Amanda Dornsife

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!

Amanda Dornsife says Farewell to Colombia

My time in Colombia is unfortunately coming to an end. I will admit, my exchange went by much faster than I thought it would. In one aspect it seems like just yesterday that I was stepping out of the airport into a town of lights and cars everywhere, but in other ways it feels like a long time ago. Either way, saying good-bye to my host family and all of the wonderful people I have met here is one of the saddest moments of my life. I will admit it is also bittersweet to know that I will be returning home to see my friends and family. However, I will definitely treasure and miss relationships and bonds that I have made in Colombia, but luckily know that these friendships will last for a lifetime.

I am so thankful and happy that I got the chance to go to Bogotá. It is such a lively and unique city, full of multicolored buildings, traffic, and a wonderful culture. In the course of my six weeks I have had so many eye-opening experiences that have changed me forever. I was able to live and tour around the city and visit many cool places such as: Laguna Guatavita y Pueblo (the fertile land where indigenous Colombian used to live), Villa Leyva (a beautiful colonial town), Andres (the coolest restaurant ever with entertainment, lights, and great food), Monserrato (the beautiful center of Bogotá) and so many more. Some highlights of my exchange include attending my favorite class called current events, going to my first Quinceañera, hanging out with friends after school, and visiting some of the largest and coolest malls I have ever seen. I loved seeing Bogotá and the cities around it, but my favorite memories are of time spent with my host family. From baking with my host father to having our nightly family dinners, I will definitely cherish those small moments the most!

To be real for a moment, the first week of exchange was definitely one of the hardest times of my life. The culture shocks of being in a new country away from friends and family, with new people and a different culture than I am used to, was very hard. But as the days went by it got better. I found that the more friends I surrounded myself with and the more I put myself out, the easier it got. Now after five weeks, I don’t want to leave. I want to stay with my new friends and family.

To those who are considering whether to go on exchange or not, I would 100% recommend applying. Exchange has been one of the best and most rewarding experiences of my life. Over the course of these six weeks I have gained so much knowledge about who I am as a person and the world I live in. I have found so much courage and independence in myself being more than 3,000 miles away from friends and family. I can’t promise exactly what your experience will be, but I can say that it will open up your eyes to the smallest things–yourself, the people, or the world that you are surrounded by. While exchange is full of ups, down, highs and lows, it has forever changed me for the better.

Finally, to Colombia, thank you for giving me some of the best weeks of my life. This trip has taught me so much about myself. I am beyond grateful that I had the opportunity to participate in this experience. Thank you to each and every one of you who has made my time here wonderful. Even though I will miss everyone more than anything, I realize that I can come back and visit because I know that I will always have a second home and family in Colombia. ¡Gracias Colombia! Te extrañaré. Por la una última vez “chao”