When you think of Colombia unfortunately the first things that come to mind are danger, corruption and violence, and this usually turns people off travelling, let alone living there. However, I didn’t feel threatened walking down the streets, going out at night or taking the local buses. It isn’t as safe as Brisbane, but it certainly isn’t as dangerous as it is made out to be, you just need to take precautions like you would in any other big city. Although the reputation of Colombia has been plagued by a violent past, don’t let the stories and stereotypes stop you from coming to Colombia, because you’ll be missing out on a unique exchange experience.
Bogotá is a huge city, and it also sits at 2600 metres above sea level, so I would suggest arriving at least a week prior to classes commencing so you can get a feel for the city and acclimatise to the elevation and the weather. The old centre, La Candelaria, is a historic neighbourhood with beautiful old churches, buildings and alleyways. Chapinero is the neighbourhood I lived in and not only is it close to Javeriana but it has some great shops, restaurants, bars and nightlife. I would recommend going to La Zona Rosa for partying and night life and if you’re really missing home then try Gringo Tuesdays where foreigners flock to on a Tuesday night! If it is a particularly nice day in Bogotá, make the most of it and take the teleférico up to the top of Montserrat for an amazing view of the whole of Bogotá, or if it is a Sunday or public holiday talk a walk or run along the ciclovía as half the main roads are blocked off for pedestrian use!
As there is no on-campus accommodation I would definitely recommend living close to campus, and if you can, try and live with the local Colombian students. I lived with an English speaking friend, but if you really want to improve your Spanish then living with Colombians is the way to go! Colombians are extremely friendly people, so don’t be afraid of speaking Spanish to them, not matter how broken it is. I also joined the exchange group ‘Out of Town’, which is a great way to make friends with other exchange students, as well as Colombians, and an excuse to socialise, go out and go travelling with them! Don’t be put down if you don’t make friends with the local students immediately, speaking a foreign language can make it difficult at times to build a good rapport.
See as much of Colombia as you can! It is a really spectacular country that offers so much to do and see! My favourite places were San Gil, Salento, Villa de Leyva, Tayrona and Medellin, just to list a few. The activities you can do are pretty much limitless, I went from trekking, paragliding, white water rafting, caving, swimming in waterholes in tropical rainforests, bathing in mud volcanoes, relaxing on the white Caribbean sand, jumping of waterfalls to visiting old colonial towns, climbing into ancient tombs, learning about the life of Pablo Escobar, visiting the lake where the legend of El Dorado originated and visiting a coffee hacienda where I learnt how to grow, pick and harvest coffee beans. The cultural and geographical diversity of Colombia is incredible, so try and make the most of your free time and travel! Flying is the most convenient, as it is a lot quicker, but it is also more expensive. Try and wait until Avianca or LAN are having sales, if not Viva Colombia is a good option, but you will need a Colombian credit card/bank account or a Colombian friend!
The teaching at Javeriana is different to UQ. There are no lectures as such, and instead you will be in a tutorial sized class for between 2-3 hours. They can be very intense classes and are often group orientated. Almost all the classes are conducted in Spanish, and there are often 2-3 readings a week for each class, but sometimes the readings will be in English if you’re lucky! The first few weeks can be quite difficult, especially if you’ve only done 4 semesters of Spanish at UQ, but don’t let that stop you because it is a really rewarding experience and the classes do get easier! Fortunately, if you study international relations or politics like I do, there a few courses which run each semester and are conducted in English. Even though the workload is significantly more than at UQ, it is manageable but if you have any problems the teachers, and Ana Maria in the exchange office, were very helpful and accommodating.
If you are missing the comforts of home or just want a taste of western food, head to Crepes and Waffles or Wok, both are chain-like stores so you will find them pretty much everywhere. Food in Colombia is relatively cheap though, and around Javeriana there are lots of little restaurants that have set lunches for between 5,000-10,000 pesos, which is between $3-6. If you’re a vegetarian then don’t worry there are two great restaurants nearby too called ‘Vega’ and ‘Maha’ which I frequented at least 3 times a week. Javeriana also has cheap student eats throughout the campus and even has a cafeteria that serves breakfast for those pesky 8am classes!
There were times during my exchange when I was sitting in the library at 10pm struggling with a difficult Spanish reading or attempting to write a 2000 word essay when I wished that I went to England or the United States, or just to a university that offered all classes in English. However, when I look back now those memories are not what stick out the most, or even at all. It was the people I met and the places I visited, and those lost in translation moments that make me want to return. While it was tougher than I had imagined, it was also one of the most rewarding experiences and I wouldn’t change it even if I had the chance.
 

Top tips:

  • Get involved in university life! A great way is through the ‘Out of Town’ group which is run by local students for exchange students.
  • Try the set lunch menus for cheap eats.
  • Take advantage of the free Spanish language courses offered each month at Javeriana.
  • Try the delicious Colombian fruits like granadilla or guayaba or my favourite lulo!
  • Visit Andrés Carnes de Res in Chia or Bogotá for a fun and memorable night!
  • Take a colectivo bus for a fun way to get from A to B!
  • Plan your weekends/mid semester break in advance and make the most of your free time.
  • Always carry an umbrella, safe to say it will rain at least once during the day!

 

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