Posted by: Sarah | April 17, 2006

Reflecting back….

Immediately upon my return from AXLDS, several people, both Colombian and American, had asked me to share with them my thoughts of the experience, my impressions of the country and the culture. I’ve spent the past couple weeks reflecting on this, taking advantage of a perspective enhanced by time, coming down from the “high” of the conference.

While in a new country, you become immersed in the new culture, and every sense becomes heightened as you try to absorb everything around you and understand the unknown. Feeling simultaneously vulnerable and intrigued, I was able to let go of my “reality” for nearly 2 weeks. I tied up the most important loose ends and set my email vacation settings before I left. Fully aware that I would have plenty to make up when I returned, I left behind all thoughts of work and school responsibilities. Although I was able to access wireless on my laptop on a fairly regular basis, there is a strangely refreshing sense to turning off your cell phone and forcing yourself to cut off daily dependence on technology, if only temporarily. And just like that, I allowed COLOMBIA to become my “reality” for 12 days. The willingness to lose myself in this new culture proved to be more fulfilling, life-changing, and perception-altering that I ever could have hoped.

In the past two weeks since I have been home, I have been faced with reverse culture shock, the realization of my rapidly approaching college graduation and the many bittersweet emotions that come with that territory, and the frustration of being unable to really express to others what my time in Colombia meant to me. Any words that I find fall grossly short of capturing something for which there no words vivid enough to explain.

And now, I constantly find myself reflecting on Colombia, AXLDS, AIESEC, and how these three things fit into my future. Before the conference, a traineeship in South America was definitely in the back of my mind, an opportunity to fulfill my desire to learn Spanish and immerse myself in a region whose history, economy, politics, and culture have become a recent fascination of mine. Yet, it was not by any means my immediate post-grad plans. Until recently. Not long after I arrived in Colombia, something hooked me.

Colombia es pasión, the best kept secret in the world

It was everywhere. It was more than simply seeing it in the powerpoints or reading these phrases in the tourist brochures. It was more than the discussions, debates, and brainstorming sessions about what this meant in the context of the Creo en Latinoamerica LDS session.

I felt it.

We all did. I had discovered a culture that revolves around passion, a country who lives and breathes this passion, a sentiment so pure and genuine running through the veins of every person living there. I glimpsed the rich heritage and the profound natural beauty.

Above all, I was greeted by people so willing to share this culture with me, in every way they could, from teaching me to salsa and introducing me to reggaeton to sharing my love of good coffee. Every Colombian I met was so excited that I was open to accepting what they had to show me. The relationships that I built were reciprocal. I was an American, but I was an American skeptical of the generalizations held by many others in my country. I had refused to accept the stereotypes that held little merit beyond assumptions BECAUSE I WANTED TO SEE FOR MYSELF, TO FORM MY OWN OPINIONS, TO UNDERSTAND.

Leading up to my trip to Colombia, as I told people where I was going, I was answered with one of two extreme opposite reactions, as were each of the other Americans who I came with. While many people responded along the lines of – “wow, that’s going to be awesome”, I received far too many skeptical questions and comments such as – “really? why would you want to go there?” or “you know, that’s really not a very safe place”, heavy with negative connotation, often including the buzzwords of DRUGS or GUERRILLA WARFARE. The nurse at UHS even gave Anna paperwork with warnings of kidnapping when she got her yellowfever shot in attempt to persuade her not to go (note – 3 days before we were leaving).

Fueled by my disappointment and frustration of these comments and my own desire to learn, I eagerly listened as the Colombians each told me about their hometown, the beauty of their country, and why they were proud to be Colombian. It didn’t take me long to understand, Colombia es pasión, the best kept secret in the world.

Each Colombian saw how quickly the other Americans and I had fallen in love with their country and pleaded eagerly with us to tell everyone we could at home how Colombia really is.

“Sometimes it’s very unfair, we just can’t compete with the media and with the bad news that are constantly shown about our country. But if we can change one person’s perception by showing our culture and our people, than it’s worth it”
– email from Sebastian, Medellí­n

So while I may not have a concrete answer to everyone who has asked me what was the best part of my trip, why I loved the culture, or most importantly, what made me so determined to find a traineeship in Colombia, I know that it is the next step in my life and that it just makes sense. One glimpse into this culture was not nearly enough to satisfy my curiosity.

Two weeks later and the impact of my travels to South America has not lessened. The conference was one of the most inspiring experiences that I have had in quite awhile. Every single person I met touched my heart and changed my life immensely.



  1. every place has a secret

  2. i’m glad your blog wasn’t lost forever. That post was worth all the trouble…

  3. That was a great post Sarah. I know the feeling with Latin American culture..the language, dancing, music, warmth… it’s not hard to just become absorbed and fascinated and in love with all of it. I really hope you find a traineeship in Colombia; it will be an incredible experience. Good luck!

  4. I couldn’t have said it better myself Sarah, although i’ve tried. I’ll meet you in Colombia!

  5. Hi there Sarah.

    Let mi tell you. Is the best comment I have ever read from a person after leaving Colombia. This is the best way we have to multiply it: from the very deep of a person’s hearth that is full of truth.

    Thank you very much. Colombia will be your home forever !

    Sebastián Bustamante.

  6. Hey rooomie!!!!

    About your comment in my blog… right back at you!!!

    Let me tell you, I don’t know if I told you that I’m half Colombian (because of my mum), and since last year I have started to really feel the passion we talk so much about. I totally share the feelings and the impressions that you had there, and let me tell you that I was so amazed by your words that I cryed!

    I really hope you can have an other experiences down here, and if any AIESECer can feel the same way you and I did during our trip, I gotta tell you that we and all @ are doing a great job!

    Keep in touch, love,

    Kevy Nathalie

  7. This is amazing shit! Your passion is so inspiring, Sarah! I wish we were at Amy’s cafe, looking thru your pictures, and I could hear your stories in person!

    Miss you!

  8. Sarah, Colombia is undergoing a tipping point effect. Your wonderful story helps in creating a balanced word of mouth on this wonderful best kept secret. For more info, check out

    Pedro Medina

  9. fantastic..kickass posting. had a very close friend of mine from switzerland at apx in columbia – giovani from switzerland …saw him in a couple of your pictures….
    and drop me a line if you want some good names on raggaeton:), its taken over my playlist.

  10. […] sense of being at home when I arrived in 2006 for that fateful AIESEC conference that would change my life forever, for the […]

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