Misconceptions about Interning in Medellin, Colombia: The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay
Is Colombia a dangerous decision when it comes to interning abroad or even visiting? I hear this question all the time. It seems that its unfortunate reputation has deceived tourists, students, and interns for far too long with the idea that it’s not worthy of your bucket list. The Colombian export commission and tourism board, ProColombia, even set out to destroy this image with a campaign slogan “The only risk is wanting to stay.” You can find their website here.
Let’s look at Medellin for example. Medellin was notorious for drugs, corruption, and Pablo Escobar. Twenty years later, it is the tourism and industrial capital of Colombia. El Poblado is one of the nicest neighborhoods of the already secure Medellin. It is close to the financial district but there are plenty of other great neighborhoods such as Estadio or Laureles in the west side of the city as well. But like any big city in any part of the world, there will be neighborhoods that are better than others. Use common sense when going out late like you would in New York or London and you’ll be just fine.
I’ll get kidnapped.
You have a far better chance of getting kidnapped in other parts of the world that are frequented for university spring breaks than you do in Colombia statistically-speaking. And you don’t see many people forgoing those trips. Colombian kidnappings have gone down significantly in the last ten years and continue to do so. Just don’t go into areas in the country that are known for political unrest.
I can’t go if I don’t speak fluent Spanish.
Colombia is known for its smooth, easy-to-understand Spanish accent. If you are going to learn Spanish somewhere, Colombia has got to be one of the easiest places to do it. Also, for anyone who knows much about traveling to a country with a foreign language, you don’t need to be fluent in their language to get around and survive for a temporary period of time. This is especially the case when going through an internship program that caters to English speakers and Spanish learners. A recommendation would be to sign up for a Spanish class that coordinates well with your internship hours. Why not enhance your language skills while you build up your resume or CV?
It’s underdeveloped without the comforts of an urban city.
The New York Times just came out with an article about Medellin in particular in May 2015 which centers in on the many reasons you should visit and what to see when you do.
I can’t fathom how many misunderstandings there are about modernization in South America in general. Having lived in South America for a significant amount of years, the first thing friends and family say when they come to visit is that they were shocked at how normal, comfortable, and urban it was. Unless you are purposely traveling to a remote town or area, you’ll more often than not have a lot of the comforts of home.
There’s no modern public transportation.
You’re not going to see anyone riding around on a donkey that’s for sure. Well, not in the city anyway. The above ground metro system in Medellin has twenty-seven stations across the city. Most cities in the United States don’t even have subways or tram systems. This makes it super easy to get around Medellin. Also, there is a metrocable system, bus system, and taxis that are extremely affordable. Radio taxis exist in Medellin and Bogota where you will be able to call and order a taxi that will come and pick you up wherever you are.
Cocaine is rampant.
Did you know that Scotland is the number one country when it comes to cocaine usage? And the USA comes in second. Colombia is actually number 35 according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Most people in Colombia hate the damage that the drug cartels caused in the country more than anyone.
I’ll get robbed.
Just like any metropolitan area, you need to be careful about your belongings and be aware of your surroundings. But that doesn’t mean you’re more likely to get robbed just because you’re in Colombia. Here are some tips: don’t keep everything on you unless you absolutely need that particular ID, passport, or amount of money. Keep it in your lodging. Also, don’t use the ATM late at night. Be sure to take your money out during the day and put it away back where you are staying immediately after. Finally, go out in groups or at least with another friend at night whenever possible.
The food is spicy and similar to Mexican cuisine.
Not even close. The more you travel throughout Latin America, the more you realize that generally-speaking, Mexico is the only spicy Latin American food. Tacos are just as foreign to Colombians as they are to you (unless you’re Mexican of course). Basically, typical foods consist of empanadas, arepas (a flat bread), and sancocho (a rather tasty soup). Medellin has a dish known as bandeja paisa which is served with beans, ground beef, egg, rice, banana, and pork.
So what do you think? Are you interested in interning off the beaten track in Latin America’s emerging market? Now that would be a conversation starter that would make you stand out in a job interview.