Colombia

Living Conditions

Communications

Mail

Mail from the U.S. to Colombia can take up to three weeks. Please note that Colombian Customs will levy import tariffs on most all packages sent into the country. Any customs fees must be paid by the trainee/Volunteer before the package will be released by customs. The mailing addresses are; for Barranquilla office:

Volunteer/Trainee Name
Cuerpo de Paz
Centro Empresarial Las Américas, Calle 77B No. 57-141, Piso 5, Oficina No. 518
Barranquilla, Colombia

for Tunja office:

Volunteer/Trainee Name
Cuerpo de Paz
Edificio Marca
Cra. 1F No. 40 – 149, Oficina 501
Tunja, Boyacá

Telephones

For security purposes Peace Corps/Colombia will require you to possess a working cell phone at all times. Peace Corps will provide a one time working cellphone to Trainees during the arrival retreat.

Internet

Internet access is widespread across major cities in the Caribbean and Andean Regions. In addition to Internet cafes, there may be the option for a personal Internet connection in your host family home as some host families may have Internet access. The Peace Corps offices have some computers in the Volunteer lounge as well as a wireless hotspot. If you do bring your laptop or other expensive electronics, you are encouraged to purchase personal property insurance prior to leaving for Colombia. You should also bring a USB or external hard drive to back up your laptop.

Housing and Site Location

All work sites are in small- and medium-sized communities that are typically no more than six hours from a major city in the Caribbean or Andean regions. In the Caribbean region all sites are hot and humid throughout the year. Seasons are divided into dry months with limited rainfall and rainy months with high humidity. Electricity outages and water shortages can be frequent.

In the Andean region the climate is cooler, especially at night. There is more consistent rainfall throughout the year and the temperature fluctuates depending upon the time of year and varied weather conditions. Andean region sites are at higher altitudes.

Volunteers who commute further than walking distance take transportation to get around and to attend training or work activities. Some Volunteers use bicycles.

Volunteers live in homestays for all 27 months of service in order to promote community integration and maximize volunteer security. The host family stay can be one of the more rewarding components of Peace Corps service and an important resource for cultural understanding. As such, applicants should be flexible and committed to building strong relationships with the family they are assigned to. Furthermore, Volunteers are expected to spend the majority of their time in the communities where they live and work. Because of this commitment to integrating into their communities, Volunteers may take vacation during school breaks and national holidays, of which there are many.

Volunteers may be challenged to understand, adapt to and respect gender norms whereby women perform the majority of the domestic labor (cooking, cleaning, and childcare) and have fewer economic opportunities. Male privilege is often predominant in Colombian culture, especially in rural areas. Female Volunteers in particular can expect to receive unwanted attention including catcalling and sexist remarks or behaviors. Peace Corps will provide various strategies and training on how to manage these situations.

Food and Diet

The Colombian diet primarily consists of rice, corn, potatoes, yucca and other carbohydrates in addition to meat. There is a wide variety of fruits and vegetables available. It is not very common to find vegetarians or vegans in rural communities. Vegetarian/vegan volunteers will need to be flexible and explain to their host family any dietary restrictions or preferences.

Transportation

Transportation within the approved service areas, North Atlantic Coast and Boyacá-Cundinamarca, are fairly reliable and safe. There are several options available, from vans that provide nonstop travel between the major cities, which in some cases, for a higher fee, will pick you up at your door and drop you off at your exact destination in the neighboring city. Travel by buses that make frequent stops to drop off and pick up passengers is limited to a few trusted companies. In your communities there are inter-city buses and taxis that can take you where you want to go. Volunteers may also travel in private cars when traveling with colleagues or host family. Volunteers are also prohibited from driving cars, motorcycles or riding as a passenger on the back of a motorcycle. Volunteers are required to receive prior approval from the country director to ride bicycles in Colombia and, if approved, must wear helmets. Being in Colombia, there are several travel restrictions in place. It is prohibited to travel by bus or car after dark.

Social Activities

In the Caribbean region, loud music and celebrations are common aspects of the culture where extroverted Volunteers thrive, but that may challenge more introverted individuals who prefer quiet, private environments. In contrast, the Andean region values big celebrations but tends to be more quiet and tranquil. Engaging a flexible and resilient approach is key to adapting to your new environment.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

Colombians are generally well dressed, especially in the workplace. Your community is likely to hold you to higher standards because you will be working in a school and you are a Peace Corps Volunteer. Dressing appropriately can enhance your credibility, since it reflects your respect for the customs and expectations of the people with whom you live and work. Inappropriate dress, like inappropriate behavior, is something that can set you unnecessarily apart from your community. Until you become well-known by Colombians, your dress will be an important indicator to them. For better or worse, you will be judged in part by your appearance. During pre-service training you are expected to dress as you would on the job. Shorts, T-shirts, flip-flops, rubberized clogs, waterproof sandals, etc., will not be accepted and the trainee will be asked to change. Men will be asked to remove any earrings during pre-service training and the first few months at their site. Facial piercings are not permitted during pre-service training and are discouraged during service. If you have a tattoo, it is best to keep it covered. For men, if you have facial hair it is recommended that it be trimmed and well kept.

Post Colombia offers more guidance on this matter in the pre-departure (before you travel) and pre-service training courses (in-country).