Learning Spanish in Colombia
Professionally, I have also been able to connect with the Center for Investigation at the Postgraduate University of the National Colombian Police Forces. They were very interested and excited to assist me with my research, which I am focusing on the past, present and future prospects for the Colombian Demobilization, Disarmament, and Reintegration (DDR) processes of ex-combatants (guerillas and paramilitaries). The university has assisted me in acquiring contacts, articles, information and other resources. Once I complete my thesis, I have agreed to translate it into Spanish for joint publication with the police university here. I was also asked by the university to participate as a keynote speaker for an event focusing on international perspectives and experiences with governance and public security, alongside two other academic professionals from Colombia and Brasil. I discussed the use of force continuum of the United States police force, within the framework of recent news stories regarding race, racism and human rights. This was a phenomenal professional development opportunity and challenge for me for two reasons. First, it was the first time I have ever actually spoken about security issues within the United States, as my focus has always been on international issues, in other countries. Secondly, I conducted the presentation entirely in Spanish, to include a 15-20 minute question and answer period following the presentations.
Outside of my language studies and research I have enjoyed my time getting to know the real Colombia, the Colombia many people do not see in the news. Although Colombia has technically experienced civil war for the last 50 years, according to a Gallup poll released earlier this year, Colombia is actually the second happiest country in the world. This has been readily apparent throughout my stay here. Colombians are some of the most amicable, resilient, and relaxed but also determined people I have ever encountered. I have always felt more than welcome here and have rarely, if ever, felt insecure. This is not to say that my stay has been entirely uneventful. In fact, on July 3rd, the FARC (or allegedly the ELN) detonated two bombs in Bogota, Colombia. One downtown, another in the busy financial district in the northern part of the city, roughly 5 blocks from my apartment. Fortunately, no one was killed and only a few minor injuries were sustained as bomb threats had been called in prior to detonation, allowing civilians to be evacuated. This is the side of Colombia the world still sees. Although this incident took place near where I have been living here, this is not the Colombia I have come to know and love. And this is no longer their story. The FARC now number 6,000 or less and even the most cynical of Colombians believe that this round of peace talks will finally help close the dark chapters of their history, once and for all. Thanks to more recent, harsher policies and robust police and military action taken against militia groups as well as a significant aid package called Plan Colombia from the US, Colombia is safer, more stable, and more developed that it has possibly ever been. What would really help Colombia now is for the international community to shed their past, negative perceptions about the country and assist in boosting investment and tourism. Colombia has a lot to offer: delicious, traditional foods, impressive and incredibly diverse flora and fauna, abundant resources, and so much more.
I have learned much more about the realities on the ground here in Colombia by being here. Reading academic articles and news stories only tell a small percentage of the real story, and it has been invaluable to me to have the opportunity to understand the conflict, the people, the government and its development on the level I do now