I’ve just finished my first week of group Spanish classes at Toucan Spanish School in Parque Lleras, and so far it’s going swimmingly. I was concerned about spending too much time with my English-speaking classmates (Have I told y’all about my FOMO?) but so far, due in part to living so far from school and in part to the fact that most of my class is comprised of couples, I’ve struck a good balance of socializing a bit with them and doing my own thing. I love making new friends (from around the world!) but I wanted to be sure that I was focusing on learning, meeting locals and Spanish speakers too, and taking full advantage of this incredible opportunity at immersion. I think part of taking full advantage means pushing myself outside my comfort zone, trying things that seem scary or uncomfortable. I’m not always good at this, but I’ll tell you I’ve been trying. And progress is wonderful.
Things I’ve done this week that were scary:
Talked with my host family
I’m not in a homestay, but I happened to book a private bedroom/bathroom through Airbnb in a home complete with a Mom, Dad, Abuela (grandmother) and perro (dog). I love the room and I have free reign of the rest of the house. I like the privacy of having my own space and I like that the family isn’t around all the time. But a few days in, I had only really spoken to the Mom, Angela, and Abuela the first day, when I arrived. And to be honest my Spanish vocabulary is so small, and my grammar so poor, that I got nervous when I did see them, thought of things to say but said nothing. I felt like a dummy for wasting the opportunity to practice and like a jerk for not speaking to the hosts who live in the house. So I became determined.
The next time I saw Angela in the kitchen I took a deep breath and started up a conversation. “Cómo se llama tu perro?” What is your dog’s name? And she understood and answered! (Niko) I asked if it was a boy or a girl. (Boy.) I told her my mom had a Yorkie. Because I don’t know past tense yet and have such a limited vocabulary, I couldn’t say that my mom did have a Yorkie, but does not anymore because they both died. (RIP Giz and Sam!) Still, the progress was there. I told her that I went running in the morning and that “I go salsa class.”
I’m sure it was rough on her ears, but she smiled and talked back to me and we held an actual tiny conversation. I was pumped! I couldn’t wait to tell my friends at escuela.
One of the other activities my school offers is language exchanges twice a week. Held in the café from 6-9, this is where Spanish students and locals get together, sit and chat to practice speaking. SOUNDS AWFUL RIGHT?!
Okay. So I’m very very new to Spanish. Mi espanol es muy mal. I didn’t want to go.
I don’t know enough.
They’re going to be speaking too fast for me.
I will feel so awkward.
And just like that, I knew I should go.
So I pushed myself and I went. And guess what? It was great! (I know, you’re not even surprised are you?) One of the people from Toucan running the event sat me at a table with three Colombianos who looked to be in their early twenties. This was a double score because 1. I didn’t have to try to find a table with space and ask to join, and 2. Young people are easy to talk to. Sure it was awkward for a few minutes at first, but we got past it. They were all super nice. It turned out they are students, all working on their English and there for practice as well. We talked about where I was from, where they live in Medellin, food—specifically the types that I should eat while I’m here, neighborhoods to visit in Medellin, their courses of study, books and movies. By the end it truly felt like just a natural conversation, albeit one with a lot of “Cómo se dice…” and “How do you say…”.
I decided I’m going to at least one of these exchanges every week, and maybe even two.
My classmates this week in Toucan Spanish
I didn’t have any particular desire to learn salsa. I’m a pretty bad dancer, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure personally to see me in action, and when it does occur its basically just me drunk, thinking I’m Beyonce. My Spanish school offers a number of activites each week, and one of them, last Tuesday, was a free salsa lesson. I didn’t want to go. I repeat: I did NOT want to go.
It’s so awkward, I just met all these people.
I don’t have any friends here.
I don’t dance sober.
I don’t have Latin rhythm.
These are all the things that were running through my mind. And that’s when I knew I should do it.
Why wouldn’t you take a free salsa lesson?
So on my second day, after class, I stayed for a salsa lesson with about twenty other people. All of us sucked, some more than others. And sure, it was a bit awkward—people were bumping into each other left and right. We ran out of males so I had to dance with the girl who runs our activities at the school. It was hot AF and we were sweaty. But ya know what? I didn’t hate it. It wasn’t nearly as awkward or as terrible as I thought it would be.
And since I’m here for six weeks, and since I’m trying to localize a bit, to acclimate to culture, I decided to keep saying “Why not?” and took a second small group class with just five other people. And I’ll continue this week as well.
This over-thinking, over-searching thing? It’s a stall tactic. And I’ve been using it for years.
Went running. Twice.
Surprised by this one? Think because I’m a runner I’m confident to just lace up and head out on a run anywhere? Wellp, that’s incorrect. I run in different and new places often when I’m working, on layovers. It’s a great way to explore a new city for free and outside. Even so, it sometimes takes me ages dragging my feet, researching routes, checking weather getting dressed and undressed and redressed before actually getting myself out the door. It’s like: I just want to be out enjoying a run. But the logistics of figuring out where to go can sometimes be overwhelming. I want to try, if possible to find a route that doesn’t involve a ton of stopping for traffic. I’d like somewhere relatively flat and maybe an easy-to-follow course that doesn’t involve a ton of lefts and rights and changing direction (at the risk of getting lost.) Of course I want to be in a safe area and avoid the sketchy ones. If I can find a beautiful view or some scenery to look at, all the better.
This is the process I go through in AnyCity USA before I head out for a run. So here, in my first week in Medellin, I had all of those concerns. I searched high and low through the paths of the internet for advice on where to run. Hoping for a giant city park where runners and cyclists gather, I was let down to find that this doesn’t exactly exist. It’s a very active community here, tons of cyclists and runners can be seen on the roads at any given time. But there isn’t a Lakefront Trail a la Chicago or anything close to D.C.’s Mount Vernon Trail. It’s mostly running on streets. Keeping in well-populated areas seemed important for safety and not ending up in the wrong neighborhood was at the top of my list of concerns. The first morning I actually forced myself out of bed early to go for a run, I researched routes in the neighborhood for so long that I only had time for a two miler.
And the concerns about safety, about logistics—they’re real. But this overthinking, over-searching thing? It’s a stall tactic. And I’ve been using it for years and for SO many different things. It got to the point that I debated whether I had time to run at all or I should just start getting ready for school.
Happy to say that I put on my sneakers and I got out the door, and though it was a quick run, it still felt great. My body needed it badly, and I also was able to check out my neighborhood in the quiet morning hours. It turned out that the area in which I live is very safe—quite affluent, actually. The grocery store is nicer than the one I go to at home (Still love ya, Market Basket!) and there are some giant shopping centers as well as chain hotels just a ten minute walk down the road. When would I have even ventured down this way to find all of it had I not discovered it out on my run that morning?
The hills in Medellin are killer, whether you’re walking or running, so my new mission will be a quest for a flat route. It will be an absolute miracle here, I assure you.
Got a bit lost on this first go, but it's getting better.
The descent from the air, into Medellin was so incredibly beautiful that all I could think about when landing last Sunday was how glad I was that I last minute decided to pack my hiking shoes. Knowing I want to do a good amount of hiking while im here and knowing that I’ll be too
scared cautious to do it alone, I joined a “Hiking in Medellin” facebook group. I introduced myself on the page, and got two responses. Delightful! One was for a day I could not commit to, and the other was a link to a different page, Kinkaju Hikes. This is a sub-hiking group, a bit more organized than just a couple friends meeting up for a hike. They had several events, and the first one I clicked on was for today, Sunday March 3. “Hiking and Paragliding in Cocorná.”
That sounds terrifying, I thought to myself.
I read through the event description. The price for paragliding was about a third of what you’d pay in the states. And it was a chance to get out with some other hikers—some locals. And see waterfalls. And…float through the sky with a stranger attached to me and hopefully not crash into a tree or land in the road and get hit by a car…
I guess now is the time to tell you I have a bit of a fear of heights. It didn’t develop until my adulthood (I guess when I realized I could die?) but it has gotten stronger over the years.
Reading through that description, thinking about how terrifying it sounded, I got this tingling sensation of anticipation. I knew I had to do it.
I responded immediately, told the group moderator I was in and to reserve a spot for me, and then wondered what the hell I’d just signed up for. The day before our hike and parapente adventure, the organizer sent out a message with details and reminders. One of them was that paragliding is dependent on weather conditions. “If we are unable to paraglide, we will have some beers in the town.” And I actually thought for a moment, there may be a chance I can still get out of this.Then I quickly put it out of my head and continued preparing for my adventure.
It was a beautiful day and though I was a bit nervous, I was also very excited to be trying something new, and taking on a challenge that sounded scary to me.
I’ll write about the hiking and parapente adventure in a separate post, but the bottom line is this: I didn’t die, it was F*!#ing incredible, and I am very happy I did it.
All of these were small things. Paqueños cosas. Nothing earth shattering about going for a run or taking salsa classes. But the grouping of these small things has shown me a pattern teeming with value: Each time I wanted to say no, I said yes. And each time I was happy I did. It’s a simple thing, but putting it into practice is mind-blowing.
So, from here on out, at least for the next five weeks, I’m going to try to keep this going. To acknowledge my fears and then set them aside, to say yes when I want to say no, to make myself as uncomfortable as humanly possible. And my God, I can’t wait to see the results.