My name is Cecilia, and I went on a virtual exchange to Lima Peru “with” my buddy Isa. It was a perfect match. We immediately bonded over TikTok, baking, cooking, sports, school, even Covid-19, sharing our frustration and quarantine activities. We cooked together over Zoom and watched a movie together. We also had most of our classes together, so we got to work on slides in breakout rooms, and she was able to introduce me to lots of other girls. She was the best buddy I could have asked for, always making sure I had the material for class, the links, the correct times.
As for my classes, the teachers did a great job welcoming and introducing me to everyone. They always made sure to fill me in on content I had missed, which was very helpful. The classes I participated in were child development, biology, physics, history, and history of Peru. One challenge in the history of Peru class was that it was taught in Spanish, but I was able to observe the teacher’s screen and gain some context. In a lot of my classes the teachers would put us in breakout rooms to research different topics, which I really enjoyed because I would usually be with my buddy and 1-2 other girls. I learned a lot about ecosystems, childbirth, China and Japan’s history, and kinetic energy.My favorite class was one day at 6:30 am. Our teacher let us start the class by introducing ourselves and asking questions about Peru or California. At the beginning it was regular questions about school, coronavirus, etc., but then we started to be bold. We bonded over the topic of boys, TikTok, junk food, and more. It was interesting to hear about how different it is going to an all-girls school, and they were intrigued to hear about me attending a co-ed school. After about 30 minutes with the conversation flowing, Miss Ines let us save the work for next class and keep talking.It was easier than I expected to form friendships over Zoom. I thought it would be awkward and tough to find a conversation topic, but it was super easy to start with basic questions and then let the conversation take its own course. I am super excited to meet them one day in person, and I know we will stay in touch!
Cecilia’s In-Person Exchange in Colombia
I have now been in Colombia for one week. My arrival went very smoothly, and my first few days were pretty low key. We rested. I saw some of the views in the city. We went to the spa. It was very interesting to be so far from everything at home. I wasn’t thinking about school, about the people I usually think about. It was entirely new. It was a nice change of scenery and opened my eyes to a whole new world to enjoy.
There have been some differences that have been tricky adjusting to in the last few days. It is very strange having a maid do everything for me, an experience I have never had. It almost makes me feel guilty, although I know she is just doing her job. It has also been tricky finding the motivation to keep up with the various things I have to do/organize for school back home.
Another difference is the language. While I am trying to speak and understand as much Spanish as possible, it makes communication difficult when I only know a small portion of the vocabulary. When we speak in English, the conversations flow differently here. It is less of relating to what the other person is saying and sharing the conversation, and more of taking turns speaking about various things. So, it has been harder for me to feel connected.
On the other hand, we are in the most beautiful place in the world. There are so many birds singing so many different things at once, perched on so many colors of flowers and shapes of leaves. I haven’t started school yet and we are on vacation in the coffee region where my exchange family has a home. I feel spoiled here with access to a pool, delicious food, and not busy. It really is paradise.
I am excited to start school and meet more people. So far I have only met a few people. I made friends with Ana’s (my exchange sister) cousin, and the maid’s granddaughter, a five-year-old. I can’t wait to meet all the people at school, and especially to play soccer with them. I have missed competition and games, as my exchange family doesn’t partake in it much.
While there is so much to love here, I see why people get homesick. At first, I thought I would never be homesick; however, I do miss my home a bit.
I can’t wait to tell everyone about my trip when I am back!
Cecilia 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.