Avrah Ross Arrives in Colombia

I arrived in Colombia almost two weeks ago and so far this experience has completely changed my life. My exchange had come to Athenian in January and February, so I already knew her, but I was a little nervous about the language barrier and cultural differences coming in. I have grown already in ways I could not have even imagined. My exchange’s whole family (besides her mom and sister) only speak Spanish, as well as her nanny (many people in Colombia have someone who comes to their house to cook and clean during the day). This has made it necessary for me to communicate solely in Spanish with these people from the second I stepped off the plane.

I have made so many new friends already. About half of our conversations happen in Spanish, which definitely took some getting used to at the beginning. I feel infinitely more comfortable speaking in Spanish–and everyone here LOVES when I speak. If you are going to a country that speaks a different language, I highly suggest learning at least some of that language before you come and don’t worry about sometimes speaking incorrectly because everyone will understand. Colegio Anglo Colombiano (the school I am attending) is a bilingual school, so half of my classes are in Spanish including Philosophy, Physics, Spanish Literature, P.E. and Art. The majority of the conversations outside of the classroom occur in Spanish, which at some points can be difficult, but when I get lost one of my friends will always happily fill me in (in English).

I have adapted to many of the cultural customs–my favorite being the kiss on the cheek and hug you get every time you greet or meet someone–and feel increasingly comfortable in a foreign country where everyone speaks a different language than I am used to. Everyone wears a uniform at the Anglo, which I have grown to appreciate more than I first thought I would, and the student-teacher relationships are nowhere near as personal as they are at Athenian. The culture of Colombia is very centered around relationships with your family and friends, which has been an amazing way to meet tons of people because of the amount of time I spend with them. Also, dancing and music is a huge part of Colombian culture. I am currently taking a rumba class (a mix of salsa, traditional Colombian dance and Zumba) with Natalia’s older sister, Marianna, twice a week. This has been so much fun!

The 11th graders at the Anglo (who are the equivalent to 12th graders in the U.S.) finished school last Friday, so Marianna has had tons of free time and has been able to show me all around the beautiful city of Bogotá. Some of my favorite places so far have been a visit to Natalia’s farm in the countryside and visiting El Centro (or downtown) where the congress is located and the president lives. I also have gotten to visit Guatavita (where indigenous Colombian people used to live) and a super interesting, traditional flea market.

I think the hardest thing I have had to adapt to is how lightly they treat offensive issues. There is definitely homophobia and some level of sexism present in everyday life. However, I have been able to have extremely meaningful conversations with many of my new friends about these issues and they are incredibly intrigued to learn about California. Many of them wish their school was as open as Athenian is. It has felt amazing to share some of my home while being immersed in their amazing culture. While it is sometimes difficult when people ask me about American politics, I have been able to have very important discussions about the U.S. as well as the Colombian government with them.

I think what I have learned the most so far is you get out what you put in. If I go out of my comfort zone and introduce myself to new people and start conversations with them, while it may be scary at the beginning, it pays off so much!