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From Colombia to Columbia – A Commentary by Laura Gamba

TRANSCRIPT: I grew up in Pablo Escobar´s Colombia. But hey, it´s also the land of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Shakira, and good salsa music. (joe arroyo – la rebelion – But when I heard I got into Columbia Journalism School, and that I was going to live in New York City for a year, I decided it was time to bring some jazz, rock and hip hop into my life. (Song City Heights ) Studying journalism at Columbia had been my dream since I landed my first job as a boring and unhappy lawyer back in 2011. So now that I was preparing myself to travel to the United States to become a great journalist, I had to make sure the cross-cultural experience ran smoothly. I remembered so vividly the wise words of my history school teacher who told me once: a donde fueres, haz lo que vieres, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” I was ready to socialize with the people, blend in the culture, make new friends and meld in society. Piece of cake. The first day of school, I greeted some of my new American peeps very politely, like my parents taught me, with a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. But their responses were awkward. Some of them didn’t know where to put their arms, or how long the hug was supposed to last, or if they should squeeze back. I realized my new acquaintances didn’t want to be hugged or kissed by a total stranger without any warning. As classes began, my Colombian ways started giving me a hard time. You see, getting to places on time is not something we Colombians do. I know it may sound surprising to Americans, New Yorkers especially, but during my college years, being 10 minutes late to class was fine. Even my professors did it. In my country, the convention is that you’ll be late to dinner parties, dates, weddings even doctor’s appointments. Because technically, if everyone’s late, then nobody’s late. So of course, when I arrived at Columbia University, deadlines were just blurry lines ready to be crossed. One day, one of my radio professors told me I had to turn in a story on cyber Monday deals. I was 2 hours late. He was mad at me, and he had every reason to be. I was disappointed because he didn’t really know me, but he was already under the impression that I was irresponsible, and thoughtless. Until I decided to imitate my American buddies. People coming from Brooklyn arrived ten minutes before class with a coffee in their hand. Even teachers arrived at the exact hour of class. And when my friends made dinner plans, come rain, or snow, they were there promptly. I have also noticed they are independent and driven. Most of my American friends left their childhood homes to go to college when they were 18 years old. They usually visit their families for a short while during summer, but they just don’t need to talk or hang out with their parents much. But Latinos, oh, we stick around with our families forever. I’m 29 years old and I lived with my parents until I was 28. Actually, I left my parents´ house only because I got married, and well, married couples live together, preferably far from in-laws. But I just love being around with my parents. So now, 2,486 miles away, I call them everyday to feel close to them … just a couple of times. (tape saying hi to my folks over the phone – 5 secs) And my sister too. So I have developed a nice, firm handshake and I am working on meeting my deadlines. I did turn this story in late – by twenty-four-hours, but I’m hoping my editor will forgive me. But there are some things I’m not willing to change, I will keep calling my parents. No one has to know.

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