Hola! As the first week of this big adventure is coming to a close I wanted to take the time to share some photos and first impressions of my soon to be life here. The first week has largely consisted of getting my feet on the ground and meeting the other students, who will hopefully soon to be close friends. There’s a lot to say, so let me start from the beginning.
I had the great fortune to accidentally have chosen the same study abroad program as my friend Angela. Angela and I have known each other since freshman year but neither of us knew we were doing the same program until after we had committed. Our flight down was smooth, other than it being 45 degrees in Miami (that’s possible??) and of course they were running the air conditioning. The combination made for a rather unfortunate airport floor sleeping experience. None the less we arrived in the much less chilly Barranquilla! Interestingly one of the biggest surprises for me has been just how nice the weather is here. After being warned time and again of the heat I was expecting to walk off the plane into a heat wave but instead found myself in a pleasantly warm, sunny day with a light sea breeze. After many conversations it has become clear that we arrived in peak weather and the heat I’ve been warned of is still to come. We are in the land of only 2 seasons: dry and wet. Until late April or May they see very little rain and the days are quite pleasant with a good ocean breeze and few bugs. (At least in the north end of town where we are). However, come May the rains begin, the breeze stops and the city starts having to worry about Arroyos, or urban rivers, caused by flash floods. As for the recommendation to bring jeans, it was correct. It appears to be completely fine to wear shorts and dresses in the streets but between air conditioning (only at the university) and customs there are few pairs of exposed legs once you enter the campus.
Angela and I had the great fortune that a student from a previous semester was visiting Angela’s host family the day after we arrived. She offered to take us to get a classic drink called Patillazo. We purchased it from a little street corner stand that appears to be famous within the city and where able to enjoy the refreshing watermelon juice/lemon juice/watermelon chunks experience while watching the slight chaos of Latin American streets.
The city itself is large and rather sprawling with more than 2 million residents. Unlike most US cities there isn’t a defined, central skyline or area of the city that is obviously downtown. Instead the city has many neighborhoods and areas of tall buildings sprout up amongst short ones. Unlike Costa Rica they do have a full address system so it’s not too hard to get around with Google maps but there is no centralized bus system so finding routes seems to require some local knowledge. The Uber system however has been incredibly easy and tends to run only $2-$3 a ride. Speaking of money the mental math is getting a work out as it is about 4,700 COP to a dollar which means prices are in the 10s of thousands often. Luckily things here seem to be fairly cheap compared to the states. This has led, however, to being warned never try to pay a bus fair with about the equivalent of a $10 bill because it’s too big for them to break. It’s been quite the switch from my cashless lifestyle back home.
My host mom lives in an apartment about a 15 minute roller coaster bus ride from school. (I don’t envy people learning to drive in these streets). Farides, or Mamá has she quickly had us calling her, is an incredibly sweet woman with all the time in the world to talk, cook for us and join in impromptu bedroom dance parties. I am sharing the house with another student, Olivia from Wisconsin, as well as a little furry friend named max. Olivia and I have hit it off from day one and I’m looking forward to many adventures with her!
Tuesday marked the first of four days of orientation. The academic year here starts in January so we have been mixed in with the general chaos of freshman orientation. Interestingly, the local students graduate high school at 16 so our little international group is significantly older than the 16 and 17 year old freshman filling the rest of campus. We are at what turns out to be one of the fancier private universities around with incredibly high tuition compared to other schools (or at least so I’ve been told) which only makes me question the US college system more given tuition here is on par with CU in state. Needless to say, the school is very nice and much larger than I was expecting. Unlike many of the US schools its campus is not open and you have to scan through guarded gates upon entering.
Because it’s also freshman orientation this week we were treated to a show involving a crazy variety of music and dance styles. Including everything from traditional dance and salsa to a Micheal Jackson inspired number. The rest of orientation has been less flashy but mostly useful. However, I do feel like the freshman I never was (covid and all) getting herded around with eyes that can’t take enough in and playing ice breakers. Only this time the information overload has come largely in Spanish and the get to know you conversations fluctuate wildly between languages. It’s not uncommon for a conversation to flip flop mid sentence between English and Spanish or to hear phrases translated into German or French.
I am here with an exchange program called ISA along with 8 other students from across the US. We are joined by roughly 50 other students from across the Americas and Europe. Despite the short time we’ve been here we have already found time to explore and get to know each-other. One of our first adventures was to a crazy mall that far surpassed any I’ve been in in the US (granted you know how much I frequent the malls). While looking at restaurants in this mall we where approached by a very sweet girl offering to help us. She had two friends with her and spoke excellent English. They seemed like they had an agenda but none of us could figure out what it was. We chatted for a while and asked for food and drink recommendations. When they said their goodbyes they left us with a letter through which we discovered we had been asking for drink recommendations from the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
After orientation days conclude we’ve been exploring the city and have discovered some very fun rooftop restaurant/bars with fun local favorites including patacones (a favorite of mine from Ecuador made from fried plantain) and crazy fruit drinks. It’s been a great way to spend the lovely Barranquilla evenings and get to know the other ISA students!
I’ll be back next week with more updates on Barranquilla life but until then I hope things are going well at home or on whatever adventures you’re on and I’d love to hear from you!