First of all, the correct spelling is not "Columbia..."
Secondly, by some strange coincidence, I was living in British Columbia at the time of my travels to Colombia, the only other country I'd ever visited (outside of North America) being Great Britain (British... and Colombia..... anyways...) ;)
What I discovered was this: Colombia is a beautiful country with a troubled past, struggling to
overcome international prejudice and attain freedoms that we so easily
take for granted elsewhere. Exposure to American media and exports
has decreased some cultural differences, while economic hardship and
severely limited freedoms (such as international travel) have increased
disparity in other ways.
After visiting the country, I was sadly disappointed to learn that my own country would not extend the same hospitality to my friends that I had experienced there. It is extremely difficult for Colombians to get a VISA to travel to North America without "proof that they will return."
While impressions of the country from the outside still revolve largely
around its drug problems and guerrilla conflicts, life on the inside reveals
a far more varied picture. On a more personal level, what I learned was this: that I have more respect than ever before for people who are brave enough to move to new countries and learn new languages (while I consider Spanish an exquisitely beautiful language I was extremely hesitant to actually practice speaking it in the presence of other people)... That in the absence of material wealth, people are often resilient and creative beyond measure; that indeed, "people are people" (even when I wanted to experience a different culture, what I found for the most part was that we are all the same); and that once and for all, we must stop judging one another (people and countries both) for our pasts, our perceived differences, and our "reputations."
I discovered very real and thriving alternatives in healing and spirituality; independent musicians drawing on inspirations as diverse as anime and Leonard Cohen (sometimes at the same time!); and I made friends who cared little for coffee, illicit drugs, or Latin dance.... they just wanted to develop their own unique talents and create their own realities.
I travelled to Colombia a total of three times; it was my first experience of travelling internationally by myself, and the only time I have travelled to a country where English was not the predominant language. I was inspired by the long distance relationship I was in at the time (amazing what we will do for love), but what I took away was an experience that will last a lifetime.
Try reaching beyond common perceptions to
explore the realities of other cultures - you may be surprised by what you learn about yourself at the same time.