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News from Colombia Dave VanderWoude

I am currently working in Business English training for Proexport Colombia and Banco de Comercio Exterior de Colombia (Bancoldex). Also, I teach Business English and Intro to Business at El Colegio de Educacion Superior de Administracion (CESA) and its parent organization, INCOLDA.

When I was asked to write about my experience in Colombia, I hesitated.  I thought that there was nothing I could say to not make people think that I was crazy.  After all, most Americans think that Colombia is about drugs and the coffee man, Juan Valdez. Misguiding coverage from the BBC and false portrayals from the movie, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," where Bogotá looks more like a Mexican village, don't help either.  These are images of the past that the world will not let go.

The truth is that Colombia is an amazing place, with the most beautiful scenery in the world.  It is full of flowers, plants, mountains, and rivers that would put even Costa Rica to shame.  It has five major cities with a large and traditional middle class that has helped to give Colombia the right to be the only Latin American country to have always maintained sustainable levels of inflation, positive economic growth, and no military dictators (except for a couple or years in the early 50's).  Bogota and Medellin are quite sophisticated places where you forget you're in the Americas but rather in Europe.  Cartagena is magical place (UNESCO World Heritage) on the Caribbean and the heart of Colombia's African community that saves Colombia from being a boring Andean nation. Its cities are also showcases of the physical appearance of Colombians.  First off, there is no particular look for a Colombian.  A typical Colombian off the street may look like a Mexican, Bolivian, Jamaican, Persian, Italian, or a German. That's to say that people watching at a cafe on Friday afternoon is a favorite, especially in Bogota. 

This is not all to say that Colombia is a paradise, it is at conflict within its jungles, and its cities deal with the same problems that all other cities within the third world deal with.  My feelings of where I live in Bogotá are summed up perfectly by Canadian writer, Matthew Mallon who wrote in this month's issue of Enroute,

" The unsolvable tensions, the unbridgeable disparities, the vague aftertaste of conflict in the air they all flavour the moment Bogotá is having now, a moment that much of the world hasn't noticed yet and might never notice. Bogotá is not, statistically, more dangerous than, say, Los Angeles on a Friday night, as I told my loved ones before going there. Be careful where you go at night, sure. Don't take candy from strangers, certainly. Avoid forced public salsa dancing or exhibitions thereof. And, whatever you do, take special care you don't fall in love with the place. Because then you're going to have to keep going back. Because this place is beautiful, and loaded."

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Colombia es pasión

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