Cole Velasquez's view of Barranquilla from his homestay

Cole Velasquez's view of Barranquilla from his homestay.

Barranquilla is the largest city in the northern Caribbean Coast. It is the main industrial, shopping, educational and cultural center of the Caribbean Region in Colombia, offering a vibrant, scenic, and cosmopolitan setting where students can learn to dance salsa, cumbia, and merengue.

Barranquilla is home to la Universidad del Norte. The university meets the region’s needs of community relations, a deep sense of ethics, transparency, and excellence in academics, extensions, and research. Courses are taught in both English and Spanish. Typically, students live in homestays to maximize immersion in Colombian culture and the Spanish language, but housing in student residences is also available. 

Students can study for a semester or summer, and course offerings are strong in civil engineering, computer science, electrical and computer engineering, and mechanical engineering.

Cole Velasquez is a civil engineering major who studied at UniNorte through ISA Colombia during his sophomore year. He enjoyed a profound experience and offers numerous insights to share about his time in Colombia. 

Student Cole Velasquez

Cole Velasquez during his time in Colombia.

What made you choose this specific study abroad program?
I chose to study at UniNorte in Barranquilla, Colombia because my Dad is Colombian. I have always gotten a glimpse of the culture and the food and music, but I had never been able to visit. I always dreamed of living in Colombia so I could understand my roots better, and I saw no better way to do that than studying abroad in Colombia. During my first week at college, I found this program, vowed to go, and this program worked out perfectly. It offers homestays, which were highly recommended to me, and I wanted to get a more intimate experience with the people there. Also, the academic program worked well with my major and had several compatible courses with my block diagram.

What was your experience like during the program?
In Barranquilla, I lived in an apartment with my host mom and dad and an additional American student (mi familia Barranquillera). I had classes every day of the week, though many students had days off. I took the 15-20 minute public bus ride to the university to attend my classes. One of my favorite parts of Colombian culture was the eating and siesta schedule. Lunch is the main meal there, and the entire family would come home for a lavish and delicious lunch and more often than not, I’d have time for homework or a nap (siesta). My host family was one of my favorite parts of my experience. They welcomed me into their family, engaged me in meaningful conversations, both taught me and learned from me, and they were a constant support in a foreign place. Additionally, I could go on and on forever about how I loved getting to know the local students at the university and going out to discotecas and becoming comfortable in the city. I also had the opportunity to travel throughout Colombia on weekend trips, over fall break, and with ISA. I visited Medellín, Bogotá, Santa Marta, Cartagena, Guatape, and San Gil. Colombia is a country of welcoming and kind people. My experience never felt overloaded with school, and I was able to balance my academics with a vibrant social life and plenty of travel.

Cole visited Los Nevados National Park on a trip he took to el Ejé Cafatero in the interior of the country.

Los Nevados National Park 

How would you rate your academic experience? Please explain your rating.
My academic experience was very positive, but I  likely would have done it differently in hindsight. On my study abroad, since I was already ahead in my block schedule, I decided not to take any engineering courses. This gave me the opportunity to take some cool humanities courses about topics that really interest me. The classes were great and interesting, but it was a significant change learning in a different language in some classes, and in a different country, and also taking humanities classes instead of engineering classes. I appreciated the ability to relax and have more time for fun, but I would’ve liked to take at least one or two engineering classes to get to know the local engineering students and have that experience. 

Classroom culture is different in Colombia. Most of my classes were more loosely structured, had less homework, and were mostly project-based. I really enjoyed my Spanish class, and I felt like my Spanish improved a lot in that class. Lastly, the university campus was beautiful. It had a lot of open space, tasty food, and options to take tennis and salsa classes. Overall, on a scale of 1-10, I would rate my academic experience a 9. Make the most of it! Also, my time abroad was the only time in my life when grades didn’t weigh on me much since I only had to pass.

Tayrona National Park on the Caribbean Coast

Tayrona National Park on the Caribbean Coast.

What would you tell other students who are considering this program?
I would recommend this program to EVERYONE who can put it into their schedule. It is an experience like no other. Colombia is a country of immense beauty that is filled with the most gracious and fun people. The university is great, the ISA study abroad program is a helpful resource, and Barranquilla is lots of fun. Barranquilla is not a tourist destination, but that was one of my favorite aspects about it all. I didn’t feel like just another tourist; I felt like a student. If you decide you want to go, practice Spanish every chance you get. Don’t be the American who only speaks English with other English-speakers. Invest in your host family, offer up help, strike up conversation, and ask questions. Additionally, travel is fun and seeing places is fantastic, but be sure to pursue meeting people and exploring Barranquilla while you are there. It’ll make the experience even more special. Finally, have fun, make it your own, and feel every emotion.

A mural in downtown Barranquilla

A mural in downtown Barranquilla.

Any other comments?
Algunas palabras y frases importantes:
Chévere → Cool, great
Bacano → Awesome
A la orden → you’re welcome, here to help, at your service
Costeño/a → a person from the Caribbean coast of Colombia

To prospective students: I would love to be a resource to you if you have questions or concerns. Please reach out to Andrew Wingfield in the CEAS Dean’s Office or Kelsey Lanning in CU’s Education Abroad Office to get connected with Cole.