It’s my turn! (Paula)

When I enrolled in the course “Introduction to American Studies”, my main purpose was to improve my English.  I was not expecting anything beyond this, but I was very surprised that just by deciding to do a course in English, this began a series of experiences that led me to personal growth.  That is what COIL was for me.

Through my conversations with my partner, Dominick Scarzafava, I discovered new perspectives on foreign history and culture.  This made me want to learn more about my own culture in Colombia to share with others.  It also motivated me to be open to new experiences.

At the end of the course, I felt that bridges for new opportunities had been opened. Professor Montoya was the promoter and my “Bank of Santander” in my first experience outside of Colombia.

During my stay in the US, I had the opportunity to visit 5 cities in New York – Long Island, NYC, Albany, Oneonta, and Cooperstown – and 3 cities in California – San Jose, San Francisco, and Mountain View.  In every city, I had a different experience and I observed distinct environments.  Everyday brought new experiences.

These are the main points I could reflect about my 21-day trip:



Studying the theories of the melting pot in school does not compare to actually experiencing the diversity of the US in real life.  When I think about diversity within my country, I think about miscegenation with every region having  different cultures and traditions, but we are all still Colombians with common roots.  In the US, diversity is different; the country has people with different origins, races, and religions.  While walking the streets of New York City, I saw all kinds of people and heard many different languages.  This is something that does not exist in Colombia, even in our biggest city.  Every outing became an opportunity to analyze people’s behavior and to figure out the ancestry of people on the streets.  It was so much fun.

Another aspect of diversity was the food.  At the beginning of my stay, I could not say what the typical dish of the US was.  I just saw all kinds of food from all over the world: Italian, Mexican, Thai, Indian, Arabic…  Even a standard food item like rice or cream cheese comes in all kinds of varieties that I could not ever imagine.  I saw products that I have never seen in my life!  It seems like Americans have a special product for everything.  Latinos are less complex; we are more “recursivos”; we do our things with the tools that we already have, which is the reason why one product can have many different uses.  For example, we have multipurpose wipes (that in most of the cases is an old t-shirt we do not use anymore).  In the US, I saw different wipes for every function.  At meal time, I was always curious about what we were going to eat, just because of the different options and tastes of new flavors, some of which are similar to Colombia and others are completely new sensations for my taste buds. I have to say that the portions, as almost everything in the US were BIG.

At Haley’s home in Albany, I tried other typical things and foods.  Her family welcomed me with an “American barbecue” that ended with a delicious apple pie (traditional desert) made by Haley’s stepfather.  I spent two days at her house and the family was so welcoming.  It made me feel right at home.  In this regard, Americans are not that different than Colombians in their hospitality.



Something I was not expecting to realize is that Americans have several kinds of accents and sayings. As a Spanish native speaker, sometimes the accent determines how clear someone’s way of speaking is. It was interesting to be in the different environments and listen people of all ages though I got confused with typical expressions like “To ride the shut gun” (sitting alongside the driver in a moving vehicle), “All set” (ready) and more.



United States’ racial and cultural diversity is due to the constant migrations of people coming from all over the world, mainly looking for freedom and a better lifestyle. Being with Professor Montoya I had the opportunity to know the stories of some immigrants, and what I could notice is that every life story is different; every person came to the US for a special reason or situation. All cases are not the same, but an underlying factor is the struggle to adapt to the new country. Some people adapt really easy and forget their original culture, and some others try to keep it. At Professor Montoya’s house I had a little bit of Colombia in the middle of a small town in New York, their familiar accent and hospitality made me feel at home again.



One of the aspects that caught my attention was the organization of the country in general: roads, transportation system, education, fixed prices, local rules, buildings, etc. Coming from a country where negotiation is the bread of everyday life and where the most of the people choose to break the rules, to see that organization made me think about what kind of actions we can take in my country to improve the situation of disorder.

To conclude, I have to say this trip meant a lot to me. It opened my mind to new perspectives and helped me to develop a wider vision of the world. I discovered a more patriotic Paula, eager to share and live. I only can say thank you to all who made this experience possible.

– Paula Covans Navarro


La Mar y la Montaña (The Sea and the Mountain)


As I looked up at the dark green and partially mist-shrouded Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains in Colombia’s Tayrona National Park from our small boat on the Caribbean Sea, I thought of the famed Spanish poet Federico García Lorca’s iconic opening lines from “Romance Somnambulo”:

Verde que te quiero verde.

Verde viento. Verdes ramas.

El barco sobre la mar

Y el caballo en la montaña.


Green, how I want you green.

Green wind. Green branches.

The ship out on the sea

And the horse on the mountain.

Although the original context of Lorca’s poem was much different from the Colombian one in which we found ourselves that day, his lines were perfectly suited for the moment. The overwhelming greenness of the mountains contrasted with the blue sea, and the trees moved with the breeze that alleviated the intense sun. It was an ideal site for reflecting on two weeks of immersion in Colombia’s environment—both natural and cultural.

Colombia prides itself on its biodiversity as well as its human diversity, and throughout our trip we saw ample evidence proving that this pride is well placed. Now that we have returned home, however, we begin a new journey to understand the histories, cultures, and environments of Colombia in deeper, richer, and more complex ways.


~ Will Walker


Before we went on the trip, I made a post about my expectations for Colombia. Throughout the trip, Professor Montoya and I looked out for the things that I spoke about and I tried to see it these things really were true or not.

As far as seeing colors, I definitely did. Especially in the old city of Cartagena there were many colors. All of the buildings were brightly colored in pink, yellow, blue, orange, and many other colors which was so beautiful. The buildings also did look different from those in the United States especially because some of them (like in Cartagena) were very old. However, some of the newer and more modern buildings looked similar to those in the United States. I also expected to see diverse people which was pretty accurate. Many of the people in Colombia have mixed ethnicity which means that they have different characteristics. I expected that these people would be very happy and friendly and they definitely met these expectations. All of the people I met on this trip were very nice and friendly which made the experience even better.

Right when we got off of the plane I heard music. We heard many of the songs that Professor Montoya showed us on this trip. Sadly, I did not get to hear people playing accordions while we were there though. I also heard many different dialects of Spanish while we were there. The accents from Cali were very different from the coast but there were even differences between the speech in different parts of the coast which was very interesting. These differences were a challenge for us at times but we were able to speak and understand once we got used to the different dialects.

We tried so many different foods on this trip and they were all delicious. We tried buñuelos empanadas, arepas, choados, and many other foods. Everyone else tried a whole fish but because I don’t like seafood that was just not for me. Even food from fast food restaurants was good because none of them were fast food the way we know it in the United States. They still make all of the food fresh rather than reheating frozen food which was nice. We also tried (and had many times after) Juan Valdez coffee. I always got something called a Nevado which I loved; it was like a coffee slushy.

I ALWAYS felt the heat. The heat wasn’t the worst part though. The worst part was the humidity. The humidity was always very high so the air always felt heavy and we always felt sticky. However, after a while we were all pretty used to the heat. Even if we didn’t always love it, we expected that each day would be incredibly hot.

One of my last expectations was that I expected to learn a lot from this experience. I defiantly did learn a lot from this. I learned the basics of salsa, I learned some new Spanish words, I learned a lot about the schools and universities in Colombia, I learned about some Colombian history, I learned about the different dialects and many other things. Especially being an education major, seeing their schools was very interesting to me because the schools there that we saw were very different from the schools in the United States. Especially at Colegio Bennet, there were some pretty cool ideas that I wish we used in US schools. They have classes involving expression, gardening, and just how to be a good person which I loved.

As far as the answers to my questions: Yes, the people were nice. Everyone we met on this trip was very friendly and made us feel welcome. No, I did not hear American music on this trip which I liked because it made it feel more Colombian. But we did see some movies that we have in the United States like Finding Dory and Star Wars. Yes, we did see some poverty, but there were also some really upscale places as well. YES, they all can dance. I really thought that that was going to be something that they said but actually being there you can see that they all can dance which was so much fun to watch. Yes there were people that spoke English. In Cali, there were very few people that we met who spoke English but on the coast (Cartagena in particular) there were more people who spoke English. Yes, there were some taller buildings in the cities but nothing like US cities. In these cities there were many cars but more than anything there were motorcycles which scared me anytime we were driving because sometimes they get so close. During the trip we kept saying that if you could drive in Cali, you could really drive anywhere (it was worse than NYC). Yes, what they wear is very similar to the United States. Yes, there were many influences from different countries in the restaurants. There were so many different kinds of foods inspired by countries all over the world. No, for the most part no one laughed at our attempts at Spanish; there were times that we messed up but they understood.


Closure Blog,


I finally have arrived into my routine. I fed my family, rested, cleaned, and today my daughter is in her final annual dance show de Hip Hop. I enjoy sharing personal experiences into the new formed relationships; when building bridges, it is important to know what is at the other side and to want to experience it, or visualize it, if travel is not possible and COIL is available.

This just finished trip was something different. I hope seeds ideas and actions in multiples directions between my native and my immigrated lands.  I have exactly half and half lived in both, and I am returning to work in Colombia from Oneonta, NY.

I understand that after having made contacts, work increases, even if I get all the support. I just believe in crossing bridges and now, it is easier.

I need to thank all people that followed my calls and sat on a table to eat and drink coffee. The progress of these relationships depends on each institution and the amount of work on the desk for all the parts.

I commit. I can help.


Santa Marta

On friday, we went to the place where Simón Bolívar died. There is now a museum there and we saw this museum and the house he was staying in when he died.

There is an interesting statue that shows three faces of Bolívar. Our guide showed us that from three different angles you can see three different faces which was very cool.

Our guide was also telling us about the different stories that all try to explain the reasons for the colors of the Colombian flag. One was about gold, blood, and water; and one was about the hair, lips and eyes of a woman.

There was also a very big tree there that you are supposed to touch to get “good energy” so of course we all hugged it.

An night, there was a very beautiful sunset over the water which we could see from our hotel.

Yesterday, we went to Tayrona National Park. We split up for the day and Professor Montoya and Haley went on a hike and Professor Walker, Tori, Falicia, and I took a boat to the beach.

Both trips seemed great and we all had a lot of fun. The beach was beautiful and the water was perfectly clear so I am very happy with my decision. We had chicken or a whole fish for lunch and read and swam in the water all day.

On the hike they saw things like monkeys and centipedes which I think they really liked as well.

This was a great last day to the trip and today we leave for the airport.


Second day in Barranquilla

Yesterday we spent almost all day with the people from Universidad del Norte. This is a private school in a town just north of Barranquilla.

We started by hearing about their school and their programs, then moved on to the campus museum. The museum was very interesting and it was not at all what I expected from a campus museum.

Then, Dr Larson, Professor Montoya, Haley, and I got a tour of the campus and Professor Walker, Tori, and Falicia got to see even more of the campus museum.

We all met up at the beautiful campus faculty resraurant, 1966 (which is the year the school was founded). The restaurant was beautiful amd the food was great. I have never seen a restaurant like that on a campus and definately one dedicated to faculty.

They then gave us a tour of Barranquilla. We saw the beach the students go to, the hospital where their students go, the mall, and the outdoor market. We were able to stop at the market and pick up some things to bring home.

Then they dropped us at the hotel and we rested up before dinner. It was a pretty good day and today we head to Santa Marta.


Museums, Identity, and Immersion

I came to Colombia expecting to see museums that represented—and celebrated—the country’s tri-cultural (Indigenous, African, and European) history and identity in interesting ways, and we have certainly found such representations in abundance. From the Museo de la Caña de Azucar (Sugar Cane Museum) to the Museo del Caribe (Museum of the Caribbean), we have explored the intertwined histories of Indigenous, African, and European peoples and the contemporary mestizo identity that defines Colombia—and much of Latin America. I have also been struck, however, by the ways in which particular Indigenous and Afro-Colombian identities have been highlighted through museum exhibitions and other cultural events. This observation has raised the question of the relationship between the tri-cultural national identity and specific group identities. Furthermore, how does this balancing act compare with the dynamic tension between multiculturalism and racial/ethnic particularity in the United States? What are the similarities and differences between U.S. and Colombian paradigms of cultural representation? These are research questions that my students and I will be pursuing over the coming year.
Perhaps more important than developing these questions, however, has been the experience of cultural immersion in Colombia. The entirety of our trip—but especially our time in Cali—was a museum without walls. Dancing salsa, visiting a sugar cane factory, chatting with faculty and students, dining with many different people, shopping in all kinds of stores, and making arepas con huevos were all ways to experience aspects of Colombian society, sharpen our cultural competency, and heighten our connectedness to this wonderful country. Taken as a whole, this trip has been the best “museum” experience I can imagine.

~ Will Walker