In the months January/February I participated in the “We Speak”-project volunteering with AIESEC in Bogotá, Colombia. I taught women from the “Casa de Igualdad” (house of equality) English in the hope for them to become more self-confident and make them stand out from the crowd. It was the best experience in my life, but it took a bit of adjustment to make the most of it.
Dance like nobody’s watching, just enjoy!
My Top 8 Tips for doing an – out of Europe- Voluntary Experience with AIESEC:
When I arrived at the airport of Bogotá, it took 1.5 hours to get through the security. Eventually I came through and Luis (from Aiesec) brought me to a hostel where I stayed for 6 weeks. The idea was a host-family but they couldn’t find one. In the end, it was fine by me, because I really enjoyed the hostel!
2. Use body language
Duolingo has helped me a bit with practicing Spanish, but to function in Bogotá was a bigger challenge than I thought. On the streets, nobody understands English. That is why I had to use body language and step up my Spanish knowledge.
3. No dar papaya
“No dar papaya” – it’s a Colombian colloquial expression meaning as much as: don’t put yourself in a position in which someone can easily take advantage of you. Bogotá of course was not as safe as Groningen, where I come from. It is important that you are aware of that, because you have to act differently on the streets. I didn’t use my phone, I wore only jeans and t-shirts, all because I already stood out as a tourist (tall and blonde).
The place where I learned Spanish most, was in a language café. I started at the English table and eventually I learned a lot of Spanish at the Spanish table. It was a nice place to meet people, because everybody is open for it.
5. Try all the food
In my hostel I got Colombian breakfast every morning. First I had to get used to the food because it was very salty, but after a while I appreciated it. I think your tongue and body adapts to foreign food.
6. Use spare time to explore
I taught for only 2 hours a day, 5 days a week, so I had a lot of spare time. During the week I went with Serena (the girl I taught with) to explore Bogotá. On the weekends Serena, Karolina (Serena’s host) and I visited villages near Bogotá. Colombia has so much to offer!
7. Find a comfortable place
When I felt overwhelmed by the big city, the language, or the people, I travelled to Simon Bolivar Park. This was where I felt comfortable, to go there felt like a mental refreshment. It is important not to lose yourself during the trip, give yourself also some me-time!
8. Dance like nobody’s watching!
Colombia is famous for its salsa. As a dutch girl, I didn’t know how to dance. But who cares? Dance like nobody’s watching, just enjoy!
That is an important message for your whole trip:
This post was written by AIESEC in the Netherlands. We offer international voluntary projects and professional internships with the aim of developing leadership in youth. Read more of our experiences stories here.