|Teleférico de Monserrate Bogotá D.C. - Colombia|
Fotografía: Alex Cruz Photographer
In 2010-2011 I had the opportunity to live and work in Bogota Colombia for just over a year. Though I knew few details about Colombian history and culture before I arrived, I came equipped with strong Spanish language skills and a curious, open mind. I had arrived to work with a well-known Colombian social initiative – Minuto de Dios – and after a few days of orientation I was plopped into an office environment full of Colombian coworkers. Instead of being excluded and disregarded as an outsider my coworkers engaged our cultural differences by asking sincere questions and made a habit of inviting me to join them for lunch. Back in the U.S., I was used to eating lunch at my desk and taking a break only for errands or a quick walk around the block, but here lunch time was family style, indulgent (often lasting well over an hour), and bubbling with lively conversation about education, politics, religion, life philosophy, family, relationships, and more. I was both intimidated and inspired by my coworkers’ rapid fire jokes, cultural references and regional lingo that were so new to me. Fortunately, they were nearly always patient and interested in sharing with me, and never seemed to tire from explaining themselves or asking about my own experiences to compare to theirs and to fill in the gaps in our understanding.
In addition to daily lunch hours, I was invited to many site visits, fieldtrips, volunteer projects, conferences, and class celebrations that helped to integrate me into the work, as well as to weddings, birthday parties, and novena celebrations that included me in the Bogotano lives of my new friends. Maybe I just lucked out with this very special group of coworkers at Minuto de Dios. But my general experience in Bogota, as well as other cities that I visited in Colombia, was that even Colombians I had just met were very interested in supporting foreigners’ positive experience in their country. They were eager to hear my impressions of what I had seen and done, and to learn about how it compared to life in the U.S. While some Bogotanos worry about of a sense of distrust among citizens in their city due to a history of high crime rates, one can expect to be treated as a good friend or extended relative, by those with whom there is even a basic level of acquaintance.
I encourage visitors to Bogotá to get to know it on a deeper level than traditional tourism allows. Visit one of the many “fundaciones,” or grassroots organizations, or better yet, volunteer. It’s a great way to know a place including its people, culture, and history.
If you have free time in Bogota after visiting the hot-item tourist attractions of Monserrate, Zipaquirá, and Museo de Oro, I recommend walking through Parque Simón Bolívar and take a ride on the ferris wheel to see the city from above. Also be sure to visit the Plaza Bolívar on weekends to people watch as you nibble a “mazorca” (corn on the cob) or sliced green mango spritzed with lime, salt, and pepper. If you’re there on a Sunday, the Ciclovía is a must. You’ll be in good company walking, jogging, rollerblading or biking, and don’t pass up the freshly squeezed orange or tangerine juice, or my personal favorite, “salpicón,” a delicious juice beverage filled with chunks of fresh fruit. Don’t worry if it rains on you in Bogota- the rain is frequent but brief – and if you catch a cold, treat it with “panela con Limón,” a hot herbal tea made of raw sugarcane and lime.
Whether you come to Colombia to work, to live, to volunteer, or to visit, know that there’s truth in what they say: “the only risk is that you’ll want to stay.”
Masters Student in Public Administration
Los Ángeles, California
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