Colombian students reflect on their semester at Cotter

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Colombian students reflect on their semester at Cotter

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Just when you finally getting things figured out, it is suddenly time to go home.

That’s a little how it felt as the semester ended and three exchange students from Colombia looked back on their semester at Cotter.

Carolina Escobar, Natalia Osario, and Laura Sverko, decided to come to Cotter after they saw the pictures from the four girls from their school who came to Winona last year on the program.  Cotter looked fun and they heard good things about the experience.

Their school offers studying abroad in various countries (including Canada, Germany, and the U.S.). To study abroad, they had spend a lot of time in preparation for their trip  before they come to Cotter, so they didn’t have time to enjoy summer. They came to Winona to experience new culture. They are sophomores right now. After Christmas, when they go back to Colombia, they will starting junior year.

There was definitely some culture shock at the beginning of the semester as they had to adjust to a new town, new language, new buildings, and new structure to the school day.

Carolina, Laura: “The school system is really different. The semesters are  different, our summer break starts in November. Our school has 15 subjects and we take different classes everyday. We feel like Cotter classes weren’t too hard, especially math. In Colombia the whole grade take same classes. We don’t divide the classes like Cotter. Unlike with Cotter, the teacher comes to our classroom. The schools starts at 7 am and finish at 3 pm, so we have to get up really early. We have uniforms. so it’s easy that they we don’t have to worry about clothes. Grade system is also different. We have 2 years at high school (10th~11th) and 4 years at middle school( 6th~9th).”

Their  school in Colombia is surrounded by a large fence. The school has everything in one building so they don’t have to walk to cafeteria in a cold weather.

Carolina and Laura hanging out in the girls lounge at the dorm

Carolina: “One of the hardest things was getting used to cold weather. The weather in Colombia is usually  warm and hot, so it was unusual for us to live in freezing weather.”

They are from city of Medellin, one of the largest cities in Colombia with over 2 million residents.  Medellin is much more crowded in Winona, but the girls appreciated the differences.

Natalia: “In Colombia, I usually hang out with my friends , spend time with my family, and go to parties. In Winona, I tried  to many different things to get know Winona , but it haven’t finished even though Winona is a small city. There are still many things to learn .”

Carolina, Laura: “Here during  free time, we go to our friend’s house and make dinner together and sometimes we watch movies. Since we don’t have a car its hard to go somewhere by ourselves.”


Laura celebrates her birthday in the dorm

There were also challenges living in the dorm with 80 other students from many other countries and only a few Spanish speakers.  One thing they liked was the freedom to run their own schedule.

Carolina: “I’m a only child, I have to ask every time when I go out without my parents. It’s cool here because I don’t need my parents permission. I can decide on my own. But here curfew is too early.”

Carol Girard, the dorm director thinks that the dorm gives students who are only here for a semester or year a chance to jump right into a community of their peers.

“We recommend to live in a dorm not in home stay. If your home stay is far away from school you can’t really hang out with friends. That’s what the Colombian girls from last year told us, so they had to focus more on studying,” Girard said.

Of course a few things were also confusing at the dorm.

Carolina: “On the first day, we arrived really late, so we went to bed and we woke up almost at 11am. As the dorm has brunch at 11’o clock, we thought it was mandatory to be in cafeteria exactly on 11am, so we took a shower super fast and ran to the cafeteria. But later on, we knew it was not mandatory. Another fun story is that When we were making waffles, we almost burn everything because we didn’t put the spray before making waffles.  Also we had lots of fun in Homecoming dance. In our school in Colombia, school doesn’t offer this kind of party.”

The girls before the homecoming dance

Natalia: “I had so much fun because it was a new experience for living in a new place. In Colombia, I have been in same school from primary until now. It was weird at the beginning  and the classes were hard because of the language but as time went by I enjoyed it more.”

New roommates provided another challenge, but also a chance to meet a new friend.

Laura: “It’s kind of hard to live with someone who I don’t know well. We can’t play our own music and only get  half of room but we love out roommate. We are sure that we will miss our roommates.”

As the semester wore on they had made new friends and were enjoying Cotter but, of course, they also were homesick and missed things at home sometimes.

Natalia: “I absolutely miss home, friends and especially my sister who is pregnant. The baby is gonna be born before I get back, I can’t be there so that’s sad.”

Carolina: “We miss home and family time. For example, last week was candle day in Colombia, a celebration day. On Candle day,  all the family meet together and celebrate the day. But we couldn’t be there so it was sad.”

Despite these moments, they all agreed that the overall experience was worthwhile.

Carolina, Laura: “We like that Winona is so peaceful. people here are so respectful. In Columbia, it’s really crowded, people shouting at each other. It’s like a person goes insulting someone just because he or she feels bad, but here so calm and peaceful. Also we love to hang out with people from all around the world. It’s amazing that sitting in a cafeteria and you can hear many different languages at one time.”

Natalia: “I will tell friends they should come here because people are so nice. Cotter is like a family. They treat you like a family and the RMs in the dorms are nice. They care about the students. I don’t regret about anything coming here and I’m happy because of the people I met.”

Mannequin challenge before the dance






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