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:
BIGGER AND DIVERSE
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.
EXPRESSIONS, ACCENTS, AND SLANG
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.
ORGANIZATION AND REGULATION
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