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Monday 2 August 2004
Working abroad: James Eder
Written by James Eder, AIESEC member
Juan K, Dan, Andrea, Liliana, James and Laura in the salsa club
Juan K, Dan, Andrea, Liliana, James & Laura

James Eder is sharing his business skills with local people in Colombia this summer.

He's travelling abroad with the AIESEC student organisation, and he's writing a regular diary on BBC Birmingham.


Stevie Cameron
Stevie's in The Philippines.
Diary 1
Diary 2
CSR Conference
Diary 3
Diary 4

Andrew Webster
Andrew's in India.
Diary 1
Diary 2
Culture Shock!
Diary 3
Diary 4
Diary 5

Jess Rudkin
Jess is working in the Czech Republic.
Diary 1
Diary 2
Diary 3
Diary 4
Diary 5

James Eder
James is sharing his marketing skills with local people in Colombia.
Diary 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5
Diary 6 - Aims
Diary 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11
Diary 12 - 13 - 14 - 15
Diary 16 - 17 - 18 - 19

Working with AIESEC
Jame Eder introduces the student organisation.

AIESEC in Birmingham
Amaneeta Shokur explains more about AIESEC and how she is involved.

Scheila came to Birmingham from Brazil on a student scheme run by AIESEC.

Students index

Profile of the South American country from BBC News.

Follow James' travels on this map of Colombia from Lonely Planet.

James' photos
Check out James' prints online.

Official website for the UK.

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Population: 44.2 million (UN, 2003)
Capital: Bogota
Major language: Spanish
Major religion: Christianity
Money: 1 Colombian peso = 100 centavos
Exports: Petrol, coffee, coal, gold, bananas, flowers, chemicals, emeralds, cotton,, sugar, livestock


AIESEC (pronounced "i-sek") stands for the Association for the International Exchange of Students in Economics and Commerce.

AIESEC is the world's largest international student organisation with 30,000 members in over 86 countries.

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Expectations uncovered

What do you think of when I say Colombia? Just think about it for a few minutes… I promise you it is different to what you are imagining. As I write this I assume that many of you reading this also have many negative thoughts. I wish all of you could see what I am seeing and experience it for yourselves, just for a day or even just an hour.

I thought I would take a few minutes just to answer the questions I was thinking about on the aeroplane before I arrived. What were the people going to be like? How am I going to manage with the language? And how was I going to cope with the perceived spicy food I expected to be greeted with?

Amazing people

The people that I have met are amazing. They are so friendly and have really welcomed me into their homes. Juan K has been in AIESEC just for 11 months and it is hard to imaging a family in the UK taking in a stranger for two months let alone one week, I have so much to be thankful for - in many situations it is the people that really make it.

Struggling with Spanish

The language is hard, but day-to-day it has been easier than I expected, especially with the use of online translator programmes at work. After long discussions, it has been decided that the English are generally worse at languages as there is less motivation to learn them, as 'everyone' speaks English. In contrast, Scandinavian countries are so good at languages as very few foreigners can speak their native language. I wish I had paid more attention when I was learning Spanish for a year back when I was 13.

Crepes & Waffles

Coffee vendor
Buying coffee on the street

Finally I am glad to say my expectations of perceived spicy foods were shattered. There is a lot of rice, tuna and other simple foods. Lunch is generally the bigger meal of the day.

The favourite here is a chain called Crepes and Waffles, which we might one day see in the UK. It's a Colombian success story started by two natives who studied in Europe. They serve an extensive array of savoury and sweet crepes and waffles as well as ice creams, with a number of shops here in Barranquilla and across Colombia. They are already opening in the US, Venezuela and Spain. They're definitely something I am going to miss when I come to leave.

What is your reality?

Is Colombia how I expected? In a conversation I was having with Juan K, he asked me this question. The response was mixed. It really isn't how I expected in many ways.


Whether it be university or work, our routines and the way we live our lives every day seem to all exist within contained bubbles, more so here. It feels like where myself and the rest of the AIESEC community live is a bubble, and the university is merely a bubble within this. Across the world I suppose (to varying degrees) those at university are the privileged, more so in less developed countries.

The mall Buenavista nearby, the McDonalds on the street corner, the American bars and the many other familiar brand names all contribute to the illusion that this is a standard across the country.

On the street
On the street

There is the severe rich/poor divide which is apparent further south of Barranquilla from where I am staying. It is easy in many ways to live without coming in contact with this. Through my work I have seen into some of the poorer communities and am struggling to see how things can improve when the situation is so bad. The most difficult thing in some communities is the resistance from families and the lack of education.

Taken for granted

Iguana at the university campus

We are so lucky and take so many things for granted when we are in the UK. The education system and stability that surrounds us is really unappreciated until visiting a different reality where there are simply not the resources or money to provide an acceptable level for all.

The second full week at work was dedicated to visiting some more of the schools the foundation works with as well as researching further into the needs of the foundation so we are able to write an effective proposal to gain funding from external organisations.

Juliet & I also assisted in running a meeting with the directors from each of the schools and (using online translation) we'd prepared a list of questions for each of the directors to help us gain a fuller understanding of individual realities.

Friday night on the town

Club Colombia neon sign
Club Colombia neon sign

Friday night we were out again. Another graduate on the AIESEC International Exchange programme arrived in Barranquilla from Germany, Gregor.

After meeting up in a local bar, after much discussion we ended up stumbling across a salsa club, which was surprisingly free to get into. We clubbed together to buy everyone's local best friend Ron, the local Rum, which meant very soon we were all on the dancefloor.

James and Laura salsa dancing
James dances with Laura

Something that is a given is that all Caribbean Colombians can dance, it is really amazing to watch them. I am told it's all in the hips. We've been out a few times now and I'm definitely improving... well I think I am anyway.

I really love it - constant Latin American music blaring out at every occasion possible including on the buses. The night ended once again in the early hours of the morning.

Written by James Eder

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