*image taken from: solomonsporchradio.com
On October 2nd, I offically completed one year in Barranquilla, Colombia, and two years and one month living as an ex-pat. I know people say it all the time, but time really does fly. It seems impossible that an entire year has already gone by since I first arrived to “la arenosa,” and even more impossible that it has been two years since I made my first transatlantic move to Leeds, England.
I can still remember, very vividly, my arrival to Leeds, England on September 2, 2010. After layovers in Memphis and Amsterdam, my mom and I finally landed in the small, but international Leeds-Bradford Airport. I remember having my fingerprint scanned for immigration purposes and having to explain to the uncommonly nice immigration official why I would be in the United Kingdom for a year, and what I was hoping to do during that time. Very sure of myself, I explained to her that I would be studying for an M.A. in TESOL Studies at Leeds University. At that moment, I could have never imagined that my year in the United Kingdom would afford me so much more than an M.A. degree in TESOL Studies.
My twelve months (to the day) in the United Kingdom were nothing short of incredible. Though there were some trying moments–such as learning how to spot ice patches on the sidewalk, dealing with extremely reduced hours of sunlight in the winter, adjusting to the U.K. university culture, learning to rely 100% on public transportation, and realizing there would be no “true” summer–the positive, inspiring moments far outweigh any of the frustations I may have felt. Seeing the smiling faces and receiving warm hugs of gratitude from my ESOL refugee students at St. George’s Church made up for the 30-45minute walk in freezing cold weather; the hospitatlity I received, the fun I had, and the friendships I gained during my speaking engagements with Rotary Clubs certainly added spunk to my routine; being awarded a grant to go to the 2011 IATEFL Conference from the School of Education made up for any all nighters I had to pull, or any extra hours I had put in at the Resource Room on campus; and, the beyond-words-overall-amazingness of my host counselor, Melvyn, and his wife, Pam, added a touch of “family-specialness” and warmness to my time in Leeds that I will never forget–words can’t express the gratitude I have for Melvyn and Pam.
While I had travelled outside the United States before, my time in Leeds really taught me how to live in a culture and country not my own, something very necessary for my second transatlantic/transcaribbean move to Colombia in 2011.
I have always wanted to travel and be abroad, but I never really contemplated living and making my life abroard (even if only temporary) until I received the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship to go to the United Kingdom. I began to contemplate it again when I started my job search in the spring/summer 2011. I decided to look at job offers all over the world for many reasons: salary, benefits, travel opportunities, language practice and learning, cultural horizons, experience, and professional development. Eventually, after much thought, deliberation, and conversations with friends and family, I decided to make the move and accept a job offer in Barranquilla, Colombia.
As with my arrival to Leeds, I can still remember stepping off the plane at Ernesto Cortissoz International Airport here in Barranquilla. The first thing I felt was the humidity. Having only recently left a chilly Leeds, England and very autumnal Alabama, the humidity was quite a shock. Before I could acclimate, I remember loading ourselves in a taxi with Carolina (the univeristy assistant that received us at the airport). I remember gazing out at the city, passing the larger-than-life Shakira statue, noticing the Rotary International emblem at a certain intersection, and, in a what seemed like a blink, arriving to our hotel.
Since that night, not only has Colombia continued to conquer even more my adventure-seeking soul, but this small and humidity-intense Carribean city has somehow transformed itself into my new home.
The move to Barranquilla seemed like the biggest move of my life, but somehow less of a move than the one to Leeds. I somewhat attribute that to flight durations, luggage costs and limits, physical distance between Barranquilla and Alabama vs. Leeds (England) and Alabama, and the fact that it was my second international move, not my first. Even so, the move to Barranquilla was different from my move to Leeds in that there was/is no definite “leave” date. I always knew my time in Leeds was defined by my student visa, my studies, my year as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar.
While my time in Barranquilla heavily depends on my job and my work visa, there is no outside agency telling me when I need or have to leave. The decision to leave Barranquilla depends 100% on my own personal decision, on me (of course, if and when I leave I’ll have to have a good reason, both economically and professionally). Because of that, over the past year, Barranquilla has become more than a temporary leaping pad. It has become a home. I have settled, as much as one can settle in a years time in a foreign country, and I have began to build a life here.
It may sound odd, but that humidity–feeling, tangibly, that often-hated-mostly-associated-with-summer sensation made all my life-changes finally feel 100% real. When I felt that humidity, I knew my time in Leeds, England was over. I knew a new adventure had begun in Barranquilla, Colombia. And, I knew that Alabama (at least for now) was far away, again.
So, cheers to one more year abroad.