First Meeting with Colombia
Expectations vs. Reality
Colombia is a country full of contrasts, life and culture. The bustling city of Bogotá is a central destination because of its location and with 7 million citizens it is one of the biggest cities in South-America. Before coming here as an exchange student I got to hear a lot of rumours about how unsafe it was and how difficult it would be to live there. However, I decided not to let that stop me and applied for the exchange anyway. I was in for quite a radical change and not to mention culture shock!
After 17 hours of traveling I finally arrived in the city of Bogotá, the capital of Colombia. At 2625 metres above sea level the change can be a bit overwhelming and you can feel a bit height sick at first, but it soon passes. Bogotá is a really urban and gigantic city, with a mix of old colonial architecture and modern city areas. The city itself is located in a valley surrounded by mountains. The historical city centre is where most of the traditional architecture is found and is known as La Candelaria. It is really beautiful with its old churches, steep cobblestoned streets and colourful houses. Another trademark of Bogotá is the graffiti and is found almost everywhere.
Here there is an eternal spring with a weather that changes all the time. When you go out you should always bring a jacket, sunscreen and an umbrella because you never know what to expect!
The people in Colombia are super friendly, open and helpful, especially to strangers. And even though it is difficult at first speaking Spanish, they are very patient and willing to make an effort to understand. They always want to make a good impression to foreigners and show them what the city and the culture is all about. Colombia is actually ranked as nr. 1 in the world on the happiness scale despite all the insecurity and conflict that the country has had to live through. It seems that no matter what happens to them they always keep smiling.
I learned that if you’re careful and don’t walk around by night with a lot of valuables, then nothing bad is likely to happen. The expression here is dar papaya, which basically means that you are asking to be robbed… The typical Colombian expressions along with the many different accents can make it especially challenging with the language, and there are accents that even the Colombians can’t understand! It all depends on which region in the country you’re from.
One of the things that as a European I find very surprising is the food. For instance the lunch here is the biggest meal of the day, and the Colombians eat a lot! A typical almuerzo is served around 11-13 and usually consists of potatoes, rice, fried bananas, meat (and a symbolic portion of salad…) In addition it is normal to serve a soup first, also of meat and potatoes a long with the freshly pressed juice. One thing I really love is that the ingredients are always fresh and natural! After that they hardly eat anything the rest of the day, only a small cena in the evening. Their cuisine is very national and you nearly can’t find any influence from other countries in their dishes.