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Bil Howard is a professional storyteller and freelance writer who has written several of his own books and novels. He has ghostwritten more than 100 books and more than 500 articles, blog posts, short stories, and product reviews. Check out the published titles by Bil Howard in the left-hand column below.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Beans in Scrambled Eggs: How Living Abroad Enhances the Storyteller’s Craft

If you’ve never had beans in your scrambled eggs, you probably just read that title and said, “Yuck!” It’s not nearly as bad as you think, in fact, many of the foods that I’ve eaten while living in Colombia are a little off-beat to what I was used to growing up in the Colorado Rockies, but most of them have been treasured experiences. Besides differences in cuisine, I’ve also had plenty of cultural experiences that have expanded my mind and added new colors to the pallet with which I paint.

Living Abroad Has Enhanced My Craft as a Storyteller

The mere thought of living abroad and in a culture that is vastly different from your own probably terrifies you. Initially, it was pretty scary for me too. I had the advantage of being in love with a local (Paisa) from Medellin, Colombia, who happens to speak enough English so that my bad Spanish doesn’t leave me entirely helpless. But I had to do a lot of learning and growing as a person in order to survive; growth and learning that enhanced my craft as a storyteller.

I’ve Developed Broader Thinking

I never saw scrambled eggs with beans in them in any restaurant I’ve ever visited in Medellin and I defy you to find one that serves them. Had I seen that on the menu, I wouldn’t have ordered it anyway. I would now. Traveling abroad and observing different cultures have a great benefit when it comes to broadening our perspective. My first few visits to Colombia had that effect on me, but it wasn’t until I took up residence that I truly developed broader thinking.

Broader thinking involves asking and answering “why?” to a lot of very confusing customs that you simply won’t encounter when you’re only a visitor. Why do the natives put beans in their scrambled eggs? Why do they shoot off fireworks for 30 minutes to an hour at midnight on December 1st? (For more about some of my questions and experiences during my first year in Medellin, check out Chulos, Chuzos and Hotdog Condoms.) In answering those questions, I’ve learned to start thinking outside the box.

I’ve Become More Focused on Communicating

I knew decent Spanish when I first started visiting Colombia. It had served me well as a visiting traveler and I hadn’t had a lot of difficulty communicating my wants and needs. The people of Medellin, however, don’t speak Spanish. Yeah, I know, yes, they do, but they speak a dialect that is based off of Gaelic Spanish rather than the typical Castilian Spanish. To make matters worse, they have their own local idiomatic tendencies that defy any form of logic. It’s hard enough for a visitor, but I’m in a relationship.

I’ve always prided myself on being a good communicator. I use plenty of colorful metaphors, similes and allegories to help people understand what I’m trying to say to them. Most of the clichés that we use in English simply have no equal translation in Paisa (Medellin’s form of Spanish). Most of my usual clichés have been forced away from me and I’ve been forced to stop relying on them. I have, however, learned some new, Paisa clichés that in literal translation are very useful in English.

I’ve Enhanced My Harmonizing Skill

Just as harmony in music enhances the colorfulness of the tune, learning to harmonize with the people around you tends to enhance the color of your own life. Harmonizing with those around you involves trying to draw together commonalities. When you’re living within a foreign culture, finding those commonalities isn’t easy, but they are there and finding them adds richness to life that goes well beyond your typical experience.

What I learned is that I have some cultural similarities with the people of the Antioquian (Medellin and surrounding communities) region that I don’t have in common with people from different regions of the United States. There are some typical, “American” experiences that aren’t shared by my Colombian neighbors, but in finding common ground between us and harmonizing with them, I’ve learned how to seek similar ground with others that I work with or with my audience.

I’ve Learned to Appreciate Things That I Once Took for Granted

Here are some of the things that I took for granted while living in the U.S. that I miss dearly in Medellin:

·         Going out for bar-b-cue, Mexican food, or ordering in a real pizza or real Chinese food.
·         Traffic moving in an orderly fashion with everyone staying in their lane and waiting their turn to cross the intersection.
·         Walking across a street in crosswalk without having to worry about getting run over by a motorcycle, car or bus.
·         People that speak English
·         Movies in English
·         Chili without beans
·         Numerous different types of grated cheeses; especially jack and cheddar cheeses

Yes, I realize there are a lot of references to food in my list. This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of items that I miss. They are enough to illustrate things that are so common in the United States that we hardly ever think about.

How does learning an appreciation for things that have been taken for granted enhance storytelling? Most writers take a lot of these and other small, seemingly thoughtless items and experiences for granted. I search for those things and insert them into my stories to add the colors, flavors, smells, sounds and textures that create a more profound experience.


Living abroad has enhanced my storytelling craft by teaching me to develop broader thinking, be more focused in my communication, enhanced my skill in finding things that I have in common with my audience and has helped me learn not to take so many things for granted. Those enhancements make me much better at not only telling my own stories, but being able to tell yours as well.

Why do Paisas put beans in their scrambled eggs? It goes back to a time before they had adequate refrigeration. The leftovers they had from meals the day before, if they had any, were mixed into their breakfast the following morning. They have refrigeration now, but they discovered that they like beans in their scrambled eggs; you might like them also, but you won’t know until you try them. Let me tell your story.