By: Jessica Stanton
Is Colombia Safe? How To Survive Medellín. So...you binged watched Narcos, and now you're an expert on Colombia, especially Medellín. Maybe you've thought about teaching English in the salsa capital of the world, but some antiquated information about murderers and drug cartels has turned you away. Well parcero, you may not have realized that was over 20 years ago. Things have changed drastically in the Medallo City. This is no longer a drug filled war zone. It's now a bustling city full of art, innovation, and fun!
After completing my TEFL certificate online at International TEFL Academy, I moved here in July 2016 with an open mind, not knowing what to expect. In the almost four months I've been here, I've never seen a drug cartel, any act of violence, or even the white powdery substance that was once synonymous often with this country. Medellín now boasts a sparkling clean metro system that gets you all over this beautiful valley for less than a dime USD. There's even an integrated bus line that's included with the price of one ticket. It's light years ahead of the public transportation system in the city I lived in before moving here—Charlotte, North Carolina.
There are beautiful parks and plazas often filled with friendly Paisas ready to chat with you about their beloved city over a cerveza or two. Street art colorfully lines blocks from north, south, east and west against the gorgeous backdrop of tropical trees, flowers, and mountains. The Medellín metro area is home to nearly four million people. The level of safety, as I'm often asked, is the same as any other big city. Common sense isn't always common, so here are a few tips if you plan to visit or teach in the City of Eternal Spring.
Dos & Don'ts for Surviving Medellin
Do visit Centro. People will warn you that this is the most dangerous area in town. For me, this is the heart of the city. This is where you learn the true history of what you saw on Narcos, and see the real Medellín. Sign up for a free walking tour.
Don't be flashy. This is not the place to show off your fancy jewelry or expensive bags. This is still a developing city. While there are many wealthy people in some areas, as an outsider, people are always watching you and waiting for an opportunity. Don't provide one. I'll never forget being told my iPhone could feed a family for a month.
Speaking of phones, do secure yours at all times. Many of my fellow teachers here have fallen victim to phone theft. Pick pocketing is the number one crime here and your fancy smartphone is an easy target. It's ok to take pictures, and show off those snapchat filters; just be mindful of your surroundings. Foreigners are still a bit of a rare site; people are always observing you.
Don't begin interactions in English. Nothing makes me cringe more than hearing a gringo yelling at a Colombian in English. My Spanish is far from good; I never studied the language in school as most North Americans did. I knew almost nothing beyond "hola, como estas?" when I got here. My course at International TEFL Academy reminded me of cultural sensitivity, and that just a little español and a smile will get you far and be much appreciated by locals who will appreciate your efforts.
Do take the metro. Yes, it's awesome that Uber is here, but you're missing out on so much culture if you only get around by car. It's very user friendly and there's always a guard or police officer on duty if you get lost or need help. The views are amazing, and if you listen closely, you'll learn some Paisa Spanish.
Don't take drinks from strangers. I know, this sounds like something your Mom told you or your sister before you went off to college. This applies to men as much as women here. It's not uncommon for a very beautiful woman, or even a man to befriend another man, spike his drink, and rob him. People are very kind here. It can be difficult to see the line between when they are just being nice, and they are planning to take advantage. Be cautious and friendly and you'll be fine.
Do enjoy yourself! In my four months here, I've never felt unsafe. My school is located in one of the former notoriously dangerous barrios. I've received nothing but love there. Enjoy the nightlife, the festivals, the tours, the parks, the food, and the people. Me encanta está ciudad! I hope you enjoy this city as much as I do.
Jessica Stanton grew up in Cleveland Ohio, & Pittsburgh, PA. She was a medical assistant, hairstylist, and bartender in Charlotte, NC, before she flew off to enrich Colombian lives & her own You can follow her adventures on Instagram @jayeellis.