Serena Ainslie ’16 explains how locals like Maria have helped her learn more about Colombia and herself:
Our first day in the coffee region, the fourth region we’ve visited this trip, was physically and intellectually active. After trekking though another beautiful cloud forest in Cocora Valley and learning about the diverse flora and fauna of the region from our guide, Don Marino, we expanded our definition of eco-tourism and wandered around Salento, speaking to locals and learning from them about the environmental impact of the town’s attractions.
One special experience I had with a local was speaking with Maria, the owner of Cocora’s, a restaurant in Salento’s main plaza. I began our conversation by asking her a few questions about her most popular dishes, where the fish comes from, what she does with extra food, etc. At some point the experience shifted from a stiff interview to an informal, comfortable conversation. Maria shared with me stories about her three children, her husband, and her home in the next town over – all of which allowed me to get a better idea of the life of a local. I told her I was a student from the United States, to which she responded with a surprised look and a seemingly genuine compliment about my strong Spanish skills. While I knew she was trying to make me feel better about my pretty frequent verb-tense mistakes, this willingness to help and encourage a non-native Spanish speaker, a typical characteristic of Colombians, made me feel much more confident about talking to new people.
After about half an hour with my new friend, I left Maria with an appreciation for the patience and excitement that she and other Colombians have shown when answering any questions I have for them and conversing with me at any length. Today helped me find confidence in my communication skills that I will carry with me throughout the remainder of this trip and my life beyond.