Lessons Learned from Colombia: Looking to the Future
Abstract: As I begin to prepare to leave Colombia, I find myself wishing I had more time in the country! Suddenly, I don’t feel ready to leave. What have I learned from my time in Colombia? What am I going to bring home?
I still remember the moment I opened the e-mail. I remember how I covered my mouth with my hands to muffle the sound of my scream. As I hastily read the words on the screen, I felt my legs go numb. I had done it. The dream had come true.
As I sip coffee with a Colombian friend and listen to her tell me about her dreams of studying in English in New York, I can’t help but think of the moment I found out that I was granted a scholarship to teach in Colombia. My friend is asking me so many questions that I hardly have time to respond to one.
She started asking “What if I can’t understand anyone? How am I going to make friends? Am I really always going to have to speak English?” My friend paused and looked at me nervously. “Promise me you’ll speak Spanish to me sometimes!”
“You’re going to be fine. What’s more, you’re going to love it.”
“Are you sure?” she asks, exasperated.
“I’m sure,” I promise. “Seguro.”
I laugh. The questions my friend asked me are the same questions I asked my friends in the United States before I left for Colombia! When I first found out I would come to Colombia, I felt an immediate sense of bliss. I was thrilled to travel, finally learn Spanish, and fulfill my lifelong dream of visiting the country. But just like my friend, I was also very nervous. I began to think that maybe it was best if I didn’t go to Colombia. What if I couldn’t do it? What if I missed home too much?
My journey to Colombia has not always been full of great moments. Just like my friend points out, speaking a foreign language and making friends in a different country is not only stressful, but is often really scary. Over the past year, I have often found myself alone in my apartment, wishing I were in New York. I missed my mom’s dinner. I missed walking my dog around my neighborhood. I missed calling a good friend and laughing over a silly, inside joke. Being so far away hasn’t always been easy, and learning a foreign language has been even more difficult than I could have imagined.
However, even when I think about how hard it has been at times, one thing remains clear. Following one’s dreams is never easy, and really, it never should be.
Maybe your dream is to become a doctor. Maybe you dream of publishing a best-selling book or learning how to play the piano. Maybe your dream is as simple as getting a good grade in Science! Even though all of our dreams are possible to attain, not all of them are easy! If you have never played piano before, you can’t expect to play like Beethoven right away! It takes lots of practice and patience in order to achieve our dreams. There’s no secret formula to achieving one’s goals. Only those who never give up, and who focus on their progress and not their failures are those who see their dreams come true.
As I get ready to leave Colombia, I am sad to leave behind all the friendships I have made. Over the past year, I have met amazing people who lead lives entirely different from mine. I have opened up my eyes to a world that exists outside of New York.
Recently, I met a professor at my university who has spent the past fifteen years of her life living in different countries throughout South America. She works as a freelance reporter. As I listened to her describe her experiences, I could feel myself brim with excitement. What if I found a way to travel and to keep pursuing my dream of speaking Spanish in the future? There are so many people to meet and so many places to see in this world! The possibilities are dizzying!
Today, I’m more confused than ever as to what I want to be when I grow up. All my life, I imagined having a home in New York City. I imagined having a job and living in Queens, where I was born. However, now that I have lived in another country, I’m not sure if I want to stay in New York all my life! I find myself dreaming about all the places I can visit!
One of the biggest lessons I am going to bring home from Colombia is to keep following my dreams. As I listen to my friend describe all the obstacles she will face in coming to New York City, I think about how silly I must have sounded to all of my friends at home whenever I said I’d never learn Spanish or never be able to live abroad!
“Rocio,” I tell her, “Remember when I first came to Colombia? Remember how lost and scared of everything I was? Remember how little Spanish I spoke?”
My friend nods and laughs.
“Well, how do you think I managed to get by? It was through the help of people like you! You inspired me to keep going, and you challenged me to learn Spanish. And now,” I continued, laughing, “It’s my turn to challenge you! After all, it’s only fair that way!”
“Thanks, Estefa,” my friend says, giggling. We finish our cups of coffee and get up to leave. I can’t wait until my friend arrives in New York City in December. Even though I am excited to show her the city, I am even more excited to see her follow her dream. Just like my trip to Colombia has inspired me to keep pursuing my goals, I know that my friend’s trip to New York will open her eyes to a world of possibility.
As I end my journey abroad, I am sad to see this chapter of my life close. However, I am just as excited to arrive home and see what the future will offer. After all, there are still dreams left to chase!