When I talk to people from home, I frequently receive the same question: What do you do every day? It’s the same question, full of honest curiosity, that I asked former Fulbright scholars before I got here. Now that I’m three months (!!) into my Fulbright year, most of my days have become fairly routine. So, I thought it’d be helpful to break down a few things that happen in a normal work week, which include:
- Spanish practice
I was better at this in August + September, fell off the wagon a bit in October, and am now trying again for November. In the mornings, I listen to Spanish lessons on Spotify/YouTube, read blogs in Spanish, and/or journal in Spanish. Even though many of my daily interactions and all of my research interviews are in Spanish, this gives me the chance to go over grammar issues and create flashcards for words I don’t know.
- Camping out in a coffee shop
As a person who had tasted coffee maybe… five times before setting foot in Colombia, this ain’t my US norm. It took living in South America for me to realize that caffeine is a wonder drug and I am invincible after about four sips. (I don’t even drink soda, so I have zero caffeine tolerance) Here, coffee shops are a staple of my week and baristas now know me by name. And that is, in part, because when I go to a coffee shop, I stay for a while. A long while. I read and write emails, I read through the massive publications I’ve received from different women’s organizations, I take notes on scholarly articles, I work and re-work my final project thesis, and I write blog posts.
- Reading for Fulbright
This goes hand in hand with the camping out part, but reading is such a big part of my days that I feel like it needs it’s own point. I read court cases on abortion and contraception in the US and Colombia, publications and research about abortion laws in other Latin American countries, what happened in the decades before these court cases, and more.
- Off-topic research + news + reading… for fun?!
One thing I really like about this research Fulbright year is that I have the chance to stay current in the news and learn about other topics that I wouldn’t usually have the time for. Lately, I’ve been learning about fracking, the science behind anti-depressants, and social issues in Colombia (not directly tied to women’s reproductive health). Then, if I’m not too tired of reading, I’ve been able to (gasp!) read a novel for fun!
- Salsa class
My original AirBnB host in Bogotá invited me to a casual salsa class with her at a bar on Thursday nights and we had a great time, but I wanted something more formal. Now, I’m taking official salsa classes once a week and they are challenging, but I really enjoy them.
- Lots of juice, Lots of pastries
I eat so much food. I think after having a college meal plan for four years and then working at an awesome workplace that provides breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I never realized how expensive my appetite could be, but good lawd. Plus, thanks to SF, I’m definitely a food snob. Bogotá has some great restaurants, and it’s so hard to turn them down!
- La Universidad Nacional
The university I’m affiliated with in Colombia is La Universidad Nacional de Colombia, in Bogotá. After meeting with their Gender Studies department, I was invited to sit in on a weekly class: The History of Women in Colombia. I’m hoping to sit in on another class during the Spring semester. Then, my advisor at La Nacional leads a small research group of post-grad students working on Masters and PhD theses, which I also attend about once a month. Finally, being affiliated with the university gets me invited to a lot of lectures from visiting authors and scholars.
- Trip planning
Even if it’s a normal week, I’m usually scoping out ideas for places to go/stay for a weekend away (next on my list: Medellin in November and Barichara in December). With as many sites as Colombia has to see, it’s difficult trying to fit everything in a 10-month time frame, while also feeling like you spend sufficient time in your host city.
Am I on the right track? Am I doing enough research? Am I doing the right research? What will I do after Fulbright? Should I have left my job to be here? Was this a smart career move? Is it worth being away from my family for this long? Is it worth being away from my boyfriend for this long? What if I can’t afford San Francisco by the time I get back? Where will I live? etc etc.
- Meeting various women’s organizations and government figures
One of the coolest parts of my Fulbright research year has been the opportunity to meet with different groups and hear about the work of some really awesome women and men who work in reproductive health, social justice in general, the government, and more. Most of these meetings happen in person, though I have met over video call more than once. It’s nice to be able to ask candid questions to people who’s work you admire, and (ideally) hear a candid answer back. I didn’t expect to have met so many people at this point in the year, and to have enjoyed it so much.
I think that’s about it, with the exception of calling my family, friends, and boyfriend every day, usually multiple times a day. No shame! Being abroad in 2016-17 and communicating with the US is so different from how it was even a few years ago. My WiFi access was so uncertain in Chile in 2011, and nearly non-existent during my exchange program in Spain in 2008 (except for that Netgear insert that I could borrow from my host family every once in a while). Now, I have a phone with a Colombian data plan and WiFi is in nearly every restaurant and bar in Bogotá.
In any event, my days are full– but not so full that I can’t welcome some US visitors!