A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series – Apartment Hunting – The North Star Reports – by Laura Blasena. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal
When first arriving in Colombia, all twenty-nine English teaching assistants were put up in a fancy hotel for a week-long orientation. Between listening to speeches from representatives of the U.S. Embassy, members of the Colombian Ministry of Education, and chatting with past Fulbrighters who had remained in the country, we enjoyed free food from the hotel and hot showers. But, alas, it was not meant to last and when our orientation came to an end we were all sent on our merry way to whatever city housed our university.
Unlike some of the universities that other Fulbrighters were placed at in Bogota, my university did not supply me with temporary housing when I first moved to the city. I found my housing through an online short-term rental website and, while it was certainly a wonderful, clean place for being cheap, I did not enjoy the fact that the neighbors blasted classical music from their attic from 9AM to 6PM every day.
[My first “room” in Bogota. After living in Minnesota my whole life, I was worried about not having screens on the windows because mosquitoes and bugs could get in, but I quickly realized that there are very few bugs in Bogota. I’ve been told that the altitude and cold temperatures keep the insect population low.]
I and two other women working at other locations in Bogota had decided to try and find rooms to rent in the same apartment. While waiting for our universities to begin their semesters, we spent our first real week in Bogota wandering the city to tour apartments and houses renting rooms to students.
The results were mixed.
The neighborhood in which we were searching, Chapinero, is home to many of the universities of Bogota. It’s a mixture of housing for students, families, professionals, and also contains many different commercials districts, malls, and offices. Some areas can be incredibly safe and affluent and some areas can be incredibly unsafe. My university, for example, is mostly converted mansions that were owned by the elites of Bogota a few decades ago before they decided to move north during a series of riots. The area appears incredibly glamorous and is safe to walk around in during the day, but I’ve been told several times to avoid the area at night.
The first few places we visited did not meet our expectations– expectations that have been influenced and shaped by housing standards in the United States. The kitchens were small and narrow, the bedrooms were dark, or the bathrooms were small and seemed unclean. At some of the places we toured, we learned that students weren’t allowed to use the kitchens; we had to pay for meals that would be cooked for us by the landlady.
We also ran into the issue that we are not allowed to directly rent apartments in Colombia. In order to rent, potential renters must have finca raiz. In order to directly rent in Colombia you need to either be or have a co-signer who is a land-owning citizen. Therefore, the majority of us have options that are limited to subletting rooms of some sort.
In the end, we found a lovely building at the corner of a park that rents rooms in three different floors of an apartment building, targeting mainly foreign students studying or completing internships abroad. The cost of rent is a bit high (about $780,000 pesos or about $250 in the United States) for Bogota, but it comes with a ridiculous amount of amenities that are not the norm in the United States, such as laundry and daily cleaning services.
After only week and a few days living in another country, we managed the surprisingly difficult feat of finding a place to live! Now I have a place to call home for the next ten months.
About our special correspondent Laura Blasena: “Ever since I was a little Kindergartner I’ve always wanted to be a teacher”
I graduated from St. Scholastica in the summer of 2015 with a double major in Elementary Education and Spanish Education after student teaching as a 5th grade teacher and also as a Spanish teacher at NorthStar in Duluth, Minnesota.
While my future plans before graduation were initially to become a classroom teacher, I decided to wait a year to begin teaching in the United States and have chosen to work as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Bogota, Colombia. In Colombia, I will be working with a university as an assistant in the language department, attending classes, running conversation clubs, and offering the perspective of a native speaker.
I’ve always loved to travel. In college, I participated in several study abroad trips, visiting England, Guatemala, and Mexico. (I loved visiting Mexico so much that I even went back a second time!). I’m looking forward to the travel opportunities that I will have while working and living in Colombia.
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The North Star Reports publishes edited essays from our students, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Students have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, Colombia, Norway, northeastern China, Nicaragua, Micronesia, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, El Salvador, England, Finland, Russia, Cyprus, and Haiti. We also publish student reviews of books, documentaries, and films, and analysis of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches, and report on their interactions with the North Star Reports students and teachers. We thank The Department of History and Politics and the School of Arts and Letters of The College of St. Scholastica for their generous financial support for The North Star Reports and The Middle Ground Journal.
Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica.
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