Saima, University of Leicester

Peacebuilding in Colombia, 2018

Saima studies International Relations and History at Leicester, and tells us here about her time on in the 2018 Peacebuilding course.

“It’s Colombia not Columbia”, “it’s in South America” and “yes I will be completely safe” are just some of the phrases I have had to repeat multiple times before making my very long and tiring journey to Bogotá, Colombia. Having endured total of approximately 17 hours of travel, by far the longest journey I have made to date, I can firmly now say it was worth every hour. I was able to get past my anxieties and worries of travelling long distance alone fairly quickly, the exhaustion of the journey itself definitely aided the processes!

I had many reservations about travelling to Colombia, as any other who makes a mere google search might share! The damaging misconceptions many have, as a result of negative media press, could put people off. The misconstructions regarding drug trafficking, violence and safety are just some issues that may discourage people. However, my short stay in Bogotá has been nothing but a positive experience, the misconceptions are just that, misconceptions. Many of the issues that concern people are very much apparent in all major cities and countries around the world, rather than being only applicable to Colombia.

Once I landed at the El Dorado International Airport, It did not take me very long to grasp the temperamental weather Bogotá had. It took no longer than 45 mins from when I landed to when I got to the accommodation, and I had already witnessed the weather change from warm and sunny to torrential rain, back to sun and back to more rain! It was definitely colder than expected and I would highly suggest anyone travelling to Bogotá to bring a rain jacket and trainers. Comfortable shoes are essential as much of Bogotá is walkable, distance and more generally the people of Bogotá are highly active: if they aren’t hiking, they are cycling. Bogotá’s layout is based on the grid system, which allows you to navigate your way around easily. When you are getting your bearings, it is useful to know that if you are facing the church in the hill at Monserrate you are facing North. Additionally, roads coming down from the mountains (North-South) are known as Carreras and streets that are horizontal (East-West) are known as Calles. Learning this quickly was very useful as it enabled me to be aware of where I am in my surroundings.

My initial impression of Bogotá as a city was organised chaos, the disorder mainly related with the busy roads which contrast with the breathtaking mountain views and pictorial graffiti along many of the buildings. The surreal contrast between the urban architecture and the mountains was  something I could not have imagined. Most importantly, the kind and friendly nature of the Colombian people has had a significant impact on my positive experience so far and is something I will endlessly associate Colombia with. I look forward to making the most of my last week here and I hope that someday I am able to make another trip to Colombia and visit other cities aside from Bogotá.