Find your Passion, and then Live it

Medellín, Colombia

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Parques, Guarapo, Botero, y Porro!

Since arriving in Medellín, I haven't had time to actually explore the city, since I work during the week (I swear I do!!), and then every weekend since arriving, I've traveled outside the city. So this past weekend I was determined to remain in the city, and check out some sights.

Saturday March 26th 2011:
On Saturday I met up with one of the other AIESEC trainees, Leo from Guatemala to head to the center of the city to Parque Berrío and more specifically Plazoleta de Esculturas, where the famous statues of Fernando Botero are. Botero is a famous Colombian artist (still alive today) that is known for his "voluminous" figures in his works of art. "The figures painted and sculpted by Botero are not really "fat", they are his formal bid for expressing the sensuality of form, to explore the possibilities of volume and to give monumentality to the protagonists of his pictorial world" (From Museo de Antioquia).

"I fatten my characters to give them sensuality. I'm not interested in fat people for the sake of fat people. What I say is that they are not fat, but voluminous. If I make a fruit, a landscape, an animal, a man, anything, it is deformation to exalt volume. So I do not see them as fat but as voluminous."
- Fernando Botero.

Plazoleta de Esculturas is a great place to go to get a taste of the kind of artist Botero is, as there are about 20 different statues located within the plaza, ranging from animals to different types of people. Leo and I had a lot of fun taking pictures with the different statues. I definitely recommend checking it out if you decide to come visit Medellín.

Next, Leo and I decided to check out the Museo of Antioquia which is located next to the Plaza with the Botero statues. It was the first Colombian museum I have been to since arriving. This museum was great as it had all kinds of Botero works of art ranging from more sculptures, to paintings and drawings. There was even two paintings by Botero which depicted the death of Pablo Escobar, also really interesting to see.
We met up with Kevin from Australia after checking out the museum. We all got guarapo and then walked through the markets of the downtown core. As it was a very hot day, probably around 30 degrees, I decided to buy a traditional Paisa (paisa is the word for the people of Antioquia) hat. After negotiating down the price in Spanish with the man who sold the hats, I was feeling and looking very Paisa. Next, we stopped at an empanada restaurant for some lunch, and then continued to Parque San Antonio. After walking through the downtown, Leo and I headed to the metro to go on the second MetroCable (different from the one I went on in my first weekend of Medellín). Oddly enough, we ran into other Aiesec trainees, who were also going to the MetroCable, so we all went up together. This MetroCable was a bit more scary than the first one I went on... it's VERY steep, and also stopped half way at one point, which freaked me out, as we were quite high from the ground. But the views were stunning, especially when we reached the top, and walked around for a bit.

At the top there was a man selling guarapo, and since Im obsessed with it, I obviously got more. Guarapo is a drink made from the juices of raw sugar cane, so it's really sweet, but very refreshing and is normally served with lime. This is how is made and then enjoyed :)

At night I had the chance to go to a real salsa club called Cien Fuegos (one hundred fires) with a couple of friends. This salsa club had a live band, and even professional dancers who would come on once every hour and showcase their impressive dancing talents. When we arrived to the club it was still a bit early, so no one was really on the dance floor yet, so within about 5 minutes of sitting down, 3 professional dancers came up to our table and asked us all to dance (they do this to start encouraging people to dance). I looked at my friends, scared, and asking them now??? we just got here! They nodded, and I was pulled onto the dance floor. My dancing partner took my arm and walked me to the dance floor, and as we were making our way there, I apologized to him in advance (in Spanish), saying how I was Canadian and therefore not a very good salsa dancer. He told me not to worry, saying it was easy and he would show me the steps. After getting over my shyness, I quickly got into the swing of things and picked up the dance steps rather quickly. The rest of the night was spent dancing to various salsa songs, and watching everyone dance (which was equally impressive as the professional dancers, for me at least). The music was incredible, even if we weren't dancing, you couldn't help yourself but shimmy your shoulders or tap your feet to the music, it's just so infectious. I love it.

Sunday March 27th 2011
On Sunday the trainees and our Colombian friends Sara and Laura headed to the Botanical Gardens of Medellín, In the botanical gardens you can see a wide variety of exotic plants, and flowers, and there is even a butterfly sanctuary with all different kinds of butterflies inside it. It's also a really good place to have a picnic, and just relax under the sun. We were all pretty tired from the day/night before so at one point we all laid down under a palm tree, listening to Bob Marley play in the distance. It was very relaxing.
After checking out the botanical gardens we grabbed some lunch at a restaurant near by and had a traditional Colombian lunch. This consisted of meat, rice, beans, salad, arepa, and french fries. Delicious and pretty cheap, they go for about $7.000 pesos which is about $4.50/$5. Once we finished our lunch, we walked across the street to Parque de los Deseos (Park of the Wishes), which is a park that is filled with children and families on a sunday. They have water fountains and pumps, as well as sand areas for children to play in. Great place to go if you have a family.
After seeing both parks, we headed to a discoteca that Kevin had been to before. It offered free 3 hour dance lessons on Sundays, all you had to do was buy a beer to take part. The dance instructor was teaching Porro, which is sort of like the Cumbia. We had 3 girls and 3 boys, so it was the perfect amount of people to do dance lessons. I went back and forth between Lucho and Leo, while learning the (at times) complicated dance steps. We all had a lot of fun, and I was able to learn a new latin dance! Below is a video of what Porro looks like, the first minute is pretty much what we learned to do in 3 hours haha.

Friday, March 25, 2011

1st month in Colombia - thoughts and reflections

It's official, I've been in Colombia for exactly one month! It's kind of an odd feeling because a part of me feels like I've been away from Canada for a long time, then again it also feels like I just got here. After realizing today was my 1 month mark, I thought it would be good to reflect on my time here so far; things I've done, things I've noticed, things I miss about home, and things I'm loving about my new home in South America!

What I'm Loving
What's the one thing I love most about being in Colombia? Everyday is a learning experience... whether I'm at work, interacting with people in the city, or just talking to my roommates, I'm using and learning so much Spanish... everyday. If anyone is ever interested in learning a language, and wants to know the best way to learn... IMMERSE yourself in it. A saying that has become my life philosophy is: Find your Passion, and then Live it. It's the first line of text on my blog, and is something I take to heart. I can't think of anything more important in life then finding something to be passionate about. Finding that one thing, that you are excited to wake up to do every day, or share with others. It's something that you should carefully consider about yourself if you don't already know what your passion is, then once you find it, try to incorporate it in your life as much as possible - this will only make you happier. :) For me my passion is Spanish and traveling. Sometimes being able to live your passion takes incredible risk and hard work, but trust me... the returns are well worth it. During my last semester of school I took a huge risk by not taking grad recruiting very seriously and instead, pursued what I was passionate about, searching for a job abroad in a Hispanic country. This process was frustrating, scary, and took a lot of hard work. BUT, I'm so happy I did it, and am here now.

Another thing I'm really enjoying here in Medellín is my job. I was definitely a little worried before coming here, because you can only read so much into a job description, and what's there sometimes might not be the best indicator of what the job is actually like. Thankfully, my job is everything and so much more than what I expected it to be. It's incredible the things I've been able to do and learn in only 4 weeks here. I've attended conferences, special guest speakers, meetings with clients to develop business models/plans/projects, important presentations with international investors, and been given a large translation project to develop a valuation manual for my entire office to use. One of the best things about my job is that it's 90% in Spanish and I am able to interact with so many different people, so once again everyday is a learning experience.

Other things I'm loving about Colombia/Medellín:
- The weather! Sunny and 25-28 degrees everyday? yup!
- How friendly the people are here ... they're so proud and excited to show their country off
- All the exotic fruit... for example pineapples or oranges taste 1,000x better here
- 2 hour lunches... I have tons of time to go to the gym, or nap and still have time to eat lunch
- The music... whether it's salsa, bachata, merengue, or reggaeton, it just makes you want to dance

Things that I've noticed about Colombia/Medellín
- Medellín is a much more modern city that I originally thought it was going to be.
- Taps in washrooms only have the cold water tap, much like Spain
- Meals here are opposite to Canada... lunch is the biggest meal of the day, where dinners are small
- The city of Medellín is very secure, a large presence of security/police in the city everywhere you go, doesn't really intimidate me, but makes me feel very safe
- Everything is super cheap for me here! Since the standard of living is lower here than in Canada, prices reflect this. Best example? a bottle of beer is around 75 cents.

Things I miss about home:
- The snow... JUST KIDDING! haha
- My mom and my friends
- My kitchen... sounds odd, but I find it more difficult to cook here
- My bed ... beds in Colombia are incredibly hard, and hardly have any cushion
- Showers in Canada ... showers here have little to no water pressure

Places I've traveled to in 1 month:
- Girardota
- Envigado
- Sabaneta
- San Antonio de Pereira
- El Salado
- Manizales
- Nevado del Ruiz
- Termales

Things I've done:
- El MetroCable
- Taught Colombians how to play flipcup
- Climbed a mountain in Envigado
- Introduced Colombians to St. Patrick's Day
- Went up a volcano
- Tried tea made from Coca leaves
- Tried aguardiente (Colombian liquor that tastes foul, but is super cheap)
- Tried lots of Colombian food: buñuelos, arepas, empanadas etc
- Made a ton of new friends from all over the world (Colombia, Australia, Guatemala, England, Uganda, India, United States, Mexico)

Places I want to visit:
- Bogotá
- Cartagena
- Río Claro
- El Peñol
- A coffee plantation
- Santa Marta
- Cali
- .... the list grows everyday

1 month down, 11 to go. Im so excited to see how I grow as an individual over the course of the upcoming year, Im also excited to see the places I am able to visit, as well as the people I will meet. Im definitely incredibly happy here, and so glad I took the risk to come!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why Latin America is an important market to watch...

I was doing some research about the development of economies within Latin America, and it made me think how important these markets are, and how people around the world underestimate Latin America´s potential for success in the near future. All eyes are on India and China, but people forget or don´t even realize what´s happening on their side of the world, the western hemisphere. This article was taken from the company, Global Intelligence Alliance, and I think gives great insight to the development of Latin American economies, and some projections for the future:

"With a regional economy of approximately US$ 4 trillion and a conservative annual growth estimate of over 5% for the next five years, Latin America is a market to watch. More than 60 million consumers rose from poverty into the consumer class in last five years, half of whom were from Brazil. As the only westerner of the BRICs, Brazil is likely to become the world’s fifth largest economy by 2014 and São Paulo will be the world’s fifth-wealthiest city by 2025. Brazil will host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, and is expected to offer a sustained positive outlook for development and investment.

The second largest country in the region, Mexico, is part of NAFTA and is a gateway to Central American and Caribbean markets. Chile has one of the highest GDP per capita rates in the region and is a model for attracting FDI through international economic agreements. Even Colombia has surpassed safety issues and is becoming one of the most attractive countries in the region.

Overall, the region's two economic powerhouses – Mexico and Brazil – comprise over 60% of the regional economy and have large domestic demand potential. Private consumption per capita has doubled in the past five years as millions ascended into the middle class. Along with Chile’s attractive business environment, these first-tier markets saw the earliest and heaviest inflows of foreign direct investment from global manufacturers, retailers, commodity producers and financial service firms, among others. They have produced their own global giants in industries ranging from Mining to Food and Beverages. As a result, most sectors are highly developed and hotly contested, making competitive intelligence and anticipation of market needs the keys to survival.

Companies are expanding their footprints with deeper penetration in the maturing mid-sized markets of Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela and Peru, in addition to investment-friendly destinations like Panama. A spike in mergers and acquisitions is causing rapid consolidation and changing playing fields. For effective market entry, acquisitions and joint ventures, careful evaluation must be conducted to establish correct market share and growth projections as well as uncovering any reputational and legal risks. With a collective approach, attractive opportunities can also be found in Central America and the Caribbean, as exemplified in consumer goods, logistics, and electronic payments. "

Read more:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Eje Cafetero: Manizales, Nevado del Ruiz y Termales

This past weekend I had the chance to travel outside of Antioquia (the region where Medellín is located) to Caldas, another one of Colombia's many regions (There are 32 in total). I was able to visit the city of Manizales, a volcano called Nevado del Ruiz as well as the area of Termales. These places are all located in Eje Cafetero, which is the coffee growing region of Colombia. I unfortunately didn´t have the chance to visit a coffee plantation, but Im hoping to visit one in the near future.

Manizales is the capital city of Caldas, which is one of the smallest regions in Colombia. It is about 200 km from Medellín but takes a solid 4 hours to get there because of the winding roads through the Andean mountains. The drive there and back was beautiful. The views are stunning, being in the high altitudes of the mountains as well as the greenery of all the plants, trees and flowers, made the drive well worth it. After the long 4 hour drive, we found our hotel, unloaded our bags and then set out to get some dinner and drinks in the bar district of Manizales. available in Colombia).

The next day we left our hotel for Nevado del Ruiz at 6am with a tourgroup. Everyone, including myself, had warm sweaters on, jackets, hats and mittens. Never did I ever think I would need to bring mittens to Colombia, so I just bought some in Manizales before we left. Nevado del Ruiz is a volcano located close to Manizales, and has an altitude of 5,321 meters. We took a bus up the volcano, which was a little sketchy considering the roads are very narrow, and incredibly curvy. We made several stops while travelling up the mountain, to see different areas of the volcano, and take pictures. One of the first stops was at a lake, where we were served tea to warm up a bit, as the temperature was starting to drop the more we climbed up the mountain. The type of tea that I was given was made from Coca leaves. Yes the same type of leaves that cocaine is made of. Coca leaves have many different uses and making tea of out it, is one of them. I was fascinated by the fact I was drinking tea from Coca leaves, as I didnt know that one could do this. So naturally when I got home I googled Coca tea:
"Coca tea consumption is common in many South American countries. Many indigenous tribes of the Andes mountain range also use the tea for medicinal and religious purposes. The consumption of Coca tea, as well as chewing the leaves, increases the absorption of oxygen in blood, which helps combat altitude sickness, and has a marked digestive and carminative action. Coca Flour (powdered coca leaves) can be brewed in a coffee machine for a stronger and concentrated tea."

Once we reached one of the main areas of snow on our tour, the bus stopped and we had some time to play in the snow. Now for me, seeing snow on a mountain isn´t really impressive, since Ive lived with snow in my life for the past 22 years. But having the chance to be with people who have never seen or experienced snow before in their lives was really special. I definitely recommend all Canadians to be with people who have never seen snow before, it´s fascinating and makes you feel like a kid again. The last and final top was near the top of the volcano. We couldn´t go all the way to the top because there was too much snow, and the conditions weren´t favorable. But the views were still amazing. 5,000 meters up, I was standing on a volcano. NBD (no big deal).

After bearing the "cold"... it was only around 0 degrees... however for Colombians that is FREEZING, for your average Canadian, just youre typical winter day in Canada, we headed to the hot springs in Termales, which is located at the bottom of the volcano. There were three pools, each with a hotter temperature of water. Being able to relax in hot natural water was great, especially after being in the cold and snow. While sitting in the hot springs I had an amazing view around me, beautiful flowers, green landscape, and rolling mountains for miles. Definitely the perfect way to end the day.

The next day before leaving Manizales, I went to one of the main plazas of the city, which is where the Cathedral stands. It was HUGE, and apparently is one of the largest in Latin America. Manizales also has many beautiful colonial style buildings which shows the influence from the settlers from Spain.

On the way back to Medellín, we stopped at a pool resort type of place, to lounge by a pool, soak up sun and drink some beers. It was a beautiful, but very hot day, probably close to 30 degrees. That day, Monday, was a holiday in Colombia. There are MANY holidays, called Festivos, which celebrate different saints. This means I get several days off throughout the year, and can enjoy long weekends. This was my first Festivo, and a good one at that since I was relaxing in the sun, sipping a beer. Life is pretty good here.

On the way home, which was another beautiful 4 hour drive, there are many people who try to sell you food, drinks and fruit on the side of the road. At one point we stopped and bought a bag of Madroños, which is a type of exotic fruit. Madroños look like bumpy lemons, where you squeeze them, so the outer flesh breaks, and there is a seed inside that is covered in white sour pulp which is the part you eat. They were delicious, and an entire bag of them (about 8-10 modroños) only costs $1.000 pesos, or 50 cents. It was definitely the perfect snack for the long journey back to Medellín.

St. Patrick's a Latino now...

It comes only once a year... a day filled with unnecessary amounts of beer and green clothing: St. Patrick's Day.

St Patrick's Day is renowned in North America and most parts of Europe, however little if any people are truly familiar with the day of the Irish in South America. Case in point: Colombia.

Like any prepared partier, I was asking my Colombian friends what their plans were for Thurs March 17th... with a puzzled look they asked me why. My jaw dropped. Why? Because it's St Patrick's Day, and we need to go out and celebrate. Still... blank faces. I then filled them in and explained what St Patrick's Day is and how popular it is in North America and Europe. I explained that it is necessary to wear green clothing, and it's basically an excuse to drink.

After explaining the significance of March 17th, I was able to easily gather some people who wanted to celebrate. (You don't have to ask a Colombian twice if they want to party). So after work we headed to none other than Parque Lleras (the bar district in El Poblado) for some celebratory St Pattys Day drinks.

Our initial plan was to go to what seemed to be one of the only Irish Pubs in Medellín, however the prices for beers were stupidly expensive, so we opted for $3.000 peso alcoholic slushies instead (around $1.50 CDN). The beauty of South America is that it is perfectly legal to drink in the streets. So that's exactly what we did. In a large group of about 10 people, we sat in Parque Lleras and just hung out, chatting in both Spanish and English and enjoying each other's company (in green attire of course!).
It is definitely a lot of fun to pass along different cultural traditions to people who have never experienced them before... and even though Im not Irish, St Patrick's Day remains to be a highly celebrated Canadian tradition. So why not pass it along? :)

Really starting to like Reggaeton ....

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ice cream and Rolling R´s...

This past week while at a mall next to my house, Oviedo, I met up with Leo and Sara. Leo had to get his cell phone fixed with the help of Sara, and I needed a couple grocery items. After getting his phone sorted out, we decided to grab some icecream and hang out for a bit.

While sitting on one of the many couches within the mall, the subject of rolling r´s in Spanish came up. Unfortunately this is something I have not been able to master in the 5 years ive been learning Spanish. It´s something very frustrating but hilarious when I try to roll my r´s. So like the nice people Leo and Sara are, they tried to help me, for well over an hour, in trying to explain how to do it. It was hilarious, and we were hystarically laughing about it.

Both Leo and Sara would sit there, and say words to themselves with rolling r´s trying to figure out what they´re doing with their tongue, and then try and show me. Many times they´d think they had found the solution and the perfect way for me to learn, and then I would try, and fail miserably. I also felt really silly trying to roll my r´s because it´s not something I can do. So i feel like this is something I will have to practice... alone in my room... until I master it.

There are different phrases in Spanish that they teach young children in order for them to learn to roll their r´s. One of them is:

"Aire con aire cigarros"

... just need to keep saying this over and over until I get it...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fun Facts About Colombia #2: Colombian Coffee

Did you know around 12% of the world’s coffee is produced in Colombia?

Colombia is the 2nd largest coffee provider and the number one producer of Arabica coffee, which is considered the highest quality bean. Colombian coffee has been recognized worldwide as having high quality and distinctive taste. The main importers of Colombian coffee are United States, Germany, France, Japan, and Italy.

Freshly roasted Colombian coffee beans can be described as having a rich flavor, heavy body, bright acidity, and are intensely aromatic. There are two main regions of coffee production in Colombia:
1. Medellín (where I live), Armenia, and Manizales (MAM) in the central region and
2. Bogotá and Bucaramanga in the eastern mountainous region

MAM coffee beans are known for their heavy body, rich flavor, and fine acidity. Bogotá is less acidic than Medillín, but retains the richness and brightness. Bucaramanga is milder, often heavier bodied, and rich in flavor reminiscent of Sumatran coffees.

The farmers in Colombia belong to and are controlled by the Colombian Coffee Federation (FNC). The FNC is considered the most successful coffee federation due to over 60 years of experience and continuation of many development activities. The FNC, is an industry association which represents the nation’s coffee producers has been responsible for creating a name for Colombian coffee with their well-known spokesman, the fictional, charismatic Juan Valdez. The FNC guarantees purchase of green coffee, but farmers are under no obligation to sell to them. The FNC has been promoting fair-trade, and therefore, it established a system that provided farmers to be able to receive reasonable benefits. As a result, the federation manages the better price in the world market for the lives of those farmers.

Marketing to Latin America ... it´s all about "IMAGE"

Interesting article about how important the concept of "image" is and how companies must think and sell differently when marketing to Latin American countries.

Monday, March 14, 2011

San Antonio de Pereira

On Sunday I went to San Antonio de Pereira with 3 of my friends. San Antonio is about an hour drive outside of Medellín, it's only 38 km away from the city, but because the area is so mountainous it takes longer to drive with the twists and turns in the road.
San Antonio is famous for their desserts, and for good reason... because they are delicious. The dessert store we went into had these cake like squares, where there were about 20 different flavours you could choose from. So naturally I chose one with chocolate.
After eating some dessert... before dinner I might add (sorry mom!) ... we went to a bar and sat outside at one of their many tables. We had a couple of beers, hung out and just chatted for a while. The area where we were sitting was the main plaza (or area) of the town. It was filled with different vendors selling crafts, clothing, hats, food etc. So it was filled with people on a Sunday afternoon. After the beers we headed to a small restaurant that made incredible pizza. The restaurant was open air concept, with a fireplace structure in the middle. When we sat down they served us a small bowl of popcorn as kind of a free appetizer. Strange, but oddly delicious. We ordered a Mixta pizza, which had salami, bacon, mushrooms and peppers on it. It was thin crush and really cheesy, sooo yummy.
After dinner, we headed back to Medellín. The drive there and back was definitely interesting for me... since Im not use to the way South Americans drive... which is a bit scary, especially when they whip around corners, or are passing other cars on tight roads. I definitely had my hand on the handle above the window for the majority of the trip... holding on for dear life lol.

Before heading back down into Medellín, we stopped at Las Palmas, which is a lookout area at the top of the mountain, which oversees the entire city of Medellín. Since it was dark by the time we got back, the entire city was lit up, and was really beautiful to see.

El Salado

This past Saturday I had the chance to climb a mountain, called El Salado, near Envigado. (FYI ... Salado... is not Spanish for Salad lol.... it actually means Salty....). Envigado is a small town connected to the city of Medellín. I met up with some friends (there was 8 of us in total) in Parque Envigado to start our adventure. Before leaving, we stopped at Consumo... a grocery store chain... and picked up some food and plenty of water to take up the mountain.

We walked to the main square in Envigado to take a bus, that would take us to the starting point of our hike. It was the perfect day, we couldn't have asked for better weather. It was warm, around 25 degrees, and sunny! Travelling up the mountain to the starting point was beautiful... you could see all the mountains surrounding the city, and it gave an amazing view of Medellín below.
My friend David was our tour guide for the day. He grew up in Envigado, and has been to El Salado a lot, so he was the one to lead us through the mountain. At times the mountain was pretty steep, but the scenery was well worth the effort. There were many different types of exotic plants, trees, and flowers all around us. When we got to a major look out point, you could see the rolling hills and mountains in the distance, that seemed to go on, and on.

There were many times throughout our journey when we had to cross the river, or do a little rock climbing to get where we needed to go. It definitely wasn't your average walk through the bush. The eight of us worked really well together, to ensure everyone got through each part of the hike easily and most importantly safely. There were a couple of us who got a little wet, by slipping on a rock or misjudging how deep the water was at times while crossing the river (myself included). But we all laughed about it, and soon quickly dried off from the sun's heat.
When we got to a large opening on the mountain we stopped and had some lunch. At Consumo we had bought chorizo sausages, potatoes and marshmellows. So we made a small campfire to cook our food. It tasted pretty good, and it recharged our energy levels for the hike back down the mountain (which was just as hard, as going up it).

When we got back to Envigado we were walking through Parque Envigado and saw this circle made of small containers with numbers on top. Curious... we all walked over to see what it was. We learned that it was a gambling game, where for 200 pesos (about 10 cents) you could bet on which container the guinea pig (which was in the middle covered by another container) would run into. I thought this was hilarious, and had to take part in it. My favourite number is 16, so I bet that the guinea pig would run into that. Once enough people had bet in the game, the guinea pig was released. It ran sooo fast into one of the counters, which unfortunately was not mine. However, it did run into my friend (from Guatemala) Leo's container.

After gambling on guinea pigs, we went to a shop and bought some fresh empanadas, which I love. Empanadas for those of you who dont know what they are... they are sort of like the Spanish version of peorgies or chinese dumplings. They are half moon shaped pastry like things, filled with meat, sometimes potatoes, cheese, veggies etc. All you need to know is that they are delicious. :)
A year ago I was in Barcelona, Spain studying, and now I am hiking through Colombian forests on my weekends from work. Never in a million years did I think I would be doing this in 2011. That's what I love about travelling, you get to do so many amazing things you'd never think you'd be able to do, in some pretty incredible countries. :)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Not Lost in Translation Pt 2.

So the day after I helped my coworkers and a client with the translating a powerpoint presentation into English for a big meeting with American investors, I had the chance to actually attend that presetention. However, there was one big hiccup prior to that presentation. We were scheduled to leave CICE (the office where I work) at 330, but at 3pm, the client came racing into the office and specfically to my desk because all the changes I made yesterday to the ppt somehow did not save. So I had less than 30 minutes to retranslate everything and make the ppt look professional... it was an intense 25 minutes. During the taxi ride over, our one client was very nervous about speaking in English to the American investors, since English is not his first language. So he was reading his speech in the taxi to me, and I would help correct him along the way.

Our clients were presenting at Proantioquia, which is a business connected with the government of Antioquia (the region where I am living), to help promote business within the area. We were having two clients present to American investors that day, one within the Nanotechnology field and the other within the Implants and Prosthetics industry. Something that was thrown at me right before our clients were about to present, was that I was asked to sit at the front with our clients while they presented, to act as a translator incase our client forgot a word, or was asked a question in English they didnt understand. It was definitely intense sitting in the hot seat, and a little intimidating, however it was amazing experience. There I was in South America, with real businesses, seeing presentations being made infront of international investors. Crazy, but so awesome.

Unfortunately, I personally wasnt too impressed with how the American investors acted during both of our clients´ presentations. I found them to be rude, ignorant, and disrespectful. First they would frequently interrupt our clients during their presentations, which I think disturbed the flow of their speech. Secondly the investors would talk (loudly) to one another and make inappropriate comments while the presentations were going on... which was 1. unprofessional and 2. disrespectful to the person presenting. Next the investors really just didnt having understanding for our clients, as English was not their first language. So they didnt ask questions slowly, or give them any time to think about a question and its answer before responding. I wasn't too impressed, but I bit my tongue, kept my cool and remained professional.

At the end of the presentations we had a brief moment to speak with the American investors, and thank them for their time. When they spoke to me they asked why my accent was different than my coworkers. I explained that I am Canadian and am working in Colombia for a year... they seemed to be pretty impressed by that. They also asked me where I attended university in Canada... I (proudly) answered, Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. The one American had heard of it, and was familiar with their business program. :)

The next day I attended a conference about Innovation with my coworkers in Plaza Mayor in Medellín. The conference had over 3,000 people attend, and we were able to hear from 3 speakers about open innovation, how to encourage innovation within business models, and corporate venturing. 2 of the 3 speakers happened to be 2 of the American investors we dealt with the day before. The presentations were pretty good, and also interesting. I couldn't over how many people were there! Luckily, the conference was in English, which was a nice break. So I was one of the only people not to have translation headphones on.

Fun Facts About Colombia #1: Geographic & Bio Diversity

Did you know that Colombia holds a position in the 17 most mega-diverse countries seen all over the world?

This is because; the Colombian territory consists of highlands as well as rainforests and tropical grasslands! Megadiverse countries are a group of countries that harbor the majority of the Earth's species and are therefore considered extremely biodiverse. Some other mega'diverse countries include: Brazil, South Africa, Australia and China.

Colombia can be divided into 5 main regions per climate and geography. These regions can be named as the Pacific, Andes, Amazon, Eastern Plains and the Caribbean. Each region is known for its unique geographical features.

Colombia has the world’s greatest diversity of orchid species (3,500) and birds (1,754 species). It ranks second in amphibians and third in reptile species. Out of the 14,000 species of butterfly in the world, about 3,000 of them, or 20%, are found in Colombia.

Finally, Colombia is also the only country in South America to border both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. It has a total landmass of roughly 1,140,000 square kilometers, which is slightly less than twice the size of Texas, or about the same size of Spain, Portugal and France combined.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why Canada shouldnt discredit Latin America, specifically Mexico, so quickly...

I wasnt too impressed with Canada after reading this article. However it brings up some good points regarding how North America doesnt really see the huge potential of Latin America in the near future. I personally think that people are focusing too much on China and India, and are forgetting our closer neighbours for which huge economic development/prosperity can and most likely will occur in the near future.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I ♥ Google Chat

Im just going to put it out there... I love Google. Everything from its search engine, to its email system and especially now because of its calling feature through Gmail Chat.

Before leaving Canada, Google had a special promotion that you could make any call in Canada and the USA for free through your computer using the Gmail calling feature, no matter if it was local or long distance (before the end of 2010). This new feature through Gmail chat is a definite attempt to try and compete with Skype. But I guess due to high usage of the product, they extended the deal into 2011.

So the other day I had to call my bank, and my home phone in Colombia wasn´t working. So I decided to try and see if i could still make a call through Gchat like i could when I was in Canada. And voilia, apparently it still works, even though Im not in Canada. I dont want to question why it still works, but its awesome, as I can call any landline in Canada or the USA from my computer... FOR FREE. So I encourage everyone reading this to try it, if they have gmail, because its an awesome feature of Gmail chat.

El Colombiano

This morning I had the chance to visit El Colombiano with my coworker for a meeting. El Colombiano is the main newspaper of Medellín. We were there to hear a presentation about the development of education within the city. They explained different initiatives they are working towards from children as early as 4 years, to University/Master/Doctorate Students. They have built these beautiful preschools around the city, to encourage early childhood development, as well as increase the amount of spending on technology within elementary schools.

I got to see a bit of the office where the newspaper is run. We all got a copy of todays copy of El Colombiano, which I had a chance to read while waiting for the presetnation to start. Sara told me that there are several main newspapers in the country. El Tiempo is the national newspaper, La Republica is the main newspaper of Bogotá and El País is the main newspaper of Cali.

Ive been able to attend so many different events/presentations within my first two weeks of my job, which is exciting because it definitely helps me learn more, as I have to really actively listen while these presentations are going on - as they speak quite quickly in Spanish. Tomorrow I get to attend a half day conference on Innovation within the city through my job.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Not Lost in Translation

So today I was the key part to an important meeting with my coworkers and a client. Two of our clients are giving a really important presentation to investors tomorrow and it happens to be in English. So my job was to go over their presentation and correct any errors in their powerpoint as well in their speech. It was an interesting and fast paced two hours, as we were having quick and intense discussions about what should be said, written and shown within the powerpoint, back in forth between English and Spanish. I had to review the presentation in English, and then if I thought any changes were needed, had to explain to my coworkers in Spanish what needed to be changed and why.

I made several changes to the presentation with regards to grammar/spelling and word flow. I even suggested a new title for one slide that would sound better in English, and really catch people's attention. The client really liked this idea, and told me that it was an excellent contribution, which made me feel really good. Then at the end of the powerpoint there was one slide that had a fair bit of text still in Spanish which my one coworker hadn't translated yet. So I offered to quickly translate the text for him, which he really appreciated.

It felt really good to contribute to something that was so important and do it in two different languages. I was actively apart of the discussion during the meeting, which is the first time this has happened in my job, because the other meetings Ive had, have been mostly to observe. However this time, I was the one suggesting ideas and communicating back and forth in Spanish with my coworkers. It definitely gave me a huge confidence boost in my job and also my Spanish business language.

Weekend in Girardota!

This past weekend I headed to Girardota, which is about 45 min outside of Medellín, and is somewhat of a small town. I went with a bunch of AIESEC people for their induction weekend for the new members of AIESEC EAFIT. There were 3 other trainees who went as well, one from Guatemala, Australia and Czech Republic. We stayed in a hotel like place, where we had full range of the place. They had a pool, playground, soccer pitch, and conference rooms.

The weekend consisted of various sessions for new members to learn about how AIESEC works in general, and specifically within Colombia. They also had some training sessions, ice breaking games etc. I spent most of the weekend with the trainees, as we were there just to relax and participate in a couple sessions by sharing our AIESEC experiences.

On Friday night we left EAFIT around 8pm, we all took a really nice coach bus up to Giradota. Once we got there we had a special presentation from a guest speaker about confidence in leadership and public speaking. (ps. the entire weekend's sessions were all in Spanish). It was interesting to hear him speak, and he did some fun activities. Then after the speaker, we had a really fun party for all the regular members of AIESEC EAFIT, since the new members didnt arrive until Saturday.

I taught some of the Aiesecers how to play Flip Cup - which for those of you dont know is THE drinking game of choice at Laurier. They all caught on pretty quickly, and we had a lot of fun playing that. I also learned a new game called Flip Pong, which is like beer pong and flip cup combined. This past weekend I was introduced to something called Aquardiente or Guaro... which is a Colombian liquor that tastes like a mix between Sambucca and vodka (its a clear liquid). Its quite strong, and doesnt really taste good, but its really cheap and typical of Colombia - so of course I wanted to try it.

We had music blasting all night, which consisted of mostly reggaeton, but also some salsa, and merengue. One thing that I love about Colombians, and especially Colombian guys is that they love to dance! Also... Colombians, are amazing salsa dancers... omg. Whenever a salsa song would come on, I would just stare in awe and watch everyone else dance.

On Saturday we all welcomed the new members of AIESEC EAFIT to Giradota. Things got really fun in the night, when we had yet another party. More dancing, drinking, and just enjoying each other's company. At one point in the night, people started throwing each other in the pool... with their clothes on. It was hilarious, and one by one people made it into the pool, whether they wanted to be in it or not. Both nights parties went WELL into the night/early morning. On Friday night I didnt make it to bed until 5am, and on Saturday night/Sunday morning I went to bed around 630am. In total I got about 4.5 hrs of sleep the whole weekend. Good times. :)

On Sunday we had a more lazy day, as everyone was pretty tired from the previous nights' festivities. It was a beautiful day, so Kevin and I decided to lay by the pool and soak up some sun. We would like to think that we started the trend of hanging by the pool, because after the sessions were over, all 120 people came and hung out by the pool area, whether it was around it, in it, or on the field playing soccer. I played a game of water basketball with a bunch of guys, and was the only girl to play - I even scored a goal :). After hanging by the water for a while, and participating in the closing ceremonies we all headed back to Medellín. It was a great weekend, I met alot of new people, and had a lot of fun in Giradota.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


So on Thursday there was a bit of an electricity problem in Medellín. Im not sure if it affected the whole city, but it did affect the area, El Poblado, that I live in. I first realized there was no power while at work, we were helping out with a guest speaker, and didnt have power to be able to do the talk on time. So we had to wait a bit, but then the power finally came on.

Then when I got home, my roommates informed me that we had no power... and it would be about 2 hours until it would come back on. Which meant, no lights, or landline, refrigerator, and internet. Since I had no plans that night, and nothing really to do without light, I decided to do what a lot of families do while the power is out.... play games. So from the light of my laptop which had about 50% left on it, I taught my roommates how to play different card games.

Now my roommates dont really speak English so I had to teach them in Spanish. I started with a game that I could explain easily.... GO FISH! They caught on pretty quickly, and had never played it before. After playing two rounds of that.... I moved onto a more complex game.... Crazy Eights, which I translated to them as OCHOS LOCOS.... lol. We had a lot of fun and it ate up about an hour of time. After playing cards, I headed to Santa Fe mall with my roommate, where we got some ice cream, she bought guitar strings, and I stopped at the Carrefour to get some milk. A very fun, yet random night. :)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Project Colombia Lesson #1: HOW TO SPELL

So the first step in learning more about the country Im living and working in for a year, is how to spell it.

A lot of my friends, family and family friends love to spell it Columbia. Which is incorrect. The country which I am living in is spelt: Colombia... with an "O" after the L. Officially, its full name is the Republic of Colombia.

Some examples of the correct use of Columbia:
- Columbia University
- British Columbia
- Columbia Street in Waterloo

So the next time you go to spell Colombia... please spell it with an O... and NOT a U!


I think Im really going to enjoy my job here...

So it´s official... I have successfully survived my first week of work here in Medellín. My first week of work has consisted of a lot of training, reading, meetings, and some cool sessions Ive been able to attend. From what insights Ive had this past week into what my job is going to be like, I think Im really going to enjoy my working experience here in Medellín and at CICE.

For example on Tuesday I was able to attend two meetings with clients with some of my coworkers, where I got to see a proposal presentation. On Wednesday, I went to go see a speaker talk about the Telecommunication industry in Colombia and about their company, UNE, and how they are expanding to the USA, Canada and Europe. Then on Thursday I was able to participate with a focus group for a client. All these things I didnt think Id be able to do with my job, so its very exciting to be able to experience all of this, especially in an all Spanish environment! I´ve been able to do and learn so much in one week. I cant wait to see what happens over the next year!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Observed Colombian Business Etiquette

Something I love about travelling to other countries is noticing differences between the country I am visiting and my own country. It's what makes each country unique in their own right and so interesting to me, by having different customs, behaviours, and attitudes towards different subjects.

So on Wednesday during one of my many meetings my coworkers and bosses, I took some time to observe their behaviours during a client meeting. It was interesting to see how their business etiquette differs from ours in Canada. For example, here in Colombia when people greet each other they will kiss one cheek and embrace one another .... which is similar to Spain where they lean in and kiss both cheeks. So I was curious if this is common to do during business meetings when meeting/greeting clients. When the new clients (who were 3 females) came in today, my boss just shook each of their hands, however at the end of the meeting he shook their hands and then kissed one cheek. The whole kissing clients thing is a bit strange to me, because I feel like the Canadian business environment is much more formal and strict than South American practices. However, Im interested to see how male clients are greeted. Im guessing just a hand shake... ?

Another thing I noticed, which many Canadians can relate to, is that almost everyone here has a Blackberry. However in Canada, it is customary to turn off your phone or at least put your phone on vibrate during a meeting or while in the office. But here in Colombia everyone has their ringers on, and will answer their phone via text or call during a meeting...... even with clients. Now I don't want to generalize, because this is something I noticed today during a meeting with clients, however over the past couple days this has been the case while working in the office (without clients).

The working environment here I find is a lot more relaxed and social than in Canada. Though we work long days 8-6, we take many breaks throughout the day (around 10am and 4pm), and have a 2 hour lunch (which I have no complaints about).

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

First days of work

So I have officially started my job here in Medellín. My first day of work was yesterday, Monday Feb 28th. It definitely feels a little weird to be working and not in university anymore :( I definitely miss the student life, but my time here in Colombia working is going to be really exciting, and I can tell Im going to learn a lot.

My job is with El Centro para la Innovación, Consultoría y Empresarismo (CICE), which is a consulting firm within EAFIT University. EAFIT is a private university, and one the best in Colombia. Essentially I will be working in teams on different consulting projects for small/medium companies, and entrepreneurs. For these companies I will be doing a lot of research to complete different market analysis, business plans, exportation plans etc. My job is also all in Spanish, which is awesome but also challenging, as Im still adjusting to an all Spanish environment after 2 months of no Spanish while in Brockville, waiting for my visa. So Im slowly getting back into the swing of things, and learning a lot of new technical business vocabulary.

On my first day of work I met with my boss, Angela, her bosses, and the rest of my coworkers in CICE. Everyone is really nice and also relatively young. I'd say the average age of the office is probably 28-30. On my first day of work, my boss explained to me how CICE works, and who they work with, and the sort of things I can expect to be doing for different Colombian companies. Then I had a meeting with Angela, and two of my coworkers Lady and Sara. We had about an hour long meeting (all in Spanish), about why I chose the job, what interests me about the job, what sort of things I like to do, and then what kinds of projects are going on right now. It looks like the first couple of projects I will be working with are in the technology sector, which should be pretty interesting.

Here's what my days are like: I work from 8am - 12noon, then 2-6pm. Yes, that's right, I have 2 hours for lunch. Which is quite different from any job Ive had in Canada. Since I live so close to campus (right across the street), I come home, make myself some lunch and then have an hour long nap. It's wonderful. During the day with my coworkers we go to one of the many cafeterias for a 15-20min break around 10am to get a coffee or some kind of beverage and possibly food. Then around 4pm we go again. haha. My work environment is pretty relaxed, and social. Everyone is also super helpful, and very excited for me to be there. If I ever have trouble understanding anything they always break it down for me in Spanish, or tell me the word in English.

So far I've been doing a lot of reading. On Monday I read a large project proposal for a Colombian company which was written completely in Spanish. It took me a while to go through the document, since while I was reading it, I'd make a list of new technical words I was unfamiliar with. Then today (Tuesday) I was given a book to read (in english, yay), about new age business models that includes a bunch of case studies. Tomorrow I have 2 meetings with my coworkers, and the big bosses of CICE. One of the meetings is over lunch, so we have that provided. yummy.

So far Im really enjoying my job and the people I work with. They have great sense of humours, and are really friendly. So here I am ... I have officially joined the working world. Im very lucky to have a job right out of university that has so many qualities of my "perfect" job - for example: a) ability to work abroad, b) ability to use my Spanish everyday, c) job revolves around International business and d) is research intensive


My New Apartment!

Here are some photos from my new apartment!

My apartment complex:

Swimming Pool:

Walkway to get to my apartment:

One of the many open and outdoor seating areas:

My room!

My room pt 2:

Living Room: