This week we bring you another edition of our monthly interviews. This time we talked to Jessica, who has been living in Bogota for the last three months working with Hábitat para la Humanidad Colombia (HPHC), as part of her international service project for her Masters in Public Service. Jessica has travelled to other cities in Colombia and her experience in Bogota has been fantastic!
We would like to thank Jessica for taking the time to answer our questions and share her photos of Colombia with us and our readers. If you want to read more about Jessica’s experience in Colombia you can check her blog: Serve with love
The Uncover Colombia team
Tell us something about yourself (Where are you from? who you are and/or what you do?)
I was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas in the United States – a true Southern girl. I received a BA in Anthropology and a BA in Spanish and Latin American Studies from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Right now, I am in the process of earning my Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from the Sam M. Walton College of Business, and my Masters in Public Service (MPS) from the Clinton School of Public Service. With my degrees, I hope to obtain a job in the nonprofit sector working with the global issues of homelessness and poverty.
I love traveling and learning about other places, cultures, traditions, languages, and foods. I am creative and artistic, with a passion for art, photography, scrapbooking, writing, baking, and cooking. I have a heart for serving others and a deep desire to change the world.
Why did you decide to visit Colombia?
One aspect of the MPS program is an international service project. I knew instantly that I wanted to complete my project in Central or South America, given my background in and love for Spanish and Latin American culture.
I searched for projects with several organizations, and finally decided that the best project for me was with Hábitat para la Humanidad Colombia (HPHC) in Bogotá. HPHC is an NGO working across Colombia to sustainably develop communities and neighborhoods in need by providing individuals and families with new and improved housing, amongst other services.
What sort of things did you like?
I have fallen in love with this country. The people are so hospitable and kind – and really patient with my mediocre Spanish. I love the pride they have in their culture and in their country.
I am amazed at the diversity of Colombia; it is really fascinating. There are so many different climates and environments, and each department has it’s own unique culture, dialect, and foods – the food here is amazing! I especially love all of the different types of arepas, and natural fruit juices.
To see more things Jessica likes about Colombia, check her blog post: My top 25 things I love about Colombia post
What didn’t you like?
At first, it was difficult for me to get around and communicate, because my Spanish was not that great, and very few people speak English. But I quickly found out that people are very patient with you, and willing to help in anyway they can.
I also have never lived in a city larger than 200,000 people; so living in Bogotá (a city of 8 million people) was a big adjustment for me. But because it is located in the mountains, I see green spaces everywhere, which reminds me of home and lessens the harshness of the big city.
What was your favourite experience?
One long weekend, I traveled to Villa de Leyva (in the department of Boyacá) with a Colombian friend and her family. It was so amazing to experience a smaller Colombian city, in a different department. I especially loved all of the nature here. We were able to hike through the Andes Mountains, and just happened across a gorgeous waterfall. We also visited las Periqueras, a series of waterfalls, and they were so beautiful. I love being outdoors and seeing all that nature has to offer, so Villa de Leyva was a perfect weekend trip for me.
Did you have any problems, finding accommodation, transport, food, etc.?
Initially, yes. The informal bus system and Transmilenio (Bogotá’s above-ground “metro”) were a bit confusing at first. But once they were explained to me, I found it very easy to get around. Taxis are also easy to use and really cheap, and you can just show them the address for where you want to go.
There are restaurants everywhere in Bogotá, ranging from small cafes to nicer establishments. You can find pretty much any type of food you want here, on every street. I love this convenience. The street food here is also incredibly delicious, especially the roasted corn and grilled pitas.
I have been living in an apartment with the friend of my boss at HPHC, so finding accommodation wasn’t an issue for me in Bogotá. There are hotels and hostels in pretty much all of the major cities in Colombia, and it is fairly easy to find accommodation through normal travel sites, like Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet, and Hostel World. I used Trip Advisor when deciding where to stay in Cartagena.
Which other countries did you visit besides Colombia and How does Colombia compare with these countries?
During the three months that I have been living in Bogotá, I have only visited other cities in Colombia (Soacha, Suba, Cartagena, Villa de Leyva, Ráquira, Fusagasuga, and Anapoima). However, in previous years I have traveled throughout the United States, West and East Europe, and Central America. Colombia is similar to the other countries in Central America that I have had the opportunity to visit (Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Mexico) – kind people, vibrant atmosphere, and delicious and unique food. It’s also similar to Europe, due to the large amount of Colonial Architecture, plazas, museums, etc. But it also has its own charming character (like any country).
What amazes me the most is how far Colombia has come in recent years. I admire the fact that they have successfully and quickly turned the country around completely and have overcome their difficult history. There is still a lot of work to be done but it is so encouraging to see the immense progress.
Which image did you have about Colombia before going there?
Like probably everyone else, I had heard the horror stories. Having studied Latin American history and culture in college, I had the privilege of learning in-depth about Colombia’s history, so I truly knew all the good and all the bad. But I wasn’t apprehensive because I knew that Colombia is undergoing a positive transformation.
I also have a wonderful friend in my MPS program who is from Colombia, so before I left, she was a wonderful source of knowledge and advice. She, like most Colombians, has an admirable pride for her country, and her stories made me really excited to come to Colombia and live here for three months.
Did this image change after your trip?
I wouldn’t say it changed, because I knew the good and bad before coming (not just the bad, like other people). I would say that it expanded. For example, I knew that the people were kind, but I had no idea I would be welcomed into this country as if I were belonged here.
I really learned so much more than I ever expected. Given my background in Latin American Studies, I thought I knew almost everything about the country, its culture, its history, and its progress, but after talking with so many different Colombians, and after living here for three months, I have really learned something wonderful each and every day.
Would you like to come back?
Absolutely! There are so many places that, unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit since the main purpose of my coming to Colombia was to work full time. I would love to have the opportunity to visit Medellín, the Coffee Triangle, Santa Marta, La Ciudad Perdida, Leticia and the Amazonas, and so many other places. I have also made lasting friendships with people here, and cannot imagine not seeing them again. I know I will come back someday.
What would you recommend to someone considering Colombia as a destination?
Don’t hesitate, book your trip, you won’t regret it. Unfortunately Colombia isn’t always portrayed positively in the media, so it makes people apprehensive to consider visiting. But don’t let this stop you, don’t be nervous to come here. Colombia is a fascinating country with so much history to share. There are so many beautiful things to see in every part of the country. Living here has been an inspiring, eye-opening, unique, and life-changing experience for me. I will never forget my time here, nor the people, nor the things I have learned, and I will come back one day.
- Colombia: The fallacy and the reality (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- A Day in Coffee Paradise (servewlove.wordpress.com)
- Uncover Colombia Interview: Brighid’s experience in Colombia (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- A Few Tips for Travelling in Colombia (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- Suggestions for a two-week holiday in Colombia (www.uncovercolombiacom)
- Colombia: mountains, plains, beaches, desert and jungle, all in one country (www.uncovercolombia.com)