A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series – Villa de Leyva – The North Star Reports – by Laura Blasena. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal
I have to admit that when I was first placed in Bogota, I was not incredibly thrilled. I grew up in a suburb outside of the Twin Cities of Minnesota and went to university in Duluth, Minnesota. I’m not used to large cities. I’m not used to lots of people. I’m not used to public transport.
However, I’ve come to learn that Bogota offers an incredibly amount of opportunities–and one of my favorite offerings is the ability to easily travel to the areas around Bogota.
At the end of every Transmilenio route is a Portal, and in each Portal is a mish mash of buses of all different sizes and companies with small plaques at the front. The buses go everywhere in the area around Bogota, and one only has to ask where the bus goes, hop on, and pay a small amount of money (4,000 to 6,000 pesos) at some point during the ride in order to travel to any one of the small towns surrounding Bogota.
One of these towns is called Villa de Leyva.
Villa de Leyva is located in Boyaca, the department (or “state”) north of Cundinamarca and the capital. Buses regularly run along a route that travels between Bogota and Villa de Leyva, but when I had the good fortune to visit the town I traveled by car. (Thankfully, it was a friend driving, not me. Nothing could make me drive in Bogota traffic.)
[Photo 1: The rolling hills of Boyaca are beautiful and covered with a patchwork of farmland, small houses, and trees.]
Villa de Leyva is gorgeous.
It is everything that Bogota is not. It’s small, tranquil, peaceful, and, above all, clean. When a breeze blows down the cobblestones streets, it smells like rain or trees or the distant scent of cooking food, not trash or dirty water (as some areas of Bogota tend to smell). Things move slowly in this town.
The city boasts a massive square that is, in fact, one of the largest town squares in the Americas. At night, the church steps are covered with people–locals and tourists alike–chatting, socializing, and drinking. Guitar music floats out of nearby restaurants and the dogs, so accustomed to people, will curl up and nap next to you on the steps without a second thought.
While the city is a massive tourist destination and sometimes becomes clogged with tourists and backpackers on weekends, it still retains a sense of individuality. There are many glaring marks of tourism spread throughout the city–signs for ATV tours to archeological sites, bike rentals, buses that go to the various hiking destinations surrounding the city–but the sense of the city isn’t lost in the waves of people that come to visit it.
[Photo 3: Of all of the places to visit around Villa de Leyva, my favorite (and maybe the most touristy) was the ostrich farm. Visitors get to learn about the life cycle of ostriches, the many commercial uses of their meat, feathers, and skin, and can also go into the pens to feed the ostriches. You just have to make sure to hide the food when you go in the pen. If they see that you have a bag they might chase you.]
Traveling through the mainly farmland countryside of Boyaca also allowed us the opportunity to see a bit of local politics. We visited the area in early October and local elections take place at the end of October, which meant that campaign season was in full swing. Every billboard had a campaign poster, and every building in Villa de Leyva that wasn’t a historical location had posters plastered across it.
We even had the opportunity to walk through a political rally, which earned us a few confused stairs as the very obvious foreigners who really can’t vote. The posters created by politicians running in small towns on the countryside can be rather entertaining because they are obvious copies of more big-name politicians (Ex. those running for mayor of Bogota, the second most powerful position in the country), but without the giant production values for photography, staging, and second-opinions. Despite the fact that I was an obvious foreigner, campaigners at the rally still offered to give me a poster.
[Photo 4: A street of shops selling local artwork, crafts, and goods. The main target for most of the vendors is tourists.]
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.
Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu
See also, our Facebook page with curated news articles at http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports
The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, The College of St. Scholastica and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal’s online learning community and outreach program with undergraduate and K-12 classes around the world. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:
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 and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica.
Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.
(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu