Around the World

4 Reasons to Be an International Gym Rat

Do you workout while you’re traveling? How about when you live abroad? Image from article.

Last month, I did something I never thought I’d do during my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Barranquilla, Colombia: I joined a local gym. For over a year I’d stayed away from gyms, considering them part of a  “too-exclusive” lifestyle. I was wrong!

Health benefits aside, joining a local gym while on the international scene was the complete opposite of what I expected.  As it turns out, gyms can be a great cultural as well as fitness outlet.

A few not-to-be-missed cultural aspects:

1. Fashion

Gym clothes are personal power statements, Lycra-style. Head to the gym to find out what lurks beneath the street clothes-uniform. In Barranquilla, Colombia, teens to octogenarians rock rave-appropriate spandex. Are we here to dance? To rebel? To party? These gym-goers are ready for it all. Being in-the-know about gym fashion brings you that much closer to integration—or at least, awareness—on the cultural AND fashion scene.

2. Dance Moves

Spying on an exercise class from the safety of an elliptical provides invaluable insights into the local dance scene. If the step-class involves more Salsa action than vertical movement, klutzes beware! An “exercise” class or two might improve your dance moves. At the least, you’ll be ready for anything when you hit the local bar for post-gym entertainment

3. The Sound Barrier

What is an appropriate level of public noise? Gyms cater to public preference. North American gyms, for instance, default to “Silent”. How about a gym that blasts music at presumed night club levels? What does that say about the culture’s actual night clubs? Check it out and see…

4. Approach to life

Used to treadmill neighbors who surreptitiously spy on your speed/incline stats, and then one-up you? Consider a gym where trainers joke with treadmill-amblers while bringing them their cell phones or bag of chips from the junk-food-stocked snack bar. Gyms reveal how seriously people take themselves. If gym-goers are spontaneous with their gym routines, you can bet that extends to the rest of their life.

Once you're in shape, hit the roads at a local race with friends!

Once you’re in shape, hit the roads at a local race with friends!

When living and traveling abroad, you find communities and pockets of culture in the most unexpected places. Maybe the gym isn’t a traditional cultural hotspot, but it could be where all the fun is happening.

On your next adventure, add a local twist to your personal routines—you may be surprised at how they’re transformed within a new cultural context.


Emily Fiocco
Emily graduated college in 2010 with a creative writing degree, which naturally led to working at a healthcare software company in Madison, Wisconsin. After managing software projects for a year, she ended her spurt as an American professional to return to what she truly enjoys—traveling, living in new cultures, and non-profit work. Her life in the Peace Corps in the huge city of Barranquilla, Colombia has ironically turned her into an urban dweller. She is learning to make her home in a city that believes in fashion above all else, even during un-air-conditioned 100+ degree heat. Her job is teaching students and training teachers at a large, all-girls school, supporting the country’s goal to turn its schools bilingual by 2019. While here, her spare time activities include hunting down ovens in which to cook delicious, Colombianified food, embarrassing herself with highly gringa dance moves, reveling in the local geographical luxury of consistently labeled streets, and trying to improve her Spanish with the help of the local Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

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