Colombia update: expectations versus reality

So I’ve been putting off writing any kind of Colombia update because… well, because being here has been more difficult than I imagined. I’ve been waiting for my mood and attitude to change, but I figured it’s good to be honest, and I want to chronicle what’s *actually* going on with me, so here it is.

I can actually track my mood changes by scrolling through the photos on my phone. Bogotá was great. Being with the teacher cohort of about 50 other people and going through training together was a lot of fun. Our days were more or less scheduled, and we did have some free time to get out and explore the city. It was mostly sunshine and lollipops, with a lot to look forward to.

Arrival in Barranquilla: initially I noticed the heat, of course. It really is hot here most of the time: like, around 90 degrees Fahrenheit and pretty humid, most of the year. The city itself… I’m not sure how to feel about it quite yet. The center where I’m teaching is in a part of town that everyone tells me not to live in, so I’ll likely have a bus commute of about an hour each way every day. Not terribly thrilled about that. I’m staying in an AirBnB for about the first month I’m here, and the bedroom I have is about the size of my closet at home. There are two adults and a seven-year-old boy living in the house I’m at, and I constantly feel like I’m intruding on their lives, even through I’m paying to be here.

This past weekend, I wanted a distraction so I hopped a bus to Cartagena, a beach city about a two-hour drive away. The visit there was some good, some not as good. I treated myself to a hotel room for two nights and just walked around. There’s a big group of teachers based there, and I ran into a group of them while they were having lunch right after I first arrived. It sounded like they were having some of the same problems and concerns too, which made me feel better that I had people to commiserate with, but also worried that we’d all signed up for one thing and were given quite another.

A few days ago, I tripped and fell on a giant curb (this city’s streets and sidewalks are all in bad shape, so I suppose it was just a matter of time that this happened) and twisted my ankle. I was a bit shell-shocked and no one stopped to help. Teary-eyed and hurt both physically and emotionally, I limped back to the apartment. Yesterday my ankle felt okay enough for me to limp to the grocery store a few blocks away and get some supplies: I was mostly just jazzed to escape from my tiny bedroom. On the plus side, Netflix does work here so I was able to binge-watch the entire fourth season of Orange is the New Black within a day and a half (SO. GOOD.)

I’m supposed to be at the center doing pre-planning and prep work for the next trimester set to start on July 11th, but that hasn’t happened yet. Colombia in general just seems to dislike plans (or, rather, loves to change them at the last minute), which I was prepared for, but it’s no less frustrating when you’re basically sitting around waiting for something to get done. I feel isolated, hot, and like I’ve make the biggest mistake of my life. I miss my house, my cats, my boyfriend… I had so much hope for this being a life-changing, eye-opening experience, and so far it’s been a series of minor catastrophes.

Adjusting to any new culture is hard, but it’s frustrating when I’ve traveled and studied abroad before and felt like I’d be ready for these types of challenges. I’m trying to stay positive and just waiting for the school term to start so I can get into a more reliable routine and feel like I have purpose again.

The photos I’ve posted on social media tell part of the story. Yes, I’ve seen some great things and met some incredible people. But it’s not easy to come out and say, “Hey, I’m kind of hating life right now!” on Facebook when so many friends and family are supporting me and by all accounts I should be thrilled with my situation. Photos have a way of hiding the truth in a way that I suspect happens with a lot of us: social media pages present our lives in the best light, and that’s exactly what’s been happening with me since I arrived in Colombia nearly three weeks ago.

Don’t feel sorry for me, because I know I shouldn’t feel sorry for myself either. Things will get better: I’ll find my groove, my people, and my purpose soon. It might just take a little while to get there.

6 thoughts on “Colombia update: expectations versus reality

  1. April

    Hey Liz! I have to tell you, I felt this way when I went to Europe last summer. I actually tried to articulate it into a blog post but could never figure out how to! Thank you for your honesty!

    I hope that you find your tribe over there (this was key for me) and are able to slowly familiarize yourself with your surroundings which I think will give you some comfort, too. I’m crossing my fingers for you that things will get better in time!

    I’ve heard the people in Colombia are generally very friendly and I’ve also heard it’s extremely beautiful. Good luck to you!!


    1. Liz

      Thank you for your encouraging words! Yes, Colombians are generally friendly and parts I’ve seen are beautiful. It’s just been kind of a hard adjustment, which makes me frustrated and sad at the same time, considering how pumped I’ve been for this experience for a long time before I left. I’ve traveled, I’ve done this and that, but I suppose culture shock is just something that can’t be avoided. I’m finding things here and there that I like, so it’s getting better. It will just be a matter of time that it starts to feel “normal”. Thanks again for letting me know I’m not alone!


  2. Robyn Fulfer

    Hang in there friend! Go find some candy and more flowers! I think you will b better when you get a place of your own!


    1. Liz

      GIRL, thanks! Candy is definitely helping: I’ve found some good ones here. 🙂 Hugs from Colombia!


  3. Cris

    Being from Costa Rica originally, I can relate to much of what you describe. Everything from the heat (I have resorted to laying on tile floors to cool down), the driving (I tell friends who visit that CR is known for adventure tourism and driving is part of the adventure), to the outfits (I’ll sometimes feel self-conscious wearing shorts despite the 90+ degree weather), it all sounds very familiar.
    This is a brave, bold move you took, so take pride in that. So many of us talk about these things and don’t do them. I bet you’re doing much better because you’ve had previous travel experiences, and better yet, think how well you’ll be able to handle whatever else comes down the road.


    1. Liz

      Cris, thank you for your comment. Yes, it’s been a rough go here: the heat is one thing, and it’s not gotten easier. But we’ll see how it goes. Thanks again. 🙂


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