Deciding to go on exchange was one of the best decisions I have ever made. The world is so big. There is so much to learn, so many people to meet, and so much food to taste! I have been able to enjoy Colombian music, learned how to dance the Rumba, and have picked up on a lot of the local slang and Colombian culture. This experience has taught me that there is so much more to life than the stresses that we worry about in our daily lives. The exchange experience truly exemplifies multicultural awareness and extends learning beyond the classroom.
The Colombia that I have experienced is so different from the country that many people in the U.S. imagine it to be. I have had many eye-opening conversations about Colombia’s image to the rest of the world. The school which I attended, Anglo Colombiano, and Athenian are significantly different. For example, there is much less homework at Anglo, which allowed me to spend more time with friends after school and over the weekends. In addition, the vast majority of the students have been attending Anglo since they were four years old, so they have very close relationships with each other. At times this was difficult for me, but it also made them more excited to make new friends.
During my time in Colombia, I was able to visit Villa de Leiva (one of the oldest pueblos in Colombia), Ana Poima (tropical rainforest), and Lake Guatavita. In addition, every day after school I was able to enjoy time in downtown Bogotá with my new friends. Some highlights of my exchange were attending my first quinceañera, going to a costume party, and being a part of the school’s Oscar’s Night (a showcase of the movies which we had directed and preformed in).
The people I have met while on exchange are the some of the most compassionate, open, and loving people I know. It is amazing to see how much my Spanish has improved while being in Colombia, and to see how much more independent and outgoing I have become. One of the hardest parts of exchange was pushing myself out of my comfort zone in order to make new friends. There were many “jokes” that I found offensive, but were culturally appropriate in Colombia. However, I have been able to have very meaningful conversations with my friends about the intent behind these jokes.
Saying goodbye was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I would not trade my experiences during these past six weeks in Colombia for anything. I know that I will return soon, but it is so difficult knowing that this Monday I will not be at the Anglo with all of my friends. I know that the relationships that I have made will not end when I leave, and that the people who have defined my exchange will continue to define the rest of my life. It is impossible for me to wrap my head around the fact that my new best friends were complete strangers less than two months ago…
Some final tips for going on exchange:
- It’s okay to feel awkward.
- Push yourself–try new food, initiate conversations with new people, speak the local language if it’s not English.
- Try not to spend a lot of time on your phone and limit social media.
- Try not to compare it to home; it will obviously be different.
- Make the most out of every moment.