Kristin came to Colombia from America in 2009. She lives in Cali and blogs here. This photo was taken photo at Ciudad Perdida near Santa Marta, Colombia.
LCO: Where are you from originally and how did you end up in Colombia?
KR: I am originally from the Twin Cities, Minnesota. I found my way to Colombia by way of a job offer teaching math. I knew that I wanted to live somewhere Spanish-speaking to practice the language more extensively and Colombia felt like a good choice.
LCO: How do you earn a living in Colombia?
KR: I teach 8th grade math an international school in Cali, Colombia. Just like teachers elsewhere, I work eight hours a day for five days a week…not including the times I bring papers home to grade.
LCO: In three sentences, what does Colombia mean to you?
KR: Colombia is a beautiful mess. The people, the landscapes, the culture, and the language are all stunningly gorgeous…but they all have something to prove. At the end of the day, Colombia is a country with people who work hard everyday to create a new reputation for themselves and their country.
LCO: Other travelers are visiting Colombia more often now. What advice do you have for them?
KR: However long you think you are planning to stay in Colombia, you should double it. You won’t regret the extra time spent discovering the hidden treasures.
LCO: What’s your favorite type of Colombian meal?
KR: San Cocho, which is soup with a big piece of chicken in the middle of it, served with white rice, avocado and patacones (smashed plantains).
LCO: What do you miss most from home?
KR: Besides the obvious answers of family and friends, I miss efficiency the most. Living here you get used to “tiempo colombiano”, Colombian time, and how everything starts later and takes longer, but I still miss that about the States.
LCO: What is your favorite way to spend your free time in Colombia?
KR: On my balcony in my hammock looking over Cali.
LCO: What are the biggest differences between your home town and the city where you live in Colombia?
KR: Cali is one of the three big cities (Bogota, Cali, Medellin) in Colombia, so it very much operates like a large US city. Back in Minnesota I lived in the suburbs, so public transportation did not function for me effectively. In Cali, that is all I know and I am glad for it. Additionally, in the United States we are used to having more food options. There are Mexican, Thai, Indian, Chinese, Nepalese, American, Irish, Ethiopian, etc. restaurants to choose from and even more choices for foods to buy in the grocery store. For the most part, Colombians stick to rice, meat and beans…and while it is possible to find other options, they are not as plentiful.
LCO: What’s the most challenging situation you’ve faced as an expat in Colombia and how did you deal with it?
KR: I have relatively fair skin with strawberry-blond hair, so needless to say I stick out a bit in Colombia. Before living here I had never lived somewhere for an extended period of time where I was so obviously in the minority. Now, that is one of my favorite things about Colombia, but it definitely took some getting used to. The people who come up and say hi just because they can tell you are an American. The men who sometimes whistle on the street, etc. I take it all in stride now but the experience has given me a whole new world of respect for people who embrace a culture or a place where they are different in some way from the majority.
LCO: Tell us a story about one memorable Colombian who you have met along the way.
KR: A colleague I work with at school is Colombian and from the very beginning of my time in Colombia he has helped me to understand the intricacies and idiosyncracies of this culture. He speaks English as well, so that helps sometimes to clarify explanations, but more than anything our friendship has just helped me learn so much about this place. Because of him I often feel like I know more of the real Colombia and not just the places that tourists go and see. I think making local friends is essential as an expat because it makes you feel more at home, like you are really building a life for yourself, and not just on the road all the time.
For more interviews with expats in Colombia, watch this space.