After almost five weeks in Colombia, I came home.
This was not the narrative I had planned for my little overseas dalliance. I was supposed to be in Colombia for over six months, set to return in mid-December. I thought I’d come back fulfilled, with perfect Spanish and tons of amazing stories and not even wanting to return home. Life had other plans, though, I suppose.
First, let me say that I don’t for one second regret the decision to come to Colombia. It’s an amazing place with so many great things about it, and I got to experience a new country for five weeks. Colombians have a love for life that I haven’t seen anywhere else, and nearly everyone I encountered was very helpful and friendly, which is more than I can say for a lot of Americans. And if we follow each other on Instagram on Facebook, you saw the photos I posted periodically and likely assumed I was having the absolute time of my life. I guess I figured I should put on a happy face for all the people who supported and encouraged me to do this thing, but the jig is up now, so to speak. (Lesson #1: Social media lies.)
So, what happened? A lot of things.
First, the teaching program that I signed up for failed to disclose a slew of factors at the outset that might have changed my decision as to whether I went in the first place. It had only been revealed during training in Bogotá that we wouldn’t have a break longer than a three-day weekend during the six-month program (another “gotcha!” factor that wasn’t disclosed before signing on) and I also learned that I’d be the only teacher from our cohort in my placement city. Barranquilla, where I was assigned, is unbelievably hot (think Southeast Asia-level hot, all year long) and my body wasn’t reacting well to it. Aside from sweating pretty much constantly, and somehow (warning: TMI but critical detail to underscore my point about the heat) managing to get a yeast infection in my belly button (yes, it’s mortifying to even type this and even more mortifying to explain to the droguería so you can get some medicated cream to deal with that ridiculousness), Barranquilla and I just didn’t click. It’s a very industrial city with not a lot of culture or events happening, and I never felt good there. These factors combined made for an altogether undesirable situation: oppressive heat, isolation, and a city I was exceedingly uncomfortable in.
I oscillated between hating my situation and hating myself pretty frequently. I kept thinking, “This is supposed to be my break from life; why do I hate this so much?!” And then I’d feel guilty for hating it and break down in ugly tears in the middle of the grocery store. Not a good feeling, nor a good look.
After giving it a couple of weeks, I was still miserable and wondering why I’d ever wanted to do this. (Lesson #2: Be careful what you wish for.) I approached my program coordinator about a potential transfer to another site. I petitioned my case for a transfer to the program director and and was summarily denied. At that point, my choices were: 1) endure the next six months in Barranquilla, or 2) cut my losses, swallow my pride, and come home. What would I prove by sticking out half a year of unhappiness? That I’m stupidly stubborn? (This is something I already knew about myself.) While contemplating these options, I learned that a good friend of mine in Austin is going through an incredibly difficult time, and that was all I needed to hear. I couldn’t stand the idea of me not being there for a friend in crisis. As soon as I clicked ‘Submit’ to purchase my flight home, I immediately felt relieved.
What I looked like the entire time I was in Barranquilla.
Requisite ‘Eat, Pray’, Love’-style travel photo. Not pictured: crying.
After I made the decision to come home, I went to Medellín for a week and, as predicted, I loved it. Had I been assigned to Medellín like I’d requested during the application process, things may have turned out differently. But everything went down the way that it did, and I can’t change that. In the end, it just wasn’t for me, and I really hated to have to admit that. There comes a point where you just have to let the dream die to do what’s best for your own well-being and happiness.
As weird and uncomfortable as I’ve felt these last several weeks, it doesn’t feel right at all (if not horribly obtuse and callous) to complain. I’d like to think that I’m self-aware enough to know that it takes a tremendous amount of privilege to even have the option of doing something like this, so in no way do I want to make it seem like this is an *actual* problem. A good amount of perspective comes from seeing all the horrible news with Orlando and Istanbul and Bangladesh and Baghdad and Saudi Arabia and Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and Dallas and OH MY GOD these are just the things that have happened since I left and came back. The biggest lesson I learned from all this is just how freaking good I (and likely you, if you’re reading this) have it, and I’ve never felt more grateful for the life I have.
Maybe I’ll write more later on about what I’ve learned once I’ve had some time to decompress and reflect on everything that’s happened. But for now I’m feeling humbled and thankful for all the support I have from family, friends and even the others in the program, some of whom are experiencing the same frustrations in Colombia.
I’m home, I’m okay, and I’m moving forward. And I’ll never complain about the Texas heat ever again.