“I never expected that my cultural competency and awareness would increase by many orders of magnitude and that I would meet really, really incredible people, some of whom would become important and valued friends.” This Tandem Tale is a very special one because Sara did not only meet one language exchange partner but five!
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Originally from Cleveland USA, Sara has called San Diego USA home for the past ten years. As a native English speaker, Sara wanted to explore the Spanish language and culture but felt completely unprepared to have a real conversation with others by using traditional methods of learning a language. “The only way to learn to converse in a language was to actually talk to other people… that’s where Tandem came in.”
Sara’s journey began when she planned her first international trip outside of the United States to…Colombia! Sara wanted to meet up with her Tandem partners and see for herself all the places, foods, and traditions her friends had shared with her in their conversations.
The first leg of her journey was to Bogotá, Colombia to visit her friends Floriberto, Arbey and Omar. Sara and Floriberto had been talking on Tandem for about five months and met up twice during her stay in Colombia. Floriberto took Sara to try the most authentic Colombian cuisine in the city, wandered the city together and he also introduced Sara to some of his friends.
Sara then met up with Arbey and his family who she had been in contact with for four months on Tandem. “Their enthusiasm for sharing with me their city and their culture was so palpable and made every sight that much more exciting.” The following day, Sara climbed to the top of Monserrate with Omar where he introduced Sara to his friends and former coworkers. “It was a long climb, but so worth it for the incredible views of Bogotá and the opportunity to meet so many incredible people.”
After Sara’s adventure to Bogotá, it was on to the next leg of her journey, which was to the city of Medellín. There she met her Tandem friend Javier. “Javier and I began talking on my very first day on Tandem, in fact, he was one of the first people to message me right after I joined, and we have talked almost every single day since that first day.” Herself and Javier explored Medellín; ”we climbed El Piedra del Peñol together and took a boat ride accompanied by traditional music on the lakes nearby, and then visited the town of Guatape to see the beautiful Zócalos on all the houses.” Sara met Javier’s family and they even had an impromptu bilingual karaoke session together!
Sara’s next adventure took her to Colombia’s Caribbean coast, Santa Marta, to visit her friend Reny, one of Sara’s newer language exchange partners. They explored the city and beaches together and since Santa Marta marked the halfway point of her trip, Sara enjoyed some well-needed relaxation on the beach, before heading back to Medellín.
Back in Medellín, Sara met up with yet another Tandem friend, Diego. “We spent the day at Parque Arví, hiking, visiting archaeological sites, having lunch, and riding the metro cable.” The next day Sara met up with Javier again and went on a coffee tour outside of Medellín. “We spent a day at a Finca (a farm) in the mountains, learning how coffee is grown, cultivated, harvested, and transformed from fruit to the bean we’re all familiar with. We also had a coffee tasting and lunch and took a tour on horseback of the area.” After the tour of the Finca, they traveled back into the city and spent some more time with Javier’s family. “I will never forget the generosity and hospitality of Javier and his family, in opening their home and their lives to me.”
After a quick flight, Sara was back where she started her adventure — Bogotá. This time Sara did a bit of sightseeing on her own, visited a few museums and wandered through Bogotá’s historical district, La Candelaria. She then met up with another Tandem partner Cesar, had lunch together and saw some new sights including Torre Colpatria and Parque Nacional Enrique Olaya Herrera. The last day of her trip was spent with Floriberto and his friend, Alejandro. “We shared a meal and some good coffee together, and wandered through the city, talking and practicing our English and Spanish together. They also helped me to find souvenirs to take back to my friends in San Diego.” Soon it was time to return to Bogotá airport and begin her journey back to the States.
“Learning a new language can open doors to new experiences and bring incredible new people into your life.” Sara has learned that learning a language is never a linear process; “I have weeks where I feel like I am making lots of progress and weeks where I feel like I’m actually regressing instead of progressing. But those weeks always pass, and then I continue to make progress.”
Sara’s tips on having a great experience with a Tandem partner is to always keep an open mind, to always ask questions and to give them the benefit of the doubt. “Sometimes the things we say, when we are learning a language can get ‘lost in translation’ so to speak. We often don’t realize the connotations or even emotions that are tied up into the words we speak. I would have missed out on making incredible friends if I had jumped to conclusions early on and not asked for clarification.”
“My time in Colombia was the best two weeks of my life […] and, truly, what made it was the opportunity to meet all of my friends and to experience their country and their cities with them. Everything that we shared together was twice as wonderful for that reason — because we shared it together.”
Inspired by Sara’s Tandem Tale? Download the Tandem app today and make some new Tandem friends!