Colombia takes the best of the Caribbean, Amazon, Andes, and Pacific, and packs it all together in one lushly diverse country. With a flair for drama, everything in Colombia seems amplified: the colorful fruits are brighter, the rainforests are wilder, people dance a little harder, and the fierce sun can turn into torrential rain at the drop of a sombrero vueltiao. Colombia is where life is wildly, passionately embraced, where the word “no” seems obsolete (because “yes” is the only acceptable answer to any offer). This indomitable zest for life, along with its turbulent history and deep cultural roots, makes study abroad in Colombia rife with lessons for students.
Colombia is located in the northwestern corner (one might say the crown) of South America. It is appropriately jewel-studded, with the Pacific and Caribbean coastlines combining to provide almost 2,000 miles of lagoons and cliffs and the high Andes Mountains building a backbone for the country before giving way to the richness of the Amazon.
The capital city is a sprawling, heaving, thriving city with its very own Colombian take on the definition of cosmopolitan. Bogota is the best place to explore Colombia’s art scene, with meaningful street murals, museums like Museo Botero, and contemporary galleries all existing side by side. While studying in Bogota, you can enjoy a high quality of life, thanks to some of the smaller details that make the city so special, like the Ciclovia, an event where the roads close every Sunday, replacing car packed streets with hundreds of local cyclists in a community building event.
Medellin was once a battleground where drug lords wreaked havoc and took countless lives. Today, it is emerging as one of the most innovative, modern, and beautiful cities in Latin America. Set in deep valleys, with colorful houses tumbling down hillsides, locals and tourists alike enjoy rides on the Metro Cable running up and over the green hills surrounding the city. Having shed its reputation for violence, Medellin is now establishing itself as a premier destination for study abroad in Colombia.
Cartagena is Colombia’s beauty queen (the one that definitely wins the crown). Set on the sweltering Caribbean coast, flanked by miles of white beaches, surrounded by impressive stone walls, Cartagena’s colorful colonial Old Town is dripping bougainvillea and its own distinct Afro-Caribbean charm. Cartagena is bold, beautiful, and utterly addictive.
Studying Abroad in Colombia
Although learning bachata and merengue will be an important part of your education in Colombia, unfortunately you can’t just study dance and Shakira songs at Colombian universities (but definitely do so at home). With many reputable higher education institutions, you shouldn’t have much trouble finding a course that matches your major.
Colombia has a varied history which lends itself to many academic pursuits. Conflict studies, for example, is highly relevant in the context of the civil war that has afflicted the country for so long, even though the country’s issues ares now in the process of being resolved for good. Studying economics is also interesting in a developing country like Colombia, which has seen so many positive changes in recent years. Choosing Latin American studies or Spanish are, obviously, great ways to understand more of the country that will soon be your adopted home.
Although there are some English-taught study abroad programs in Colombia geared toward international students, the majority of courses will use Spanish as the language of instruction. On top of that, English is not widely spoken in Colombia. You will need at least a basic grasp of the language to go about day to day life, so a Spanish language course (or two, or three) is a good idea for anyone not confident in their language skills prior to studying in Colombia.
Universities are often heavily based on research and love welcoming international students with a desire to study abroad in Colombia. The National University of Colombia, located in Bogota, has the largest offering of academic programs and is considered the top university in the country. The University of the Andes, also located in Bogota, is one of the best private institutions in South America, and it is the only private school in the country with national accreditation. In Medellin, the University of Antioquia boasts massive research facilities and is projected to surpass the rest of Colombia in research based programs.
Scholarships & Costs
Colombia is known for the warmth of its people, but the exchange rate is pretty friendly to foreign students as well. For cash-strapped students, study abroad in Colombia can be very affordable. For one thing, the cost of living in Colombia is relatively low compared to the U.S. The U.S. Dollar has a favorable exchange rate to the Colombian peso, meaning rent, food, and entertainment are much more accessible than in many students’ home countries. For those who like to enjoy local cuisine, Colombia is a paradise offering a wide range of affordable restaurants and, because of the exchange rate, fine dining is available even to students on strict budgets. Groceries will cost even less in a market. Essentials like milk, bread, rice, eggs, fruits, and vegetables cost only a few dollars, while meat and cheese are slightly more expensive.
Despite the low cost of living, it’s still recommended that students study abroad in Colombia with some savings in the bank. In such a beautiful country, with equally beautiful neighbors, you’re going to want to travel around. To get the most out of study abroad in Colombia, a travel budget is a must. Even though it’s cheap once you’re on the ground, you still have to pay for your flights to get there, plus there are settling in costs that may run higher than anticipated. To help with the financial requirements of studying abroad in Colombia, be sure to check out GoAbroad’s Scholarship Directory.
Accommodation & Visas
Several housing options are available for international students studying abroad in Colombia. Many popular schools even have dormitories available specifically for international exchange students. There are also many apartments for rent in metro areas, along with Colombian housing projects conveniently located close to many university campuses. Even hotels are geared toward housing students and faculty who wish to rent rooms for long stays during study abroad programs in Colombia. There are many independent housing options, but homestays are usually the most effective in terms of cultural immersion, and homestays also include perks like: homemade meals, one-on-one conversations with locals, a homey feel, and added security.
Once you are enrolled in a study abroad program in Colombia, getting a visa is easy. It’s just a matter of filling out the right forms, getting them notarized, and then taking your paperwork, along with your passport, to the Ministry of Education in Bogota. You can also pay an agency to take care of that for you, or ask your program provider if they can assist you. For further details, use GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory to track down your nearest Colombian embassy.
Benefits & Challenges
Colombian people have been called some of the happiest in the world. Their warmth is infectious and inviting, which is perhaps why Colombia is considered one of the easiest places in the world for expats to make new amigos. You won’t have any trouble finding your gente while studying abroad in Colombia.
Colombia is also often considered one of the best countries to learn Spanish, because of the neutral, clear accent. Tourism is still only just picking up in Colombia, so locals don’t see that many foreigners. Therefore, they are always excited to talk to gringos, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice your Spanish. Sit back, chat, and watch your Spanish go from weak to strong.
Despite the benefits of studying in Colombia, Colombian universities can seem unorganized to foreigners. Teachers don’t always show up to class on time, classes are often canceled at very late notice, and sometimes important information (like an exam time) is announced late (as in, only days before an exam). Studying abroad in Colombia will require that you learn to roll with the constantly changing schedules and recognize that education functions slightly differently in developing nations. It may be frustrating at times, but learning this will also form part of your schooling during study abroad in Colombia.
So what are you waiting for? Colombia may be one of the most linguistically, biologically, and geographically diverse countries in the world, but what is doesn’t have is you.