Learning to love my home from far away

A student reflects on how leaving her home country showed her the importance of valuing and embracing her culture.


I’ve wanted to leave my home country of Colombia since I was a little girl. I’d lay in bed every night, close my eyes and picture what my life would be like if I lived somewhere else like Spain, Italy or even the United States. I saw myself settling down, getting a nice job and starting a family and an exciting new life somewhere far away from where I was born. 

Growing up watching movies, like High School Musical, influenced my perception of my country and showed me the perfect life I thought I could never achieve in Colombia. I wanted the classic American school experience: lockers, plain hallways, sports, school spirit and the typical summer break. 

My parents thought leaving Colombia was just a childish dream, but I was set on moving away and starting fresh somewhere else. I felt like I didn’t connect with my culture and even though I lived in the same city for most of my life, I always felt like a visitor instead of a local. My quiet and reserved personality always stood out in contrast to the loud and lively people who surrounded me, causing me to form a weak connection with my culture. 

It might have been hard for my family to take my words seriously because I was a little kid who had never even visited another country for more than two weeks, but I still wouldn’t stop talking about living in a foreign place.

The idea of the American dream — changing seasons and the promise of snow — was what initially sparked my interest in leaving my country. Once I grew up and started to travel around the world for some long vacations, like living in Germany for six months, immersing myself in other cultures and learning how to navigate different countries helped me understand that movies aren’t real and I couldn’t base my decisions on them. 

I still wanted to leave the country because I knew deep down Colombia wasn’t the place for me and I was always looking for reasons to justify my imminent departure. Saying I didn’t feel like I belonged there didn’t sound like a good enough reason. 

Somewhere along the way between my childhood and turning 16, my desire to live abroad turned into a distaste for my own country. This was heavily encouraged by my friends and our immature understanding of life. 

I’m not proud of it, but when I reached my teenage years I constantly spoke poorly about my own culture. I complained about my country almost daily and daydreamed about leaving without looking back every single night. 


My distaste for Colombia was fueled by my friends’ incessant complaining about our culture. They would pick apart the qualities that characterized the people from our country, from the food they ate to the clothes they wore, and I quickly started doing the same. 

My friends were promoting ideas about our country that supported my desire to leave and I didn’t hesitate before jumping into the conversation with more reasons why we should all dislike our country. I didn’t like how talkative Colombian people were and how clingy they acted. Those thoughts came from a place of immaturity and a lack of awareness about my culture and the history of my country. 

I couldn’t be less interested in the history, I didn’t find traditional clothes appealing and our traditional dishes, like beans with rice, embarrassed me because they weren’t fancy and didn’t look aesthetically pleasing. 

Deep down, I was ashamed of being from a “third-world country.”

“I can’t wait to leave this place,” I constantly said to my friends. “Once I leave, I’m never coming back.” 

I made sure to look for schools outside of Colombia when it was time to apply to colleges during my senior year of high school. I didn’t apply to a single school in my country, and I had eight safety schools just to make sure I would accomplish my dream of studying abroad.

My family always asked why I decided to study abroad, and each time I said that I couldn’t stand living in my country for the rest of my life. I constantly judged people who decided to stay in Colombia, and I didn’t understand their desire to remain in the country. 

I was embarrassed about living in Colombia and I assumed everyone had the same desire to pursue a life in a place where they felt they belonged. I didn’t think anyone could feel completely at home in Colombia.   

Although my parents weren’t thrilled that their only daughter was leaving and not staying home with them, they encouraged me to study abroad because they knew it was one of my dreams and was a good opportunity for me. However, I often argued with my younger brother about my decision because he loved Colombia and never understood my desire to leave. 

“I don’t think there’s another country more beautiful than Colombia, and I can’t think of a better place to live,” he said every time I mentioned living abroad.

I didn’t get what he meant until years later. 

I never liked telling people I was from Colombia when I first came to Temple because I was embarrassed they would judge me for being from a developing country. I even started introducing myself as “Valerie” or “Val” instead of Valeria so people could easily pronounce my name. 

I went days without speaking about my country or my culture because I thought that’s what I wanted when I left Colombia, but I began to realize that hiding my culture was erasing who I was. I wasn’t listening to my favorite Spanish music, I even forgot about my favorite band. I completely stopped speaking in Spanish, only using it to talk to my parents every once in a while. 

My goal when I started college was to meet new people. I found wonderful friends with amazing qualities and I got the chance to immerse myself in American culture. I loved it, but it was very different from home.  I realized there is something special about Colombian people because they genuinely care about others in a way no one else does, they show love by cooking, hugging and most importantly by talking in a very expressive – and almost invasive – way. 

I quickly started missing the qualities I used to despise about Colombia. I missed the warmth of the people back home, the music, the food and the beautiful views and green scenery. These were things I always took for granted about my home and never really appreciated until I was gone. 

When I went back home for the first time during winter break of my freshman year, I made sure to enjoy every single moment, and I even started taking pictures to hang in my dorm in Philadelphia. 

I started talking more openly about my home country after winter break, reflecting on positive experiences and explaining the things Colombia is known for, like having the best coffee in the entire world (my own opinion) and being one of the most biodiverse countries in the world.

I talk more about my country now because I want people to know where I’m from, even if it’s not where I live anymore. Since I started being more open, I’ve had nice conversations with people who want to learn more about my culture and where I’m from. Those conversations fill me with joy because they put into perspective all the positive aspects of Colombia.  

I’ve also encountered ignorant people who only know about the incredibly offensive stereotypes that surround Colombia. I’ve been asked multiple times about narcotics, weapons and drug trafficking. I was offended the first few times, but explaining the reality of my country and highlighting the beautiful things about my culture helped me see a different side I never considered before. 

I come from a place where people deal with forced displacement, violence and paramilitary problems, and yet it has managed to advance and flourish beautifully. I don’t think my country is perfect and there are certainly issues that need to be solved, but I’m incredibly proud to say I’m Colombian.

Seeing people interact with each other in Philadelphia has shown me that people from Colombia are incredibly kind and caring, everyone here is nice and respectful but in Colombia they go out of their way to make you feel special and included. Being away from home taught me how to value the little things, like the beautiful traditions and weird dishes, that once embarrassed me. 

For the first time, I understood why my brother loved our country so much and I wish I had started doing that sooner. 

I’m now completely embarrassed of how I used to think. It was childish and immature, and I should have appreciated what I had while I was living in Colombia. 

Living abroad and learning about other cultures has made me value my own even more. I’ve been living in Philadelphia since August 2021 and I’ve realized I was focusing too much on what I didn’t like about my culture and was missing out on all the beautiful things that surrounded me. 

Colombia is an amazing country and it will always be my home, regardless of where I end up settling down. Being raised there influenced who I am and even if it’s not the right place for me, it will always have a place in my heart. 

I still don’t want to go back to my home country after college, though I love visiting and spending time at home. I’m not sure where I want to live, but I don’t feel the need to speak poorly about my culture to justify what I do with my life.

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