The flight into Bogota was fine – once my nerves calmed. It definitely would have been better if the little kid behind me wasn’t kicking my chair, but you can’t have everything, right?!
Upon landing, I got my first taste of Colombia: a test of patience. I am not a patient person, and I don’t appreciate inefficiency. But as I’ve been told again and again at orientation, sometimes in Colombia you’ll make an appointment and the person won’t show, or sometimes a meeting will start 20+ minutes late. In sum, as a guest in the country, I’ve been instructed to arrive on time… but bring a book, just in case.
So, after all twenty of us on the flight got our passports stamped, found our luggage, and made our way through customs, we waited for the cars they had hired to take us to the hotels. The cars eventually got to the airport, and then we were told to leave our luggage there with some of the Fulbright people and go to our hotels without it. I did not like being separated from my large suitcase (we had just been reunited!), but I obliged and kept my carry-on duffel with me.
About thirty minutes later (and three hours after our flight landed), we got to the hotel, which is definitely a treat. Unfortunately, my luggage didn’t show up anytime soon. I waited and waited from my hotel room. I called down to the front desk and they said they’d call back when it arrived. I fell asleep around 1am with the lights on waiting for their call, and woke up around 6am when my new roommate got in from her redeye flight! I pulled myself out of bed around 7am, went downstairs, and they found my suitcase in a hotel closet. I mean, I was happy to see it and all, but I had to sleep in the random assortment of the clothes I had in my carry-on bag, and not the PJs + comfy clothes in my checked bag.
Needless to say, that whole day I was exhausted for orientation. My only relief was that everyone was equally tired. And, to make things more difficult, Day #1 of orientation was a full day. 8am – 5pm of lectures, with a lunch break and coffee break (strangely, no coffee was served during the coffee break, just sandwiches and french fries).
We heard welcomes from the Executive Director of Fulbright Colombia, the Director of Fulbright for the Western Hemisphere, the U.S. State Department’s Education and Cultural Affairs Officer, and more. We heard lectures on Fulbright in Colombia and how it has expanded, U.S. and Colombian Relations, and Contemporary Politics. Then, we got the pants scared off of us with a Regional Security Briefing from the U.S. Embassy. Seriously, alllll of the worst case scenarios of what can happen to Americans abroad, told in one hour. You can let your mind wander on that one, I’m not going to relive the stress by repeating anything here.
Fortunately, today (Day #2 of orientation) took a far more positive tone. We heard about tourism in the country, the current peace process between the Colombian government and FARC, and then split into groups based on where we’ll be based. I was, of course, in the Bogota group and got to hear tons about the different neighborhoods and transportation options, sites to see in Bogota, sites to see on day trips near Bogota, places to work out, places to dance, various museums, various restaurants. It was great.
Overall, things are really good. Sometimes they’re stressful and inefficient, and I still feel like a fish out of water, but I can see myself finding a group of friends and adjusting to life here. The weather is nice and mild, and there’s so much to do in this city and around the country! Plus, I’ll have a built in network of friends through Fulbright, including about 20 people who will also be in Bogota.
Last night, after nearly pooping my pants from the Regional Security briefing, I got to hang out with some of them. I went out with my roommate and a few of the other research Fulbrighters for a drink at the Bogota Beer Company. It was a great little spot, specializing in craft beer, and I felt at home on this outdoor patio, surrounded by a gate lined with vines. I know I’ll have difficulties during my time here, but it made me happy to be in Colombia at this moment.