A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series – Emojis and Culture – by Laura Blasena. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series – Emojis and Culture – by Laura Blasena. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

If anybody pays attention to the Miss Universe Pageant, they’ll know about the “little scandal” that took place at the end of the competition in late December. Steve Harvey, better known as the host of family feud, accidentally declared Colombia the winner when the Philippines had won. He then proceeded to spell Colombia as Columbia in his Twitter apology, adding insult to injury.

Personally, I don’t follow the Miss Universe Pageant, but, as an individual with Facebook and a feed that shows the opinions of many of my Colombian students, I certainly heard quite a bit about it.


(Statue of Colombian history in Medellin, Colombia.)

The night of the pageant, my Facebook feed blew up with comments and rants from my Colombian university students. They reposted articles and edited videos, made memes, and proudly claimed that, when the contestant returned home, they would still consider her the winner. Yes, there were vitriolic comments about Steve Harvey, but the vast majority of my students filled their Facebook bingeing posts with comments about how they were proud of Colombia. In contrast, the majority of the posts made by people in the United States targeted Steve Harvey and his embarrassing mistake.

There was also one other major difference between posts made by people in Colombia and the United States: emojis. It’s definitely common for people around the world to include emojis (or emoticons–I’m not sure which word is preferred now) in their Facebook posts and messages, but my experience in Colombia has drastically changed my perspective of “cultural emoji use” and “texting etiquette”. In fact, prior to living in Colombia, I would have never thought I would one day use the term “cultural emoji use” or “texting etiquette”.


I definitely saw a fair amont of use of emojis by people in various countries, but many of the posts made by my Colombia university students were purely emojis. A single post with a single frowny face. A single post with a series of pictures illustrating what happened at the Miss Universe Pageant. Emojis are everywhere and they are very, very necessary.

Unrelated to the Miss Universe Pageant, but highly relevant to the idea of differences in “texting etiquette”, are the use of the “winky” emoji and short messages.


In the United States, when do you use the “winky” emoji? My answer is never. I would think that many other people would also say never. Accidentally substituting the “winky” emoji for a smiling emoji is a cause to apologize and explain your mistake. In Colombia, it is quite the opposite–the “winky” face is everywhere, and it took me quite by surprise when I first began communicating with professors.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: Do you want me to visit your 6:15 class tomorrow?

Professor: Yes.

Me: Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow.

Professor: Good! 😉

I was so confused. Why was the “winky” face used? What did it mean? What was he trying to imply? I quickly learned that the face meant nothing and it was used by everybody in every situation to mean absolutely nothing more than a smiling face.

In terms of texting etiquette, the other cultural difference that took me by surprise was the length of messages. It might just be me, but the messages I’ve always been accustomed to sending are fairly long.

A hypothetical sample:

Hey! I’ve been at work all day, sorry I didn’t text you. Are you busy on Saturday?

A hypothetical sample of what I would receive in Colombia:

Text 1: Hey.

Text 2: Just got back from work.

Text 3: Was working all day.

Text 4: Are you busy Saturday?

The result is that when I first moved to Bogota I was convinced that everybody I was talking to was always in some dire situation or emergency. I would pull out my phone as it buzzed uncontrollably or I would have a minor panic attack when I pulled out my phone and it suddenly informed me that I had thirty-five messages. Thankfully, I’ve since learned the texting etiquette. The only detrimental effect is that I now send five to six text messages instead of a single response and often annoy my friends and family in the United States.


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 (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our abiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In five semesters we have published 200 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our student editors and writers come from all parts of the campus, from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). This is done by an all volunteer staff. We have a frugal cash budget, and we donate much of our time and talent to this project. We are sponsored by St. Scholastica’s Department of History and Politics and by the scholarly Middle Ground Journal: World History and Global Studies (http://theMiddleGroundJournal.org).

For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

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 and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, The Department of History and Politics of 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


Filed under Laura Blasena, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

36 responses to “A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series – Emojis and Culture – by Laura Blasena. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

  1. Carley Nadeau

    Its very interesting to see the difference between how Americans and Colombians reacted to the whole debacle. But if it would have been Miss America and a Colombian presenter instead, would both nations had reacted differently?
    I also enjoyed reading the section about emojis. Its interesting that the winky emoji means something completely different for both America and Colombia.

  2. Matt Breeze

    The section of your piece on texting etiquette is very interesting! I have never thought about the fact that different groups of people would have a different etiquette for texting. The whole idea seems strange to me. I wonder what differences there are elsewhere in the world with how people text? I can see how the opportunity for miss communication would increase drastically if one did not know the ‘correct’ way to text in another country.

  3. Gina

    I totally agree that wink emojis should never be used! I find them creepy. But it is interesting to see they’re the norm in Colombia. It just goes to show different cultures are not wrong, just different. I find myself texting very long messages, but I also send several at a time when a different thought pops into my head. I think it depends on the circumstance! 😉

  4. Rachel Reicher

    Being the young age that I am, I can relate to a certain texting etiquette that I use daily. Emoji’s are, in my sense, only to be used under circumstances relating to family members, close friends, or partners. Thus the winky face, can create an uncomfortable feeling or insecurity of what the message means. I believe that where you come from, or what you have known as familiar, is an important role played that demonstrates who a person is.

  5. Molly Enich

    I always knew there were cultural differences, however, I never would have thought about texting and internet etiquette as one of those differences. Your experience of receiving emojis and multiple text messages showed a perfect example of how these cultural differences are now showing up in cyber space. In the U.S., we use the winky emoji in a totally different way than your professor did, so I can understand your confusion when you received it. After reading this, I now realize that cultures “norms” extend onto the internet.

  6. Kelsey Dickinson

    I found it interesting that there was such a difference between cultures in the use of texting and emoji’s. It seems like a fairly straightforward tool, but I was surprised to see that there could be such a drastic difference in use between our style of texting and the style of the Columbian students. I think this is also a good example of how texting has become such a major avenue for communication and how small changes in one’s texting ‘conduct’ can alter the entire meaning of the message. Text is interesting in that the message that one person is sending can be completely misread for tone and emotion by the recipient. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Sandy Davidson-Hunt

    I found it interesting how you made the point of saying you would never use a winky face as it’s “creepy” and that in Colombia the winky face doesn’t really mean anything. I am actually a big fan of the winky face as I think it conveys a more relaxed tone. I guess this goes to show how cultural differences and even different viewpoints can completely alter how one person interprets a text versus someone else. Although a different scenario completely, this difference in how cultures interpret/ react to certain things is evidenced by the Miss Universe example the author provided.

  8. Jenna Algoo

    How fascinating! I’ve heard from across cultures that people in the United States use too many emoji’s (or emoticons)… However you have definitely experienced something completely different. I wonder where this stemmed from, and how it will continues in the future. You make wonderful points regarding texting etiquette and how foreign a concept it is to people. I also really like the distinguishing factor made about who cared about who in the Miss Universe pageant mix-up and our responses towards those people. Thank you for your article!

  9. This article was extremely interesting and put a smile on my face a few times (your writing style is very enjoyable)! It is interesting that something as small an emoji usage can be such a big deal and such a prominent aspect of a culture! I have often heard that different areas of the world use different expressions when typing that they are laughing. So, instead of the U.S “hahaha”, some Spanish speaking countries use “jajaja”. Is this true?

    • Very true!

      Students, professors, friends etc. will often send me long messages that just say jajajajaja. However, I usualy send back “haha” and the message is always clearly understood.

  10. Roman Schnobrich

    Quite an unusual article– I enjoyed it! Emjois/emoticons are certainly on the uprise in the U.S. among the millenials, as you have said. It shows how important pictures are to our culture; so much simpler than written words, as well as universally understood. Do your friends and teachers use a wide variety of emojis, or do they stick to the ones with yellow faces, depicting emotions? I wonder if their use will ever decrease, and become a joke like they once were. Does the amount of short texts bother you, or have you become accustomed to it by now?

  11. Kyle Dosan

    This is very interesting to read because it seems as if emoji’s provide a language of there own even though they are simply smiley faces. It was fascinating to see that emoji’s are used in everyday conversation along with multiple short text messages in a conversation. It was unfortunate for Steve Harvey to make that mistake on live television and then mess up the spelling of Colombia. It goes to show how different cultures are and how differently they use emoji’s/communicate via text.

  12. Donovan Blatz

    I find this article to be very true. I remember always long, almost novel length texts, from people without any or rarely an emoji. Now I’ll check my phone and have 35 messages, some of the texts are only emojis, about something exciting that happened in their life. I’m wondering why there is such an increase of this use? I understand that it helps show the emotion of the texter but receiving a page long text of only emojis that freezes my phone is definitely not needed.

  13. Nick Campbell

    Very interesting to read about the difference in these two cultures. It’s pretty crazy thinking about how much emojis have effected our communication with one another as well. The ability for them to add emotion to a statement in a virtual format is very interesting. It was also interesting reading about the length of messages compared to the two different cultures.

  14. Bryce Gadke

    The emoji/emoticons that people use today can be a language barrier too. As you said about the winking face from the professor there was uncertainty about the intentions. If he was aware of the uncomfortable situation that it put you in at first, I’m sure he wouldn’t have sent it. The idea that people have conversations with just emoticons or add emoticons to many if not all text messages creates a language in itself in which both parties have to agree on the implied meaning of each individual emoticon. If the meaning is uncertain, it can be taken the wrong way and uncomfortability would be acheived

  15. Jena O'Byrne

    I feel this article was right on the mark in the direction that the society and the world is moving in how we communicate. People are not taking the time to sit down and thoughtfully reply to a message, instead they reply quickly with short responses. Maybe not that they are intending to insult who they are messaging with short messages but rather we don’t take the time to reflect and respond. Society and our daily lives move so fast, we expect everything to be done in an instant. Like discussed in this article this translates into how we communicate with our messages between people. Now with emojis people can send a message in how they are feeling even quicker, without even having to type any words. I am wondering if in fact emojis are a better way to conveying your feelings and that is why people are using them so frequently or is it because they are a quick way to convey a message/feeling? I look forward to seeing where the future takes us in terms of messaging and communicating with people.

  16. I love this article! I rather enjoy emojis and am known to “overuse” them (as if using pictorial expression is bad). This makes me think about how you switch from one style of communication to another depending on who you speak with. For example, professors receive emails (though sometimes short or informal) while my friends receive texts, Facebook messages or snapchats depending on who they are. I have certain slang I use with particular friends because of our shared interests or inside jokes. Communication via text can be so very nuanced!

  17. Nancy Thao

    In all honesty, I did not know the country Colombia is spelled with an ‘o’ instead of a ‘u’. Maybe I have seen it spelled with an ‘o’ but I am more familiar with it with the ‘u’ instead, so I would made the mistake of spelling the country wrong. I think this is due to the Columbia clothing brand I see in stores. So thank you for sharing that.
    As for the emoticons and texting etiquette, I think it has come a long way from using characters (such as ^_^) to have actual emoji faces. I personally like to use the winky face, but I never took the time to think about what the other person may be thinking when I send it to them. One of the barriers I see with text messages is the time it takes to get a full complete answer. For me personally, there are times when I get inpatient of waiting for a response I need. Of course, I think texting has helped people to avoid building an actual connection/relationship at times. For example, if you do not want to converse with someone, you can either avoid the message or give them short replies to indicate the end of the conversation. But one thing I find handy with text messages is the past conversations made which I can go back and look at it if needed.

  18. Meghan Lozinski

    This article was so interesting as it’s one of those cultural differences that you don’t expect. The winky face story made me smile, because here in the US if you do use the winky face it is to a friend or family member, someone you are close to. I would never send a winky face to a professor, it just seems borderline inappropriate here, though in Colombia it is obviously quite harmless and undeserving of a second thought. It is always fun to experience these cultural differences though and watch how they impact the way you do normal activities like texting.

  19. Jessica Richart

    I really enjoyed your article. I found I could really relate to it, as I am sure many others can as well. Sometimes it is very hard to read a person through what they text. This can be a large cause of miscommunication. If I have trouble here, I can only imagine what it would be like to experience this in a whole new culture! With adapting to different cultures, there are so many adjustments people have to make in their own lifestyle and way of thinking. I think that it is awesome that you shared this experience, and I am sure you are not the first person to get confused by the “winky” face situation. Thank you for sharing!

  20. Sofia Pineda

    It is incredible to think about the impact that emojis have in a conversation. Without knowing it we have attributed to much meaning to a happy face or a wink. We tend to believe that we know what the another person is thinking, which fascinates me because it just goes to show how communication is more than language. Communication is body movements, face gestures, music or even an emoji. It is interesting to see how different cultures communicate and it is extremely important that we understand and respect it.

  21. Thomas Landgren

    It is so interesting to see how texting has in its own way become a language by itself. Each country has their own etiquette and meaning for emojis. I find it so fascinating that something so universal such as texting has in its own way blended with the many different cultures that use it creating many different forms. I agree with you how it seems so weird to text multiple messages when you can fit it all into one, but I feel like if i was in your shoes i would soon understand why people do that. How often do people in Colombia use emojis? do you think people in the US tend to use them more? As always great article and i can’t wait to hear more.

  22. Bella Williams

    I very much enjoyed this article because I think everyone is guilty of enjoying country comparisons involving the US 😀
    I have actually begun to notice such a trend (especially on Facebook) that United States citizens tend to be more critical-of everything. Where there are plenty of critiques on Steve Harvey, there also seems to be a kind of negative response toward Miss Columbia, simply it seems because she was the “perpetrator” who stole the crown. There also seems to be an attitude that she MUST be bitter and angry over the incident, meanwhile providing little evidence that this is the case.

    In the case of the emojis, I can relate strongly to this! If you send a winky face to ANYONE but your significant other or your best friend, there better be an apologetic response within seconds following otherwise you may cause offense or convince someone wrongfully that you are attracted to them. How odd that such trivial things cause us such stress…

  23. As a technology-immersed young adult who is relatively interested in linguistics, emojis and texting etiquette are endlessly fascinating. We talk constantly about how technology is changing our lives, but this is an oft-overlooked aspect of it. Emojis can become words themselves, and as you demonstrated in your article, they have dialects just like languages do, especially since there’s room for interpretation when a little picture is worth at least 10 different words. Even websites can have their own dialects, as denizens of Tumblr and Reddit can tell you. Twitter is another example. Some will say this is an example of the degenerate youth, but we’re developing more concise and communicative language and dialects. It will probably evolve its own branch of linguistics. So I thought this was a great article. Fascinating.

  24. Nichole DeBoom

    This article was a cool read. Learning how Colombians responded to an event compared to Americans, was really neat, especially how much more supportive the Colombians were. We all heard about the Miss Universe Pageant scandal, all the Americans seemed to talk about was how the announcer messed up, and how embarrassing it was. As for the Colombians cheered for Miss Colombia, and how proud they were, despite the loss. The text culture was also really interesting. Could you imagine sending 7 different messages to tell someone about your day? I couldn’t, but it is cool to see how they converse, and as for emojis seeing that even professors use them is quite different. In America, if one of my professors used an emoji, I would be speechless. If i were to send an emoji in an email to a professor it would be considered unprofessional. Super cool read on how a different countries can be, even with something as simple as a text.

  25. Martti Maunula

    I got my phone two years ago, and I remember I was extremely confused by how communication happened with them and I didn’t understand emojis myself at all either. I was used to emailing and as such my texts were usually long in length and I never used emojis. I have since learned how to us them but I also remember when I first saw the 😉 emoji and I wasn’t sure how to take it. It’s interesting to notice how times are changing so quickly with how technology is advancing.

  26. Jacob Carson

    I can speak through personal experience about cultural differences in communication. I lived in Brazil for a year before I started here at Scholastica and the while the use of emoji’s might not have been prominently different, the way people communicated through means of texting and email was. A common goodbye in Brazil was just saying kisses or hugs, and when I first heard this I thought I must have been misinterpreting the person I was talking to. In Short it is these differences that make our cultures special and unique, and after becoming accustomed to these changes I personally grew to love them.

  27. Mike Zupfer

    The differences in our cultures are very different but quite interesting. I remember when emoji first started coming out and i started to use it in messages to my friends. People were fascinated at the fact that you could now put little pictures within a text displaying not only emotions but other feelings and acts as well. Now it seems it is a normal part of life for us as i am bound to get at least a couple, if not more, a day.

  28. Particularly interesting differences in the communication habits. I think it is excellent that you purely recorded an observation here and did not conclude that an element of culture is why that’s the case. As we’ve learned in several of Prof. Liang’s classes, using culture to explain something can be problematic. Regardless, knowing why there is this difference would still be interesting.

  29. Kyle Hellmann

    Interesting take on the emoji language! When I first read that a professor had an emoji in the email, I thought that was entirely unprofessional! But reflecting on it for a bit proves me wrong. The professor could have trying to be nice or countless other things. It was a “positive” emoji, it meant no harm (As far as I can tell). Our ways of communication are changing, so I should be used to having someone out of my demographic using lingo or emojis.

  30. Breena Alfredson

    This article prompt lots of curiosity on the subject of cultural texting competency, and what an interesting topic for it to have spurred for you; The Miss Universe Pageant. I recall the mayhem after Steve Harvey’s mistake and I thought that he handled it with class and showed genuine remorse for the mistake. I wondered why/how people could be so upset about his (what should be considered) minor mistake. I began to wonder if there was deeper cultural things to be consider, history between the two countries the ladies were from that heightened the anger between the two countries.

    I hadn’t put much thought into the value behind emojis in this context, but it is so fascinating.

  31. Avnish Miyangar

    I thought it was quite interesting how you picked up on the difference in language. Maybe it was a culture shock to you? I can see why you would think something of it as I would do the same. I saw what happened with Steve Harvey but people do make mistakes. I do not know if it damaged the relationship between the countries. I would hope not but it is crazy how other things that are positive are not remembered as well.

  32. Nicholas Burski

    I completely understand and agree with your stance on the winking emoji as whenever it comes across my screen it creeps me out a bit. Emojis are really entertaining but I feel as it is much easier to confuse the meaning sometimes. Texting all together comes with difficulties. Just as language changes around the globe it would make sense that emoji use and text etiquette would also. I’ve often heard that if we continue with our overuse of emojis that we will soon be back to writing with hieroglyphics!

  33. Laura,

    It’s funny how even the small things we never pay any mind to are different depending on the culture and where we are. Were voice messages pretty common in Colombia? They were used a lot when I was in Ecuador, and I wonder if it’s a regional thing or if it’s all of Latin America. And why? Though typing a message may be more work, I do like the privacy instead of leaving a voice message in public where everyone can hear you. Why not just talk on the phone? Though, I must admit, I still send a fair amount of voice messages after returning to the U.S.

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