27 Perks of Living and Teaching in Colombia

After my last post about the lessons I’ve learned in my first two months here, I realized some of them came across as negative when, in reality, they are the things I am learning to laugh at. Since there are so many wonderful perks of living in this country, I decided to highlight some.

1. I get to practice my Spanish day in and day out! Yes, people always immediately recognize me as a “gringa” as soon as I open my mouth, but it’s a really good feeling when you participate in an IEP meeting fully in Spanish and contribute and understand 99% of it!

2. There are little shops everywhere to get your fresh fruits and vegetables, basic groceries, drinks, and so on. Great for stopping by when you just need a couple things and don’t want to go to one of the big supermarkets.

3. As already mentioned, alcohol and any other goods can be delivered right to your door just by calling the corner shop.

4. You get to walk everywhere! Some people may hate this, but I really missed being within walking distance of everything when I lived in Indy.

5. People actually work out hard here and sweat as much as, if not more, than I do. Yes, the girls are wearing cutesy coordinated outfits, but usually they are actually doing something productive.

6. Exercise classes are way more fun in Spanish! Also, instead of random Zumba classes, I have the options of rumba, salsa, urbana, danzika, and more. I couldn’t be more happy.

7. Everyone is a good dancer and most people love to dance! No matter where you are, a small party, bar, or social gathering at school, there are always bound to be people dancing.

8. Certain things are cheaper here….produce, certain services, phone bills, medicines, and so on. Of course, other things like clothes, electronics, cereal, and hair products are more expensive.

9. Beauty treatments are readily available and cheaper than in the states. I’ve been seriously considering a keratin treatment on my hair, but that means I would potentially be sacrificing my curls for good…definitely for at least 3 months. But with this humidity, it may be worth it!

10. You can buy single cans of beer from nearly any corner store.

11. They have awesome juices that they make from all the different fruits. I’ve attempted them at home and don’t do the greatest job, but you can get them freshly made at several different places for cheap.

12. The weather is beautiful….year round!!! It still hasn’t sunk in that I will still be going to the pool come January. Especially after the polar vortex this past winter. Am I starting to miss a bit of fall weather and pumpkin spice lattes? Yes. But sunny weather day in, day out, really helps put you in a good mood!

13. I complained about it being difficult to get a regular iced coffee, but I didn’t mention that those granizados (blended iced coffee) are really quite delicious…

14. Most people are incredibly welcoming! Isn’t it always so in countries where they kiss each other on the cheek when they first meet you??

15. You need small denominations for your taxi rides, but that’s only because they’re so cheap! To go into the actual center of Bucaramanga (about a 15-20 minute taxi ride depending on traffic) is only about 8,000 pesos, or $4. Split that amongst 3 or 4 people and it’s dirt cheap.

16. The scenery! Even though I live in the city and don’t have nature immediately available, it’s always a good feeling to be walking home and looking up at the mountains around you. I can’t wait to visit the coffee region of Colombia over our fall break because it’s in the Andean region and supposedly even more gorgeous!

17. Teaching has way less pressure and stress than in the states. Most of the pressure I have is what I naturally put onto myself.

18. I have a great bilingual assistant in my classroom…never did I realize how many little extra things I’ve had to do and deal with until I’ve had her and she’s taken care of them.

19. I have so much prep time!! Even on my busiest day, Thursday, I have a morning prep from 9:45-10:30am when Spanish is in my room and another in the afternoon from 12:45-1:30pm when they are at Music.. I only have recess duty 3 days a week (really only 3 recesses out of 10 total recesses in the week). And I have a full lunch break. I still tend to scarf down my food because it’s what I’m so accustomed to, and I’m struggling to make the most productive use of my preps at the moment, but I wouldn’t trade the time for the world. (GB friends, don’t get jealous…you’re more than welcome to move to Colombia and teach here, too!)

20. Administration and parents (for the most part) fully respect you, your position, and your expertise. I’m given quite a bit of freedom to adapt my instruction for how I see fit and parents are asking my recommendations on extra tutoring for their children. Yes, more involved parents has definitely come at a cost that may drive me a bit crazy from time to time, but it’s well worth it.

21. (edited) I don’t know how I forgot to mention this the first time around, but Colombia has the second most number of national holidays, I’m pretty sure. This, coupled with the American holidays we also get off, means we have a 3 day weekend, or puente, as they call it at least once a month. Plus almost a week fall break, week at spring break, and 3 and a half weeks at Christmas. Yet, we still start at the beginning of August and get out by the second week of June. God knows we teachers need those breaks probably more than the kids!

22. CHIVAS. Enough said.

23. Consistent sunrise and sunset. This has helped me to be okay with getting up in the 5ams. When you’re walking to school at 6:15am, it doesn’t feel like when I was driving to those horrid 7:20am meetings where I felt like a zombie. Having full sun really helps! Of course, this means I’m ready to be asleep by 8pm.

24. Living in South America means it’ll be way easier for me to travel throughout the continent. While I’ve decided to come home this Christmas since most other expat teachers are also going home, I’m looking forward to exploring some other countries next summer! (I’ll be home Friday, December 19 to Wednesday, January 7. I want to see as many people as I can! You can still iMessage me if you have my email in my contact, or contact me via FB/email since my US phone number doesn’t exist anymore.)

25. Condiments come in squeezable bags instead of jars. At first I thought this peculiar, but now I’ve realized how convenient it is! They are smaller and you don’t need a knife to spread it.

26. Yes, all sorts of bugs in our home and around is terrifying, but on the flipside, I’m becoming less of a baby in dealing with them (until we have dead geckos or cockroaches…then my roommate is the brave one). I figure by the time I return to the states someday, little spiders won’t scare me anymore.

27. Frozen yogurt is everywhere! I’m obviously in heaven and may or may not get it on the way home from the gym 2-3 times a week. My favorite part is that they have plain or chocolate yogurt, but you choose a frozen fruit or two to blend into the frozen yogurt as it comes out of the machine. I try new combinations nearly every time I go.

Coming up with these 27 things was quite easy, and I know I could come up with more if I tried. Colombia is really an incredible country that is changing for the better more and more as time passes. I’m very fortunate to live in a city where I have many creature comforts of home, beautiful weather, safety, and a supportive school community. Obviously I’m still adjusting and go through periods of up and down, but I honestly don’t know if it could get much better! 🙂

27 Lessons I’ve Learned in Colombia

**I just want to preface this by saying these “lessons” are not always true, but definitely things I have experienced at one point or another during my first two months in Colombia. Others are accurate time and time again.

  1. Toilet paper, electricity, hot water, and soap are precious commodities. You will need to carry napkins in your purse, get used to cold showers, and become accustomed to losing electricity at school periodically.
  2. If you’re at least an hour late, you’re on time. If a bus says it will take 2 hours, multiply by 2 and add 10 minutes. Same goes for departure times.
  3. “Pare”, Spanish for “stop”, does not actually mean stop. It’s more of a suggestion. It means maybe slow down and honk to let cars know you’re coming. Or just honk because you feel like it…because that seems to be the thing to do.
  4. You must have small denominations of cash for your taxis, or you’re screwed.
  5. You become accustomed to itching and scratching from all the weird bug bites and rashes you will get.
  6. Problems with drug trafficking are the least of your worries. It’s the traffic itself that will probably get you. Taxis and motos seem to live for nearly running down pedestrians.
  7. You can get a mani/pedi for the same price as a container of ice cream or jar of peanut butter.

    Yes, I have baby nails, but it's not stopping me from getting fun, cheap manicures!

    Yes, I have baby nails, but it’s not stopping me from getting fun, cheap manicures!

  8. You will sweat through at least three articles of clothing a day, including your underwear.
  9. Wearing see through shirts is the norm.
  10. Always have alcohol on hand for bus rides. No worries if the bus is broken while driving on the edge of a cliff at night in the rain.
  11. Que vive la chiva! Party buses in the states are no comparison for a chiva. Hopefully you don’t value your toenails or dignity. What happens on the chiva stays on the chiva….we hope.

    Chiva = Colombian version of a party bus. Way less safe and way more fun.

    Chiva = Colombian version of a party bus. Way less safe and way more fun.

  12. Bus stations are actually just alleyways. Sometimes you will buy your tickets from random men on the street, and you even get a better deal.
  13. You will learn to like aguardiente (“guaro”)….or rather, you’ll drink it yet still hate it.
  14. All food must be kept in the refrigerator or you will have streams of ants in your kitchen.
  15. Bugs are way bigger and will attack.
    A cockroach that kept running toward me and I was spraying with bathroom cleaner. Took way too long to die.

    A cockroach that kept running toward me and I was spraying with bathroom cleaner. Took way too long to die.

    Ant that was crawling across my kitchen floor. But he was no ordinary sugar ant like the hundreds of others we've had.

    Ant that was crawling across my kitchen floor. But he was no ordinary sugar ant like the hundreds of others we’ve had.

  16. Get used to having dirty feet and floors. You’re only guaranteed a clean floor for 10 minutes after mopping.
  17. Air conditioning is a rarity. As are iced coffees…literally just cold coffee over ice is difficult to explain and you’re bound to end up with a granizado anyways (blended coffee).
  18. Allow 30 minutes to download a 20 minute show. Don’t even think about trying to stream a movie.
  19. The weather is consistent and if it rains, it pretty much only rains between 3pm and 7pm.
  20. Going to the pool is a serious affair…don’t forget your cap and you better not wear sunscreen or you won’t be in the water.
  21. Waiting in lines doesn’t follow the same rules as in the states. Be quick and be aggressive.
  22. You can’t be afraid of buying raw meat hanging outside in the heat for hours…or seeing the chicken heads as they tear apart the body on the street in front of you.
  23. Your safety is based primarily on how smart you are with your choices. No railings or cones put out to give warning.

    The buses drive like this...if you're not careful, you may fall out.

    The buses drive like this…if you’re not careful, you may fall out.

  24. Alcohol can be delivered literally to your front door with only a phone call to the corner shop…for a mere 500 pesos extra (~25 cents) and zero ID. Great for those rough days of school when you can’t even leave the house!

    Our (2nd) bottle of wine that was delivered to our door on Monday night for a mere total of $10.

    Our (2nd) bottle of wine that was delivered to our door on Monday night for a mere total of $10.

  25. You must figure out how to use a match and quick, or else singe all the hair off your hand as you attempt to light your gas stove or water heater every day.
  26. Anything you try to do will take at least 3 times as long as originally anticipated. This includes getting things fixed at your home, buying items at a store, going to a bank, and so on.
  27. There are so many fruits that you can’t actually eat. Some even look like slimy snot…but most do make delicious juices.

    Granadilla...I really don't care for it, but I think it's because the texture and seeds get to me.

    Granadilla…I really don’t care for it, but I think it’s because the texture and seeds get to me.