young enough (the youngest was actually born here) to adapt quickly to the local culture, make new friends, enroll in school and rapidly learn Spanish -- with reinforcing help from their Spanish-fluent parents.
Meanwhile, wife Danit – who has 21-years’ experience in practicing yoga – has started her own business here in Medellin as a specialized yoga teacher, including yoga therapy, kundalini Yoga, moms-and-babies yoga and especially prenatal yoga for expectant mothers.
Now 41 years old, Zohar Elnekave was born-and-raised in Israel, where he became fluent in both English and Hebrew. But the wanderlust bug first bit him at age eight, when he accompanied his parents on a joyous animal-safari vacation trip to Kenya.
Six years later, Elnekave accompanied his parents to North America, where his father was serving a one-year sabbatical in Montreal. While there, his language studies expanded beyond English to include French.
Returning to Israel at 14 years old, Elnekave continued his school studies, then eventually completed mandatory service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Following military service and a brief stint as a bartender in Israel, the travel bug bit again, taking him to New York City (where he worked for a moving company) and later Miami (working as a fork-lift operator in a warehouse).
But after six months saving money from those jobs, Elnekave returned to Israel, where he enrolled in the prestigious Technion Institute of Technology for a four-year IT engineering study program, from which he was graduated in 2002.
While at Technion, Elnekave also took a course in acting – purely out of a passion for public speaking, languages and performing, rather than as part of a professional-career plan (or so he thought at the time).
Upon graduating from Technion, Elnekave landed a job as a programmer at Schema, a high-tech developer of IT systems including cell-phone optimization networks. This internationally focused company had job openings available in several countries -- but Elnekave took the offer to go to Ecuador for what was initially described as a three-month stint.
But that three-month gig eventually turned into three years working all over Latin America, during which Elnekave became fluent in Spanish (his third language) and then Portuguese (his fourth language after English, Hebrew and Spanish). While French also could be counted as fifth, Elnekave rates his French proficiency at only around 50%.
While working in Ecuador, Elnekave took a brief side-trip to Bogota for a Christmas dinner with friends and acquaintances. That was followed by a second trip to Colombia – this time a trip to Barranquilla in 2003, where he began to fall in love with Colombia and its warm, friendly people.
“It got into my heart,” Elnekave told Medellin Herald in an interview. “Part of the reason to come to Colombia was because of that experience in Barranquilla. It was a big point of change for me.
“I remember now that when I lived in Montreal, I heard [political] criticism of Israel from expats living there,” he said. But such criticism seemed unfair to him, as it came from Israeli expats who were unlikely ever to return to their home country, and who hadn’t been experiencing daily life there in decades. Such criticism almost seemed un-patriotic -- and it hurt both his feelings and his family’s feelings, as they are all proud Israelis.
“I always thought that I’d move back to Israel and raise a family there – and I will definitely return there in the future,” Elnekave continued.
“But until my experience in Barranquilla, where I met such incredible friends, that was the first time I had a fear that Colombia could become my second home. People are very warm here, just as in Israel,” he added.
Following an initial six-month stint in Ecuador, Elnekave then worked in Colombia for about one year, followed by Brazil for nearly one year (where he learned Portuguese) and then Argentina for another five months.
But after three years working in South America, Elnekave returned to Israel to live and work for another three years. There, he met his future wife (they married in 2008) who at the time was working as a television producer, and where their first two children were born (in 2009 and 2011).
But the travel bug again bit them both – this time in 2012, when Zohar and Danit investigated opportunities including Australia and Italy. They finally settled on Bogota, where Zohar continued working for RSA, a U.S.-based cybersecurity company that had earlier bought an Israeli subsidiary.
Following 18 months in Bogota – where RSA had him flying all over Latin America to work with customers – Elnekave made a weekend trip to Medellin. It was love at first sight.
“I told my wife, ‘let’s move here – it’s sunny, it’s a nice place for the kids to play outside, there are pools and parks. I visited Guatape, I rode the Metrocable, and I already had an Israeli friend here,” he explained.
“Given my RSA job requirements [frequent-flying all over Latin America from Bogota], it was crazy from a work perspective. But my family is number one, and raising kids here is way-better than in Bogota, where everyone lives in big buildings and where you don’t get to know anybody.
“Living here in Medellin meant I had to travel more to Bogota, Mexico and other countries, and be away from home more hours and days. But living in Medellin is better. So, we moved here in August 2013, after 18 months in Bogota.”
However, Elnekave’s life-long passion and aptitude for languages, performance and public speaking continued to nag at him. This passion eventually led him to volunteer as a public-speaking coach at prestigious high-tech events including TEDx (here in Medellin) as well as consulting/teaching services in public speaking (in Spanish, English, Portuguese and Hebrew) for executives -- the latter in his free time after his RSA work.
But the long working hours and frequent travel for the RSA job, plus the volunteer work and the consultancy work, eventually ground him down, to the point where eventually decided to quit RSA -- and launch his Zohar Power Speaking consultancy (www.zoharpowerspeaking.com) in early 2016.
However, as virtually all entrepreneurs eventually learn, launching a business from scratch usually means many months (or even years) of relatively paltry cash-flow.
Fortuitously, in December 2016, Elnekave took a call from Israel-based cybersecurity firm Biocatch, offering him a job that they had sought for him for years.
However, Elnekave’s consultancy business was already starting to grow -- and he didn’t want to abandon the life-long dream of working in public speaking in favor of another IT job. So, Elnekave eventually negotiated a deal allowing him to work part-time for Biocatch -- traveling only once a month -- and still maintain his Power Speaking gig.
For Biocatch, “I have all the Latin America territory, for sales and marketing, and it allows me to do my public speaking and volunteering -- and spending more time with my family,” he concluded.
Latest from Roberto Peckham
April 09 2017
posted by Fausto Betances
Super interesting article. I'm sure it will inspire other top-notch professionals to take a look at the possibilities Medellin has to offer to the larger tech world.
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