In the months January/February I participated in the “We Speak”-project for 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!