Craig - Pontificia Universidad Javeriana

B. Science
Semester 2, 2014

Academic experience

Whilst at the university I studied classes in Latin American and Colombian history, all of which were in Spanish. This provided a great opportunity to learn about a culture which I had relatively little knowledge of prior to arriving, and also served as an amazing way to learn the language. My Spanish was fairly basic upon arriving but now is at a level where conversations don't have to involve talking about the weather.

Personal experience

Beyond the language skills that the experience provided me with, I will leave feeling torn since Bogotá now has the sense of being almost a second home for me. I suppose it's just a Colombian thing. I would be hard put to find anyone who comes here and leaves without having fallen in love in their own way with the place and the people. I think the people here must be the most beautiful and vibrant aspect of what is a beautiful and vibrant country. 

Accommodation

In terms of my accommodation in Bogotá, I was living in a fairly centrally located neighbourhood, which was about a 20 minute walk (or 5-10 minute bike ride, depending on how well you can dodge traffic...) to the university I was studying at. It was an interesting setup - the landlord owned 2 floors of this building and rented out all of the rooms on both of these levels. This meant that at any one time there would be between 10 and 20 people living in the house (people came and went quite regularly), so you could almost say it was somewhat of a hostel environment. I quite liked that setup, since it meant that you would always be around different people, from all parts of the world. I met some great people this way.

Budget

It isn't hard to live on a low budget in Bogotá. You can pay about $3-4 for a big meal and beers are about $1. For about $200-300 a month you can live in some pretty decent areas, where you will be close to all the action.

Transport for me was cheap for the most part, since I walked or rode to and from uni. Buses can take you just about anywhere in the city, and won`t set you back more than a dollar. Taxis are also well priced, and necessary since the buses won't run all night. 

Professional development and employability

Participation in this exchange has certainly enhanced my academic development and employability. For me the greatest advantage in this regard would be that I now have a far better grasp on another language, which has inspired me to learn more languages in the coming years. Of course the experience itself, and the broadening of the mind that it naturally provides are invaluable in terms of personal development. 

Highlight

I must mention 2 highlights. The first was one of the most moving in my time in Colombia, and this was in the city of Medellin. Throughout the city there are quite a few Botero (a famous Colombian artist) statues. There is one, however, which has a greater significance than all the rest. From afar, it appeared strange - there were these 2 bird statues side by side, though one was perfect whilst the other seemed shredded and half destroyed. The reason is that in 1995, a bomb was set off there during a concert. It killed 20 people and injured 99 (the names of those who died are written on a plaque below the statue). I found out later that the government at the time wished to get rid what they saw as ruined art, but that Botero himself demanded that it remain, so as those that died would never be forgotten, and so  the horrible fear and violence felt in Medellin, and indeed in Colombia as a whole through that period, would always be recognised.

The second was in a small little town snuggled into the mountainous coffee region called Salento which really got to me. In general, the coffee region is crazy beautiful, but Salento is incomparable. It's a quiet little place, where everyone is friendly (even by Colombian standards, where just about everyone is so nice). I remember arriving late at night, and I could see what appeared to be the only 3 people in the whole town that were still up at that time. I thought this would surely turn out to be a rough night. I was mistaken... We ended up getting shown around the town, invited to stay at their houses (since we had nowhere at that point), met their pet German Shepherd and went for a walk to a lookout point to watch a thunderstorm rolling in through the hills. A great introduction to the town, and for me a fairly apt summary of Colombia in so many ways.

Top tips

My advice would be to do it and to not overprepare. I feel that can get in the way sometimes.