Amanda Dornsife arrives in Bogotá

After being dropped off at the San Francisco airport at 4 am by my mother, I frantically ran to my gate because I was very late. Unfortunately, 15 minutes had already passed since they started boarding, which meant it was almost over. I just caught my flight. After spending 12 hours traveling–SFO to Houston, with a 5-hour layover, then to Bogota international–I was exhausted to say the least. Upon arriving in Colombia, I was picked up by Camilo, my host father, and my two new siblings, Gabi and Lucas.

Luckily, I was given plenty of time to settle in since it was Holy Week in Colombia, which is a spring break just before Easter. As the week of no school went on, I found myself becoming better acquainted with my new family and the culture and city surrounding me. During the holiday, we visited one of my favorite places thus far in Bogota, This beautiful place is called Boho, which is about ten minutes from my house. Boho is a new establishment where there are small local cafés, shops and flee market-like stands in which you can buy small nick-knacks, mostly hand-made in Colombia.

After two weeks, I have found that living in the large city of Bogotá is way different than living in Danville, a small quaint town. Everything needed, such as restaurants, supermarkets and parks are all within walking distance of my family’s apartment. There is even a mall within five minutes distance. One of the first things that I noticed about Colombian culture was that everyone is extremely friendly and welcoming. Upon meeting a new person while in the United States you would simply say “hi” or “hello.” Here the culture is that “hola,”“chao,” or “adios” are all followed by a hug and a kiss on the cheek. At first this was kind of uncomfortable for me, but now I know that it is just common curtesy. Finally, one of the most pleasant differences between California and Colombia is how on Sundays all of the main roads are closed to cars and open only to human-powered transportation such as bikes, scooters, skateboards. This is in order to promote a healthy lifestyle, but also help the environment. My host mother Cecilia told me that she believes that around 3,000 people ride bikes every Sunday, which tremendously helps the environment every single week.

Everyone at Colegio Los Nogales has been super welcoming and friendly. Luckily, I made a group of friends pretty quickly. Upon arriving at school, I found out that there was another exchange named Ashleigh from South Africa; she definitely made my adjustment into the school a lot easier. Life at Nogales has been both similar to and different from life at Athenian. Nogales is almost double to size of Athenian with about 1,000 students. Almost all of them have been attending Nogales since they were four-year-old preschoolers. The school day begins at 7:10, but my day starts around 4:45 in order to catch the bus to school. This is a huge difference from in my 7:45 wake-up in the Athenian dorms. It takes just under 90 minutes minutes to get to school due to the horrible bumper-to-bumper traffic. It is almost unbelievable how bad the traffic is.

The biggest challenge for me living in Colombia has been being away from my friends and family, which is not what I expected before arriving here. I thought the language barrier would be my biggest challenge, but now I have learned that I speak and understand more Spanish than I thought. Additionally, most of Nogales’ classes are taught in English. All of the students speak mostly Spanish with each other outside of class, but are totally understanding and are willing to help me by translating phrases I don’t understand. Even though we live in the time of technology during the 21st century, it is still really hard to communicate with friends and family at home. Despite the fact that the two-hour time difference is not a lot of time, two hours puts me on a completely different schedule than those at home.  Being away from what I have known for my whole life has made me more independent and a lot more confident in myself already.

Overall, my first couple weeks here have been so much fun and quite an adventure. I have made so many great friends and have had the best time with my host family. From playing darts with my host dad for two hours straight to biking, from empanadas to shopping with friends, I am so happy to be in Bogotá, in such a beautiful and crazy city. This is only two weeks in. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me for the rest of my exchange!