Exploring Latin America’s vibrant diversity

By and

Latin America, although not having a precise definition, encompasses a diverse region of many beautiful and culturally vibrant countries. had the experience of studying at La Universidad de Los Andes in Bogota, from January to June of last year. Although Emily adds that, “actually, ‘studied’ is probably a bit ambitious for the amount of, or lack of work, that we did”. Emily describes visiting Villa de Leyva, Salento, the Cocora Valley, Medellin, Cartagena and the Tatacoa Desert during her time in Colombia, although Cartagena stuck out as a favourite, “due to how beautiful it was and the range of things there was to do there”. Part of the Northern region of Colombia, its impact was not lost on Emily as she describes the beauty of its idyllic location along the Caribbean sea. “The streets are ablaze with painted houses and vibrant graffiti and you can really tell how proud the residents are of their heritage.” Emily was lucky enough to have bought some original paintings from a painter named Papo. Emily notes that “He explained how he fled Cuba at a really young age following the Cuban Revolution.” Evidently, the depth of people’s experiences make up the vibrant communities to be seen in Colombia. Emily describes how she’d much rather treasure her original paintings “…than the standard ‘I heart Colombia’ fridge magnet”! Although her family and friends perhaps thought her mad for venturing abroad, Emily reminisces fondly of her time there, explaining how “cannot wait to go back and hopefully live out there one day”.

…a holistic way of life deeply ingrained in the country’s culture

Although spending her time in Colombia, Emily describes how “I was lucky enough to go to Costa Rica twice”. I was enticed to see what more she had to say about the ‘pura vida’ lifestyle. Emily explains that “ ‘Pura Vida’ is more than just a phrase in Costa Rica; it’s a holistic way of life deeply ingrained in the country’s culture. Translating to “pure life” in English, it encapsulates an attitude of optimism, simplicity, and appreciation for Costa Rica’s beauty.” Emily further describes how she was shocked at the biodiversity seen in Colombia, and the appreciation for the maintenance of the environment. She describes a typical experience at the beach and how “…you have to have your bag searched to make sure you aren’t carrying any plastics”. Evidently, Costa Rica’s efforts towards preserving natural life and beauty have not been lost as Emily explains how the blossoming signs of life are present everywhere. “You could be laying on the sand and suddenly a butterfly will fly on you, a lizard will crawl next to you or a monkey will swing in the branches above your head (I’m not joking, all of this happened to me within an hour).” 

To return back to her time in Colombia however, living in the Latin American region can often not come without its misguided preconceptions. Emily explains how “before I went to Colombia everyone warned me about how dangerous it would be as if I would get offered cocaine every two seconds, but this simply wasn’t the case”. This stems from a general understanding that Colombian history has had a drug war history. However, Emily adds that “Colombia has had a very tumultuous past with the drug wars, but the country should not be characterised by this dark history”. When questioned further about people’s misconceptions about countries such as Colombia, Emily put it down to a lack of understanding surrounding the context of Pablo Escobar’s rule. Emily exclaims that “All too often jokes are made about him, and one of the first questions people ask me when I say I went to Colombia is ‘how much cocaine did you snort?’, not realising how problematic and offensive this question can be.”

The streets are ablaze with painted houses and vibrant graffiti and you can really tell how proud the residents are of their heritage

The issues surrounding Pablo Escobar remain as a sensitive topic in media and beyond to this day, but Emily describes how it is “beyond problematic” that people can be so flippant with their stereotypical comments about the Latin American region. She adds that, “Colombia should not be defined by the tyranny it experienced, but rather the rich culture it possesses.” Although the country experienced many atrocities as a result of the drug wars, including “110,000 forced disappearances…[in] the most intense years of this armed conflict…” Emily calls for sensitivity to the “families…left without answers as to where their loved ones are and what their fate was”.

Emily’s year abroad has left a profound impact on her view of the world and particularly the Latin American region. For example, she notes how “Costa Ricans were some of the nicest and most accommodating people I met on my year abroad, and I have deep admiration on their holistic approach to life and all its challenges”. What’s more, Emily described how “in Colombia alone, there is a vast coastline, deserts, rainforests, huge cities, farmland, and Savannahs– where else can you find that without travelling across borders?” We should appreciate the region for its diverse culture, expansive landscapes, and commitment to preserving its natural life and history. 

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