In September 2018 I was part of the International Autumn School Industry 4.0, which was organized by the AWARE Center in Ingolstadt. This was coordinated as an international exchange between THI, UFSC and UFPR from Brazil as well as EAFIT from Colombia. I had the opportunity to spend two weeks with professors and students from these two countries. The autumn school was very intense with a lot of lectures and company visits but we still made time to socialize. This was a very good chance to exchange our cultures and learn from our diversity. Getting to know the Colombian culture, I was impressed by their happiness and fascinated by what I could explore and learn from it. Having all this in mind and considering the disadvantages of possessing a Kosovar passport fulfilled my idea on doing a semester abroad in Latin America; albeit I couldn’t freely choose other countries because of their lack of political recognition of Kosovo as an independent country, I was still enchanted by the idea of me independently studying overseas.
Financing your semester abroad, safety, language!
At first the concerns about money made me question my decision, because I had to find a way to finance the semester myself and I couldn’t take any student’s loan. Following with the safety in Latin America, which worried many friends, relatives and even my parents, regardless of my big ambitions and positive attitude towards this. When I told people that I was going to Colombia, even Medellin, they would either stare at me weirdly or make fun of the situation by sending greetings to Pablo Escobar. I never was the kind of person who let the fear factor scare me and keep me from boarding the plane nor believe the stereotypes the society keeps putting in. Despite the long history of conflict, Colombia has been transformed from narco-state to a nation on the rise. Moreover, the country is showing a willingness to change and improve its image on the regional and global level, and I want to show that it truly is.
As an international student, it’s not that easy to get a scholarship or Bafög, so I had to work in advance to have enough money to finance myself the whole semester. However, there are many scholarships that can support your exchange semester: Promos, Reisekostenstipendium, Baylat and many other scholarships from DAAD, so make sure you plan in advance!
When you search for Colombia on Google, you will definitely have many articles that will question your decision about doing an exchange semester or even travelling there regarding the safety, but that’s not what I experienced. I lived in El Poblado, which is a very safe area. If you avoid specific areas, and you don’t walk alone at night, you don’t have to be afraid otherwise.
The moment I made the final decision to do my exchange semester at EAFIT, I was highly motivated to strengthen my Spanish skills as English is not much spoken there. I tried to do so by having conversations with a lot of exchange students from Latin America at THI and being a buddy for a student from Argentina, which was quite a good influence on my Spanish.
The decision has been made!
Colombia… To be honest there is no other place I would do my exchange semester. The country has a lot to offer, starting with the stunning places, enchanting nature to the very welcoming culture and to many new friends from all over the world that I was able to meet and share this experience together.
I arrived on the 2nd of February in Medellin, two weeks later than I was supposed to, since the semester at THI only ends at that time. At the airport in Medellin, I was welcomed by three of my Colombian friends that I’ve met via AWARE. They wrote me a letter in Albanian, my mother tongue, saying: “Good morning cutie, welcome to Colombia! We’ve missed you so much! Love you Amiga.” I felt incredibly welcomed because it was my first time travelling outside Europe. On our way to my apartment, we stopped at a restaurant to have breakfast: my first Arepa! Loved it!
Colombian time zone… it was not easy… I woke up at 5 am every day during the first week and one of my roommates, who was from Germany, showed me around the place. I went to university and tried to arrange my classes and my ID, where I had to do everything in Spanish. A little tough, isn’t it?
My first going out was that Wednesday… We went to Parque Lleras, known as the nightlife capital of Medellin. It’s a park which is surrounded by bars, hotels and restaurants. There I networked with many exchange students and locals. I had my first small party that night!
I didn’t actually experience a culture shock… Everyone was so helpful that it didn’t take me long to fit in. In my classes, all the students and even the professors were willing to help me to catch up for the missing classes. They gave me the chance to take the missing exams later during the semester. Even in my everyday life, I was feeling like home from the beginning… maybe it’s because of the similarities with the place I grew up. Nonetheless, even if that’s not the case, it’s a very welcoming country!
In Medellin there is a lot to discover, such as parks, hiking trails, beautiful waterfalls where we could enjoy swimming and all with an amazing weather, which was around 25-30°C every day. Different activities and parties were offered by the two student organizations MIEO and LILO. The party week usually starts on Wednesday up to Saturday night, followed with a hiking on Sunday. As an exchange student you don’t want to miss out on anything since you will meet plenty of lifetime friends, get fascinated by the marvellous nature and try the most flavourful food in the world.
The carnival of Barranquilla, the second biggest carnival in the world. They say: “Quien lo vive, es quien lo goza” – meaning those who live it are those who enjoy it. Indeed, being a part of it with the other exchange students we surely enjoyed it. There was a lot of dancing in the streets, we even joined the parade, and everyone was clapping, sharing excitement and happiness.
Salento has an easy access to the Cocora Valley, which is a very popular tourist destination in Colombia. The world’s tallest palms, accompanied with the magnificent landscape, make this place a must visit. It rains almost daily, so make sure you bring your raincoat with you!
Studying at EAFIT
There aren’t many courses offered in English, so make sure you choose the right ones from the beginning. Once you have that, you will have the warmest experience in the university. Two of my courses were in Spanish, and I only had a basic knowledge… so it was kind of tough studying throughout the semester. However, since most of my classmates were locals, they were ready to help me anytime and I usually studied with them just in case I would have any questions. The professors offered me extra consultation hours just to make sure that I was not left behind with the schedule. So, it’s definitely not the case that I ever got lost in the lectures. We would even switch it to English from time to time to clarify the details.
The campus was amazingly beautiful with a very good energy. Many students prepared cookies or ice cream at home and were selling them at a low price. The food court was very big with many options to choose for breakfast, lunch or dinner, depending on the time you had classes. In addition, there is a swimming pool, a Volleyball field, two Football fields, one Tennis field, one Basketball field, Gym, various hair salons, kiosk, pharmacy, library etc.
Regarding the evaluation at EAFIT: it was different compared to THI. For my three classes, I had three midterms during the semester, quizzes and papers every week, and presentations occasionally. It doesn’t sound that bad actually, yet, I wasn’t used to it right away either. You can say that the whole work was already separated for you throughout the semester, so it’s a way of preference.
I didn’t exactly plan my semester to go this way…Everything mentioned above was the beginning of a long list of adventures I wanted to do this semester. I planned to travel to many cities and villages in Colombia, to get to know more about the culture in different parts of the country, but the pandemic overwhelmed the whole world.
Salento was the second and the last trip I could have in Colombia. The classes were cancelled for one week due to the pandemic and we decided to stay a little bit longer in Salento, so we didn’t take our bus back. Unfortunately, we had to go back to Medellin after two days, since the lockdown was on the way.
That is all regarding my outdoor exchange semester in Colombia… The lockdown was really strict, making us stay inside our apartments and going out twice a week, to only do grocery shopping and withdraw money. This wasn’t the exchange semester that I had planned or ever imagined, nevertheless, it was a time of reflection. Being far away from home made me realize how much I should appreciate all the relationships and things I have in life. It got depressing from time to time, yet I had all the professors, other students and my friends checking on me all the time, if I needed to talk or if everything was alright.
Besides taking virtual classes, because of the pandemic, the AWARE Summer School that was supposed to be held in June 2020 between THI and EAFIT in Medellin, got cancelled as well, without a sure date of it happening in the future. This surely added up on my cancelled plans since I was about to help as a student assistant there. Nevertheless, I’m really looking forward to taking part in other events in the future!
In a world without Covid-19, you will surely have remarkable memories if you decide to go there! From the bottom of my heart, I can say that I never regretted a single part of it. Every country has its uniqueness and Colombia has its own which everyone would love to discover!
Elona Morina, undergraduate student of Engineering and Management at THI