The Realities of Living Abroad

A kite at the Kite Festival in Villa de Leyva, Colombia.

Written by  September 27, 2013

What working abroad looks like once the honeymoon is over.

Wow, what a hectic few months. Unfortunately the blog has been on a bit of a hiatus while I’ve been travelling and then settling back in to work with additional responsibilities for the new term and barely a moment to think.

Things finally seem to be calming down now, giving me a chance to get back onto it.

So what’s new? I spent some time in Argentina for the summer break, home of incredible wine and steak, and terrible Internet connections. Argentina is majestic, delicious, romantic, captivating and many other things besides. Within hours of our arrival in Buenos Aires my boyfriend and I had blurted out simultaneously that we’d like to live there, although whether this happens or not remains to be seen! 

Food shopping was a euphoric experience. When out hunting for dinner supplies in a Bariloche supermarket, at the charcuterie section I was already salivating uncontrollably. By the time I reached the cheese I was on the verge of sobbing. Any stubborn expat will know that equal joy and shame of the Tesco smash and grab on home visits and this was no different. Lack of European food aside, being away gave me time to reflect honestly on our experience in Colombia so far.

As this blog’s main purpose for me is reflective, I’m not going to dress it up. I’ve asked myself since I got here what made me choose Colombia to return to out of all the countries I visited five years ago. In truth I’ve found it quite difficult to reconcile my passion for Colombia with the sneaking acknowledgement it hasn’t been a particularly happy first few months here. Bogota can be a challenging place to live. It’s polluted, the public transport system is appalling and, although I’ve spent years defending the place, it’s not the safest of cities, especially for foreigners. I have had pretty bad luck but four robberies so far isn’t a great track record.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, the key to loving Colombia is in experiencing its natural beauty and the incredible friendliness of its people. Spending 90 per cent of my time in work doesn’t leave much left to do this. Thinking about all this in Argentina, I decided to stop trying to convince myself of Bogota’s fantasticness and be realistic. And funnily enough, now I’ve stopped pretending, I’ve started to have a much better time.

In what ways you ask Well for a start, a sneaky weekend away at the Kite Festival in Villa de Leyva a few hours from Bogota. Though the kites are very pretty, we didn’t see a great deal of them due to the limp weather. However, the festival de cometas’ real draw is it’s full-on party atmosphere. Picture hoards of Colombians of all ages crammed into a vast colonial square sharing aguardiente (Colombia’s national tipple) with anyone in their vicinity.  Colombians love to party.

Hungover, but happy, we headed back early Monday morning in a friend’s car narrowly avoiding road blockades staged by Colombian bus drivers, which trapped many of our kite party friends for the next couple of days. Colombia has been the stage of various recent protests by farmers facing bankruptcy in the face of unsupportive government policy, joined by teachers, care workers and students alike in a show of solidarity. These have been mostly peaceful but unfortunately violence erupted in Bogota last week leading to two deaths and the appearance of military patrols on the streets. This week, Bogota has settling down but with more blockades and protests threatened there is still an edgy air about the place. Let's see what happens in the next few weeks.

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Jessica Brook

Teaching English as a second language began as an opportunity for adventure abroad and became Jessica Brook’s career, living in both Japan and South Sudan. Since a solo trip in South America, she has wanted to return, and recently began a new placement in Colombia.

Website: https://southsudaninnit.wordpress.com/

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