Find your Passion, and then Live it

Medellín, Colombia

Monday, February 28, 2011

1st Weekend in Medellín!

My first weekend in Medellín has been a busy one. On Saturday I helped out with the AIESEC EAFIT Chapter during the day. They were doing evaluations for new members. Over 100 people would show up over 2 days to be evaluated and possibly allowed to join their AIESEC Chapter... it was very intense. The potential new members had to go through various activities and games where their social, leadership, communication and problem solving skills were evaluated. I also met a lot of new people along with a guy from Australia who is working with an NGO in Evigado (town next to Medellín) and guy from Czech Republic who is teaching English within the university.

At night, I moved into my new apartment! I met my new roommates, who are called Alexa, Alexandra and Viviana. Alexa and Alexandra are both students, and Viviana works. They are all so nice, and we speak only Spanish to each other. When I arrived into my room they had Welcome signs made, which was so cute.

My room is a pretty decent size, I have a bed, desk, chair and a pretty good sized closet. The living room in my apartment is fairly large with sofas and tables. The kitchen is a bit smaller, but not too small. The best part about my apartment are the following things: 1. It´s right across the street from where I work, so it literally takes me one minute to walk to work. The longest part of my journey is waiting for the traffic to stop so I can cross the road lol. 2. It has a swimming pool, sauna, beautiful exotic trees/flowers, and terrace seating areas. 3. It has 24/7 security with large gates. So its very safe. 4. There is a supermarket and a large mall right across the street from my apartment as well, so everything is incredibly close!

After I moved in, I headed out with my Godmother (Sara), her boyfriend and some other AIESEC people to another AIESECers birthday. We started the night at a bar called Medellín Beer Factory. Where I played pool (the Colombian way, which is way harder than just your standard stripes and solids game of pool), darts, and other drinking games. After drinking a jarra (pitcher) of beer or two with my friends, I went to Parque Lleras which is a popular hang out with many many bars, with Kevin, David and Juliana. We basically went from bar to bar, trying different drinks and checking out different bars. David took us to El Alamo, which gives free Cuba Libres (rum and cokes) to women after 12midnight (gotta love being a girl!).

Then I went to a bar called Chupitos, which has all sorts of shots that can be lit on fire etc. After 4 or 5 bars, we decided to stop and get some food before heading home. I got a gigantic slice of pizza,which had all kinds of meat on it. After pizza we called it a night at 330am. lol

On Sunday I met up with my Madrina (godmother, Sara), to go grocery shopping. She took me to Carrefour which is a huge store that sells everything from groceries, to electronics, home decor, to personal hygiene items.
Basically anything you could need. Going shopping with Sara was super helpful, as when you are in a different country you arent familiar with different brands for food, clothing etc. So you dont really have a (this is going to sound super nerdy) perceptual map for brands in your head, because you havent grown up with them (see business school has paid off lol). So she explained to me the different types of brands, whats good, what´s not, and what´s cheap. I ended up buying a hairdryer and a towel as well as my groceries. The craziest part was my grocery bill came to $230,000 !!! Which is around $100. The Colombian Peso currency symbol is $, just like in Canada. All the prices in Colombia seem really expensive because they have so many zeros, but basically you divide everything by $2,000.

Some items I bought with different packaging:

Something interesting that happens on Sundays in Medellín, is a major road within the city closes so no cars can drive on it. Then people are able to walk, run, bike, and rollarblade on the ride without worrying about cars. It's to promote healthy living, and I think its something they should start doing in Canada!

Later in the afternoon I met up with Andrés, who is the brother of my friend Juan in Canada. We went for a drive around the city, and visited Saboneta which is a small town connected with Medellín. He also taught me how to use the metro, which is very modern, clean and safe.
The metro costs $1,500 pesos, which is about 75 cents. Pretty cheap when comparing it to Toronto's subway system. Attached to the metro is the MetroCable, which is like a giant gondola you can take up the mountain, which connects the poorer "barrios" (neighbourhoods) to the rest of the city. It goes up a steep mountain, and you have an incredible view of the city!

After getting a handle on the public transportation, Andrés took me to a restaurant for Arepas, which is a traditional Paísa food here in Antioquia. Its like a tortilla, but made from corn, and it can be eaten with a variety of different things. Mine was made like a pita, so it had ground beef, chorizo, scrambled eggs, and another kind of meat inside. It was pretty yummy.

Friday, February 25, 2011

I Have Officially Arrived!!

Hola desde Colombia!!! (Hello from Colombia)

I have officially arrived in Medellin, Colombia where I will be living for the next year. After 3 flights, and 2 continents, I am here, and honestly it hasnt really sunk in yet that Im actually in South America... crazy!

The night before I left I was super nervous and a little stressed, as it finally sunk in that I was leaving for a year, to not only a country I had never been to before, but also a new continent. So I didnt really sleep the night before I left, since my mind was racing and wouldnt let me sleep.

The best part of my journey to Colombia was my second flight from Toronto to Bogota (I had three flights in total... Ottawa - Toronto - Bogota - Medellin). The day before I left my mom and I went to my travel agent to pick up my plane ticket and check into my flight to obtain my boarding passes. While she was checking me in, up popped this box that had a special rate for being upgraded to executive class. At first I was like no I dont really need that but then my mom was like you should do it, it's not that expensive and it would be good for your longer flight. So after chatting about it for a couple minutes we decided to do it, and I got upgraded to Executive First Class.... which translates to "ballin flight".

So before boarding my flight, I thought ok Ill have a slightly bigger seat, and better service. However when I actually boarded my flight and saw where I was sitting, my jaw dropped. I had one of those seats that turns into a bed!!!
I had tons of space, controls to move my seat in all kinds of directions, an ACTUAL pillow, blanket, toiletries bag, a bigger tv screen to watch movies on, huge tray table, more storage spaces for my bags or random items, and a foot rest to put my feet up.... it was going to be a GREAT flight. As I sat down, a lady came to greet me with a glass of champagne, in a REAL glass. Sitting there, sipping my champagne I sort of felt bad, because other people started to board the flight who were in business or economy class and they had to pass through Executive First Class, and they were sort of staring... awkward.

While waiting for everyone to get settled, another flight attendant came around, and gave me a menu..... an actual menu where I could select my main course and see all the other food id be getting. We had actual courses for dinner. In addition to that we had real plates, and cutlery, as well as reall glass, glasses. It was like eating in a restaurant. I was also offered a variety of newspapers by the flight attendants, and passed until I learned I could get a Spanish newspaper! So I briefly read some of El Tiempo.

We had an appetizer of smoked salmon with pumpernickle bread slices, cream cheese, and a salad with vinegrette dressing.

Then for my main course I chose to have Butter Chicken, you could also choose Grilled AAA Beef Tenderloin, Seasoned Black Cod, or Cannelloni Pasta. But I felt like having Indian food. It was actually pretty good. When I was done that the lady flight attendant saw that I hadnt touched my cooked broccoli... which to be fair a) im not the biggest fan of cooked veggies, b) they were reaaaaallly over cooked, so I didnt eat them. And she said "and why didnt you eat your veggies???" which we both laughed at, because she was teasing me, and saying things my mom would say. Then I quickly defended myself, and mentioned that I had eaten my salad! So i did have some veggies :P

Then after our main course, we were given a plate of cheese and crackers. Three huge slices of Swiss (my favourite), cheddar and brie.

Then it was time for dessert... we had a choice of fruit or chocolate cake with icecream... obvi I chose the later :P . Little did I know that when I dug into the piece of cake, it was a chocolate lava cake.... mmmmmm sooo good.

During my flight I just chilled in my seat, playing with the controls trying to find the optimial seat position. I also watched a few movies. I saw 127 hours for the first time, which Ive been meaning to watch for a while, and it was pretty good. Then I watched half of Sex and the City 2, then fell asleep for an hour, and then towards the end of my flight watched a bit of Wall Street 2: Money never sleeps (both of which I have seen before).

Once I arrived in Bogota it was a bit confusing, and I immediately started using my Spanish to figure out where I was suppose to go. I went through Customs and two security check points until I got to my final gate and waited for my plane to Medellin, which was an incredibly short flight (only 40 min).

Once I arrived in Medellin, I was greated by 4 Aiesec people, who were VERY excited to see me, and as I was to them! The AIESEC chapter in EAFIT University has a special program for trainees, which is the Godfather and Godmother program. Basically they are like your mentors and your go to people for basically anything. So my godfather David, godmother Sara, her boyfriend and another AIESEC girl Ana, were there to greet me with open arms and drive me into the city.

So last night I stayed at Davids house, and met his mother,father and younger brother. I got settled in, chatted for a couple minutes in Spanish and then passed out because i was exhausted. Since entering into Colombia (so from Bogota onwards) I barely spoken any English, its been one big immersion of Spanish, which is perfect and exactly what I want!

This morning Davids mother made me breakfast which consisted of scrambled eggs with mixed with sausage and red pepper, with a warm bun, and a small cinnamon pastry, accompanied with .... COLOMBIAN COFFEE! Now, ive just recently started to sort of drinnk coffee, mostly just Mocha Lattes which is hot chocolate and coffee. So im not a full out coffee drinker. But this morning she made me Cafe con Leche, which is coffee with a lot of milk, so it watered down the coffee more. And I actually really enjoyed it! It tasted reallllllly good. :) So i can officially say, Ive had my first REAL cup of Colombian Coffee!

Later this afternoon I will be heading to EAFIT University, which is where the consulting firm I will be working for is located. I will be meeting my boss as well as my coworkers. Then I will be starting work on Monday!

Just as a last note before I go eat lunch, the weather here is BEAUTIFUL!!! Its around 24 degrees, with the sun shining, and im loving every minute of it, especially since Im wearing flipflops in February!! :) couldnt be happier.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Changing Perceptions: Project Colombia

As I mentioned before my job will be in Medellín, Colombia - yes the famous city for which Pablo Escobar ran his cocaine cartel in for over 10 years. Since his death and the crack down on other major cartel leaders, the city and country have changed dramatically - thanks to new democratic leadership of their President Uribe. However, Colombia still has a bad reputation around the world, which has been proven over and over again from all the reactions Ive received when I tell people that I'm moving to Colombia for a year. They all say the same thing "Really?!? Is that safe?!", and contrary to popular belief yes. Be that it may, there are still some areas in the country that aren't safe, but overall the country is safe and doing a lot to promote tourism back into itself.

During my last semester at Laurier, I had the chance to make friends with three Colombians, and started to learn a lot from them about their country - because just like everyone else I had my perceptions about Colombia. As I began to learn more about it from native Colombians, and a lot of research I did while in my interview process for my job, I started to realize that Colombia is not the country I thought it was. Which then got me thinking - if I can change my perceptions about the country then I want to try and change my friends and family's perceptions about it as well. So that's what I want to accomplish over the next year while living and working down there, and is what Im going to call "Project Colombia". I want to show my friends/family that Colombia is different than what people think it is. I want to try and remove that stigma, even if I only do it through my circle of friends at least I'm helping to change some people's thoughts - and really that's all that matters, because if I help to change 10 people's perceptions, and those 10 people pass along their new perceptions to other people then good things can start to happen. If anyone has seen the movie "Pay It Forward", you kind of get the idea of where this is going.

So stay tuned, because over the next year through my experiences Im going to share different facts, information and what I personally experience in the country to try and help shed a new light on Colombia.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New Year, New Continent, New Life....

Recently graduating from Wilfrid Laurier University I have officially completed my degree in Business Administration (Co-op), specializing in International Business with a minor in Spanish. My 4.5 years at WLU seemed to fly by, and I was so lucky to do so many things during my time at university, everything from getting real life working experience through the Co-op program (both in and out of province), an international study exchange in Spain, as well as being a Teaching Assistant for a 1st year Business (BU111) and a 2nd year Spanish course (SP201). As my time winded down, it was time to think seriously about what I was going to do starting January 2011. Through my time at Laurier, I really started to figure out what I wanted to do post-university, and that was to live and work abroad, and hopefully incorporate my Spanish language abilities in my job. So i started to apply for jobs in the fall and participate in graduate recruiting. There were some potential jobs, but nothing that really wowed me, or I saw myself seriously doing as they didnt really align with my goals of working abroad. So then I started to seek other options and one of them was AIESEC - an international student organization that I had been involved with since my first year at Laurier.

AIESEC - for those of you that don't know - is the largest student run organization, which facilitates global internships for undergraduate and graduate students. It has been around for over 50 years and is comprised of young individuals from 1,600 universities in over 107 different countries. The global internship program of AIESEC is just part of the overall experience, AIESEC also provides its members with an integrated development experience comprised of leadership opportunities, local and international conferences and the ability to partake in a global learning environment.

So through AIESEC I started applying for international jobs. It was like AIESEC was the gateway to achieving my goal of working and living abroad, and gaining some pretty invaluable experience. I applied to mostly hispanic countries but also other countries that sparked my interest from their job postings. I got 2 interviews for a job in Colombia and for another with Cadbury in London, UK. I made it to the final round of both interviews, and during that time I honestly didnt know which job I was going to choose. On one hand the Colombia job was my dream job, since it dealt with International Business on a consulting side of things, and Id be able to use my Spanish in my job, but Cadbury has such a special meaning to me since my family is all from England and I have fond memories of getting Cadbury chocolates from my relatives, so the chance to work for them would be an amazing job as well. I ended up hearing back from the Colombia job first, and decided to take it after much consideration. I will be working as an International Business Consultant in El Centro Para La Innovación, Consultoría y Empresarismo (CICE) in EAFIT Universidad. EAFIT University is a private university and one of the best in Colombia. Ive been told the campus is absolutely beautiful. My job will be focusing on working with Colombian countries to enhance their international presence, especially that in the Canadian business environment. I will also be working with international business projects, international marketing, market analysis etc etc. My contract is for one year and will be in the city of Medellín, which is north of Bogotá (the capital city of Colombia).

Ive been waiting to get my visa for about two months, and I FINALLY received it yesterday after returning from a weekend of partying in Toronto. So naturally today I booked my plane ticket, and am leaving on Thurs Feb 24th !!! Everything is happening so fast, and my basement looks like a bomb went off in it with the amount of clothes and other items I have spewed on the floor ready to organize and pack tomorrow.

People keep asking me if Im scared about leaving Canada for Colombia, and honestly Im really not. Im more anxious than I am scared, and above all EXCITED! I just want to get there and start the next chapter of my life. I feel confident about travelling there since I speak the language and also my experiences from my two exchanges I did in Mexico in 2008 and Spain in 2010.

So over the course of the next year I will be blogging again about my adventures and experiences while in South America - just like I did while in Spain. It's just a great way for people to keep tabs on me, as well as it allows me to journal my experiences to look back on later.

Colombia here I come.... :)