Coming into this trip I didn’t have much of an expectation of Colombia and what was in store for us over the week. All I hoped for was that everyone who was going would be easy to get along with, so the week could be fun and enjoyable. All I really knew about the week was that we were going there to learn about the business between the two countries and experience how things worked in Colombia with a challenge to top it off.
However, over the 7 days we were there, it turned into one of the trips and experiences of a lifetime.
Experiencing the culture and cuisine was something very different. Just walking the streets, looking up at the different buildings, seeing people selling food and different bracelets and things to make a living – the hustle and struggle was real. But in saying that, everyone was still so friendly, you asked a question, they answered. Asked for a pic, they smiled. No matter what they were going through, they’d make sure we were well looked after. The best example is going on the tour on our first day and meeting Harrison. Where we were going, you could tell it wasn’t the best area, but everyone was welcoming, you could sense a little hostility but nothing too untoward. The cuisine (ants) was something else. I wasn’t a big fan of the traditional arepas, but you can’t go to a country and not try what they have to offer. So, as far as food goes, it was about trying what was there and enjoying the “experience” and not being a “pollo” no matter how much you didn’t want to eat it.
Seeing the city from up on the cable car and looking down over the many brick buildings, tiny compacted houses on the hills all around, football pitches in the smallest of areas and the mass of buildings in the city centre was something I’ve never seen before. But then as we took the cable car up further, all that disappeared, and we were taken across lush green forestry, animals aplenty and transported into Parque Arvi – a natural reserve behind the hills of Medellin and its own little place hidden away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Mountain biking on the electric bikes was insane, although most of the time was being concentrated on not falling off, rather than taking in what was around us unfortunately. Reaching a place in the same city but entirely different worlds apart was something special and just standing in the middle of the forest, listening and looking was peaceful. Oh, we also all hugged a tree of our choosing, I named mine Javier - I miss Javier.
All in all, Medellin wasn’t what I expected, and I was in awe of what it really turned out to be.
The business visits began on the third day and I was fairly ready, I thought that they’d just be small businesses working in and around the community, but the first one – Argos – actually showed the scale of companies that we were going to be dealing with and it opened up my eyes to how big these companies really were. The first interview also showed me the importance of entertainment in pitching/explaining your company to a crowd of people. If there isn’t information of value or of interest, then it won’t have the desired effect on whoever you’re talking to. So even though at that point in time if I wasn’t interested, there are things you pick up subconsciously that can help you a lot, whether it’s about the topic, or the presentation itself.
A lot of the other companies that we visited were either larger or as large as Argos, but most of them branched out into different industries. Globant – they design all the software for Disney cruises, theme parks and everything intertwined with Disney. ISA – the biggest electricity supplier in the whole of Latin America and Ruta n – providing a space for businesses entering the Colombian market. Learning about how all these different companies start and what they do was inspiring and interesting. The way they are able to think of different ways to innovate, connect with like-minded people and even create new concepts like co-opetition where companies will work together to expand the market, so they can all eat a bigger piece of the pie rather than their own little segment. It’s also important to note that the forefront of these large businesses is the consumers – I learnt that the strategy entirely revolves around the consumer and profit will come after. The more loyal your customers are, the more revenue they’ll generate.
It was crazy to see how Medellin has transformed its reputation in the space of only a few years to becoming one of the most innovative cities in the world. Becoming a hub for startups to build and expand the infrastructure of Colombia. The business challenge helped me to understand how our two countries are interlinked and opened my eyes to the potential opportunities for New Zealander’s in Colombia. The sheer size of businesses that come to Medellin is proof that it is still one of the fastest growing innovative cities in the world without a doubt.
Meeting and mixing with the Colombian students was one of the highlights not only for myself but presumably for the others too. Being able to learn their culture and experience their daily lives was an insight into how our lives compare. The way they were willing to share with us about themselves and Colombia was really beneficial in understanding the way of life. I’m hoping that we were also able to impart some of our kiwi flavor onto them and hopefully they will come and visit soon enough. Not only were they helpful in teaching us certain aspects but also as friends – all of us connected without any issue and by the end of the week it felt like I had known them for more than a year which spoke of how close we became. This is also the same for the people I went with as well, from the start of the trip to the end, it felt like we’d known each other for time before.
The true purpose of the trip was to learn about the trade between NZ and Colombia – I feel like I did that and a lot more. I was able to meet new people that I will be connected to for life. I was able to understand a different culture through the eyes of its own people. On a personal level, I wish I was still there and didn’t have to come back, because the people I met and the experiences I had were second to none and just perfect.
Coming from New Zealand, I expected Colombia to be something else – something I can’t describe. But after having been there, I can describe it. I can describe it as a colourful place that is bustling with potential, culture and beauty. Being able to experience the country is only way to truly determine your opinion of it and now, if offered the chance to go back, I definitely would.
I just want to say a huge thanks to Colin, Jaime and Lucy and everyone at YES and LatamCAPE for making this a possibility and opening my eyes up to a different part of the world.