Friday, March 2, 2012

PASSPORT: Luisa Fernanda Avendaño Tobon

The first in a series of conversations with students from far corners of the world

By Lukas Vallo

UNYPRESS: What prompted you to leave your home country, Colombia, to study in the Czech Republic?
Luisa Fernanda Avendaño Tobon: My decision to study in Europe was based on the fact that in Colombia, your opportunities of getting a great job depend on knowing the right people. I moved out of Colombia, and for me it was very illogical to go back and study at university there, since I also moved one step further away from the Colombian mentality and became a much more open-minded person. My decision to study in the Czech Republic was something that neither my family nor me were expecting. 

UNYPRESS: Was it a difficult decision to go study so far away? 
LFAT: Yes it was, although I left my country back in 2008 with my parents. Still, living abroad by myself was quite a difficult thing to process.

UNYPRESS: What did you know about the Czech Republic before you came here? 
LFAT: I knew very little; this part of the world for us Colombians is quite far and unknown. Sad to say but true, most people in Colombia still think of the Czech Republic as Czechoslovakia. 
Luisa disapproves the stereotypes of Colombians

UNYPRESS: Did you experience cultural shock when you arrived?  
LFAT: I believe I haven’t had that yet – I am still in the process of being amazed by the culture. However, as I said before, my way of thinking was quite traditional, and here it’s very liberal. What has been most shocking to me so far is the way teenagers behave here, and how drugs are very common, not a taboo like they are in Colombia.

UNYPRESS: What are the main differences between the Czech Republic and Colombia?    
LFAT: The main difference is the people. In Colombia, they will all be your friends after one minute of meeting them. We are very open people and quite happy as well. Here, I find that hard to encounter. The lifestyle is different in the sense that people here are quite organized and follow a pattern, whereas in Colombia we go as the day goes. Not to mention the weather, which is totally different here.

UNYPRESS: What have you done to adapt to Czech culture? 
LFAT: I watched and learned. Some things I have adopted from the culture, but for others I would rather keep my own. I realized that in order for me to experience living here, I had to let go of all the barriers and stereotypes.  

UNYPRESS: What is the best and worst thing about living in the Czech Republic?
LFAT: The Czech Republic is beautiful, and Prague is just a fairy-tale city. I love how so many
things happened here not only 30 years ago, but hundreds of years. It’s a city full of history and cultural value. The food is amazing. The only thing I moderately dislike is the treatment of foreigners by some people in public offices; they tend to be rude and not friendly because you don’t speak the language.

UNYPRESS: What benefits has studying in the Czech Republic brought you?
LFAT: My life basically changed. My mentality transformed from a quite traditional way of thinking to a much more liberal one. The culture is different in the sense that people here tend to be more aware of the impact of their actions in society, while in Colombia this is something that is just starting. Another benefit is that I’m learning not only about Czech culture, but  Europe as a whole. 

UNYPRESS: The Czech Republic is known for its great beers. Do you share this positive relationship? 
LFAT: I believe that this is a much better way to know a country than drugs. The Czechs are very proud of being known for great beer, and I do not find it diminishing at all.

UNYPRESS: What are the most well-known stereotypes about your country, and are they true? 
LFAT: To start with, not all of us are drug dealers or in the Mafia. Some people think we are “poor” because we have farms all around and there is no developed economy. But if you go to Colombia, you will most likely be shocked to realize that first, we are not all about drugs, and second, that we are as sophisticated as Mexico or Argentina. 

UNYPRESS: What should a person be aware of before going to Colombia? 
LFAT: As I say to my friends, you should be aware that in every part of the world there are some conflict zones in which you should not go. In Colombia it is the same – there is absolutely no problem if you don’t go to the conflict zones, which are mainly in the rural areas.

UNYPRESS: What do you recommend people see when visiting Colombia? 
LFAT: There are many things a person shouldn’t miss! Definitely go to the north coast of Colombia, and if you want to be impressed, climb up to a peak about 4,000 meters right next to the beach, a beautiful landscape. Also, you should see the colonial neighborhoods in almost all the cities, which represent the influence of the Spanish colonization. 

UNYPRESS: What food should a person try when visiting Colombia? 
LFAT: Definitely coconut rice! Also patacones (plantain) and empanadas, things that you can’t find here.  

UNYPRESS: Many people associate Colombia with cocaine. Is it really a big problem? 
LFAT: Nowadays it is not. People often joke about it, and honestly I do not like the jokes that much. Back in the ’90s, it was quite a big problem. But since 2004, with the help of the US, we have decreased the cultivation of the coca flower radically. Mexico has bypassed us in the production of cocaine, and drug cartels in Colombia are not as noticeable as they are in Mexico now.  A bigger problem we have is corruption, which leads to drug problems and armed conflict. 

UNYPRESS: What do you like and dislike most about UNYP? 
LFAT: I like learning about so many countries that were vague for me. It’s brought much more value to my life and my studies to be here rather than in a more internationalized university, I believe.

UNYPRESS: Would you advise other people to study at UNYP? 
LFAT: Yes, I would. However, it would not be what they expected, which is to interact mostly with European people rather than people from Russia or Central Asia. We Colombians know very little about that part of the world. 

Name: Luisa Avendaño Tobon 
Age: 20
Major & year: International Economic Relations, 2nd year
Favorite Music:  Latin  
Favorite book: Madame Bovary   
Favorite Sport: Sailing
Favorite place visited: Seoul, Korea

Every month, Passport will bring readers an interview with a UNYP student who will introduce us to his or her country, and share impressions of UNYP and the Czech Republic.

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