One of the most difficult – and most important – choices for anyone thinking about studying Spanish abroad is where to select as your base.
Choose well, and you can find yourself in pleasant surroundings, with high quality tuition and plenty of opportunities to socialise and practice your new Spanish skills outside of class. Choose badly, and you might end up somewhere distinctly less enjoyable and, what's worse, not even progressing much with the language.
Should I study in Colombia?
If you’re reading these lines it is probably because Colombia has made it onto your shortlist of country destinations. If so, you're already headed on the right track.
Colombia is a great place to study for several reasons. The language is spoken very clearly here, classes are competitively priced, and the country is sufficiently modern to prevent inconvenience, but is not yet as inundated with tourists and language students as other destinations.
This is a big place, of course, so you're probably looking for a bit more of a specific recommendation about where exactly the best places to study in Colombia are. Most Spanish students head to either Bogota, Cartagena or Medellin for their Spanish classes and it is these three options that we will look at here.
I should say first that there is comparatively little between the three places in terms of the price and quality of language tuition on offer in each. That means that the main differences to take into account are those relating to the climate, culture and general environment of the three locations.
Want to speak Spanish with Colombians as naturally as you'd chat in English with your friends back home? Well, you'll need to learn a load of local slang and expressions first.
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Studying in Cartagena
In theory, studying in Cartagena sounds like the ideal choice. The old town is incredibly picturesque, the climate is very warm and the city is situated right on the Caribbean coast. What could be better than combining a bit of Spanish study in the morning, with some Caribbean beach time in the afternoon?
Indeed, if your aim is just to have a bit of a vacation whilst learning some Spanish along the way, Cartagena would be an excellent location. For the more serious language student, on the other hand, there are a couple of serious drawbacks with this apparently perfect option.
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The first is that the city is hot, really hot. And humid. In this climate, the only thing you will really want to do is relax, take a dip in the pool or hang out at the beach. Knuckling down for some serious study of Spanish grammatical concepts (which can be a bit dry at the best of times) is likely to rapidly slip down your list of priorities.
The second potential problem is that opportunities to practice the language are comparatively limited here. The large number of tourists in the city means that more people speak English than in the rest of the country. Greater numbers of foreigners may also mean that your friendship circle ends up being dominated by gringos, not by Colombians.
It is additionally worth bearing in mind that the Spanish spoken in this part of Colombia is famously incomprehensible. This means it will be harder to pick up when you arrive and less useful to speak when you leave.
Studying in Bogota
For those wanting to make decent progress with their Spanish skills, Bogota is almost certainly a better place to study. Though the weather is disappointingly less tropical than at the coast (and beaches are pretty thin on the ground), Colombia's capital has other plus points which work in its favour.
One the main advantages is that residents of the city tend to speak at a much slower pace than on the coast and have one of the clearest accents in the country (and arguably, even, the world). Being the capital, there are also many more cultural events, concerts, and other attractions which can help you enjoyably occupy your time outside of class.
It is also by far and away Colombia’s most cosmopolitan city, meaning its residents enjoy much greater diversity of culture, food, and music than elsewhere in the country. The large local student community also means that it is easier to meet younger people to practice your Spanish with. Popular English-Spanish language exchange events (the busiest of which is probably 'Gringo Tuesdays') can help on this front.
All in all, Bogota rates as a decent option for potential Spanish students.
And the winner is…
The capital may have a fair amount going for it, but for me the best choice of a place to study Spanish in Colombia has to be Medellin. Perhaps I am a bit biased (this is where I studied when I first arrived in Colombia in 2007), but it seems to me that this city ticks all the boxes of what language students are after.
Medellin is an undeniably pleasant place to spend some time. Its weather is pretty much perfect all-year-round, with generally sunny days and temperatures consistently around the 26°C / 80°F mark (albeit with occasional tropical downpours).
Paisas, as the city's residents are known, are famous in a country already known for its warm hospitality for being exceptionally welcoming and friendly. This makes it very easy to strike up friendships and engage in extended conversations with strangers: much more so than in Bogota. Though it is a city of around 3m people, the attitude of locals makes the place often feel more like a big town.
At the same time, Medellin still has more than enough bars, restaurants, shopping centers, and nightclubs to keep you entertained for many months of language study. It is true that the city is less cosmopolitan than Bogota, meaning that food, culture, music and even the outlook of the locals is much more Colombia-focused. Yet in the early months of your time in Colombia, at least, this all serves as a better introduction to authentic aspects of local life.
Highly pleasant weather, friendly locals and ample entertainment facilities mean that Medellin seems to me to be the best place to study Spanish in Colombia. The city has a very distinctive charm, and endless opportunities to practice your language skills, that other locations in Colombia struggle to match.
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