What did you expect from Colombia before you arrived the first time?
Unfortunately, in the United States we only get exposed to a narrow minded view of Colombia by the media. We only hear the bad things about war, drugs and violence. I have to admit that before my first trip to Colombia I was a little apprehensive to come here. But I thought that regardless of what the conditions were really like, my girlfriend and her family had lived their whole lives here and they seemed very happy.
How long did you stay for that time?
My first visit was for four weeks in December of 2004 and January 2005.
Where did you visit while you were there?
My wife’s family wanted me to really see as much as I could that first trip. They were incredibly gracious hosts and loved showing me Colombia. We visited Bogota, Tibasosa, Villa De Leyva, Zipaquira, Raquira, Boyaca and Villavicencio. Plus many small towns in between.
What was your favorite part of Colombia?
The part that really stood out in my mind that first trip was how important family and celebration was to the Colombians. Our first trip was over the Christmas and New Years Holidays and it made the scenery and festivities that much more incredible. All of the towns were beautifully decorated and families were out in the town squares listening to music, eating food and snacks from street vendors and having a great time. Growing up in Florida our towns idea of Christmas decorations was screwing plastic snowmen and wreaths to power poles along the main streets. In Colombia we saw whole towns outlined in lights, including the buildings, trees, churches, houses, everything. Its hard to explain but it was just the whole feeling of the people and places being totally and completely different than the violent and war-torn Colombia portrayed in the media.
What is your most fondest memory of Colombia?
My fondest memory was proposing to my wife on Christmas Eve in her Grandmothers apartment in central Bogota in front of her entire family.
Will you visit again?
Not only did I visit three more times over the years, in January of 2012 I moved my wife and son to Colombia so that she could be closer to her family and so that my 4 year old son could learn about his Colombian family and culture.
In a few sentences can you explain why someone should make the effort to visit Colombia.
People live every day the best they can with what they have. This is the same anywhere you go in the world. I know that things are far from perfect in Colombia but you cannot find any place in the world that is perfect. Regardless of where you go, even the United States, you will find issues and problems. They may not be in international news headlines but they are serious issues affecting people’s lives. Many of my students have asked me if I like Colombia and if I think it’s better than the United States. My answer is, I love Colombia because it’s different and it’s not the United States. Since moving here I have found that there are a lot more good people here than there are bad people. Colombia and its people are so much better than their reputations in the international media. I now tell my friends and family to leave their expectations behind and come see how things really are. People here truly want your time in Colombia to be a great experience. They do not want their country to be seen around the world as a war-torn, drug-ridden, dangerous place. They have a lot of pride for their country, and want to share that. Just like it says in Colombia’s new ad campaign, The only risk is wanting to stay!