This post was originally written for Uncover Colombia.
“You live in Colombia now,” I often have to remind myself. I repeat this obvious tidbit of information the most when I find myself in a situation that I would not likely be faced with if I were still living in the United States.
Moving to another country requires making adjustments. Some are huge, like communicating in a different language and others are minor, such as not having your favorite coffee chain located around every corner. (Oh Starbucks, how I miss you.)
Here are 5 adjustments I had to make while living in Bogotá, Colombia:
I was so accustomed to jumping in my car and promptly arriving to my destination in the United States. Not anymore. Getting anywhere in Bogotá is quite a hassle. Buses run regularly, but they are often extremely crowded. Riders shove each other while boarding the buses and are usually so packed with people, the doors struggle to close. My commute to work takes about an hour. That’s an hour of listening to audiobooks and summoning patience.
Flash back to my first week in Bogotá. Picture me standing over a washing machine with my phone in hand, trying to translate what each button meant. Even though I eventually figured out the difference between soak and spin-dry, I still had to get use to air drying my clothes in lieu of a dryer. A machine to dry your clothes is a luxury not a lot of Colombians have. Gone are the days when I can expect to turn dirty clothes into clean, dry clothes in less than an hour. Now it is all about hanging those granny panties on the line for the whole world to see and pray it doesn’t rain.
Before I moved to Colombia, the only things you would find in my wallet were an ID, a debit card and maybe a single dollar bill (in case a gumball machine started calling my name). Now I carry cash at all times. Not every store or restaurant takes plastic and lines for ATMS can sometimes be 25 people deep. I always try to keep at least 30,000 pesos in my purse and a few more bills inside my bra in case my purse gets snatched. Stashing away cash on your person isn’t out of the ordinary in Colombia.
Every country has its slang and quirky sayings, and Colombia are no exception. I am still adjusting to the colloquialisms I hear on a daily basis. Colombians love using diminutives, especially when it comes to food. Ahuevo, or egg, becomes huevito. Café, or coffee, becomes cafecito. The words sound very similar, but to someone who is still learning Spanish, adding a different ending to a word can cause confusion.
I am not in the habit of exchanging pleasantries with strangers. Although people don’t greet each other on the streets of Bogotá, they do in hallways and elevators. I can always expect to be met with a “good morning” or “good afternoon” when entering an elevator. Conversely, I always hit my fellow elevator riders with a hasta luego upon arriving at my floor, knowing full well we will most likely never see each other again. Living here has taught me to acknowledge the people near me instead of keeping my head down and fiddling with my phone.
I definitely don’t consider myself settled in this new country. In fact, the other day I fell asleep in the movie theater (don’t ever take me to see a superhero movie and expect me to stay awake) and for a few moments after I woke up, I couldn’t understand why the characters were speaking Spanish and not English.
Recognizing the need for adjustments and then actually making them has made this transition of living in Colombia a lot smoother.