“To be completely honest, Colombia wasn’t my first choice,” says Ashley Peak, about her move to South America. “I had dreamed of the mountains of Peru and the wine in Argentina.”
But Colombia was where she ended up after applying for a number of teaching positions on the continent.
Since moving to the mountain city of Manizales, in Colombia’s Coffee Triangle, Ashley’s experience in the country has made her question her first reactions toward living in Colombia and her fear of the unknown.
“I’ve been hugged more in Colombia in six months than I had been in my entire life in the United States,” Ashley says. “The reality of my experience in Colombia has been incredibly warm and positive to the point of making any expectations of fear and worry feel embarrassing.”
Manizales, known as the city of open doors, is a contemporary city with six universities, historical buildings, parks, a lively culinary scene and popular neighborhoods that converge at Cable Plaza, Manizales’ dining and entertainment district. It has a temperate climate, reaching around 65 to 75 F each day almost all year round.
“People here are excited to have conversations with foreigners,” says Ashley. “I’ve been invited over for homemade soup called ajiaco…I’ve been given many free rides in the rain…a family offered to let me borrow a bicycle and join them…and even my doorman enthusiastically helped me with a video project for school, which included him rapping.”
Ashley worked as a teacher in the United States capital of Washington, and says the transition from teaching and living in the United States to Colombia has been an eye-opening experience. Her students are all bilingual and enthusiastic, and the locals are supportive of teachers.
“Every time I tell someone I’m a teacher here, locals are really encouraging, something that feels very different from the United States,” she says.
While the cost of living in Colombia is much lower, Ashley says her income is on par with teaching salaries in the United States, making it easier to save money.
A one-bedroom apartment in a nice neighborhood in Manizales costs her around $265 a month. A meal at a restaurant can set her back around $3 and a taxi across town as little as $2. The current dollar-to-peso conversion makes the cost of living incredibly low.
“If I add everything up together, the pay check is comparable to what I made in the United States,” says Ashley. “But because the cost of living here is so much lower, it feels like a lot more.
“My original intention was that Colombia would simply be a jumping off point to explore South America but I found myself choosing to stay for almost a year before planning a trip outside the country,” she says.
It was the locals in Manizales that made her feel so at home, with strangers often going out of their way to invite her out and welcome her to the neighborhood.
“I can’t say enough to emphasize how welcoming Colombians are to foreigners and how thankful I am for that,” Ashley says.
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