Exchange in the Heart of Colombia

The City

Bogotá is a huge city of 8 million people. There’s a ton of wealth there, but also crazy inequality. The wealth is all concentrated in the north, and the city gets progressively poorer as you move south, in a weirdly perfectly linear fashion. Where you’ll spend most of your time, in the centre, is the perfect ‘not too cold, not too hot’. The centre is chaotic, intelligent and mildly intimidating – the meeting point of student culture from all the universities (the hipster will find home here), homelessness from the south and fancy restaurants and cafes from the north.

pic 1This part of the city is particularly (creepily, at times) well set up for students and foreigners. There are indie film festivals of high quality almost every month, the biggest music festivals in South America and plenty of high quality local music on a regular basis. And of course, there’s the dancing. You can’t escape that. I was not into dancing before I arrived, and here we are six months later, yet another captive of the salsa.

If you’re adventurous and open minded, this huge, at times insane, but incredibly charismatic metropolis is there for the taking.pic 2

Universidad de los Andes

Los Andes is a seriously high quality university – it’s ranked one of the best in South America. (They also claim to have the best wifi in all of South America, which I was not able to disprove after 3 months backpacking.) I had some of the best professors I’ve ever had there. It is easily on par with QUT (possibly better! Depends on the program.) Facilities are great – especially the free gym, which includes a 5th floor pool with one of the best views of the whole city.

Pick your subjects carefully according to your level of spanish/how much you want to study. I took one history course in spanish (I could barely introduce myself when I arrived) that I really struggled with. On the other hand, lecturers (and students) invariably speak perfect English and are very accommodating. My economics professor didn’t mind at all whether I submitted essays and exams in English or Spanish (this is luck of the draw though, some professors will only accept work in Spanish.) There are also a large number of very interesting courses offered in English. In particular there is an International Law subject offered in English and HEAPS of business courses. (There could be in other faculties as well, I don’t know.)

Campus life is also excellent – there is a big society for international students run by local students, who greeted us on the first day with a salsa lesson (you get the idea). Most classes are also fairly informal, discussion/tutorial style, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to make friends with other local students.

Language

Don’t be deterred by a lack of Spanish! I had almost no Spanish at all when I arrived, and it was fine. (Just don’t be as ambitious/stupid as me and take ALL you classes in Spanish; make sure you have a couple in English so it’s not a total disaster.) Colombia is arguably the best place in the world to learn Spanish – they’re famous for speaking clearly and slowly, without much slang. I’m basically fluent after 6 months – you’ll be amazed how fast you pick it up.

Universidad de los Andes also offers a free 3 week intensive Spanish course before the semester starts, which I highly recommend!

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Colombia’s most famous author – read Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude

Accommodation

Most domestic students live with their parents so there’s no on-campus accommodation to speak of. I lived at Residencial 10 (you can find them on Facebook). It’s an international student residence with about 45 bedrooms and a serious party culture. There is a casa (house, beautiful old colonial mansion) and the edificio (a building above a bar) that are around the corner from each other, both 5 mins walk from the university. All the partying (and there’s a lot of it) goes on in the edificio, so if you want a huge social life at your fingertips but a little peace and quiet sometimes, go for the casa like I did. The owners are two Colombian guys around 25 or 26, and they run a really cool operation. They make an effort to get a good proportion of spanish speakers (we had a bunch of Peruvians and Mexicans) so you can practise.

If you want something quieter, cheaper and probably better for your spanish, check out private apartments with other students. There are a few websites around, just google ‘apartamentos en Bogota’. The best areas are La Macarena (incredibly beautiful and safe, HEAPS of amazing int’l restaurants and you could walk or cycle to the university) and La Candelaria (the historical district with most hostels. Also beautiful and closer to the university, but slightly less safe because tourists attract pickpockets). Both of these areas are in the “Centro” and are perfectly safe – see the section on Safety, below.

Whichever option you go for, book a hostel for your first week so you can go and check out the places before signing up to anything. Casa Bellavista is a great hostel (or at least was in 2015, very close to Los Andes, Residencial 10 and lots of museums etc.

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The Centro, Bogotá