6° 14′ 9.33″ N, 75° 34′ 30.4932″ W
Have you ever had a dream where you didn’t recognize anyone? Have you ever dreamt of being in a strange city, where every street you turn down is one you’ve never seen before? Have you ever dreamt of being lost in a place where nobody knows your name, where the food tastes like nothing you’ve ever had before, and even the way people say hello is different from the way you say it?
If you’ve ever traveled to a different country, or maybe even to a different state, you know that you wouldn’t have to be dreaming to experience what I’ve described. When I first arrived to Colombia, I felt as lost as a four year old who gets separated from his mom or dad on a trip to the supermarket. Walking down the city streets was like walking down those endless aisles of canned food, I didn’t think I’d ever find my way! I was about to start a new life here, meaning I would have to figure out everything from finding a place to live to joining a gym, and all in a language that I didn’t speak! I looked at Medellin, that giant, seemingly limitless city, and was overwhelmed with fear.
Today, almost seven months after I arrived, I feel like the giant city that once scared me to tears has shrunk down ten times in size. I no longer dread walking into stores because now I understand what the salesclerks are saying. I learned the names of the biggest neighborhoods and can navigate the city with ease using the Metro or the bus. When I walk down the street, the last thing you’d mistake me for is a tourist! I run around my neighborhood, Belen, collecting groceries, hailing the bus, and running errands like any other Medellin local, or as they lovingly refer to themselves here, any other paisa.
Although I navigate the city today with no problem, it was only through the support and friendship of all the kind people that I’ve met here that I’ve been able to adjust so well. During my first few months in Colombia, I made countless friendships and acquaintances, even as I stumbled through learning the language and getting used to all the foreign sights and smells. When I arrived at the university as the new English teacher, I was nervous I wouldn’t fit in. But soon enough, I was getting more invitations to lunch or to coffee than I could possibly imagine. I felt immediately welcome in not only the university, but also in the city, and everyday felt a little bit more at home.
One of my favorite memories from those first initial months was a trip I took to a professor’s country house, or as they call them here, fincas. To get to the finca, you have to take a metro car up into the mountains. As you slowly go higher and higher, you can see all of Medellin in front of you. They call Medellin the city of red bricks, because almost all the buildings on the skyline are made out of brick!
When we got to the finca, I was told we were going to buy milk and yogurt from a neighbor who reared cows. I imagined the milk the way you would imagine it, refrigerated and in a plastic container, like the gallon of milk you’d buy from your grocer. Boy, was I in for a surprise! When we arrived to the neighbor’s farm, I soon realized that the milk we’d be drinking would come straight from the cow! Forget labels and a container, this kind of milk was au naturel! Handing me a bucket, they pointed to the cow’s bloated utters, and told me to begin. I had never milked a cow before, but after a few awkward fumbles, I started to get the hang of it. Soon enough, the bucket was full of milk. I watched in awe as my friend picked up the bucket and served himself a glass, drinking the warm beverage in just one gulp. Can you imagine filling up your bowl of corn flakes with the milk from your neighbor’s cow? Although I wasn’t brave enough to drink it myself, I knew it was an experience I’d never forget!
As the night began to fall, I was told we’d make a bonfire. I was eager to share one of my most beloved American traditions, making s’mores! My Colombian friends had never eaten s’mores before and excitedly collected the ingredients from the local market. As we sat around with our marshmallows and sticks, I showed everyone the simple technique, dipping the marshmallows into the fire until they were perfectly browned. Soon enough, everyone was making s’mores, and commenting on how tasty they were! I was happy to know that even though my Colombian friends were introducing me to their city, I too could share my traditions and culture with them.
Though traveling to another country can at first be scary, it is also one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. I’ve learned to adapt to almost anything and interact with people who seem really different from me! Even after seven months, I still continue to learn new things. One of the things I am continuously learning is Spanish. Every day I have an opportunity to interact with someone different and learn more vocabulary. I hope to come back to the United States with a great gasp of the language – and hopefully with a Colombian accent!
Have you ever had an experience where you’ve felt completely lost, or didn’t know anybody? What did you do to make things better? I learned that if you travel, you risk feeling alone or lost, but eventually you find your way. Making good friends, trying great food, and witnessing the beauty of this wonderful world is definitely worth the risk.