The following post is from Elsa Steiner, a 2014 Global Gap Year Fellow.
My parents were here for two weeks over the holidays and I was so grateful that they got to see this country and what my life has been like for the past four months. We stayed in Bogota for five days, went to visit the farm in Armenia for a Christmas and then we went up to the coast for a week. Not only was it fascinating for them to see South America for the first time and watch me guide them through the world and interact with people on my own, all grown up and everything, it was very interesting to me to have them tag along. It reinforced something that I have known about myself for a while. I hate being a tourist. I cant stand being the one staring at a tourist map on a street corner pointing in all kinds of directions trying to figure out where that restaurant or museum is. I was so used to just going about my life in Bogota, blending in surprisingly well because there are quite a lot of blond, Spanish looking people here. When my family showed up, those days were over.
I don’t know why it bothers me so much. It is impossible to travel around and not come off as an awkward, backpack carrying, tennis shoe wearing tourist sometime. I think it has something to do with being an American tourist, rather then a European one. I have always felt that being “American” was a burden when I am abroad because of the superior attitude that Americans have always had. In my book, arrogance is one of the worst qualities to have when visiting other cultures and it makes me very uncomfortable to think that I would be judged as arrogant just because I speak English with an American accent.
I am sure that I exaggerate just how often that happens and I worry about it far more than necessary. During my parents stay I tried to embrace the flip side of that situation, which is being able to change peoples preconceptions by speaking their language and asking them all about there country and showing a genuine interest in their life and opinions. Especially in Colombia, people are so pleased that I am here and so proud when I say that I have loved my time here because they are also trying really hard to change peoples perception of their country. Taxi drivers all want to know where I have been so far, which Colombian food I like the most, and if I am going to come back.
So even though sometimes we stuck out like a sore thumb and lots of people came up to sell us things and ask for money, we were also very very warmly received everywhere we went because people were just so pleased that we were there and did their best to make sure we were happy. I was so happy to have my family here and to show them everything I have learned and experienced. I have to admit though, it was refreshing to get rid of the maps and cameras and go back to just living.