By Caleb Reed
Since there are quite a number of PC Colombia volunteers who have decided to return to Colombia or who have stayed after their service, Oíste was interested in finding out why. Is it the natural beauty and diversity? Is it the sweltering heat and mosquitos? Is it for the love of a special someone or for special people? What is it about Colombia that RPCVs just can’t leave behind?
In the first of the Never Going Home series of interviews investigating this theme, I had the pleasure of talking to RPCV and Cartagena resident, Christina Kuntz.
Christina, tell us a little about your service. Where did you serve and in what capacity? What work/projects did you enjoy the most or did you find most successful?
Hello, Oíste! What an honor to be interviewed. I was a volunteer with CII-3 at Soledad Roman de Nuñez High School in Escallon Villa, Cartagena from 2012 to 2014. My personal successes include learning to make a mean sancocho, surviving the night without a fan, gaining a super-champe accent, and never being hit by a buseta.
My greatest project-related successes related to youth development. My counterparts and I started Chicas Lideres INEDSORistas, a group of girls with whom we discussed pregnancy prevention, HIV/AIDS, sports, nutrition, etc. With the help of a SPA grant, we traveled around Cartagena as our girls presented to other young women. If there are any volunteers interested in gender development resources, I have a ton and would love to share!
My other big project was the When I Grow Up project. We created a four-month preparatory course for the university entrance exam and covered 70% of the exams’ cost for students in strata 1 and 2. In its first year, we nearly quadrupled the pass rate. The program continues to this day. We rely on donations, so a big thanks to those in Peace Corps who have already helped. This is also an invitation to help in 2016.
When did you start considering staying in Colombia and why?
Hmm, I don’t know when that decision was made… somewhere in Asia. I met the love of my life and Cartagena local, Jota, a year into my service. After I finished, we decided go to Southeast Asia for eight months. We had a desire to work and travel in a totally new culture. I still want to go to graduate school for International Development, but I may have become too costeña; I’m not in a rush to hurry back to the US. Life in Colombia is amazing; we are surrounded by great people, we have a dog, I eat way too much fresh fruit, and we get to travel back to the US often.
What are some other things that factored into your decision?
Unfortunately, we have to make money. Luckily, we had success finding work and starting businesses in Cartagena. My PC service allowed me to get to know a bunch of amazing foundations and projects in Cartagena. When I came back, I was hired as the manager of Fundación AfroCaribe’s literacy program. I realized that many foundations I knew needed volunteers, but volunteers weren’t aware of legitimate foundations or knew how to get set up in Cartagena. This led to Domino Volunteers, an organization that works with different foundations and projects to send volunteers to Cartagena. They help them find housing and other resources.
Jota is a professional dive instructor and I am a dive-master. On weekends, we teach courses in Islas del Rosario and San Bernardo Coral National Park, which makes for a pretty beautiful job.
What can you tell us about your process of becoming an ex-pat here?
You can get a visa conjugal with a Colombian (by law, if you live together in Colombia for two or more years you are technically married). It is easy and once completed, you have full rights to do just about anything a Colombian can do.
Is there anything else you would want readers to know about life in Colombia after Peace Corps? Any advice for current PCVs?
However annoying it is to have to kiss and talk to different people before getting anything done, remember that at the end of the day, what you are doing isn’t more important than the people around you. Colombia understands that, and the US should strive to understand that more. The sentiment is what I like most about life here. “Cógela suave!” It involves paseando, drinking Pony Maltas at the tienda, sitting in a Colombian circle, and consequently, being less stressed. It turns out you get much more accomplished.
Speaking of people, I miss all my RPCVs. Your impact is everywhere and your communities always remember you.
To Christina, we thank you for your service and continued commitment to Colombia.