Part 1: Why I think I’m on vacation
Let me start off with gratitude to the Barranquilleros (what the locals seem to call themselves) and UniNorte for being so incredibly welcoming and putting so much energy into making sure we get settled. The University has a group of about 15 local students they call Global Peers who spent most of orientation with us and then on Friday the University chartered two busses for us and drove us around the city. We toured their soccer arena (home of Junior the local team that seems to enjoy Latin American level fandom), walked a beautiful river walk, took photos at several landmarks and ended the day with lunch and a dance lesson at the beach. The Global Peers have stuck with us throughout the weekend and week and have been organizing events and meeting us in classes with a smile. I can’t imagine CU putting this much energy into their international students, but I wish we did. The experience has been wonderful.
When I choose Colombia, somehow, I didn’t really process that I was heading to beach land. Looking back on it I’m not sure how I thought I was going to the Caribbean and didn’t think I was going to the beach but here we are. Given my misconceptions were quickly corrected, we spent a good chunk of the weekend at the beach. According to the locals, the beach near Barranquilla isn’t a very nice but we thought it was gorgeous. It’s a darker sand beach and the water is somewhat cloudy from the Magdalena River, and I suppose in comparison to the white sands and crystal waters promised by the more touristic cities of Santa Marta and Cartagena nearby, it would look rather shabby. Nevertheless, for miss-landlocked-Colorado-girl it was straight up gorgeous. We spent much of the weekend enjoying it, along with lovely drinks from the hotel/beach restaurant/club that spills its umbrellas and music out onto the sand. We also spent a good chunk of Saturday afternoon being confused tourists and trying to figure out why the lifeguards (yes, it’s a patrolled beach) periodically call everyone out of the water. Adding to the vacation feel, a group of us also checked out a local club on Friday night, which despite definitely not being a scene I’m used to, was a fun experience and hey that’s what we are here for.
Part 2: Remembering we are here for school
After a beach vacation of a weekend, we rolled into the start of school and the challenges of being a freshman again. Not only have we yet to find an easy bus route map because there are 5+ bus companies in the city, they also don’t seem to post times for the busses. I’ve yet to figure out if the locals know when the bus is coming or if they are just frequent enough that you just wait until it shows up. To add to all of this they are fixing the highways by Uninorte so the route keeps changing. So far, between busses and ubers though, I have yet to get lost, so it’s not impossible. Y’all know if anyone could get lost it would be me. Everything definitely moves slower and takes more time here though. I’m so used to controlling my own transportation in the states, i.e. walking, biking or driving everywhere, and with that I can figure out exactly how long it takes to get places and leave with exactly that much time. To be fair that leads to my perpetual state of being 2 min late but it’s still possible to time your trips in the states. Here it seems it takes however long it takes and if you want to be on time to school which is about a 15 min trip, you’d better be leaving 30-45 early. Thanks to that, people roll into the first classes of the day anywhere from 15 min early (me this morning) to 20 min late. On the upside, the busses are in fact frequent and as a Colombian friend put it, ‘a thousand and one busses go past the university.’ Oh, and my morning ride only costs $2600 pesos which is like $0.60 USD. Ok enough about transportation already.
The university itself is quite nice. It was founded in 1966 and has about 14,000 students. The campus is gated and feels incredibly safe inside. The architecture is a mix of classic concrete blocks and some newer, modern buildings all of which are quite nice inside. Once you enter any of the buildings it would be hard to tell you weren’t in nearly any other well-to-do school. That is unless you look out the windows and see the tropical trees and iguanas lying around. Campus has everything you could possibly need from the library, to the gym, to a hair salon and a network of restaurants. The restaurants all go by the name ‘Du Nord’ apparently because one of the high ups at the school for a while (I honestly forgot who) was French and thought it would look fancy. It leads to a hilarious mixing of languages such as the food truck ‘El Camion by Du Nord.’ Yeah, you read that right that’s Spanli-French. In addition to the tropical vegetation and massive iguanas, campus is also home to many cats. I’ve been told they all have names, and many are quite friendly. It’s not uncommon to have one brush up against you while having lunch or waiting for a class.
Speaking of waiting for classes, their class schedule here is rather interesting or shall I say confusing. Classes start at 6:30am – yikes – and end at 8:30pm – also a little yikes for a commuter campus - and because you don’t have much control over your schedule you can end up with situations like I have right now where you have 9 hours between classes. They also don’t seem to have the same M/W/F T/Th system the CU uses. It seems most classes have a 2-hour block and a 1 hr block and they can be scheduled whenever. I have one class that is 6:30am-8:30am one day and 7:30pm-8:30pm the next. Another little fun scheduling thing is that there are no passing periods. You can have a class end at 4:30 and one that starts at 4:30. Most of the time the profs will let class out 5-10 min early and it seems to just be accepted that you might be a few minutes late to class. Heck, even the professors have been late to class a few times already.
Getting my classes sorted out has also been interesting and we have yet to fully settle them as some of the classes I was told were going to be offered didn’t end up being offered and I ended up switching into some classes I didn’t know existed – including one in Spanish. But little by little we are getting it figured out, so I am trying not to stress. It’s going to be a semester of humanities for me which will be a change but so far, I’ve really enjoyed all my classes. The ‘English’ classes this week have been a rather enjoyable Spanglish as when going over details of the class it’s a lot easier to do in everyone’s primary language. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying flipping between languages and I’m starting to catch myself unintentionally mixing Spanish and English together in sentences that make perfect sense to me but are completely incomprehensible in either language. Classes here also seem to run a lot smaller than I’m used to at home. My largest seems to be no more than 25-30 students. Finally for a little bit of culture shock, or more likely taking humanities classes: the professors have been assuring us how easy the exams are and that if we come to class and pay attention we will pass. This is a rather stark change from engineering syllabus week which always seems to try its best to scare you into studying like your life depends on it.
Miss you all back home but I can’t say I’m missing being cold. Chao, Jasey