Colombian Happiness Culture
“Si si Colombia si si Caribe”. This expression is one of the most commonly used phrases to define the Colombian state of mind. Colombians use it to show that they have a positive vision of life and they want to enjoy it. When I arrived in Colombia, this positive way of life was my first strong impression. In France people are not as positive as Latinos, nor do we have this “happiness” culture. In Colombia, people sing and dance in the street, they have a true “Latino spirit”.
Before going to Colombia, I knew about several stereotypes about this country, stemming from the bad press and history of the FARC, and drug trafficking problems. I remember that my mother was very afraid when I told her that I wanted to do a student exchange in Colombia. She didn’t totally agree with my decision but she finally accepted my choice. Looking back, I think she was anxious because everything she had heard about Colombia at that point in time, was bad. The media reported only negative information and as always, there was no mention of the good aspects of the country, people or culture. Nowadays Colombia is defined as a new “El Dorado” with magnificent untouched national parks and a dazzling culture waiting to be discovered.
My trip to Colombia began on January 18th, 2014. At the beginning, I was both excited and stressed, but quickly these emotions were replaced with joy and curiosity. I was curious to discover how Colombians lived, what they ate, what was the national sport (football of course!). I just wanted to get to know the culture, the traditions and live my experience 100%. When I first arrived, I was living with Colombians, Venezuelans and Hondurians. It was hard at the beginning to understand everything, since my Spanish was terrible and I used to answer by only saying “si, claro”, meaning “yes, sure”. Sometimes people would respond to me with a strange hesitant look wondering if my answer truly meant a simple “yes, sure” or something else full of endless possibilities. I’m sure that people who travel understand what I’m saying…
After a few weeks of going to university and making new Colombian friends, my Spanish had improved and I could finally have a real conversation with locals (which was very enjoyable!). I felt that my French friends and I had integrated in the country. It was funny because since we were among the first Europeans that attended La Salle University in Bogotá, people were intrigued by us. Professors and students were so interested in our country, our culture, and especially our opinions about Colombia. They asked us what differences we saw between their country and ours. It was great to be sharing our differences, and learning about their idea of France. One of the biggest surprises for me was that our Colombian friends asked if we take showers everyday! I wanted to say “Of course! Do you take showers everyday?”
I have also had the chance to discover a bit of Colombia. With some friends we travelled by bus to Medellin and we had a safe journey without any problems. The only inconvenience we encountered was the freezing air conditioning in the bus. If you don’t bring a blanket, you can get really sick after spending hours in an arctic climate!
At some point my family was able to join me on my trip and we visited the Caribbean coast and the coffee growing region of Colombia. My mother knows a little bit of Spanish but my father and sister don’t speak a word. For them, it wasn’t very easy to communicate with the locals. Several times my father tried to negotiate in French, which must have been frustrating for him and for the locals, but was hilarious to stand back and watch. Groups of street vendors would follow us down the street in touristy areas on the Caribbean coast, haggling us with the hopes of selling us anything possible! Fortunately we got a break from the chaos by staying at a quiet relaxing hostel in the coffee region, which made for the perfect family holiday!
I left Colombia on the 23rd of July 2014 after a little bit more than 6 months living there, and my vision of this country is great. There are still some changes that need to be made, but nothing is perfect. Similar to many countries in Latin America there is a lot of corruption in Colombia, but in general the country is improving little by little. As always, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and be discreet, however I never really felt unsafe during my trip. I would highly recommend to everyone to visit this amazing country where you can find incredible landscapes, lively culture and traditions, with heartwarming and friendly people!
GO TO COLOMBIA, and immerse yourself in the “Locombia” way of life!
Discover the best of the Colombian coast from urban architecture to pristine nature on this 5-day trip through Cartagena, Santa Marta, and Tayrona National Park: Caribbean Coast Adventure 5D/4N