Chanel, Barnard College

Public Health in Colombia, 2018

Chanel, a Sociology major from Barnard College, tells us about her time participating in the 2018 Public Health in Colombia course.

“After flying all night long, I was hit by cold wind, sweet smells, and a shining sun. A woman greeted me and said she was there to take me to where I would be living for the next month— it turns out that woman taxi drivers are becoming more popular in Colombia! It had taken me 22 years, but I finally made it to Colombia, where my father’s family is from. I was so excited.

As we drove through the streets, they reminded me of other South American highways I had been on, but as we got closer to the city I was taken aback by how many buildings there were. When we finally arrived at my residence, one of the program coordinators recommended that I pay a visit to the 30th floor to check out the view. I took the elevator straight up and was shocked. The skyline combined mountains and tall buildings and the city expanded for miles. Bogotá was not what I expected. The city is large and booming and surrounded by beautiful green mountains.  

I had decided to travel to Colombia to learn more about a country I knew little about, despite being half-Colombian, and in the first hour of being here I had learned so much. I have continued to learn a ton, both about my heritage and public health in Colombia. The health system is deeply affected by the country’s complex geography, but is making quick strides towards equitable health care. I am also actually more Colombian than I thought. My familiarity with Colombian foods goes beyond arepas and Colombiana, and some of my Spanish is even particular to the coast of Colombia (which is where my grandmother is from). I now root for the Colombian National Soccer team; and, I highly recommend watching the World Cup in a South American country, where fútbol is a second religion! I have even been able to explore my Latino identity in comparison and contrast to my new Latino friends. While we might all speak Spanish, we have different accents, words with varying meanings, and have had vastly diverse experiences.

I would recommend to anyone who wants to explore their heritage, learn more about different public health systems, or are seeking adventure to study in Colombia. Your time here will not disappoint. Come with an open mind and a big appetite. Try everything and go everywhere. Observe your surroundings, and while learning about this new place, think about what you do not know and should know about your own home before passing judgement on other cultures”.