Colombian charm: an introduction to my travel blog
It is difficult to believe that it has already been over two weeks since I left the United States behind for six months of traveling through South America and studying in Valparaiso, Chile. Although there has been plenty to write about, I have been hesitant to start this blog documenting my study abroad experience until now. Admittedly, part of that decision was motivated by how often Colombian whiskey has impaired my ability to put pen to paper over the few weeks. But, more importantly, I am unsure how to document my travels in a way that is compelling, not only to my friends and family but to people who do not have a personal interest in my journey abroad.
In a world so deeply divided by greed and hatred, my hope for this blog is that I am able to write about my travels in a way that encourages people to understand and celebrate our differences as people with the recognition that they are greatly outnumbered by our similarities. I believe that the primary responsibility of the modern writer should be to restore faith in the power of our human solidarity to reach across divisions of race, religion, gender or ideology to bring peace and prosperity.
This may seem quite dramatic for the travel blog of a college student from the Midwest, but I feel that this kind of change must start small, in blog posts or conversations between friends, and that we, as young people, have the power to nurture this sentiment to create a brighter future for generations to come. With that being said, if at any time whilst reading you feel that I am very far off from honoring this idealized vision, please feel free to lower your expectations.
I will be studying at Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Valparaiso (PUCV) in Valparaiso, Chile for the spring semester of my junior year through the IFSA-Butler program. However, before I begin my semester at the end of February, I have the tremendous opportunity to travel around South America with a friend of mine who is also studying in Valparaiso, we’ll refer to him as my travel buddy. We started in Colombia and will travel to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay before flying to Chile. New to the concept of backpacking, I had a lot of trouble packing for my six-month adventure and ended up with a comically large suitcase that, if not convenient in any other way, has at least helped me improve my upper body strength.
For my first week abroad, I stayed with a very close friend of mine who was born in Cartagena, Colombia and returns to visit family every year during the winter break. We stayed with her aunt, who is a member of congress in Bogota, the capital city of Colombia, and her cousin. Members of her family have been involved in politics across multiple generations and, consequently, the Curi name is well known and well respected. This meant that I didn’t spend a dime of my own money for the entire week and lived quite lavishly (it was a bit concerning how quickly I got used to vacationing like a diva).
Last Saturday, she left for the U.S. to start her semester at the University of Iowa. Last Sunday, I picked up my travel buddy from the airport and exchanged my week of luxurious hotel pools and expensive night clubs for a month of hostels and rail tequila. I was very excited to make this transition, however, because, having stayed within the protective bubble of the Curi family’s wealth and political prominence for that first week, I had not really been forced out of my comfort zone yet.
One thing that I have learned so far is that the people of Colombia (at least the ones that I have interacted with) are extraordinarily happy. There is an undertone of warmth and cheer that permeates every aspect of Colombian culture. It is in the ways that they greet one another and the colloquialisms that they use. It is in the food that they eat and the music that they dance to. Perhaps, it’s just the romantic in me but sometimes I swear even the palm trees sway in such a way that makes me think they are glad to have grown in Cartagena.
All of this comes together to create an interpersonal dynamic that is very foreign to me as an American. At first I had no choice but to assume that everyone in Cartagena was in love with me with the way that they called me “mi amor” or “mi corazon” upon the first time meeting. But, unfortunately, as it turns out that is simply the way that most everyone speaks to each other. Passersby greet each other with sincere enthusiasm and greetings are followed by brief conversations that turn into not-so-brief conversations and next thing you know you’re inviting them to dinner. I cannot help but wonder what Colombians must think when they travel to the U.S. and their enthusiastic greetings are met with clipped acknowledgements and minimal eye contact. After only a week of basking in Colombian charm, I’m not sure if I ever want to go back! (Just kidding mom, don’t worry, I’ll come back).