Why did I go to Colombia?
Good question, one I certainly got in many forms both before I left (usually accompanied by a frightened stare that I would head to those dangerous jungles) and when I returned (usually accompanied by shocked expressions that I somehow escaped drug runners).
Of course, there was a variety of reasons I decided to become a volunteer teacher in Colombia for a year, most of which, I admit, weren’t the most thought-out, fully-formed string of reasons you’ll ever see. In fact, I did an embarrassingly little amount of research on the country or culture before I booked my ticket and headed south.
After graduating from college, I decided I wanted to teach abroad, and liked the WorldTeach program out of Harvard. Why teach? It seemed a good way to volunteer for a year. Why teach somewhere I knew nothing about? I admit that it was my clichéd love of traveling that drew me to Colombia, and these reasons themselves were numerous and varied.
I looked through WorldTeach’s offerings, prices, and program schedules and applied to WorldTeach Colombia. A couple of months later, I found myself heading off on a plane bound for Bogotá, ready to explore a new land.
So if my reasons for traveling to Colombia were not exactly specific, perhaps the question should be why travel at all? (Or, for that matter, why read about travel and other places?)
I think author Pico Iyer explained it best when he wrote:
We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again – to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.
There are many different types of people who take trips: Tourists, with that capital t, plus Travelers, Wanderers, Backpackers, Sojourners, and (of course) Travel Writers, just to name a few.
Some travelers are looking to just see a new place different than perhaps the mundane surroundings of everyday life, some simply want to learn first-hand about the world, some are looking to find themselves, some are looking to forget who they are, some are simply looking to check off a must-see destination.
For me, I love the sheer pleasure of sitting in a new place I had never been, eating new food I had never tried, and enjoying the fact that the next thing on my schedule is an outgoing plane ticket weeks later.
I also travel to see what the world can teach me, what I can take home with me and the places I have been stay with me.
No matter where I happen to be positioned on a world map at the time, my heart now lies in the dusty plains of East Africa, my mind wanders to the evergreen-lined hills of the Cascade Mountains, my feet search out Southwest slickrock, my ear seeks out news of the coasts and hills of Colombia. And my eyes continue to pour over maps of places I have yet to experience, wondering what those new lands could teach me.
As Pico Iyer also wrote, “Travel is the best way we have of rescuing the humanity of places, and saving them from abstraction and ideology.”
That, in a nutshell, is why I travel. And why Colombia, so often stripped of its humanity in the evening news, was were my feet led me. Its humanity overwhelmed my travels there, and I hope my writings on the country help rescue its humanity for those who have yet to travel to Colombia themselves.
For a little more philosophy of travel, read the entirety of Pico Iyer’s essay “Why We Travel.”