Bachelor of International Studies/Diploma in Languages, 3rd year
Bachelor of International Studies/Diploma in Languages, 3rd year

Academic Experience

During my exchange I undertook four courses at my host university and one UQ external course. There was such a wide variety of courses to choose from at the Javeriana it was incredibly hard to pick just four. Initially I chose a French Level 6, Contemporary Theories of International Relations, International Environmental Problems and Applied Linguistics. However, after my first week I realised that there were some issues with my course selection. I was placed in a French class two levels above my proficiency, International Environmental problems was actually taught in English - I wanted to undertake all my classes in Spanish, and Applied Linguistics had several prerequisites I had not completed. It is fair to say, that after the first week of my exchange, I was more than a bit frazzled and stressed. Luckily, the administration ladies were very kind, and understanding and assisted me in finding other classes. Though it was a lot of trial and error as the term had already started and many classes were full, I managed to find replacements and I was happy with my final selection. I ended up studing; Contemporary Theories of International Relations, Strategies of Negotiation, Karate (which was really cool, and all in Spanish), as well as French Level 4. I loved having all my classes in Spanish as it really helped me immerse in the language and culture. Even though many of my classes started at 7am, I found myself looking forward to the early morning learning. I also really enjoyed the much smaller class sizes and the more personal relationship the professors had with the students at Javeriana.

Personal Experience

First of all, my Spanish improved enormously. I spoke Spanish 24/7, with everyone, in every kind of situation. Now that I am back in Australia, I must say it is hard adjusting back to speaking English all the time. Travelling around Latin America is pretty easy, and cost-friendly so I was able to travel all throughout Colombia, visit Ecuador and Mexico and even spend a month in Venezuela. I went everywhere from national parks, beautiful beaches, to snowy mountains, even spent some time in the Amazon Jungle. It was incredible how much I learnt and experienced over such a short period of time. I also made so many friends from all over the world who invited me to stay with them if I ever visit their countries. The Colombian culture is very different to the Australian culture and I learnt the importance of being culturally sensitive. I now have more confidence in myself and in my abilities.

Accommodation

There was no on-campus accommodation at my university which made it a little difficult. However, after looking around I found a nice apartment, in a reasonably safe neighbor where I lived with a Colombian girl and her two adorable cats. While I did really like my apartment and my housemate, I spent a lot of time by myself which could be a bit lonely at times. What I would recommended to others is that they wait until the first week of uni to meet the other exchange students and find shared accommodation with them.

Budget

The university was amazing, not only was there a free general medical service, but the gym and all the gym classes were free. The rent I paid (750,000 COP/about $340 AUD a month) was pretty expensive compared to what some of my friends paid, but I had my own room and bathroom in a safe area. I walked to university, but transport is really cheap. There were two main options: the transmilenio, which was a big bus with its own private lane on the road, costs 90 cents, no matter where you are going, and the small busetas cost about 50 cents. It is important to know that the public transport can be a bit dangerous, and overfilled to the extreme with people, so you always have to be careful and be aware. Food was about half the price of what food costs in Australia, and you can even eat a special Colombian three course meal for $3-5, they are called corrientazos, and come with soup, a drink and a meal of meat and rice. There are also street arepas and empandas which are nice, and generally cost around 90 cents. The university organised lots of activities for the exchange students and the museums and theatre shows were pretty cheap. The most expensive items for me were my insurance and flights. I would advise saving at least $8000 before the trip to be able to cover everything and live comfortably in Colombia.

Professional Development & Employability

My fluency in Spanish has increased dramatically, and I also have developed a deep understanding of the vast cultures and history within Latin America. Living by myself in such a different country has made me a very good problem solver, as well as more culturally aware and sensitive. I have become more ready to step out of my comfort zone and try new things (such as eating grubs and guinea pigs) and now I am more open to trying new ways of doing things. I have improved my English teaching as a second language skills as well, because I worked as a private English teacher for professionals during my time in Colombia. Furthermore, I volunteered weekly to plan educational activities for young children from low socioeconomic areas in Bogota to assist them in achieving and reaching academic goals. I have had such a wide variety of experiences and I now feel I have become more open, worldly, and that I have grown as a person.

Highlights

The place that I enjoyed most visiting would have to be the Amazon Jungle because it was a place so different from anywhere I have ever been and it was a really unique experience for me. However, the absolute highlight of my trip would be just being immersed in the Spanish language and Colombia culture. It was amazing being able to use my language skills every day, in all different situations.

Top Tips

My advice to other students considering participating in a student exchange in the future is definitely do your research beforehand, but don’t stress too much about anything. Things always seem to have a way of working out. Don't focus on the negatives, step out of your comfort zone, and just enjoy the experience.

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