Interview with Eric from Colombia
Which country do you consider to be your country?
That´s a difficult question, if you are asking for a specific country. Because I think the experiences I have in living abroad in another country are also part of my life. So for me it´s difficult to say I am from a specific country. I would say there is not a country which I consider my main country.
So would you say you have a few countries you can relate to quite well?
Well, Colombia is the country where I was born and most of my family is living there. I know a lot about their politics I´m also concerned about what happens there. But to say that this my main country – I don´t know. My main country is a very difficult question. For example now, I have the opportunity to live in Spain. And also I have been studying and doing my masters here. All these activities are part of my life and I like them as much as I would like them in another country. Like I would in Colombia or the States, or as I am doing right now in Spain.
So, you are living in Spain now. Why did you choose Spain?
I chose it because my partner is from here, that´s the main reason. Last year I was in Colombia working there. But when we meet we decided to live together and Spain is the place where we can live together. The best opportunities for both of us are in Spain. If it would get difficult here we could try again in another country as we have the chance to find a job for both of us.
You both speak Spanish. Do you prefer a Spanish speaking country to live in?
For the language I would say that it is easier to live in a country where you can find people that speak your native language. I think it would be challenging in another country. Or maybe better. But I think the most common problems you face in another country are more related to your job or your studies.
You also did your master in Spain. How would you compare the education system in Spain to the one in Colombia?
In education they are more or less the same. If you are looking for a broad spectrum of masters I think the best option is in Spain or in other countries rather than Colombia. But if you are looking for a job I think it is quite complicated in Spain. Because there is a lot of people. So, in that sense I think it depends which kind of options and which kind of opportunities you have – in Spain, in Colombia or in any other country.
Do you like living in Spain?
I like living here, living here has been really good. I cannot complain about anything. The weather is perfect, it´s the best weather I`ve ever experienced, people here are nice. Jobs are not so easy. But I have this strong feeling that it is difficult to find a job if you´re around 20 or 30.
How long have you been living here now?
Is there something you especially miss about Colombia?
My family. Most of it is my family. But the culture not really. The most important part if my family. My mum especially.
Could you tell me a general misconception people usually have about Colombia?
I´m sure you have already heard something about the famous drug dealer Pablo Escobar and all the issues related to him. There are some parts of his story that are true, but also others that are completely made up.
Colombia is an amazing country. But I think Colombia is a country of contrast. You can find 3 kinds of social groups there. People who are rich, who are the wealthiest of the country. The middle class, which is not so big, with a tiny social structure and the poor people – who are more than the middle class. You can see this structure in the cities. The main problems that are related to Colombia are the issues related to the people that are living in the poor areas. But Colombia is a complex country and you can find so much contrast there. Geographically you can find something from cold to Caribbean weather and really high mountains, the Andes. So we have a lot contrast geographically. Socially, people from different skin colours, black to white. You can see a lot of contrast there, culturally, socially, there are many changes. The problem is that outside we are seen “Colombians are related to cocaine, or drug dealing”. Obviously that´s like saying Spain is just about bull fights and flamenco, which is not true.
How do the differences in the country effect the people there?
Sometimes you can find a slight discrimination considering where people are living. For example, someone who is from the coast could be seen to be someone who is lazy. So, there are stereotypes related to where you come from. Even though we are Colombians we don´t have any particular problems like for example Spain has with Catalunya now. We don´t have this situation. But we have discrimination, a little sublet discrimination between us. But we are Colombians. We are very close to Venezuelans as well. I think we have many cultural issues that are similar. Like Spain and France are similar. That´s also why I think this political statement of I belong to a country doesn´t fit anymore for our time.
How would you notice this sublet discrimination you were talking about?
For example in Colombia there is a region called Choco. This place has been dominated
by black people, because when they were at the beginning of the county they were forced to live outside of it. They were forced on this land. So they ended up in this state named Choco. Even there you can find discrimination from white people. Because the main population is black. They feel somehow threatened about their place. But they are not really accustomed to white people. And we have the same discrimination the other way around. For example in Bogota, the capital people are mainly white. There you can hear racist comments from people. You can hear them saying nigger or something like that. So, there is discrimination. There are two kinds of discrimination. The worst is the social discrimination according to your wealth. If you are rich, some people used to discriminate rich people as well. Nowadays that´s not that common anymore. There is discrimination in daily life. I would say that it is hidden discrimination. No one will say oh you´re black, but people would look at you weirdly.
Is discrimination tolerated in Colombia?
No it´s not tolerated socially. I think Colombia is a very progressive country. But socially, politically, it´s not accepted to discriminated. I think discrimination is penalized in some cases. It depends on the specific situation.
What´s the general reaction you normally get when you tell people “Hi, I´m Colombian”?
Well, it depends on who is on the other side. If it is someone who already was in Colombia they say “Great, it´s a beautiful country” most of the time. But for people who don´t have any idea of my country you can see them thinking like “Ah, oh Colombia, coffee,..” sometimes they say Pablo Escobar. Sometimes you can get very surprising answers.
Which answers were surprising to you?
The last one was Pablo Escobar. Medellin. People say Colombia oh, coffee, Sofia Vergara. But it´s a stereotype so, at the end I think it doesn´t help too much to get an image of the country, it´s just a stereotype.
Do you also get some comments about drug dealing?
Yeah sometimes some kinds of jokes. And I usually take them as a joke, because yeah, people sometimes try to be nice and the only thing they know sometimes is Pablo Escobar and drugs, and that´s it. So it stays a joke because they don´t know so much about the country.
What´s your favourite thing about Colombia?
The place where I was born – that is the most important place for me. But as I think it is a very special country. But like any other country it can have amazing people and there´s not so much difference for me between one country or another. There are countries that have a long historical background, but well, Colombia and many Latin American countries are very new. Like America.
What is the biggest difference between Spain and Colombia?
I think the people here are generally more educated. They have more opportunities to get education so they are more educated in general. But you can find so many differences. But that´s the main difference for me.
Do you have anything you would still like to clarify about Colombia?
I would say that unfortunately these action movies and series are interesting, but this
causes a fake idea about the situation. And unfortunately people believed in it. So I would say that to everything related to Pablo Escobar. Yes, Pablo Escobar was real, he was a real issue in Colombia. But it was in the 90s. But the history of Colombia in the 90s was so different from now. I mean I can say that there is drug traffic. But I don´t know any specific country that doesn´t have problems with drugs. But the Pablo Escobar structure that is sold in the series is not what the reality looks like. There is no Pablo Escobar right now, or no other drug dealer in this position. Now Colombia is a country that is trying to gain back their trust in the state, the government. They have their problems. But well I think it´s doing better now than in this previous years. But especially in the 90s the situation was real difficult and in the beginning to the 2000s.
Anything else you would like to add?
Colombia is a nice place to visit. I haven´t been to many pleas there. I haven’t been to many touristic places and I still have to go there. I want to go to the amazon for example. Or people from outside of Colombia: there is so much to know. And it´s a changing country. I think everything is changing now.
I guess I´m like most Europeans – I don’t know much about Colombia. That´s why I, again, learned a lot from this interview. We shouldn´t just focus on countries that are right in front of our nose – and especially in Europe we tend to do that. Everything a bit further away (except the US) is not really present in the news, is not really present in peoples´ minds. But these are the countries that have a lot to offer whom we have a lot to learn from as we basically don´t know anything about them. That´s why you should listen to Erics story, to any story anyone from the other side of the world can tell you – you will benefit greatly from it, I promise.