I am slightly more than halfway through Phase II of post-law firm life: my Fauxbatical, Pseudotirement, Funemployment, Eat, Pray, Love life, whatever you call it. While in the airport waiting for my flight to Buenos Aires, I took some time to write a progress report tsd set some new goals.
A Review of the Goals: Overall grade: B-.
1. Being uncomfortable (B-/C+): My biggest discomfort is still with speaking Spanish when I’m not sure of how to say what I’m thinking. There were some times when I pushed myself to do it anyway; most of the time, I did not.
My Spanish has improved significantly, but has not come as far as I think it should have by now. This is entirely my fault. I found a wonderful living situation, but we spoke English in the apartment, so I was not forced to speak Spanish as much as I might have been in another living situation. Also, I listened to NPR every morning to keep up with the news at home instead of listening to Colombian radio.
For physical discomfort, I went paragliding. Like being on the trapeze, it was slightly terrifying at first. Then it was zen.
2. Experience the culture (A): My original homestay was nice, but was not exposing me to much culture. After three weeks, I moved into the guest bedroom of a married couple, G & T, which I found through AirBnB. This was great. T is Colombian and her parents have a finca in a pueblo a few hours from Bogotá. I spent a weekend there with them doing very typical things such as drinking a beer while watching the people in the main plaza, taking a hike, and playing rana (rana means frog; this is another Colombian game in which you try to throw small metal things into holes, including the frog’s mouths, to score points while drinking beer—unlike tejo, this does not involve explosions).
In addition, T & G are very active in Colombia’s chapter of United World Colleges, a network of boarding high schools in 14 countries offering an IB program to an international student body. We hosted students who had traveled to Bogotá to attend a ceremony welcoming new students and celebrating the recent high school graduates. That is something I never would have come across on my own. Some of these students come from poor families and UWC is a huge opportunity that likely will change their life’s trajectory.
Other cultural endeavors:
- The salsa classes I attended on a few Wednesday nights had more Colombians than extranjeros.
- I rode public transportation everywhere.
- I ate local foods, including ants and chicha de maíz, a fermented corn drink (I didn’t really like either very much, but the drink was better than the snacks).
3. Shake things up (A): I’m here!
4. Go to a play (D-): I am not giving myself an F because I watched a short play for children at La Feria Internaciónal del Libro de Bogotá (the Bogotá Book Fair) in April, and understood most of it. But this was not the type of play I had in mind when I set this goal. I definitely need to do this in Argentina.
A Review of the Predictions: Not many as expected
1. Clothes: My clothes were not as out of place as I feared. I think I am going to stick out as unfashionable more in Buenos Aires.
2. Being overcharged: I did not buy many things besides food, and I mostly shopped at stores with posted prices. I did buy my straw hat for the Galápagos on the street, but I paid $7 for it. If that was too much, I can live with it.
3. Lost in translation: I regularly said the wrong thing (on my last day in Bogotá asked for food “to arrive” instead of “to go”), but never in a way that was mortifying.
4. Poor decision because of limited understanding: It turns out that my transportation problems came not from my lack of understanding, but from my inability to be understood. During my first few weeks, I had more than one incident in which taxis took me to the wrong place because they did not understand where I was asking to go.
I discovered—or maybe confirmed is more accurate—that I like routines. I liked getting up and going to school every day, going out to lunch with other students, and taking salsa class on Wednesday nights or joining the cooking plans at home. Going into this phase, I was pretty sure that I did not want to travel continuously and move to a new place every few days; I’ve now confirmed that. I liked having a place to come “home” to where I could share stories of my travels, cook dinner, and do the laundry.
I did not fall in love with Colombia as a country (nor did I fall in love with anyone in the country). There are many things about it I like, but I do not feel compelled to relocate there, at least not at the moment.
In a total cliché, what I’m going to miss most are the people. I made some very good friends during my 3.5 months there and continued to meet new people even during my last weekend here. I am confident that had I remained in Colombia, many of these people would be the base of my friends.
Resolutions for Argentina:
1. Live more in Spanish. I am going to make sure I find a living situation that will demand more Spanish. I’m not sure I can give up my morning NPR, but I will find a way to listen to more Spanish media.
2. Go to more cultural events. I had an image of going to book talks or lectures or things like that, which also would help my language skills. I did not do any of this in Bogotá, even though I know the opportunities where there.
3. Plan my travel better. There are many places across Argentina to see and if I don’t put some dates on the calendar now, I will probably miss out on some of them. I waited too long in Colombia to make travel plans and as a result, did not travel to some of the most recommended cities.