It has begun!
Well, kind of. If you consider an airport pick-up, swanky hotel in the capital city and a visit from the U.S. Embassy a start to a year in Colombia. Not quite like my other shoestring hostel, wash your underwear in the sink and hoard free sugar packets experiences in Latin America. But I am definitely not complaining!
After a blurry-eyed 1 am arrival, we started the morning with day 1 of orientation. There are 34 total Fulbrighters here in Colombia right now. Six of us are Masters/phD students doing research projects (the “U.S. Student Grant” program). The rest are recent college graduates here as English Teaching Assistants (ETAs). The ETAs work in Universities around the country as…well, teaching assistants. The other U.S. Students are an amazing and diverse group. They are here studying architecture and the effect of building development on urban spaces, Colombian activists and their role in human rights laws, the meeting of traditional and modern ceramics, Colombian music and independent music producers…very interesting topics and ever more interesting people! I have a built-in network of amazing people to visit all over Colombia.
Today, in our first day of orientation we started right off with a joke of a visit from one of the security officers at the U.S. Embassy. It was like an episode of Saturday Night Live. This poor guy was a parody of himself. 6’5″, very American, overly handsome in a frat boy sort of way, Special Forces-type in a perfectly tailored suit who lectured to us for an hour about how to be “safe” in Colombia. He very obviously had no clue who we were or what we were doing here. The entire thing was embarrassingly alienating to the Colombian people, which is exactly the opposite of the Fulbright mission. Some of his “useful” tips included: Never take a bus (which is basically the only way to travel at all). Never hail a tax on the street. Always assume you are being watched and listened to. Never take the same route when you leave your house….seriously?! He basically told us we are all F*cked. In reference to one guy’s site in N. Colombia he actually said: “Two seconds off the beaten path and you’re back in FARC-ville.” FARC-ville? It was pretty over the top and the butt of all our jokes at lunch.
Luckily we were saved by an amazing follow-up speaker. Salvador Vidal Ortiz, an American University sociology professor and past Fulbright Scholar in Colombia. He spoke to us about adjusting to Colombian life and he was incredibly insightful and culturally sensitive. His research is on LBGT displaced people in Colombia and he reminded us of the three steps to successful cultural adjustment. 1) Know yourself. 2) Be aware of the differences. 3) Recognize that it is not their job to adjust to you. He gave us an amazingly accurate list that summarizes some of the major cultural divides perfectly. I’m starting to remember to remember all of these things.
Things that annoy people newly arrived in Colombia:
- Tardiness (Adjusting to “Colombian Time”)
- Inability to stand in an orderly line (I remembered that one at the airport yesterday!)
- Traffic (ALL traffic regulations are considered mere suggestions)
- Litter (Where else would you put your empty Coke bottle besides out the bus window?)
- Disorganization (I’ve learned there is often some order in the chaos…it just doesn’t seem like it)
- The Whiney Voice (Anyone who has worked in schools is very familiar with this one…)
- A norm of subservience (instead of “your welcome” Colombians often use the phrase “A la orden” which translates literally to “At your service”)
Things that annoy Colombians about us:
- Taking of your shoes or feet on the table (I uncrossed my legs and slipped my shoes back on…whoops).
- Informal/inappropriate dress (yes, I’m in my yoga pants. And no, I do not own heels)
- Not greeting people (this is one I’m good at. Always have a “Buenos Dias” at the tip of your tongue!)
- Lack of personal cleanliness (this comes from the stinky backpackers who forget their deodorant..and laundry soap.)
I haven’t had a chance to take any photos yet, but just to make it interesting I am adding in some photos of the famous street art of Bogota. Bogota has an awesome arts scene as well as one of most progressive LGBT movements in Latin America. (There is even open talks about legalizing same sex marriage and adoption which is huge for Latin America.)
I’m so excited to be here right now. I can already tell that the next 9 months are going to fly by! And by the way, I have a super liberal schedule and plenty of time off to explore Colombia. Also, at least 3 weeks of vacation in December for the holidays. So, please come visit!!! Besos to all, until next time!