However, show me a world capital that isn’t dangerous.
Stories of drug dealers, guerrilla wars, kidnappings, corruption and dangerous animals are all true, but they are a SMALL part of life in Bogotá and Colombia. In my time there, I met some of the warmest, fun and open people on earth, in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited.
So what to expect? A good time in a country full of diverse nature and culture. Don’t allow your expectations to be defined by the negative reporting coming out of the country, and embrace whatever comes your way with a reasonable amount of common sense and caution.
University life is known for hard work, late hours, and exams. This is no different at Universidad de los Andes. However, at Uniandes they really go out of their way to make the experience motivating and pleasant.
Campus is full of relaxed patios, cafes, restaurants and hangout spots. There is always a place to sit down and enjoy a coffee, a fresh squeezed juice or an ''arepa'' (Colombian corn bread). The surroundings are even more relaxing. I often felt like I was in a nature park. Several gardeners worked on a daily basis to keep the place looking magical. It reminded me of walking around in an amusement park where everything had to look spotless.
As part of your stay at Uniandes, they want to make sure your health is up to standard. Therefore, they offer a small hospital, a sports clinic and a sports center with more than 50 different sports activities free of charge. My weekly routines involved swimming, playing squash, biking and exercising, all of which took place on campus, on the mountainside overlooking central Bogotá.
If these activities don’t tickle your fancy, you can also enjoy wall climbing, volleyball, soccer, karate, dance classes, billiards, tennis, basketball, rugby, yoga. The list is endless. You could actually spend most of your time in Bogotá on campus, but I recommend you don’t. Living in Bogotá gives you the opportunity to experience a city that never sleeps, and there's a bar, restaurant, or club for any occasion.
Spend your money wisely
Living in Bogotá is not too expensive, but the amount of things to do and places to go, you might spend money faster than you can keep track of. I would suggest you stop comparing prices to your home country, and start spending money accordingly to a pre-fixed monthly budget.
It's also worthwhile to save money to travel Colombia. It’s often cheaper to fly than to take the bus, although it does cost money as soon as you reach the more expensive tourist zones.
I suggest you quickly enroll yourself in a dancing class, which is free at the university. Friends are made just as easy as potential romantic partners are on the dancefloor.
From the Caribbean Sea to the jungle, from the mountain forests to the desert plains and coffee plantations, Colombia has it all. You can combine extreme sports with sunbathing on the same trip. So give yourself the time and save some of your money to take every great offer available to you.
Dance the night away
Colombian culture is all about enjoying life, laughing, having fun, going out to drink and be social in every way we know it from our respective home countries. However, there is a common factor that can be found in any of the mentioned activities: dancing!
Dancing equals living and everything is more fun with music that makes you move to it. One thing you’ll have to remember is, that everyone born in Colombia is born with rhythm as a sixth sense. The best way to meet any of the locals is through dance. It gets you close to them, and since dancing is as natural as riding a bike in Denmark, asking people to dance isn’t an awkward moment and people always say yes.
There is a small catch though. You will have to know how to dance before any of this is possible. I suggest you quickly enroll yourself in a dancing class, which is free at the university. Friends are made just as easy as potential romantic partners are on the dancefloor.
Some survival tips
Here are some tips to make sure your time in Colombia is memorable and safe. First of all, don’t walk around on the streets flashing your valuables (this includes expensive cameras and phones). ''No les de el papaya!'' - that is a saying you here when you speak to the locals, and it translates to ''Don’t give them your papaya'', which means that you should not tempt the weak souls, because they will take advantage of it.
Second of all, don’t take taxis off the street but use the taxi apps and radio-taxis. Furthermore, don’t walk alone on the streets after dark, unless you are certain that you are in a good neighborhood. The best advice is to listen to the locals and follow their directions. Don’t start thinking that ''because nothing has happened so far, it won’t happen in the future''.
"when you go abroad you’re not only an ambassador for your own country, but also an interpreter of both their culture and your own. When you return home, you become an ambassador for your adopted country as well"
If you follow these suggestions, which are the same suggestions that any concerned parent would give you no matter in which part of the world you travel, you should be fine.
One evening, I met a special girl one evening on the rooftop of the biggest club in Bogotá. Without this turning into a love story, that evening did change the course of my stay in Colombia.
It started like any other relationship with casual dates and getting to know each other, but we got serious fast. It was good because it changed my experiences in Colombia from a tourist’s perspective to a local’s perspective. I traded in my weekend getaways to nearby tourist attractions for trips to my new girlfriend’s hometown. I discovered the warm and accepting family culture, which is the foundation of Colombian values.
In my opinion, this has a lot to do with the country’s rough and violent history, bringing families closer together. These visits gave me a unique, inside look into Colombia and the way Colombians think about their own culture and future, and the way they look at the rest of the world.
I also answered questions about my home country, and was often at a loss for words. For Colombians, who are exposed to more violence than in peaceful Denmark, it was hard to answer their question about why a peaceful country like mine couldn’t help others more. This situation opened up my eyes towards my own culture and left me with a feeling of home as being ''not that great as I had remembered it''.
This is not a political statement, but it shows how my time abroad helped bridge understandings between two cultures that have very little in common on the surface. Actually, we share many of the same values, although they come into play in different ways depending on the challenges facing each country.
My point is, that when you go abroad you’re not only an ambassador for your own country, but also an interpreter of both their culture and your own. When you return home, you become an ambassador for your adopted country as well, and the process of interpretation continues. You are literally breaking down the wall of silence between cultures and coming home with new perspectives. In my case, this work isn’t over. I still have my girlfriend in Colombia, and I'd like to carry on bridging the cultural gap between Denmark and Colombia.
Going to Colombia was one of the greatest experiences of my life. It offered me a perspective on my own life I could not have imagined before leaving, thanks to a combination of wonderful travel experiences, close encounters with a vibrating and different culture, and a firsthand meeting with the warm open family culture, which, in my opinion, is the essence of Colombia.
Go abroad, have the time of your life and bring back knowledge and memories to last a lifetime. If you’re lucky it will also change the course of your life and the people around you.
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