This is part of our "Meet Our Students" series and learned more about the Spanish learning experience Colombia Immersion has to offer. We're a Spanish school, language and cultural immersion community, and a resource to you on getting to know true Colombian culture via Medellín.
Audrey lives at the Envigado campus while taking classes. She’s a precocious 25-year-old freelance graphic designer who believes in the goodness of the world. She’s lived in New York for the last three years, before being impassioned to start her learn Spanish experience here in Medellin. Once she heard the call of discovery, she decided to follow her curiosity.
Here Audrey tells her story in first person, sharing the ups and downs of her journey to Medellin and her experience with Colombia Immersion.
Colombia Immersion - Envigado: 8 weeks, 4hrs/day + 5hrs/week coaching
Occupation: Graphic Designer
From: Harlem, NY via Maryland
Favorite Spanish phrase: Tranquilo
Two Magic Words: Colombia Immersion
“I was working in New York as a graphic designer. I loved doing my job. I was working at place called the International House; they are a nonprofit that works to bring together an international community of graduate students from all around the world who come to study at Columbia or NYU, and they need a place to live.
International house was built with [this] understanding… After World War II, what would the world be like if people, the leaders of these nations had actually lived together at one time, and got to know each other more than just across the table at a meeting.
I moved there because I was working for Nickelodeon which housed their employees at International House while I was in the summer associates program. Being there, being around so many different people with different cultures who spoke many different languages, and especially being around people who spoke Spanish... I was like, you know, I’d really like to be able to help better.
I would just have a lot of experiences with people asking me, you know, ‘Do you know how to get to X-place?’ in Spanish. And I’d be like, dang, I know how to get there, but I don’t know how to respond back to them.
I went to Guatemala for about a week and studied there. I really liked it, but I wanted something that was a lot more activity-based. After school in Guatemala, I wouldn’t have anybody to talk to. Basically, I’d just go to the market and talk to people.
But then I’d have to spend money because they’re trying to sell their stuff. I could work on things like, ‘¿cuánto cuesta?’, but other than that, they’re not trying to talk.
And my host family was just people that I stayed with. They really didn’t have a lot of interaction. So I said, the next time I do this, I really want to do something more activity-driven.
A lot of people said Colombia would be a good place to learn Spanish because they said they have a lot of good Spanish - whatever that meant. So I had looked up two words, “Colombia immersion” and obviously the school came up. I wanted an immersive Spanish learning experience, and I knew I wanted it in Colombia. Then, I saw they had opportunities for volunteering, and I was like, this is ever better. It really worked out really well.
“I was surprised to see so much fried food here. I had no idea that was a thing. To see so much fried chicken and bread and soda… I was like, ‘Who is making the menu?’ I was expecting a lot more fish, shrimp, chicken. I was expecting things that I hadn’t seen before.”
Don’t Go There, It’s Dangerous
“This idea of like, don’t go there it’s danger... For me, as a black American, America is not a very safe place, and I think that we as Americans have to be very careful when we start saying, Oh that place over there is rough.
You really have to figure out, rough for who? Who is this place easier for?
Danger altogether is sad, but I think that we cannot draw lines. Instead of saying a place is really in trouble, don’t go there- it’s like, if it’s really in trouble, how can we help? Are we just going to leave them in trouble by themselves?
For me, traveling, it was very personal. It was something that really helped me as an adult. On a social level, it’s important for us to get to know each other, and it’s important for us not to build lines, you know, ‘This, that is good, and this, that is bad.’”
“Medellin is very different. I think my experience has been very different than a lot of other people’s. I think that maybe a lot of people aren’t used to seeing the tourist that looks like me. Being a darker shade, having hair that’s a bit different than what a lot of people see. Being a bit taller. Just not blending as well. It was definitely something a lot harder to get through at first because walking through the streets people would just look at me, and be stuck.
I could tell that they didn’t want to be rude, but they also kinda didn’t know how to stop looking. So I would just try to say, ‘Hola!’ And they’d either say ‘hola’ back really suspiciously or they wouldn’t say it back at all.
So it was kinda hard for me at first because the people were always - everyone in class was like, ‘The people here are so nice! It’s just so easy to get along with people.’ That’s what made me think, maybe because I don’t look like the rest of my classmates, maybe I’m experiencing something different than what they are.
I can’t say that the people here are mean, or anything, I can only say that they are reacting to me a bit differently.
But eventually, I did one of the challenges [at Colombia Immersion] to go somewhere and volunteer, so I went to this place called Viga House. I would say that they are the people who I most relate to here because they’re the ones that are the outcasts. They’re the ones that have mohawks, do skateboarding. It’s a community center which provides free classes for adults, teenagers, anybody who is of age, but maybe not working or working on building something. So they provide a lot of different services to just people trying to be innovators.
So I go there to get my homework done because they like messing with me about my Spanish, but they help me a lot with my Spanish. They like learning about me and the States, and sometimes hearing me speak a bit of English to help them.
After that, I don’t know what changed, but then people in the streets started saying hello to me. Maybe cause they had seen me go a couple times and were over the shock. I think people feel more comfortable approaching me and saying hello, so it’s going a lot better.”
I don’t know if I would recommend the way that I do this, but I’m very blessed that I’ve gotten to do this. My schedule is very, very hectic. I work, I volunteer and I go to school, so that doesn’t leave a lot of time for field trips or a lot of time for going out either, and my schedule can change really fast. I would definitely say to try to just do two, don’t try to do three. So my advice would be don’t put too much on your plate.
The Inside Scoop
The school is a very active house, so there’s always something to get into. I think that living there has let me see a lot. As a student, you might see people in your class, and then you leave. But as a volunteer, you get to see the whole arching process.
As a student, you have days when you’re like, I’m not sure how this is going. But being there to be able to see how many different levels there are, two things happen: The first thing is that you see people that know a little less Spanish than you.
Then you can remember ‘Wow, so I do know a lot more than I did at a previous time.’ So that’s comforting. I’m not completely failing. I have made some progress. So that’s very good. And then you also have moments where you meet people who still know a lot more than you, so you’re like, ‘Okay, so I still have more to learn.’
As a volunteer, my job is to help people see what they would get from the school. Not just the classes that are offered, but after you leave the school, what you can expect to know.
I do video interviews. They do all of their answers in Spanish [in the interview]. So someone could look at that and say by the end of basic, I should know how to do the same thing. I do that for all four levels.”
Language Becomes a Living Thing
What I liked about Spanish was that, whenever I heard someone speaking it, they were always talking to someone as if they were already family, no matter what they were saying.
I get so excited every time I would learn a little bit of [Spanish] and my head would do this little tingling feeling. When I was in it and speaking it, it feels so good. And it hurt so much every time I would leave class and stop and go back to English because I could feel myself stop learning. I don’t get it with other languages - no shade to other languages - but just the flavor of it, the behavior of it. It sounds like someone’s tongue is just dancing in their mouth. I just like the spirit of it.
Especially the intercambio, I think it’s honestly one of the strongest things about the school. I think that is where your language becomes a living thing. It’s not your books, it’s you actually talking to people who are safe because they’re trying to learn too.”
Favorite Spanish Phrase
“Tranquilo. I like the way it sounds. I love when they say it because it means that I should just calm down. If I make a mistake, they usually say, ‘tranquilo, tranquilo.’ I like that people are so forgiving. It’s just like, look, it’s not a big deal… calm (down) we’re good.
Meet Other Students
Check out more profiles from our "Meet Our Students" series!
Kenya Evans runs alongcameawriter.com in which she writes about her life, travels and reflections on life lessons. As a Benjamin-Button-aging, late 30’s, solo-traveling, black American woman with a deep pondering for life as we know it, she guarantees a cargo load of beautifully human stories that will make you laugh, shake your head, pump your fist, take notes, and, hopefully, think a little differently about what you thought you knew.