Jun 30, 2010

Wait...Am I Back in the U.S.?

About eight days ago, we students went to with a few of our compañeros to El Tesoro, which is a mall in the wealthiest part of Medellín. I was amazed when we arrived. Everything was somodern. It was the nicest mall I had ever seen, and clearly most people there were at least relatively well off. It seemed as if every other person had an Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt or other American attire written in English. Everybody was well dressed, and I recognized almost every single store. Besides the fact that almost everyone there was probably Hispanic, I felt like I was in a different part of the U.S. I felt the most comfortable than I had felt in that entire trip. Although I knew something was wrong, I could not put my finger on it at first.

Today, five of us went back to El Tesoro to watch a movie and have dinner. That same feeling from before returned, and this time I could label it as guilt. It was a guilty pleasure to be having a great time at the mall. I felt that I was betraying my civic engagement duties.

After touring all of Medellín, of course I would feel the most comfortable in the most “American” place. Days before I had seen extreme poverty. Now I was at a pizzeria chatting away. How am I so privileged to be able to enjoy these luxuries?

First, I need to acknowledge my privilege in this world. I do not know how or why, but either way I was born into a very healthy life—mentally, physically, and geographically. Furthermore, it astounds me the way the United States has such a large presence everywhere. The wealthiest part of Medellín was…the most American? During dinner yesterday, a Beyonce song was playing on the radio. American music is also prevalent here? These things started to blow my mind. It makes me sad that even in another country American culture has at least some level of dominance. After all, I came to Medellín to learn about an entire different culture, not be reminded of what I am used to. Why do the bestrestaurants have to be so Americanized? Why do the best clubs have to have American music? I still do not understand.

I have fallen in love with Medellín: the food, the people, and the culture as a whole. There are many things that I wish I could bring back to my country from Colombia. Although American culture does exist in Medellín (mostly wealthier places), There still exists a rich and unique Colombian culture that amazes me. So far this experience has taught me to appreciate stepping out of your comfort zone, yet at the same time to not take for granted the place that you live. I miss my home in the the states, but there are many new things I will learn here that I hope to apply for the rest of my life. These daily reminders that have bits and pieces of American culture make me miss my home yet fall even more in love with Medellín all at the same time.

Jun 27, 2010

Our Thoughts on Colombia's Recent Presidential Election

Molly: Before voting day:

We haven't been that exposed to a ton of campaigning. In our own neighborhood of Carlos E, there are several Mockus posters, and most of the compañeros lean pretty strongly towards Mockus, but the families appear to be conservative and it seems to be pretty obvious that Santos will win. Perhaps this is why I haven't seen a lot of campaigning - it doesn't seem like a tight race.

Voting day:

We began the walk to the local colegio around 10:15 AM with Cassidy's family - Merce, Enrique, and the two other students living there, Angelica and Angela Maria. The walk was fun - Merce stopped every couple of seconds, even if it was in the middle of the street, to chat with all of their friends who were either heading home after voting or on their way as well. It's amazing how close of a community Carlos E seems to be. Anyway, between stopping to chat and a slower walking pace in general, it took probably about 5 times longer than it should have to get to the school (where Uribe, Juanes, and a famous Colombian cyclist all studied! but the most famous of all: my hermanito, Santi). I have seen and heard more young people excited about voting here than in the US but this may just be because our compañeros are really gung-ho about Mockus, and as I learned later, there are myriad benefits to voting as a university student. Skipping ahead to the actual process of voting: it is very different. Usually, you register first with your cellphone number, but if you don't, you can register on site before voting. Then, you look for your name and number on the map of table locations within one of the school's courtyards. Upon locating your voting table, you head over, and the people working on site take your fingerprint and hand you a ballot with the faces of the 2 candidates. You take the ballot to a little cardboard set-up and put a big x over the face of the candidate you want, either Santos or Mockus in this case, then simply fold it in half and put it in the slot of a small cardboard box. No computers. No confusing ballots necessitating hole punching. Simply X marking the spot. It seems so simple compared to the system in the US.


When I asked Natalie about why the election was important, I could not really predict her response. The first thing she said was that it was important “para mantener democracía,” that is, to maintain democracy. That blew my mind. I immediately thought about the way I would have responded if someone had asked me why the presidential election this past November would have been important. I probably would have responded this way:

ME: Well, I think voting is important because it is important to actively help choose who will be the leader in command for policies that may affect you in the long run. Since I am a bit more cynical about politics than the average person (which says a lot), I usually vote for the lesser of two evils (usually the Democrat). Either way, usually nothing too drastically will change in the country for me to firmly decide that one party is live or die for me.

Would I have ever said I needed to decide between John McCain and Barack Obama in order to conserve democracy? Absolutely not. We have been a stable democracy for so long it would be absurd to even think that it is at risk. But in other places, such as Colombia, where democracy and freedoms haven’t been so clear-cut for a long time, maintaining democracy is probably the most important measure. In actuality, it is the most important for us as well. We are just so privileged that we sometimes don’t acknowledge how lucky we are to have the guarantee of democracy, and therefore we need not discuss that. But to people here like Natalie, maintaining democracy is a battle that continues to this day.

Carolina: On Election Day, we went with one of our compañeros and her boyfriend to vote at a school. We parked the car a few blocks away and walked to the entrance. There were many people walking in the street with us to vote or having just come from voting. Since the elections were on a Sunday, everybody was home and they went to vote together. So we saw many groups walking together; husbands, wives, and neighbors. It was a much more pleasant, social, and unhurried experience than I thought it would be.

Katrina: This past week we were asked to interview someone about the elections that occurred last Sunday. I asked Viviana, a Colombian university student who also lives with my host family, to share her thoughts with me on the subject. Viviana didn’t vote in the elections because she is from Pereira, which is four hours away, and her work schedule did not permit her to make the drive. She spoke briefly about the elections, giving an overview of both candidates and the results, explaining that Santos, who was elected president, plans to continue Uribe’s policies that have governed Colombia for the last eight years.

Stephen: The Medellin election had a few details that made it an interesting experience to live through. One of our Colombian friends mentioned to us that voter turnout is low, only about 50%. Of course in the US, this turnout is much lower. Colombian students also have incentives to vote: a reduction in tuition and a shorter military service requirement. An additional detail was the prohibition on alcohol consumption three days prior. Because elections in Colombia always take place on Sunday, this causes nightlife businesses to basically come to a standstill. A few of our Colombian friends associated this with a more pensive population leading up to the election.


Jun 22, 2010

Meet the Team!

I am Stephen Bergin, a rising senior at Duke University with
a major in chemistry. Although I have spent most of college in the lab, I was excited to learn about the unique Duke Engage opportunity that would allow me to travel to Medellín. From an outsider’s perspective built primarily upon news reports focused on drugs and violence of the 90s, Medellin appeared to be one of the last places I should
want to travel. Beyond this lingering stigma however, were the pictures, smiles and stories of Colombians living happily. I hope that my time in Medellin will enable me to meet these people who are the living proof of the softer side of Medellin and to learn what this beautiful country and i
ts culture have to offer. After I leave Medellin, I hope that the experiences made and friendships forged will be meaningful so that I can speak of Medellín as less of an outsider and as more of a person with a vested interest in the well being of the Carlos E. Restrepo community

My name is Carolina de Armas and I am from Miami, FL. I just finished my sophomore year at Duke and next semester I am going to be studying abroad in Barcelona. I plan on majoring in English and Economics but I’m not sure what I want to do after school is over. I wanted to participate in the DukeEngage in Medellin program because I think the project we are working on is important and I want to learn about Colombia and its culture. I am a little nervous but mostly excited about the program and can’t wait to meet everyone!

Hi everyone! I'm Molly. I'm from Chapel Hill, North
Carolina. I am 19 years old and a rising sophomore at Duke University. I plan to double major in Art History and Spanish. I have a younger sister, Clara, who is a
beautiful ballerina. She'll be attending the School of American
Ballet in New York City this summer. Some things about me: I love music - my
favorite musicians are Santana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Yeasayer, Juanes, Ella Fitzgerald, and many more. I also adore cooking, traveling, dancing, art, art museums, photography, being outside, and so much more. The Colombian culture fascinates me... from the history of the country to the art, the food, the music, and the salsa - I can't wait to live in Medellín for two months! It promises to be a new and foreign experience for me. Though I've travelled to other countries like Italy, Spain, France and England, I have never lived with a host family nor have I immersed myself into the culture the way we will in Colombia. I am so excited to learn about Medellín's history, to document the stories of the people who have lived there, and to get to know our compañeros and new families!

Hi! My name is Andrei Santalo, and I am 19 years old. I was raised in West Palm Beach, FL, and I now attend Duke University. I love to read and write, but I am also a huge endorphin junky. After the 15 years I played baseball, I consider myself to be fairly athletic; going for long runs is the most relaxing and self-fulfilling thing I can do. On top of that, I am also obsessed with dancing. At Duke, I am (currently thinking of) studying behavioral genetics and ethical policy. I am constantly changing my mind about what I want to study just because I have such diverse interests. I am not sure what I plan on doing in the future, but as long as I am happy and I love my job everything will be perfect.I applied to the Medellin program because I have never done anything like this before. I want to challenge myself to step out of my comfort zone. Furthermore, I come from a very Cuban family, yet I am not so sure I identify with my culture. I want to discover Medellín and learn all there is to learn. Negative stereotypes are always associated with Colombia, but I want to judge for myself. Hopefully, I can help in displaying Medellín’s beauty. Although I am very nervous to immerse myself in another culture, I am beyond excited for this opportunity.

Hi! My name is Katrina Robelo, and I’m a rising junior at Duke University majoring in art history and English. I was born and raised in Miami, Florida, which some jokingly claim to be “the capital of Latin America.” My dad is Nicaraguan and my mom is Cuban, so Latin American culture has been and continues to be a large influence in my life, which is primarily why DukeEngage Medellín was initially appealing to me.
I first heard about DukeEngage as a freshman and decided that I definitely wanted to participate in an international program, particularly one in a Spanish-speaking country. Never having been to South America, Medellín is my ideal program not only because of its location but also because of the primary work of the students—making documentary films to change people’s perception of Colombia. However, my family believed the program to be less than ideal to say the least. When I first told my parents that I wanted to go to Medellín, they asked, “Do you have to go to Colombia of all places?” With similar concerns, my grandmother bluntly stated, “¿Colombia? ¡Estás loca!” While their uneasiness has been put to rest (for the most part), their initial reactions are all too familiar—and exactly what DukeEngage Medellín is trying to change; Colombia is more than just a history of violence.
Past participants of the program have told me to expect lots of food, dancing, and when it comes time to go, a desire to visit Medellín again. I know this is going to be an unforgettable experience, and I probably won’t be able to stop talking about it once I get home, surely having fallen in love with Colombia’s people and culture. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even want to move to Medellín.

My name is Cassidy and I am from Charlotte, North Carolina and I attend Duke University where I am majoring in Latin American studies and political science. I am devoted to my big Polish family. I live with my parents, two sisters, brother, grandmother and a menagerie of pets. I love to read, run and write: the three essential r's. I also became obsessed with documentary filmmaking over the last semester through my work with the Center for Documentary Studies. My goals for the next ten years are to go to law school, hike an entire mountain range and write a steamy romance novel. I love being outdoors. I would prefer to go backpacking in the mountains any day than exploring the wonders of Disneyland. My favorite vacation place in North Carolina is Doughton Park, a small park in the Blue Ridge mountains because its wide open fields and rolling hills make you feel as if you have stepped into the "Sound of Music."

Jun 19, 2010

First Impressions

Katrina: Though I’ve known since December that I would be spending the next two months here in Medellín, I didn’t fully believe it until we landed. In a state of exhaustion from the lack of sleep from the night before, I woke up as the pilot was telling the flight attendants to prepare for landing. I’ll never forget Andrei and Molly’s faces as they were looking out the window, and as I followed their eyes, I’m sure I had the same expression of awe and surprise. For the past six months, I’ve been hearing, “Be careful, and be aware of your surroundings!” Everyone fails to mention the natural beauty of Colombia and the picturesque mountains that surround Medellín, unless, of course, you’re Colombian...