To kick off 2020 and give a behind-the-scenes look at one of CEA's newest study abroad destinations, we chatted with Maritza Gardner, the CEA Program Director in Bogotá, Colombia. Keep reading to discover Maritza's experience before joining CEA, her reasons why students should study abroad in Bogotá, and what you might not know about this beautiful Colombian city.
What’s your favorite part about living in Bogotá?
My favorite part about living in Bogotá is really the access you have to everything: great restaurants with both traditional Colombian food and international cuisine, hiking, museums, shopping and easy travel access to get to other parts of Colombia!
Why is it a great place to study abroad?
Colombia is such a great place to study abroad for so many reasons. There is so much history here with its culture and politics, and it's a really amazing place to be if you want to see a true turnaround of a country. It's centrally located, so travel is a huge plus here! I can't think of too many study abroad locations where you can visit the Amazon, see a snow-capped mountain, hang out on the Caribbean and Pacific coast, or see the ocean from a desert sand dune. You can see all of that here in Colombia and for a very reasonable price. And, of course, the people here are amazing. They're so excited that people feel safe and confident now to explore their country, and they're always willing to help, which makes adjustment a little easier!
Tell us a bit about your background and your role with CEA in Bogotá.
My background is a bit of a mixed bag. I was born in Bogotá, but grew up in the United States in Michigan. After I graduated from university, I wanted to know more about my birth country and what I thought would just be six months of teaching has turned into four years of working in various projects. I've coordinated volunteer teacher groups here in Colombia with the Ministry of Education and shared my love and passion for the country with more than 300 volunteers. I consider myself very lucky to have found a new place in CEA as the Program Director, sharing my love for arepas de chocolo, best Colombian weekend getaway tips and inside knowledge of the country with the students who will be studying here.
What are you most looking forward to having CEA students experience in Bogotá?
I think I am most excited about students' reactions following their semester here in Bogotá. Bogotá is not your typical study abroad destination, but it should be one on everyone's radar! It's culturally very distinct, and I want students at the end of the semester to be able to say, "Wow, I just lived some of the best, most challenging and life-changing moments of my life in Bogotá, Colombia," and to eventually go back to the United States and want to continue to promote a positive image of Bogotá and Colombia as a country. I want their experience to be unique and individual, which is very representative of what Bogotá and Colombia are like as a whole.
What’s a commonly unknown fact about Bogotá?
Colombia as a country has one of the highest numbers of public holidays in the year, 18 days to be exact, which helps if you're trying to travel on a long three-day weekend! Bogotá itself has the highest number of cycling paths in all of Latin America, which makes for a fun and relaxing stroll on Sunday, or an easier way to get around the city.
What is an important part of the history/culture that you find students aren’t aware of before they arrive in Bogotá?
I think there's a lot of interesting history behind what has happened in Colombia in the years past -- the most obvious being the political changes and improvement to safety measures within the country. Some students might still be apprehensive to make the leap, but the country itself is experiencing a large influx in tourist visits, which speaks well to its changes. I think they would be surprised to hear the viewpoints of Colombians who have actually lived what so many have seen on Netflix and TV.
Also, the food here is not what many might expect; it's not traditional Mexican food or the type of food you might find in Argentina or Costa Rica. Colombian food has its own unique dishes that every student should try once, like a nice bowl of ajiaco after a bike ride!
What might appear to be the most challenging aspect of life in Bogotá for students to adjust to, and how do they overcome the difficulty?
I would say that the two most difficult challenges would be the altitude in Bogotá (it's the third-highest capital in South America) and the language. While Bogotá is making great strides to promote bilingualism in the city and country, there are still many people who don't speak English or haven't had many opportunities to speak in English. This can be challenging socially, but if there are students looking to improve their Spanish, I highly encourage Bogotá as a destination, as they speak some of the clearest Spanish here and it's a great opportunity to learn. There is a large expat community and there is a well-developed international department in the partner university here, so there are opportunities to be around other cultures and people and speak English from time to time. Colombians are also very curious about American culture and are always wanting to practice their English!
Anything else you’d like to add about CEA’s new Bogotá programs or the student experience there?
I think the only thing I would like to add about the new Bogotá program is that this program is definitely suited for those who are looking for a unique experience and at a very affordable cost, which sets it apart from other destinations. The country is very stable at the moment and experiencing lots of international growth and opportunity, and I encourage every student to look into the program to educate themselves about the country and also dare to challenge themselves and study in a new country! Saludos!
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