Obviously, moving away from home is a challenge for a number of reasons, especially when you’re moving really far away from home. So, before I moved to Colombia’s capital; Bogotá, to study for five months, I knew it’d take some time to adjust. I researched, asked for help, and had even lived in Madrid for a few months before hand in preparation. I knew before I came that putting toilet paper in the bin rather than toilet, wearing a surgical mask when you’re ill, and always sitting in the front of your Uber were completely normal practices in Colombia. Nonetheless, I don’t think anything could have prepared me the actual experience of living here. It should be noted that bar the polluted air and cat-calling, a lot of these shocks were positive and will be very much missed.
Something Colombians are generally known for is their lack of punctuality. Whilst I was semi-used to this after spending time in Spain, living here for the past 5 months has taught me a sincere patience. It really is a testament to the almost stress-free Colombian nature that they’re considerably more relaxed than us Brits, despite their chaotic culture.
After having only just gotten used to the Spanish timetable, in January it was now time to get used to the Colombian agenda. The two couldn’t be more different. In Spain, everything happens later: you wake up late, eat late and go to be late. But not in Colombia: because of the general climate, a Colombian day usually starts at around 7/8am (plenty of people, including myself, would start lessons at 8am or earlier). Because of the early start, a lot of shops and services close very early, including nightclubs. The average club will stay open no later than 3am, and sadly there are very few places to get some drunk-food- probably a blessing in disguise.
Nights out in themselves were a shocker, not simply because of how early they ended or the lack of food at the end. The biggest shock for me was the dancing. This has a lot to do with the music. Whilst the electronic music scene is blossoming, particularly in Bogotá, the genre of choice in most Colombian clubs is Reggaeton or a more traditional Salsa. These genres of music generally call for a dancing partner of some description.
Having to consider a partner and think about what my feat, hands and even eyes were doing, was a far leap from the solo, thoughtless dancing I am accustomed to back home. Whilst many can find this style of dancing slightly chauvinistic, if you find a friendly partner who treats you as an equal, it can be fun, and definitely looks a lot better than out out-of-time bopping about on one spot many of us Europeans are guilty of.
One of the first things you’ll learn if you go to Colombia (or generally any Latin American country) is that greeting here is completely different. Instead of the awkward nod or impossibly formal handshake, here, a kiss on the right cheek for women is typical when greeting both a man and a woman and on first meeting, men tend to shake hands, although after becoming more acquainted this often evolves into a one-armed hug or even a kiss on the cheek . I think the difference in our greetings nicely reflects the generally, to put it lightly, more tactile culture over here. PDA is rife and whilst at first it offended my English sensibilities, it’s now become something that’s completely normal to me as well as something I very occasionally find cute.
For anyone who’s ever come to Colombia from abroad, you will have undoubtedly heard all the warnings and concerns from well-meaning people: all of which have never actually visited the country themselves. Whilst, yes, like most other countries, Bogotá, and Colombia in general have some areas you’re best off avoiding, and places where it’d be advisable to travel in groups or take a taxi instead of walking, if you’re smart about things, it’s perfectly safe.
The inhospitable and unsafe reputation of Colombia is one of the many misconceptions people have about it. In fact, particularly in the capital, the police presence is unlike anything I’ve seen before. On more or less every corner there’s a police officer or security guard- all equipped with their own personal Rottweiler. Whilst I’m not sure if this makes me feel safe or not, after living here for five months I haven’t encountered any of the worrying dangers my mother was so concerned about before I set off.
Despite the initial shock of the difference of Colombian and British or even European cultures, it very quickly came to feel like home. The people, more than anything, are so hospitable it’s impossible not to feel comfortable. Colombia has so much to offer, and whilst it has made me earn it, the experiences I’ve had here have made it well worth the effort. Because, if my experience here has taught me anything it’s that you have to get uncomfortable to get comfortable.