Getting Adjusted: Much to See, Much to Do, Much to Learn
After months of anticipation and excitement, we’ve finally arrived in Cali! While our host school, Universidad Autónoma de Occidente (UAO), is celebrating 50 years of business, us students are celebrating the start of a new chapter. We’re certain that this journey abroad will be marked by fun, friendships, adventure, and growth, but before we get to that, we have to start by recapping our first few weeks.
Starting from the beginning, I’d recommend reaching out to other students in the program in your area in order to fly together. Lucky for me, Makayla and Ariella were already students at Howard University and we coordinated them meeting me in New York before flying to Colombia. A 6 hour non-stop international flight isn’t bad by any means, but why not make a mini girls trip out of it?
Adjusting to life in Cali, Colombia
Upon arrival, we were greeted by Academic Coordinator, Beatriz, and other students who had similar flight times. After chatting, we were all shuttled to the apartments in which we were welcomed by open living space and a table decorated with snacks and sets of keys. CET was ready for us!
By the second day in Cali, Alexia our Resident Coordinator, took us through the ringer with a thorough orientation at Casa CET. There are 16 students in this cohort and a lot of information to cover within the first week of our arrival, so we sat down class-style to listen up. I’m not going to lie, orientations were long, but fear not, we all had time to enjoy a picnic for lunch!
The first week in Cali was so jam-packed with things to do, errands to run, orientations, events to go to, and heightened emotions, that my suitemates and I would all sit down at the end of each day to give our “debrief.” One day, we were talking about the culture around dancing here, so being the pros that they are, Ayana and Ariella gave my name twin, Maya, and I a demonstration.
Universidad Autónoma de Occidente
The first impression of UAO was literally “wow.” Of course, our first day on campus included a tour, but no one needs a tour to immediately notice that the campus is vibrant and lively with greenery as far as the eyes can see. With such aesthetic grounds and plenty of places to hang out or lounge, some of us took the liberties of taking a nap. Rest easy Yej!
Exploring West Cali, Colombia
In this unapologetically touristy picture (above), CET took us out of neighborhood and into West Cali for a tour through Parque El Gato De Tejada. The year of the park’s inception metaphorically hauled in an era of positivity, optimism, and tourism in Colombia.
When in Cali, you’ll never go wrong stopping by a street vendor for a quick bite or a refresher. For those who love a perfect balance of sweet and sour, I recommend the Valle del Cauca classic lulada! 10/10
Also in West Cali is La Iglesia de la Ermita, a Gothic church that stands as one of Cali’s most visited religious sites. Especially stunning from dusk to dawn, you can still catch a service after walking down the connecting Boulevard del Rio Cali which also features a boardwalk alongside the riverbank, street art, and outdoor cafés.
Academic Life at CET Colombia
In trying not to negate academic life, I cannot leave out our time in class. Our 2-week Spanish intensive broke down our cohort into levels where we were further divided and put into intimate class-sizes to focus our improvement. In Beginner 1, Prof. Andrés Alvarez established an immersive and engaging space to guide us through reading, writing, listening, and tons of conversational vocabulary.
While most of CET’s classes are hosted in-house, there are plenty of out-of-class activities, projects, and field trips. By the end of our first week of class, we had a 4-person group project to remake an Afro-Colombian dish which included a trip to a local farmer’s market.
That project had my food going from this (left)…to this (right). And if you’re ever in need of a sweet treat, use the Rappi app to order anything you want. Order from restaurants, supermarkets, pharmacies, or other stores quickly and inexpensively.
Our second trip was to Museo de Mulaló. We all stood at attention as staff explained, and students translated. the histories, memories, and traditions of the Afro-descendent/Mulaló community. After a history lesson at the museum, we took a short walk over to a local restaurant and learned how to make some empanadas! Just before then, I had to snap this picture because how could I forget that we can see the mountains everywhere we are. Can’t take for granted the casually scenic views!
Either way and without a doubt, the first few weeks in Colombia were such a whirlwind of new things and new routines that we have barely gotten used to. There is still so much to learn and see on the horizon. At least for me, I know that I will be anxiously and excitedly waiting for more to come.