I fear that when my friends and family asked me, “So how is Colombia?!?!” I answered negatively. To all of you, I want to remind you of several things:
- WTF is that question? That is a very generic question and basically results me in just looking back at you like
- As a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Education sector, I have a formal job placement that I spend 30+ hours at each week. That job colors a lot of my experience, even though my experience at that job does not describe my total experience in this country.
- You talked to me at a time when I was in my home for the first time in 18 months, spending time with my family for the first time in 18 months and with my manfriend for the first time in 9.5 months. Obviously this is going to impact how I answer in that moment.
Please note that I am not yelling at you. I myself have been very guilty of this in the past. I have just so happened to spend eighteen months thinking about the depth of culture and cultural differences and global understanding, and so want to share some of my thought nuggets with you.
How do you sum up an entire culture (multiple, actually, if we’re talking about Colombia as a whole) succinctly?! What are the things that you want to know about?
- A lot of people asked me about food – good start. I can always talk about food.
- A couple people asked me about safety – great! I can talk very clearly about safety and security where I live.
- I was even asked once if people want to learn English – very thoughtful question! This gets more into the specifics of the culture and how my job relates to it.
Here are things that I was not asked that are key to understanding my experience in Colombia:
- What does a typical day look like for you?
- What is your host family like? How is it living with them?
- What is your neighborhood like? How well do you know the people around you?
- How do strangers treat you?
- Is it really as hot as they say? All year? How do you cope with that?
- What do people do in their free time? What does this mean for your free time?
- What is access to resources like? What does it mean to not have running water or electricity?
- What is the political climate? What issues are most important to Colombians right now?
- What are Colombians’ perceptions of Americans? What is the image that Colombians have of the US?
And these are just the first few things that come to mind.
I fear that if you asked me, “How is Colombia?!”, you got a terrible answer. It was probably very brief and did not at all address the complexities of this country and the coastal culture I have come to know and appreciate. If that is the case, please ask me again – but ask me thoughtful, specific questions that I can better answer. Because what I want you to know is that I really love this home I have here – my town, my family, my students…but it’s a little more complex than just that. Also I want you all to visit.