Tuesday 20 September 2011

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Colombia isn't all Coffee?

Although we travel a lot, we're not very worldly travelers.  My children have only traveled within North America, and my wife and I haven't ventured much further.  Our kids are kind of reaching that age now where international travel seems doable, so we're starting to look into some other areas of the world that we might get a chance to explore.  Most of our consideration is going to the obvious tourist places like Paris, London, or Sydney, but I'm enjoying chances to learn about different places in the world, with an eye to one day possibly visiting there.

Last night I was at a barbecue where I met an exchange student from Colombia.  She is up here doing a semester of English before returning home to attend university.  I was excited to get the chance to learn a little bit about her country, so I started asking questions about where she lived and what Colombia was like (coming off rather stalker-ish I'm sure).  She was very kind and answered all my questions politely, but after a few minutes it became rather apparent that I had no clue at all what Colombia was like.  I had three points of reference in my mind, Pablo Escobar, Juan Valdez and the Amazon jungle.  Essentially I thought that everybody in Colombia lived in treehouses in the Amazon, and they either worked for drug cartels or picked coffee.

Showing an insane amount of patience, the girl explained to me that Colombia was in fact a very developed nation.  She took my iPhone (Who knew they have iPhones in Colombia?) and showed me her city on Google Earth view.  Wow.  It looked like every other major city I've ever looked at from above, only it might have been a little bit bigger.  It was an absolutely beautiful place, and the more she showed me in Colombia, the more embarrassed I became by my preconceived notions about her country.

While I was grateful to be set straight about Colombia, it makes me wonder what other countries I have the wrong idea about.  In Canada we've gotten used to the fact that everybody thinks we live in igloos and drive dog sleds, and we just roll our eyes and laugh at the concept.  I'm imagining that there's plenty of other countries out there who are rolling their eyes and laughing at me.  I wonder if there really is grass in Spain (every visualization I have of the country has no grass), if people in Brazil wear suits (it's Speedos right?), or if there are cities in Australia that don't have giant snakes slithering down the middle of the road (I have my daughter's 4th grade teacher to thank for that one).  Obviously I need to start traveling outside North America more, or meet more exchange students.  Fortunately we've traveled enough within North America to have cured any misconceptions we had about those cities.  We know that only people over 65 live in Miami, everybody in Seattle listens to Nirvana, and in Dallas everybody rides their horse to work.  North America...check, now time to learn about other countries.