Studying abroad is a very enriching experience, but it can be difficult sometimes as well, especially considering differences between countries and the possible language barrier. And while I love the Spanish language, I myself was nervous when I received my ISEP Exchange placement at Universidad Icesi here in Cali. I now know that Colombia is a beautiful country full of wonderful people who genuinely wanted to help me during my time abroad. Here are reasons why studying abroad in Colombia is so rewarding (along with some tips to help you get the most out of your experience!):
The locals are welcoming and want to help you!
Some people may think Colombia is a scary place or have misconceptions about it. Just like many other places, drugs and violence exist, but Colombia is not a country that should be feared, especially given the friendliness and kindness of the people. Any time I have been lost, or unsure what to do for the day or weekend the people here have been more than happy to give me directions or share their favorite spots.
Transportation can sometimes be difficult, so before you arrive in your host country be sure to brush up on directional words in the native language. Specifically in Cali, there is a bus system called the MIO which is cheap and convenient, but I definitely feel safer using apps like Uber and WayCali because I can watch the route on my phone to make sure the driver is taking me where I need to go, and I can use my phone as a way of communication to show the driver where to go.
Pro tip: If you’re not sure an area is safe to visit alone, ask a professor or fellow student who you trust and knows the area. I use Uber to get around a lot, and almost every driver I have had has suggested their favorite restaurants, bars or markets to visit. They love to share their favorite things about their country, and everyone just wants you to enjoy your time visiting their home!
People are interested in where you are from!
As soon as I speak any Spanish, it is very obvious that I am not from here. The first question I get asked by just about everyone is where I am from. Then they ask about the food, the activities, and my home university. The people here are more than happy to share their wisdom and love for their country, and they genuinely want to know about yours!
Pro tip: Being in Colombia has been a struggle at some points, and despite being fluent in Spanish it is very different when speaking to native speakers. Remember that it is absolutely okay to ask people to speak slower, to repeat things, or explain what a word means. Even to ask if they speak English (or your native language) to make sure that you understand what you need to.
Your classmates may ask for help in your native language!
I have students in my classes asking for help with their English homework or wanting to practice their English and it is so fun! The students and the professors at Icesi want you to have the best experience here and they want to make you feel comfortable. Many of the professors speak multiple languages, and if a language other than Spanish is what you need, they will find a way to help you! They are curious and eager to learn just like every other human.
Classes can be challenging. For about the first month I was here, I barely survived my classes. All of my professors were bilingual which was very helpful, and for the most part they were easy to understand while they were lecturing. The difficulty came when it was time for discussion in class because the other students don’t speak as slowly or clearly which can make comprehending the class difficult. Again, I stress the importance of asking questions. Especially in the school setting everyone around wants you to succeed and grow. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and to ask for what you need.
Studying abroad in a country that speaks a different language has led to the most beneficial part of my semester here.
My ability to speak and understand the Spanish language is better than ever before, and I owe all of that to the people at Universidad Icesi and my host family for helping me through the difficulties during the first weeks I was here.
The people of Cali are curious, friendly, and genuine. Colombia and Icesi are both beautiful places that I can’t recommend enough!
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