Hello all, if you don’t know me, my name is Catalina. I am a rising third year at the University of Virginia studying Public Policy and American Government. My job as a blogger throughout these next few weeks will be to describe my experience abroad in the various countries that we visit not only as an American student but also as a Hispanic female (of Colombia origin, in case you were wondering). I am currently studying with the IES Abroad European Union program for the summer.
I have been in Freiburg, Germany as my base town for the past month. Of course, as someone who only speaks Spanish as a second language and has no knowledge of the German language whatsoever I was a little concerned when I first arrived that I would not be able to get around as easily as I normally would. My experience so far has been the absolute opposite. I have been able to get around with ease and even though not everyone speaks English, the people in shops and restaurants (who are people I usually interact with most) are very helpful. Even if we have to kind of sign to each other, the points we are making get across.
Our first educational trip was this past week to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. We visited Sarajevo, Srebrenica, and Belgrade. Overall the trip was very impactful for me as I saw many similarities between my home country of Colombia and both Bosnia and Serbia. Not only this, but I really saw first-hand how being from a developing country visiting another developing country gave me a different perspective than my peers. I will list the two main things that struck me on my trip.
1. History of politics and economics in the region: I have studied in Colombia, and I have visited quite often. It was very interesting to see that many of the reforms applied to Latin America, especially during the Washington Consensus, were likewise implemented in the Balkans. Then going to the actual place after learning about so much about the region was almost like being in a déjà vu situation where I felt as if I had just landed in Latin America once again. The many presentations we had on the prevalence of culture and of a traditional way of living in Bosnia and the description of corruption in Serbia all hit home for me in a way that may have been different to others who may not have experienced the same as I have
2. Sensitivity to other cultures and an overall step away from US-centrism: One of the few times I really felt different than my peers was during the times when we would discuss ways in which to reform the nations of Bosnia and Serbia. Being of a place with such a rich Latino culture I understand what it is like to have western views forced upon a nation and how what works for the U.S. may not necessarily work for other countries. My peers and I didn’t really see eye to eye on these issues mainly because it is difficult to understand many of these types of things without having been to the real heart of a developing country outside of the tourism areas and also without having actual ties to said country. While I definitely agree that the Balkans as a whole need some dire assistance to help the situation that they are in, I do not necessarily believe that the American way is the only way.
As an overall tip to anyone traveling abroad to places that have vastly different cultures than your own it is important to appreciate and soak in the country to its fullest. Go and see all of the museums and monuments but also appreciate the food and the religion in order to get a feel for the real way of life. Enjoy your time there as much as possible. Something I try to do every time that I visit a country I do not know much of is that I try to leave any of my “American” views behind. I like to come in as an empty slate ready to soak in anything that I come into contact with, and I really recommend that for anyone going anywhere really.
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Catalina Perez Parra
<p>I have traveled all around the world and I consider it to be one of my greatest hobbies. I have met so many people of various cultures and I have been so privileged to be able to experience cultures first hand, primarily because of my family. It was always so refreshing to see how someone’s take on an event could be so different than someone else’s. In college I have been very interested in government and policy making.</p><p>I worked at the White House, on the hill, and at DOE experiencing various stages of the policy process. I am also very involved in the Charlottesville community in volunteering at the pro bono law clinic and interning for a non profit governmental awareness association. I hope one day to go to law school and achieve my goal of becoming a lawyer but for now I am just trying to make a difference among the people that I meet and in my community.</p>