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Home / Academy News / Stepping into Colombian Culture: Summer Assignment Series

Stepping into Colombian Culture: Summer Assignment Series

Stefanie Senkow | July 24, 2023

Olmsted travels to Colombia“I absolutely fell in love with Colombia and would go back in a heartbeat. Friendly people, good food, great music and dancing, and beautiful scenery,” said First Class Cadet Madison Foht.

Foht recently returned from her summer travels to three Colombian cities: Cartagena, Barranquilla, and Santa Marta. This unique assignment is sponsored by the Olmsted Foundation, which provides funding to military members to travel and immerse themselves in a foreign culture. From sampling new foods, enjoying live music, learning salsa, and embarking on daily excursions from hiking through rainforests, observing wildlife, seeing beautiful beaches, and even making coffee from scratch, Foht covered it all.

“In Minica we took an enhanced 4-by-4 that drove straight up a mountain on crazy, bumpy dirt roads. We hiked from the eco-lodge to a coffee plantation and helped to make our own coffee from bean to cup,” said Foht.  “Another day at Parque Tayrona, we ran into some indigenous villagers in the rain forest and bought necklaces and bracelets from them that they had made,” said Foht.

During this cultural immersion Foht couldn’t help but notice some striking differences from her life in the United States.

“One difference that drove me crazy the first couple of days was how long meals would take. It would take almost two hours for dinner, and you would have to track down the waiter to get the check. I became very good at making eye contact with the waiter and learned the words “la cuenta” meaning ‘the check,’” said Foht. “Also, traffic laws do not exist. It was especially bad in Cartagena. The lane lines are there but they do not matter.”

For Foht, this summer travel was an eye-opener, reinforcing that lessons learned through first-hand experiences are unmatched. Furthermore, Foht gained a newfound appreciation for the Coast Guard’s humanitarian missions, like migrant and drug interdiction.

“This experience opened my eyes to the migrant crisis that the Coast Guard deals with. Though I am not completely sure what I would like to do with my future in the Coast Guard I have always been drawn to the migrant and drug interdiction mission. Seeing the conditions that people live in Latin American countries makes me empathetic to the migrants that are coming to the United States,” said Foht. “Understanding people and their differences and being able to show kindness to those who have endured so much is so important. That is part of the reason I joined the Coast Guard, to help others. This trip opened my eyes to the situation that others endure and how my future career will impact those people.”

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