Carolina Caicedo: A Caleña Abroad

in Culture/Interviews

Carolina is a friend of mine, who I met a la Feria in Cali back in 2013. She first became a friend of my little brother and shortly thereafter of my entire family. After leaving Colombia, she has remained the #1 whatsapp buddy of my girlfriend and she even spent Christmas with my parents in Denmark last year.

Colombians are so proud of their country and with good reason. Yet several Colombians decide to move abroad. Here’s the story of a Colombian expat, told through an email interview.

Tell me a little bit about yourself, where you currently live and what you do there? 

My name is Carolina; I am 30 years old, a travel junkie and as Caleña as the chontaduro. I came to Berlin a year and a half ago to learn German and do my masters at the university here. 

Why did you leave Colombia? Are you planning to come back?

Well, it was mostly for personal reasons. I love my country, but I felt that opportunities are too few in the area where I would like to work. Also, I wanted to experience a different type of life, leave my comfort zone and try to create a life for myself in another country. I’m homesick and want to go to Colombia so bad to see my family, my friends, and to visit my favorite place (Santa Marta) – but only for vacation – I don’t see myself living there again a for a loooooong time.

How has your life changed compared to when you were living back in Cali?

Oh my gosh, it has changed in every way! I mean, after 11 years I am back to being a student again, which is frustrating enough at times, but also, I feel like a “nobody” here. I’m here on a student visa so I can not have a formal job. I just work small odd jobs like cleaning, babysitting and sometimes waiting in restaurants. Of course, I knew all of this before I came. The good thing about it is that I have more time for myself and for traveling, which I personally think is a MUST when you come to live to Europe. It is amazing how many countries and cultures you can get to see with just a few hours in a train or plane.
Colombians spend a lot of time working for very little money. And even after flying 3 hours in any direction you are still in Latin America. Europe is very different in that way.

I live in Berlin and life is pretty interesting here. It’s like “another” Germany, different than the rest of the country in every single way. The reason is that Berlin went through a lot of issues after becoming a strategic point after the war and with the division of East and West Berlin. The city keeps growing, it is so rich in culture and is very tolerant and open-minded. Even for me, coming from Colombia, I have seen things here that I never saw before. An example being drug use. Most people here think that as a Colombian I have tried every drug on earth, but honestly I have never encountered a more open use of drugs than here. 

All the stuff I describe above are just small things that make up part of this experience. I have to say that moving has been the best decision of my life. I am so happy to be here and what I am living is priceless, I had met so many amazing people from all over the world and that is a treasure to me. Some of them have become my second family. And hopefully, me leaving a little Colombian footprint, have made their lives a little more “warm” as well, haha!

What do you miss the most about Colombia and Cali? 

I miss my mom and my family (I don’t have any relatives in Berlin) my friends and the weather… I have to say that this time of the year, when it gets dark in Berlin before 5 PM, is very hard for me. When your skin is dark (like mine) you have to get more sunlight for your melatonin, so I physically feel the change and darkness affects me.

In contrast to the above – what are you happy to have left behind?

Security (in terms of violence) is priceless. When I was living in Cali I got to a point of having 2 cellphones: the crappiest one for making calls on the street in case that I got robbed, and the smartphone for the internet etc. I just love the fact that I can walk alone at 2 AM to my place in Berlin without worrying. I believe that you can get in trouble in any part of the world (and you can get robbed EVERYWHERE) but feeling safe is a right for everybody and one that we miss in Colombia. 

Also, in terms of being a woman, I was not comfortable with the beauty standards and societal pressure that I felt in Colombia at times. I worked in media, which made it even harder. Being “perfect” (having a perfect body, the perfect white teeth, not being fat, etc) is a big issue there and it becomes annoying at some point. Please let me clarify that this is my personal point of view and based on my own experience. In Berlin things are a little different. People appreciate other things than beauty and don’t judge you on your looks. I am not saying everybody is superficial in Colombia or that they will not talk to you if you don’t look good… the subject goes beyond that and it’s a mixture of cultural issues. I guess you have to be a woman and live there for quite a time to at least know what I am trying to explain.

In what ways are Europeans different from Colombians?  

We are all different, but I think it is just the way we have been raised. Everybody has been told a different story from their childhood. But the cultural barrier is big and it is still hard to deal with it for me. For example, we (Colombians) are more “warm” and spontaneous than Europeans. Here, if you don’t have a big social circle, you can feel pretty alone at times. Most of the people here plan EVERYTHING a long time in advance – even just quick, casual coffee date. In Colombia, I would just call a friend an hour before or so the same day. There are exceptions, though, and I have met a few spontaneous people here as well. 

Colombians seem to be more like the southern Europeans. We have a lot in common with people from Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. And regarding punctuality I have to say, that Latinos are not the only ones to show up late. I have met a lot of Europeans who don’t arrive on time either 🙂

What are your favorite places in Cali? (barrios, restaurants, bars, parks, best places to dance, walk/run, gyms, etc…)

On Thurdays or Fridays in the late afternoon, my friends and I used to go a lot to Absenta, Rosé and Penélope Martini in El Peñon. Late night party meant Sagsa, Lobby, Lolas or La Maldita Primavera. If I wanted a more casual kind of party I’d go to Mikasa Bar. As I’ve said before, I am Caleña as the chontaduro, I carry the salsa music in my veins, so Siboney, Zaperoco, Tin Tin Deo are great options if this is the kind of music that you enjoy.

What are the first 3 things you’re gonna eat when you come back to visit? 

Chontaduro, empanadas from El Obelisco and La Casona and homemade “guiso” from my grandma Graciela.

Tell me how a perfect date for a Caleña goes in Cali? How can a gringo improve their dating with a Colombian?

It depends of the type of the girl you are going to invite out. It is always a good idea to ask her about what she likes first, and of course it depends on how open-minded the girl is… Most of the Colombian girls are used to being treated like a “princess” and get lots of attention during the first dates. We prefer the old fashioned way and we definitely like gentlemen.

You should pick her up, take her to a nice restaurant or the movies (in my case also a place to dance), then to a bar in El Peñón or Ciudad Jardín. Make sure you pay for EVERYTHING (at least on the first couple of dates…). We think is very rude if we have to pay on the first date, especially if we are the ones being invited out. At the end of the date, leave her at her place again. As I told you before, it depends of the girl, the chemistry, “the click” or whatever you want to call it. This is in Cali though; most of the dates in Europe are WAY different. We Caleñas are a little more conservative.

Gringo advice: Make sure to smell good, be open to doing different stuff than you might be used to. Caleñas and Cali can be very surprising, in a good way.

Please share your top 3 salsa songs with us!

Oh, that’s a hard one:

  1. Trampolin by El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico
  2. Sonido Bestial by Richie Rey and Bobby Cruz
  3. Cali Pachangero by Grupo Niche

Lastly, do you have any advice to share for people thinking about visiting or moving to Cali? 

Make sure you bond with the locals, you will enjoy the city a lot more. Try our gastronomy and delicious juices and you cannot miss Galaria Alameda.

Passed through Cali for the first time in 2011, on his way from the US to Brazil on a motorcycle. Ended up kissing a caleña on his last night and the rest is history. Has been a resident of Cali, Colombia since 2013 and currently living in Barrio Bellavista with his girlfriend and 2 daughters.

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