“En Colombia, el único riesgo es querer quedarse”
In Colombia, the only risk is that you want to stay.
It seems to happen more here than anywhere else. I moved to Medellín two years ago, and wasn’t even intending to. I was doing the whole “one month here, two months there” thing, “slow traveling” around the world.
I came to Medellín on a friend’s recommendation to learn Spanish in a month for my documentary. And then I just… never left. It happens to a lot of people.
Now, I have a personal rule to not leave for more than a month at a time, as I get homesick – which has never happened for any other place in the world.
There’s no “one thing” that makes this city so great. It’s the combination of lots of little things…
- It’s cheap, but you don’t feel like you are in a third-world country like in SE Asia
- There is green everywhere. Lining the streets. Entire urban areas that are practically a jungle. Parks. For someone who needs nature, this is huge.
- The weather is perfect – 28-32C during the day, and 18-24C at night, year round. Low humidity, but not dry. No mosquitos.
- It’s a big city, but it feels small.
- People are genuinely friendly and happy, despite often tough living situations.
- There’s just something in the air that makes it special. The vibe, the energy – I don’t know what it is, but I don’t feel it anywhere else.
One thing, which I see as a good thing frankly, is the level of English here is abysmal. Colombia is the 4th least English-speaking country in the world. Unlike many other countries, most people don’t even speak transactional English. So it’s on you to learn Spanish.
The Spanish here is beautiful. My favorite accent, definitely, especially on women – it’s almost sing-songy. Like anywhere, there’s plenty of slang and local idioms to dig your teeth into (for instance, “quien pidió pollo?”, “who ordered chicken?”, is said in a group of women when they see a hot guy – which is hilarious because it makes no sense).
A mistake a lot of people make is coming to Colombia, or any country where they are learning the language, and thinking that just by being there, they will become conversational or fluent. Immersion definitely helps, but you have to put in the time to actually learn the language too (I recommend a mix of one-on-one classes and flashcard practice with Memrise).
“However you go about it, you’ll definitely want to learn Spanish if you move to Medellín, or anywhere in Spain or Latin America really.”
There’s two sides to learning a language – learning the “stuff” of the language (grammar, vocab, etc), and actually becoming confident using it in real situations (by having conversations). Memrise and a teacher are best for the learning the “stuff” part, and immersion and conversational classes are good for the other side. You can’t just do one or the other.
However you go about it, you’ll definitely want to learn Spanish if you move to Medellín, or anywhere in Spain or Latin America really.
Whether you move here or anywhere else abroad, definitely take time to have local friends. You don’t want to just be hanging out with other foreigners – otherwise, what’s the point? Every culture has good sides and bad sides, and you can pick up some of the good things by actually immersing yourself in it.
For instance, in Colombia, I’ve become more polite and better at, well, not coming off as a dick. In the US, we tend to be very direct, and that often comes off wrong to those who aren’t accustomed to it. I’ve had to adjust to this and become a bit softer (with ample help from my Colombian best friend), and I’m better for it. You’ll want to learn how things work wherever you move too, and adapt to it.
In the end, it may be a bit of work to get settled, learn the language, and establish roots in a new place – but it’s often worth it. I have no intention of leaving Medellín. I hope you find somewhere you’re equally as in love with, and that you take the time to truly make it home.
Connor Grooms is originally from the US but lives now in Medellín, Colombia, where he learned Spanish to a conversational level in a month for his documentary, Spanish in a Month.