Cecilia Bersamin Reflects on her Time in Colombia

Looking back, the first few weeks of my new life in Bogotá are blurry. I remember arriving in the city, excited by the bustle of life. I remember sampling ten different colorful fruits on my first night. I remember driving 13 hours to the beautiful coffee region–the part of Colombia that Encanto was based on. A week into my exchange I came down with a horrible sickness. Eventually I went to the ER, and it turns out I had a bad case of Covid. So began my quarantine. For another week I was stuck in my room, with a family of strangers, in a rural coffee plantation almost 4,000 miles from home. A bit of a rocky start to my exchange. 

This gave me time to think and ponder what I had experienced the previous two-and-a-half weeks. Even though I hadn’t been there for long, hadn’t even been to school, I was already coming across challenges. The language barrier was difficult to adjust to, but each day I was feeling more and more comfortable understanding and talking in Spanish. It was definitely weird having a maid, something I had never experienced before. But I became friends with the maid and her five-year-old granddaughter. 

While Ana, my exchange sister, did work to keep up with her school, I went on walks around El Rosario, the family’s “finca.” It was beautiful. The flora and fauna in Colombia are hard to imagine coming from California, the land of golden rolling hills. In the coffee region everything is green, sprinkled with a rainbow of flowers of all shapes and sizes. There are loud colorful birds darting between the trees at all times of the day. Yes, there are bugs everywhere. (Pro tip: never leave your light on when your door is open.) And the house! Imagine La Casita straight out of Encanto: the shingled roof, big open rooms, plant baskets everywhere, even a courtyard in the middle. 

We finally left and I was over the virus. I hardly remember my first day of school, it was so overwhelming. So much Spanish, a lot of introductions, and I only remembered Ana’s name. What stood out was that everyone took the time to introduce themselves, ask about my time so far in Colombia, and about my life in California. I could already tell I would have a fun time at the Anglo. 

The last three weeks were the most memorable, amazing experience in my life. I looked forward to every day at school. I loved talking to people about their lives in Colombia and their values. I sought out every bit of culture and lifestyle there was, intrigued by the new and different. I felt the sense of unity that the Anglo had, something I hadn’t felt in the same way at Athenian. I discovered new things about myself. 

The soccer games might have been the most fun. We would take the bus, start playing, and then, of course, it would start pouring rain. We were shivering and splashing on the field all with smiles on our faces. The school team was probably the best team I have ever played on. Their skills were on a whole other level, I think because they were much more dedicated to the game. I became a better soccer player in just the few games that I played in. 

Then there were the parties: the music, the dancing, the food. It was so much fun. Everyone was so happy and energetic and wanted to talk to you. Strangers would come up to me and teach me how to dance like a Colombian. 

On my flight home I realized I would never have another experience like this again. I could come back to Colombia, but it wouldn’t be the same. I was so new to the culture, so fully immersed. I was happy dancing, sad when I missed my family, scared when I went to the ER, nervous to play in the soccer games. It was such a complete trip. I learned about myself, a new culture, new people–and I can’t wait to go back to Colombia.

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