Carrying Colombia Back to the USA: The End of a WorldTeach Colombia Year

Annie Forman is in her last week in Colombia. Although she is excited to go home, she will miss Colombia and hopes to carry Colombia with her when she returns to the U.S. Read on to learn about her thoughts as she wraps up her service and the 50 ways she measures her WorldTeach year...

I’m not sure how this happened, but December is here and by this time next week I’ll be in the USA! This is a fun little fact about Colombian Spanish: when you ask someone how long they have been in a place, you literally ask them how much time they carry in the place (Cuánto tiempo llevas acá?). I love that because I do feel like I carry all of my time in Colombia with me. I learn from every experience and I carry it all with me to determine how I should act and react in future situations, which words to use, where to go, and so on. Carrying time – so insightful, Spanish. Anyways, I now carry almost a year in Colombia, and that seems almost impossible to me until I really think about how much I know now that I didn’t know on January 1 and everything that has happened between then and now.

Do you remember that song from RENT called “Seasons of Love” about how you measure a year? If you don’t, listen to it super quick: "Season of Love" Or don’t and just take my word for it that the song asks you how you measure each year of your life – in time, in sunsets, in cups of coffee, etc. And the message of the song is that the way you should really measure your life is in love.

I’m so lucky to have the opportunity to live in Colombia and to love what I do, but also so unlucky that what I love doing happens to take me so far away from so many of the people that I love the most. I read an awesome article a couple weeks ago ("The Most Important Question") that basically says that everyone talks about the good things they want to achieve in life, but what we should really consider is what kind of pain we’re willing to endure, because with every great thing that we want comes a certain type of struggle that we have to be willing to sustain. For example, I want to learn Spanish and experience life in a different culture and see amazing places in South America. These are awesome things that I get to do, but in order to achieve them I had to leave behind everything I knew and loved in the US, consign myself to riding the Spanish struggle bus every day, figure out how to navigate a brand new culture and city and job at the same time, get stared at every time I go outside, etc. But this pain and this struggle are worth it to me. Another cool Spanish phrase that we would translate to “worth it” is vale la pena which literally means “worth the sadness/embarrassment/suffering.” So there you go.

Anyways, back to the RENT song about how to measure a year in your life – in general I think I measure this year in love, pain and gain. And more specifically, I measure this year in these 50 ways:

1. People I met
2. New Spanish words and phrases that I learned
3. Bus rides
4. Cups of Colombian coffee
5. Bottles of cheap Colombian beer
6. Skype dates
7. Kilometers I ran at the gym
8. Power outages and water cuts
9. Delightfully inspiring students and impossibly frustrating students
10. Office hours and tutoring sessions
11. Near death experiences
12. All the birthdays of all the members of my Colombian family
13. All the birthdays in the US that I missed, and also all the weddings and new babies and memorial services

14. Words my hilarious 2-year-old host sister learned to say, including “Annie” and “NO!”
15. Curious stares
16. Freezing cold showers
17. Homesick days
18. Free daily newspapers in Spanish that got easier and easier to read
19. Times I wanted to call up my mom so bad to get her advice, but couldn’t
20. Care packages from the US
21. Books I read
22. Movies I saw, dubbed over in Spanish or with Spanish subtitles
23. New songs, songs that made me miss home, hit songs in Colombia
24. Hilarious things my co-worker/Colombia bestie Maria Antonia said
25. Adventures
26. New friendships I made, and friendships that faded
27. Lunches
28. Peanut butter cravings
29. Sick days
30. Times I stayed up late to finish grading stacks of homework and projects
31. Times I laughed out loud or smiled at the ridiculous/endearing things my students wrote or said
32. Sunburns
33. Bad haircuts
34. Hard decisions
35. Stereotypes and misconceptions
36. Protests and strikes
37. Times my world was rocked
38. Times I would have given anything to be in the US just for that one day
39. Times I fell even farther in love with Colombia
40. New dreams
41. Precious time spent with friends and family from home
42. Thursday afternoons
43. Successful Spanish interactions, drastic misunderstandings
44. New cities to explore with new museums and monuments and viewpoints and food and accents
45. Mangos, plaintains, loaves of pan con queso, bowls of ajiaco, mounds of rice, cups of fruit juice
46. Colombian holidays
47. US holidays that I didn’t get to celebrate
48. Reinvented US holidays that I celebrated with Colombians
49. Hilarious Spanish mistakes, hilarious English mistakes
50. Lessons I taught, lessons I learned.

I love living in Colombia. Living Colombia is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve loved this year. This year has been the most challenging year of my life in so many ways. I can’t wait to go back to the United States. I can’t wait to carry another year in Colombia. It’s worth it.Vale la pena.

-Annie Forman, WorldTeach Colombia 2013

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