“You’re going to be living WHERE?!” was usually the response I received when I told people I was going to be living and working in Colombia for a year. Yes, I have moved to Medellín, Colombia… yes, Medellín was once the central hub of Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel… but NO, Colombia is certainly not the same place it was 20 years ago.
A lot of people might be wondering why, of all the places in the world, I chose to go to Colombia. Well, I did two study exchanges while in university, one in Mexico and the other in Spain, so my next logical step was to discover South America. I applied to jobs within different South American countries, but I found my “dream job” in Medellín.
The reason I have such an attraction to Hispanic countries is because of the passion I have for of the Spanish language. I began taking Spanish classes in my first year at Laurier, and ever since then I’ve been hooked. I love everything about the language, how it sounds, the countries, culture, music, and foods associated with it. So as I became more fluent in the language, I started to discover where my language skills could take me.
Currently, I am working in the city of Medellín (north of Bogotá) as an International Business Consultant within El Centro para la Innovación, Consultoria y Empresarismo (CICE) (or in English, the Center for Innovation, Consulting and Entrepreneurship). I’m really enjoying my job because as it is in Spanish and due to the nature of consulting, every day is different.
In the four weeks I’ve been working here I’ve had the chance to work with clients and discuss issues they currently face, do research and translation projects, have videoconferencing meetings with clients in Bogotá, attend conferences and meetings with international investors.
I was able to find my job abroad through AIESEC. For those of you that don't know, AIESEC is the largest student-run organization in the world, which facilitates global internships for undergraduate and graduate students. The organization has been around for over 50 years and is comprised of young individuals from 1,600 universities in over 107 different countries. The global internship program is just part of the overall AIESEC experience. AIESEC also provides its members with an integrated development experience comprised of leadership opportunities, local and international conferences and the ability to partake in a global learning environment. I had been a member of AIESEC Laurier for four years, and decided, upon graduating from the Honours Business Administration program, to take advantage of its job opportunities abroad.
The one thing I love about living and working in Colombia, is that every day is a learning experience. I’m constantly exposed to an all-Spanish environment, whether I’m at work, communicating with my roommates, or interacting with people in the community. I’m always learning new vocabulary, or about the culture and country of Colombia. My job here is about 90% in Spanish, which, at times challenging but it’s an experience I am going to benefit from immensely. The other 10% is when my coworkers want to practice English or I don’t quite understand a concept, and they help me by explaining it in English.
An interesting aspect of the culture here in Colombia, is that people take two hours for lunch - yes you read that correctly, two hours!
Here, lunch is the largest meal of the day, so the eating schedule is the exact opposite of Canada (lunches are large, and dinners are quite small). Since I still follow the Canadian schedule of eating, I have a lot of time during my lunches. So some days if I’m feeling tired, I will walk to my apartment (which is across the street from where I work) and have a 90 minute nap, then eat lunch and walk back. However, most days I use my time wisely and go to the gym which is also located next to my work, this allows me to have my nights free when I get home.
Since arriving in Medellín at the end of February, I have spent each weekend outside of it, visiting other cities and towns. So this past weekend I was determined to stay in the city and do some exploring. In the center of the city there is a famous plaza, called La Plazoleta de las Esculturas which has over 20 different Botero statues. Fernando Botero is a famous Colombian artist (still alive today) that is known for his "voluminous" figures in his works of art. I was able to see more works of art by Botero, specifically paintings, that same day in the Museum of Antioquia.
After appreciating a little artistic culture, my Guatemalan friend and I bought some Guarapo off the street, which is a drink made from raw sugar cane. It is very sweet, but refreshing and is normally served with lime. Something else you can buy off the street is fresh fruit, anything from pineapple to mango to strawberries. The taste of fruit in Colombia is a whole other experience, something you can’t really appreciate until you try it here.
Later that day, I was able to take one of the gondolas, called the MetroCable – which connects the city to the poorer neighborhoods, to the top of a mountain where you can see the entire city. The views are stunning, as Medellín is a city located in a valley surrounded by mountains.
It's unfortunate that Colombia has a bad reputation around the world, because it has pleasantly surprised me.I feel very safe within the city, the people here are incredibly kind as well as proud of their country, and the city of Medellín is quite modern (it has the only subway system in Colombia). Just like the old saying, one should never judge a book by its cover. Colombia is a beautiful and wonderful country; people should have an open mind and consider discovering it.
Katie Hudson is a recent HBBA Graduate from Wilfrid Laurier University