Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Why You Should Consider a Year Abroad in Colombia

I know, I know, any excuse to write about the absolute love of my life, Colombia. But in line with Year Abroad Fortnight, which ironically is a little bit more than a fortnight now (Year Abroad Just Over a Fortnight doesn't quite have the same ring to it); I saw fit to write about why I think Colombia is a great year abroad destination whether it be studying, working or volunteering abroad.

After all, there's a reason the Colombian tourism board's tagline used to be: "Colombia, the only risk is wanting to stay."

Colombia is starting to gain momentum as a study abroad destination but it is still one of the least popular study abroad destinations especially amongst British students. I can understand why: Spain is just on our doorstep and there's cheaper flights to other Latin American destinations. However, I think it's money well spent going to Colombia and of course once you get there, cost of living is cheaper than that of the UK and Spain and the likes of popular South American destinations such as Argentina and Chile. But I won't bore you with the financial side of things as there are way more exciting reasons as to why you should consider a year abroad in Colombia:

Medellin seen from Pueblito Paisa

Colombians (generally) speak slowly and clearly
On the whole, Colombians speak quite slowly and clearly especially in comparison to Spaniards, Argentinians and Chileans (Chilean Spanish for me is a completely different language). This is a huge bonus when you're trying, flailing and failing to learn Spanish. Such a claim, however, is something to take with a pinch of salt as there is so much regional differentiation when it comes to accents in Colombia as is the case everywhere. Head up to the coast and it's a completely different story with many calling the dialect there costeñol as even Colombians have difficulty understanding it (you could say it's the Colombian Geordie). But then, I would say costeños have some pretty colourful vocabulary and a great selection of expressions making the linguistic challenge a bit more entertaining. Regardless, the variation in regional accents is fascinating and you will quickly learn the difference between paisa, costeño, rolo, caleño, chocoano etc. in no time.

You're a commodity
I intend this to be positive as people are curious about foreigners especially as they've only recently started coming back to Colombia. Once they detect your foreign accent or if like me, you stick out like a sore thumb because you're blond-haired and blue-eyed, they will ask so many questions, you will tell them your life story. It's great language practise as well as being the perfect icebreaker, especially when you're anxious to speak up and you may even get an invitation to coffee/dinner/the family finca out of it too. But fear not, if you're in need every now and then of an international crowd, Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena have burgeoning expat communities too.

Friends, Colombian Friends (Inbetweeners reference had to be done)

Colombians love a good celebration
Salsa runs in most Colombians' vein and Colombians love to rumba especially if it incorporates dancing, music and of course, the drink of gods, aguardiente. The amount of bank holidays, which in comparision to the UK's measly four, means you can regularly jet off elsewhere to explore. My favourite has to be Día del Trabajo which ironically is celebrated with a day off work. Hurrah. The night before a bank holiday is of course a great excuse for the above examples so make sure you pack your best party pants, you will need them.

Valle de Cocora in the Coffee Region

Cartagena's Old Town

You can stay in one country and go to the beach, the mountains, the jungle, the desert, you name it.
Not only that but Colombia is the only country in South America to boast both the Atlantic and the Pacific as coastlines AND Colombia ranks as one of the top five countries with the most biodiversity in the world. The opportunity to travel is huge: you can wander around UNESCO sites such as San Agustin, Cartagena's Old Town or the quaint, sleepy town of Mompox. If nature is your bag, you can cruise along the Amazon or humpback whale-watch in Choco. Want to escape city life? Explore one of the many pueblos nearby or visit the coffee region to trek Valle de Cocora. Or if you just wish to kick back and relax, you can head to one of the many beaches along the Caribbean coast such as Parque Tayrona or my favourites, Palomino or Cabo de la Vela. If you're somehow missing typical British weather, you can head to Bogota where it rains all the time (it does have a great cosmopolitan city life and amazing street art too). Trying to whittle down where you will actually go will be your biggest problem (first world problems indeed).

El Pilon de Azucar, La Guajira

You will fall in love with it
I have nothing to back this huge claim up but way too frequently would I meet travellers who intended to stay a few nights in a place which was then subsequently extended to a week, a month, as much time as their visa would allow. Not only that but I met so many people who not only fell hook, line and sinker in love with Colombia but coincidentially a Colombian as well. So who knows, maybe Colombia will be where you meet the love of your life (I know, I know, I'm cringing myself writing this)?

Have you been to Colombia? Where was your favourite place?

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