So if you’re as excited as us about our ever broadening range of South America programs, you’ll be equally pleased to know that if you choose one of them, you’ll be in the super capable hands of our wonder woman on the ground in Colombia: Carolina. She’s a newer member of the team and I chatted to her to find out a bit more about her and help you get to know the friendly face who’ll be helping you along, before you go over. Right now she’s focussing on our teach English in Colombia programs before expanding to even more exciting countries on the continent!
Interested in Teaching English in Colombia? We’ll send you more info!
Nick (N): Thanks for taking the time to speak to me out of your busy schedule, I know we’re all super busy at the moment and you even more so with everything you’re working on!
Carolina (C): No problem! Really excited to chat and get my story up on the blog.
N: So, first question, what’s your job description at TravelBud, what are you responsible for doing?
C: Sure, so my official job title is Program Development Specialist. So I’m involved with setting up structure for programs like Colombia and speaking to potential partners in South America for new programs. So this week I spoke to a potential partner in Peru and next week I’m hoping to schedule a meeting with a potential partner in Chile, so yeah, very exciting!
N: Awesome, I’m really excited to hear more about those! But first, let’s first talk about you, you’re obviously Colombian, so where in the country were you born and where did you grow up?
C: I grew up in Bogota, which is the capital, but my family is from Cartagena on the coast.
N: Wonderful! So do you go often to Cartagena?
C: I do! I try to go once or twice a year just because my entire family, except for my mom and dad, still live out there. I’ve got uncles, aunts, cousins and both my grandmothers live there. It’s really funny, they live like two blocks from each other and even went to the same high school, way, way back like 60 years ago. Yeah, who would have guessed that their children would have ended up marrying each other!
N: Sounds like a close-knit community! I also believe you studied abroad, is that correct?
C: Yes, I did. I studied at the University of Melbourne in Australia, I was there for about 3 and a half years. I was abroad for about 4 years but I did a semester of exchange in Geneva in Switzerland, so that was very exciting!
N: Oh wow! That must have been a really diverse education! What did you like about studying in Australia?
C: Well, the people were really nice and Melbourne is a bit of a bubble separate from the rest of Australia, in that it’s very liberal, it’s very open, so as a foreigner I didn’t feel, I guess… ostracized for being different there. I felt welcome and it was just overall a very great experience for me, it really helped me figure out what I wanted which was great.
N: Awesome, what did you study there?
C: I studied creative writing and French but… my French is not that great haha! That’s why I decided to go to Geneva to try and improve it, but I have to confess I was much more focussed on the traveling there haha!
N: And now you’re working for a company that organizes teach abroad experiences in English! You speak English like a first language speaker, so did you study it at school?
C: I did, yes. I had mostly local teachers though as I was at a private school, but after 6th grade I had one local and one speaking coach who was usually a native speaker, a foreign teacher who came in for a semester or a year to help out.
N: How about in public schools? Does it work the same?
C: I would say it’s a lot less common in public schools, they usually just have the local second language speaker teacher, teaching them English. Well, that’s unless that public school is a participant in a program like the ones we are running with our partners.
Seeing the world
N: Okay, makes sense! Now let’s talk about travel, where else have you traveled? Have you traveled a lot?
C: I have! I’ve been very fortunate in that sense. When I was in Australia, my parents came to visit me and we decided to go and do a little bit of East Asia. We went to China, Japan, Taiwan, it was awesome! And with my friends I went to New Zealand and Thailand. New Zealand was pretty cool, it’s probably one of my favorite countries that I’ve been to. I just loved the landscape, they’re so beautiful, it’s like Lord of the rings!
N: I was just going to ask! You mentioned Europe too. Did you travel much there?
C: Yes! I did. When I was in Switzerland on my exchange semester my best friend from school organized it that we did our exchanges at the same time. I was in Switzerland and she was in France and we just travelled like every other weekend. When I first got to Switzerland I did a small tour around the country with my dad and then I went to France to visit my friend, I went to Turkey and Greece over Easter so that was a nice long holiday over 10 days. After that I went to Spain and even the UK, so yeah, I got to see a nice variety of Europe.
N: So which was your favorite place? Was it New Zealand?
C: That’s a tough one! Every country has its charm. There are some countries I’m like, yeah I’m never going back, but my top places, more than countries were, I would say I really enjoyed Budapest, New Zealand obviously and Brazil was great too. Those would be my top 3 places.
N: And your ultimate travel destination or the next thing you’d like to go and see?
C: I would really love to go to Mexico! I’ve never been and it’s been on my bucket list since like forever, so I’m just quietly searching for programs and partners in Mexico so I can travel there, you know as a work trip haha!
N: I’ll totally meet you there! So TravelBud is based in South Africa, no Africa yet?
C: I have been to Africa! Actually I met with Stu the MD in person, in April. So what happened was this friend who I was in Europe with, her boss was getting married in Mauritius, I just went as her plus one! I got to wear a sari which was just wow, but really hard to get on! I had to get the lady at the B&B we were staying in to help me get it on. And nobody told me that you need clothes pins to get it to stay on and we didn’t bring any. And on top of that it was Easter Sunday there and everything was closed on the whole island so I couldn’t buy any. And we were basically running around the island in a panic looking for clothes pins and all of this happening in French, and well, you know about my French haha! In the end it all worked out though and the wedding was awesome!
And yeah, after that, because I had flown Bogota-Sao Paolo-Johannesburg-Mauritius, I decided to fly from Mauritius to Cape Town and then do a stopover there before flying back to Colombia. So we stayed a few days in Cape Town, just because we heard it was amazing and it really is! I loved it! So, so beautiful, the food was amazing… I really enjoyed it!
N: I’m so glad you did! I hope you come back again one day, or even more so, I hope I can go and visit Colombia.
C: Oh definitely, I’m hoping you’ll all come and visit. I’ll plan everything, I’ll be your tour guide, I’ll plan all the activities.
Life and travel in Colombia
N: I look forward to it! So, speaking of Colombia and Bogota, what do you love about living there?
C: Oh, it’s such a great city, such a big cultural centre, really you can do pretty much everything here, from going to the theatre to see a play or dance performance to movies to hiking around the city… it’s just a really beautiful place and a very diverse place to live. There are so many things to do! The city used to be a lake that dried up and it’s surrounded by mountains. It’s really high up, so people who are used to living at sea level, when they get here they can get a little bit sick from the altitude, we’re at about 2500 meters up.
It’s also a little cold, being so high up. Haha, so yeah you think Colombia and Cartagena, and the beach and rainforest and it’s so sunny but Bogota is right in the middle of the country, up in the mountains and it rains a lot. Like the average temperature is 17 or 18 degree celsius (about 63 F). So you know, it’s not exactly sandal weather!
N: Makes sense! So obviously you’ve traveled around Colombia a lot, what are you favorite places to go?
C: I’m really biased. My family is from the Caribbean coast and I know that area really really well and I love it. But there are so many beautiful things and it’s so hard to choose. There are two coastlines, one on the Caribbean and then one on the Pacific which I’ve never been to. It’s really beautiful and great for ecotourism and whale-watching, very exciting and adventurous. It’s one of the places that’s only opened up to the public recently.
I’m not sure if you know much of Colombian history but there used to be an internal conflict in Colombia for quite a while and some areas of the country have been off limits for the general population. So the Pacific coast used to be one of those areas, but it’s all changed now, the country signed a peace deal with the main guerrilla group last September. So basically, from 2010 onwards traveling around the country has been much easier and it’s definitely much safer than it used to be.
Safety in Colombia
N: So yeah, that’s obviously a question which is going to cross a lot of people’s minds. Is it a safe country to travel around and live in?
C: Well, I’d say big cities are pretty much as safe as any big city would be anywhere else in the world. Big cities in general have safety problems with petty theft and stuff like that and Bogota being a city of like 8 million people, is no exception. My advice to anyone coming here is simply to keep an eye on your things, don’t walk around alone late at night, that’s just like basic safety precautions I’d apply anywhere in the world.
In terms of smaller cities, they’re pretty safe. And traveling around Colombia, as I was saying has gotten much much safer in recent years. The question of security and safety isn’t the dire situation it was in the 90’s, you’re not going to run many risks if you travel around the country by bus or car or even flying. It’s all relatively safe. You’ll just have to take into account just some common sense safety practices, like keep an eye on your things or not booking a a trip with an non-reputable company. Do research before you travel, go with experienced companies, maybe chat to someone who’s been before you or travel with an experienced companion. All this will help you have a pleasant experience.
N: That sounds like good advice, very helpful! And so, I want to ask, with our programs at TravelBud, we know not all of our programs are for everyone. What type of person is teaching English in Colombia not for?
C: I would say, someone who is very rigid probably wouldn’t enjoy their time in Colombia very much. Over here, people are very relaxed when it comes to their commitments haha. There are always changes to plans, for example, when we’re meeting friends and we say we’re meeting at 4, we all know we’re really meeting at like 5! If you’re the kind of person who wants to have everything planned like months in advance, you probably won’t enjoy Colombia that much, you’ll need to be a bit flexible and adaptable to the relaxed culture.
Working for TravelBud
N: It sounds a lot like Thailand from my experience there! Now I want to come full circle to the beginning again and ask why you work for TravelBud? You used to work for one of our partners before and now you’re working with us.
C: Yes! Well, me coming to work for TravelBud seemed to be almost written in the stars. So I knew since late March or early April this year that I was not going to be staying on in my job with one of TravelBud’s partners in Colombia. I was on a short contract and wanted something more permanent. So I started looking into jobs in the same field of volunteering and teaching abroad and I stumbled across a vacancy at TravelBud.
I applied, had a Skype interview with Stu and this was 2 weeks before I had that trip planned to come to Mauritius and South Africa. We started talking and it sounded like our interests really aligned. TravelBud was looking for someone who could open up markets in South America and who could also launch and manage the programs here. Stu offered me this Program Development Specialist role and by the end of the conversation I confessed that was going to be in Cape Town in 2 weeks and wanted to meet in person! And so we met, we had coffee and chatted about the future, the next thing I knew it was July and I was working for TravelBud from Colombia!
N: Wow that was quite fast paced an unexpected, but I’m so glad you’re part of the team! What do you like about working with TravelBud?
C: I really like the organization’s culture, like the way we write emails to each other, we’re so nice to each other! And because I’m the only person in Colombia, a lot of the things I do are quite independent, but it’s great because I get to develop professionally in the sense that I have to learn how to do a lot of things on my own. Then at the same time it’s been great in that every time I’ve had a doubt or been hesitant about something, I’ve been able to reach out to the rest of the team and everyone is super supportive!
Interested in Teaching English in Colombia? We’ll send you more info!