Recently I published a blog post briefly describing the academic side of my semester abroad in Medellín, Colombia. Although studying was an important part of my semester, I was able to create an entirely new and different experience with the activities I did outside of class.
Normally study abroad students take advantage of their time in their host country to travel, and I was no exception. From the beautiful beaches of Cartagena to the ornate Las Lajas Sanctuary in Ipiales, and the salsa clubs in Cali to the unique small towns of Antioquia, I was constantly amazed at the natural and manmade wonders of Colombia. Even the backdrop of the Andes Mountains makes Medellin, a city with a population almost equivalent to that of Chicago, appear absolutely stunning. Travelling in Colombia is also surprisingly inexpensive. One night two other Purdue students and I shared a hotel room for the equivalent of two dollars per person! I highly recommend visiting Colombia to everyone, regardless of your budget. But traveling was not my only extracurricular activity.
Many Purdue students are unaware that Purdue University has created an extensive agreement with businesses, governmental agencies, universities, and nonprofit organizations in Colombia to complete a variety of projects benefitting both Colombians and Boilermakers alike. If you are interested in learning more, refer to the Colombia-Purdue Institute. The Purdue Corporate and Global Partnerships also has the director of Colombian Partnerships and Engagement Office stationed in the beautiful, modern RutaN building in Medellín. There, in a black and gold decorated office, Liliana Gomez Diaz works as the main point of communication for Purdue in the country. Liliana hosts visitors from Purdue and other universities that are working on projects in Colombia. She organizes efforts for initiatives across the country. Liliana even helps connect past and current Boilermakers with each other and the resources they need.
In our first month in Medellin, Liliana invited the Purdue-EAFIT cohort to visit her at the Purdue office and treated us to a typical Colombian lunch. At this meeting she began describing all of the amazing projects that Purdue is working on in Colombia. I believe we were all amazed that our beloved Purdue was doing so much that its students are unaware of. From this meeting, I was connected with two groups that helped shape my time in Medellin.
The first of these is a research group in the Universidad de Antioquia. The group is comprised of PhD and post-doc candidates in chemistry and chemical engineering. All of them know English very well, but were looking for a way to practice their speaking skills. Because of this, myself and two other Purdue students, Paul Krogmeier and Desarae Diedrich, began teaching an English class once a week focused on pronunciation, word choice, professional writing, and conversational speaking. In exchange, the students offered dance lessons in salsa, merengue, and vallenato among other Latin styles of dance.
The second group Liliana connected me with is a group of Colombian students who participated in Project Interchange. Project Interchange is an initiative working to bring more STEM education to the low-income areas of Medellin. Free STEM classes taught by university professors, professionals, and even some Purdue graduate students (via Skype) are offered at local libraries. As a reward for attending the classes and completing various other requirements, a small group of students has the opportunity to travel cost-free to Purdue to tour campus laboratories, interact with Purdue professors and students, and learn more about the possibilities in STEM fields. For many students, this is their first major trip outside of Medellín and for nearly all, their first time in the United States. The first cohort of students to visit Purdue arrived in July of 2014. Upon their return, they had a strong desire to continue learning and practicing English, but found it difficult to find people to talk to.
Very soon after my arrival in Medellin, this group of students became my second English class. Mark Adams, a fellow Boilermaker, and I spent about two hours each week teaching basic level English to these students in the Purdue office. Because of our shared love for Purdue and Medellín, the students, Mark, and I found that we truly enjoyed our time together. Soon we were meeting outside of class to visit the neighborhoods where the students live and the library where the Project Interchange classes were taught. We also explored the city on mopeds and spent evenings in local parks together. Throughout this time I watched as their English and my Spanish improved, and these students became some of my best friends in Colombia.
Thanks to my travels and the two English classes I was able to add another dimension of learning and fun to my study abroad experience. I highly recommend to anyone studying abroad to seek out extra-curricular activities that are challenging and give another insight into the local culture.