Living abroad for a long period of time will be influenced in your habits whether you want that or not. It’s been almost half a year I’ve been living in Colombia now! It seems shorter though, but I began to notice some curious and unconscious changes in my day to day behavior and habits that I wanted to share it with other people. Who knows, maybe if you are really too tired of your day to day routine when nothing surprises you anymore, but you don’t know how you can change things you might just go abroad and wait for the time to make the rest of work for you. So here we go…
Skills acquired in Colombia:
1. Sleeping with a fan blowing into your face
Unless you are lucky and get a room with an air conditioner, most of the places I’ve seen have fans. In the beginning, I couldn’t stand it, this wind was bothering me and I couldn’t fall asleep. The locals couldn’t really understand how I can sleep without a fan. But later something changed…maybe I just got used to it or the heat became unbearable, but, oh, that’s so delicious to sleep with a fan!
2. Drinking cold juice with a lot of ice (a loooot!) instead of hot tea or coffee
Probably it comes from my Russian culture, the tradition to drink hot tea after every meal or just anytime you want to. This tradition stayed with me for about a month here but then again something changed… oh, one of my favorite things to do now is to buy a lot of “lulo” (local fruit, very delicious!) or any other exotic fruits which we don’t have in Russia and prepare my own juices. It might sound pretty normal you would think, but not to the person who has never made any natural fresh fruit juice in her life.
3. Being late…
Well, honestly, even if I’m coming late I would still be the first person to show up! I know it will be a problem though when I get back to Russia where everybody is punctual…or maybe not. In my defense, I want to say that this huge high temperature makes us perceive time in a wrong way (“it’s just an excuse!” Europeans would say).
4. Doing some salsa tricks
That’s been my dream to learn for a long time but there was never a place where you could practice it. Here I could finally achieve a different level of dancing. And of course, which is a better place to learn salsa if not Colombia?
5. Cooking coconut rice and fried bananas
Have you ever heard of this? Me neither. Until I came here. The rice tastes sweet (which I would expect to be salty) and the fried bananas become salty (which I would expect to be sweet because for me it’s a fruit and we don’t cook it). Everything is upside-down here. But I highly recommend you to experiment with things you’ve never tried before!
6. Using your umbrella to protect you from the sun 99% of the time
Seems like a normal thing too, but not for a person who’s only been using the umbrella for the rain in a country with 3 months of summer per year. And just an advice, if you are in Barranquilla, don’t even think of going out when it’s raining unless you want to be taken by a flash flood to a different part of the city.
7. Saying “Qué tronco de calor!” all the time
Which means “it’s too hot!” but in a more costeño way. Yes, I’ve been talking too much about the heat already, but seriously “Qué tronco de calor!” I enjoy it of course…sometimes.
8. Being more polite and smiling more often
Being also more calm and relaxed in certain situations. Being more flexible and not to stress out about small things. Costeños teach you to enjoy your life in every moment of it, whether you are selling avocados or teaching at the school, take it easy and share your love with others! Otherwise, you would just go crazy trying to control everything. But I guess this rule works also outside of Colombia too.
9. Controlling a class of 40 students (still in progress though…)
I would never think I would be able to do it but here I am! In the beginning, I thought it would be the biggest challenge. But it was just that type of an imaginary fear which disappears when you experience the situation in reality. There is a saying in Russia “Your eyes show fear but your hands keep working”. So just go for it, don’t be afraid of anything because fear is stupid!
10. Share my house with a bunch of spiders and ants
Oh, this was so difficult for me, especially with my fear of spiders since childhood. But hey, fear again? When you just have no other choice other than sharing your room with these insects you gradually begin not to notice them and I can say again, one of my other fears was destroyed here in Colombia!
Thank you for coming to the end of this post and hope you have now more reasons to take a risk and move abroad! In the end, we only regret things we never tried, not the things we failed trying.
Author: Tatiana Shuvaeva
I’ve encountered so many wonderful things during my time in Colombia so I wanted to share some of my favourite photos highlighting what’s so great about this country and hopefully giving a little insight into what you can expect to find here.
“What is your favourite thing about Colombia?”
You can ask this question to anybody who has visited Colombia and I’m sure their first answer will be “The people.”
A man at work preparing watermelon on one of many delicious fresh fruit stands you will find on the streets of Colombia.
An indigenous tribe in Colombia’s national Tayrona Park fishing at dusk.
A gentleman standing by street art of himself on Bogota’s famous graffiti tour.
Socialising in the plaza of Guatapé. Colombia is a very social place and you’ll find many people hanging out with a beer or a coffee with games and activities going on between locals in any Colombian town.
One of the most incredible things about Colombia is it’s variety in scenery and landscapes from mountains to coastlines and deserts to rainforests. I’ve only scratched the surface in seeing what this country has to offer but from what I’ve seen so far it’s undoubtedly one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
Rolling green hills in Filandia, Quindío. The coffee region is where I’m living in Colombia and luckily for me, it has some of the best mountainous landscapes you can find.
Cabo San Juan in Parque Tayrona. This place combines amazing jungle with perfect beaches and is easily one of the most beautiful places I have seen.
Guatapé, Antioquia. The incredible lakes of Guatapé are a must see in Colombia. This view is from the top of El peñon and is well worth the 740 step climb to get there.
The reason I came to Colombia and one of the highlights of my experience here. The Program has given the students the chance to meet and learn from a native English speaker which I think is a great motivation for them to study and improve.
With my grade 9 class at Santa Sofia school in Dosquebradas.
English day at my school. Students researched and presented information on different cultures around the world, dressing and preparing typical food to share from their chosen country.
Students taking part in whole school activities for Earth Day.
One of the coolest things about Colombia in my opinion is how colourful and impressive the artwork is. From old colloquial buildings to modern street art, you’re never far from Colombia’s creative designs.
Another photo from Guatapé. The streets in this town all have really cool matching artwork and colours.
Cartagena is a city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Wander the streets of this old city and you will see many beautifully designed buildings.
Amazing street art on the streets of Bogotá, the detail in this one was incredible!
I want to start by saying that this is my second time in Colombia: last year I travelled for two months through Colombia, but I can tell you there are still so many places I’d like to see in this beautiful country. I’m happy to have been placed on the coast (although sometimes I complain a lot about the heat), and since I came to Barranquilla in February, I have been exploring some amazing places here.
Let’s start with my placement city, Barranquilla! The city doesn’t have much to offer in terms of tourist attractions, and all the good beaches are in Santa Marta, but its Carnival should definitely be on everyone’s travel bucket list. There are parades, live music, street parties, flour and foam fights – in short, four days of craziness!
Cumbia dancers in “La Gran Parada de Comparsas”
Only two hours from Barranquilla lies Cartagena, “the very old and heroic city of Cartagena de Indias, the most beautiful in the world.” No visitor can deny the truth of Marquez’s words, but personally I find it too touristy, and therefore sometimes lacking authentic Colombian character. Still, I enjoy walking among the colourful colonial houses in the walled city, and I would also recommend visiting the Getsemani and La Manga neighbourhoods.
Fuerte del Pastillo in La Manga, Cartagena
As I said the beaches around Barranquilla are not good, so I’m glad Santa Marta is only about two hours away. Taganga is a fishing village popular with foreign backpackers. It has a slightly dodgy atmosphere, and its beaches are not the best, but if you want to learn diving, you can do so here cheaply. For swimming, I prefer the Rodadero beach, which is about 10 minutes from the centre of Santa Marta. On holidays, it is packed with Colombians, especially Barranquilleros who escape to Santa Marta at every opportunity. You won’t have a quiet beach day, but it’s great for people watching. On a weekday, you’ll probably be the only one at the beach until local people start to arrive after work.
Locals at Rodadero beach during the Holy Week break
My favourite place so far has been Mompos. Mompos is magical. It’s a remote colonial town down the Magdalena River, so strictly speaking, it’s not on the coast, but has the same regional character and identity. The architecture is as beautiful as it is in Cartagena, but it’s a much smaller and quieter town. Momposinos were the friendliest people I’ve ever met in Colombia. I spent two full days just wandering around the streets, talking to locals, sitting by the river reading my book. I also took a boat tour to the surrounding swamps, one of my most memorable travelling experiences in Colombia.
Santa Barbara Church, built in 1613, is one of the seven colonial churches of Mompos - and to me, the prettiest.
Local fisherman in the swamps near Mompos
Last but not least, I visited La Guajira department during the Holy Week break. Its capital, Riohacha, is probably the cutest city on the Coast. It has a small town feeling and a huge beach with coco palms. At first I thought I would only use it as a base for my trip to the desert, but I liked it so much that I decided to stay another night after coming back from the desert.
La Guajira could be the most rural and poorest region in Colombia. The scenery is the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, but it’s heartbreaking to see its inhabitants so deprived of basic needs. During my three day stay in the region, I was wondering the whole time what it would be like to wake up to these amazing views every morning, but have no running or drinking water; to grow up here as a child, block tourists’ way to get treats because your parents don’t or can’t give you enough food, instead they send you to beg from tourists and might beat you up if you don’t do so. I will never forget the happiness in kids’ eyes when we gave them sweets through our jeep’s window. Never would I have thought that such a small thing could have made someone so happy.
There are two main destinations in La Guajira: Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas. The first one can be reached from Riohacha via Uribia, “la capital indigena de Colombia” (the indigenous capital; because of its indigenous Wayuu population) or “la bomba” (petrol station; because of the smuggled petrol from Venezuela). The ride to Cabo de la Vela is a bumpy one on unpaved road for about 3 hours, maybe a bit more if you, like me, choose to take one of the camionetas which deliver goods to rancherias in the desert.
The only way to get to Punta Gallinas is by an organized tour. It’s another three hour bumpy ride through the desert, this time a bit more comfortable because I was in the front seat of an air-conditioned jeep. And once you get to Punta Gallinas, you get on yet another vehicle to go to the more remote places of the region. But all these rides are worth the trouble; I feel like neither words, nor the pictures I took could explain the feeling of being in such a beautiful place.
A Wayuu kid in the desert
Taroa dunes in Punta Gallinas
So this has been my travelling adventures on the coast so far. I look forward to exploring many more places in this beautiful country next semester.
During these first 4 months on the Caribbean island of San Andrés I’ve come across a wide variety of delicious dishes. If I were to tell you about all of them the list would go on and on, so I’ve decided to give you a little taste of the ones that give me a warm feeling at the end of a specially tiring day. Come and explore the island and its rich cuisine and make your own list!
1. BREADFRUIT & BUSH TEA (Bredfrut ahn Bush Tii)
Breadfruit and bush tea... What a heavenly combo!
I may be biased as I truly love breadfruit. My love-affair with this funny-looking fruit started in 2004 during my first visit to Jamaica and since then I can’t get enough of it!
It can be cooked in many different ways: deep-fried, baked, and steamed but my all-time favorite is undoubtedly a plate of crunchy and flavorsome breadfruit chips!
After a long and stressful day, nothing makes me happier than being served some fried breadfruit accompanied with a fuming cup of sweet bush tea, usually wild mint.
Bush tea is how islanders refer to herbal tea, which they make using one or more types of medicinal herbs that are grown in their gardens. Some of the most common herbs are mint, black mint, pepper mint, guinny hen, wild and tame barlsey, mataraton, malva, sage, fever grass and toronjil.
Bush tea is not only a hot beverage to accompany dinner; in fact each kind of herb and tea derived from it has its specific medicinal properties. For example, the extremely bitter mataraton (trad.: rat killer) is used to fight very high fever.
2. CRAB PATTY (Krab Paty)
Unfortunately, I do not have a photo of these delicious patties because every single time, I devour them all before I remember to take a picture. Patties, just like the Italian ‘panzerotti’, are half-moon shaped fried dough filled with many different ingredients.
On San Andres, each woman is famous for a specific dish and luckily for me, my boyfriend’s mom is known for her legendary crab patties. They are so delicate, yet an explosion of flavor.
I think one of her secrets is that she only uses fresh crab that she catches herself with the help of her grandchildren. She then takes time to get all the crab pulp out of the shells and mixes it with some oil, peppers, onions, garlic, salt and pepper and cilantro.
3. FRITTERS (Frittaz)
Frittaz are quite similar to the Italian ‘gnocchi fritti’, which are basically fried dough strips. Nothing special, right? Still, once you start eating them (warm) it’s really hard to control yourself– they’re quite addictive!
They are perfect to eat at dinnertime, accompanied with some cheese and/or fried sausage and, of course, bush tea.
4. RONDONG (Rondon)
The most emblematic dish of San Andrés Island is Rondon. Its origin dates back to the 15th century, during the slavery era, and it’s traditionally prepared by a group of men that get together, each bringing some of the ingredients.
There are many types of Rondon, depending on the main ingredient of choice: Rondon krab (crab), Rondon fish, Rondong kongs (seashell), Rondong labsta (lobster). My favourite is Rondon krab, which I had the pleasure to enjoy on Easter Sunday at a family gathering on the beachfront.
No matter the type of seafood, these are the must-have ingredients for the Rondon:
- Coconuts (for the coconut milk)
- Starches such as cassava, plantain, breadfruit, sweet potato, yam, and more recently, potatoes
- Pigtails and sometimes pig ribs
- Flour dumpling
- Herbs and spices, including thyme, garlic, onions, basil, oregano, peppers and meat seasoning.
Rondon is a very social dish: people get together in someone’s yard to prepare the BIG pot and have a good time telling stories and chatting while the savory soup is bubbling on the fire and when is time to dish it out, people always have extra plates to bring to the neighbors.
Here’s the song in Kriol “Giwi wi pat ah Rondon!” that describes how to make a good pot of Rondon.
5. TAMARIND BALL (Tamran Baal)
Tamarind is a very valued tree on the island of San Andres and its fruit is used to make juice, savory dishes and candy. The term ‘tamarind’ comes from the Arabic word for ‘Indian date’ and that is probably why I wasn’t smitten by this funny looking fruit: I’ve never liked dates.
The first time my co-teacher offered me a tamran baal I was a bit worried I wasn’t going to like it since I wasn’t impressed with the fruit in its natural/raw form. Boy, was I mistaken! I did love the sticky sweet and sour candy made of tamarind pulp and sugar. I even enjoy sucking the very cute seeds that are mixed in the ball.
Tamran baal is the perfect candy to pick at while working at my desk in the teachers’ room, making the lesson planning and marking much sweeter.
* Words in Italics are written using the San Andrean Creole spelling
Author: Lucilla Fanthini
When applying to the Colombia Billingue program, I left my placement preference almost completely open. The only request: I didn’t want an extremely hot climate. Personally, beaches and sweltering heat aren’t my thing. I’m from Michigan, and it is winter for nearly half the year, so I’m just not conditioned for it.
I was placed in the city of Duitama, located in the beautiful department of Boyacá. While it doesn’t have the luxury of being a big-named city, and I couldn’t do much pre-move research, going in blind was great choice. A few reasons why I fell in love:
Every morning I woke to the wonderful site of rolling green mountains. Boyacá is sprawled across the Andes, and is the agricultural hub of Colombia. Without large cities marring view, you’re constantly rewarded with breathtaking vistas. Bus rides are a breeze when you have views such as these outside your window.
“Boyacences,” as they’re called, were some of the nicest and most easygoing people, and they’re very proud of their homeland. In a country like Colombia, that says a lot. The people come from close-knit, hardworking families, which reminded me a lot of my Midwestern USA upbringing. They are very respectful and kind, and I was welcomed in every corner. Fun fact: they are the only department to use the phrase “Su Merced” (translated as “Your Majesty”), persevered from Spanish colonial days.
I Never Felt Claustrophobic
Given Duitama’s close proximity to Bogotá (3-4 hours by bus), I was fortunate to be able to travel around Colombia with ease. I could frequent Bogotá for some nightlife, or to use it as a launch pad for a quick flight (or overnight bus) to another part of the country.
My Placement School
Boyacá has continuously thrived in education. So much that it was ranked number one out of all departments of Colombia. The students are extremely respectful, and the classrooms were equipped with great resources not always found in other cities’ schools. My school in particular was lucky enough to have a visit from the Minister of Education herself, Yaneth Giha.
Author: Alan Hester
Every school day starts with a very early bus ride towards the outskirts of Santa Marta, following a dusty and bumpy road through breathtaking mountainous scenery. Even on the days when there’s no time for coffee, the noises of people selling by the roadside, the honking of horns, and the bus driver’s associate shouting destinations to tempt pedestrians to Bonda mean that I’m wide awake by the time we reach my colegio, (Institución Educativa Distrital de Bonda.)
On arrival I’m greeted by almost every student I pass, regardless of whether they’re old enough to be in my class or not. “Hello teacher” by the nearest and boldest, or “‘Ey gringo” by small clusters of boys peering round corners. The older students I teach greet me with complex handshakes and fistbumps that betray my age and origin, and each time I consider devoting a class to the British handshake.
I meet up with my co-teacher, Victor, who like a true Costeño is open, friendly and easy going. When the class begins he takes the register and introduces the topic of the class, and I’ll subsequently introduce a relevant activity or discuss a point of interest that comes up organically. The good working relationship we have is really important because my authority in the classroom owes a huge debt to the amount of respect the students have for Victor, while my native experience of English helps to illuminate some of the slighter nuances of the language.
During the break I join the other teachers in the Sala de Docentes and try to decipher the free flowing Costeño Spanish they’re talking to each other to little avail. That being said, I’m always made to feel welcome, always greeted when someone enters the room, and can normally find someone who is keen to test their English with me.
A typical day will conclude shortly after midday, but typical here is a very loose term. There are often days devoted to themes like Earth Day or Languages Day, or where the students are given an opportunity to showcase their dancing and singing abilities. Occasionally the entire school will make their way to the school field to support the football team, with attendances that would make lower league English teams nervous. Just before Semana Santa (Holy Week) the children all brought in homemade sweet delicacies to sell in the local village square. After each of these events I always come away impressed by the strong sense of community and school pride the students are instilled with.
From midday, the rest of the afternoon is mine to do with as I please, which normally involves an involuntary nap first, but then cheap cinema, language exchanges, salsa classes, or occasionally a trip to Victor’s farm in the mountains. On the many bank holiday weekends, I can take a trip to the national park, to the backpacker destinations of Minca or Palomino, or go visit fellows in neighbouring cities. It’s been a truly rewarding experience so far.