7 September 2018

Learning about coffee in Colombia

Sarah Tait is an agronomist with a passion for Latin American culture and agribusiness. Under the PMSLA, she traded Canterbury for Colombia to undertake an intensive business Spanish language course in Cartagena de Indias.

Sarah hand-picking ripe berries in a field in Bogota

Sarah hand-picking ripe berries in a field in Bogota.

In May 2017, I spent four weeks learning Spanish at the Universidad Tecnológica de Bolívar. The course refined my Spanish skills to be useful in commercial settings and improved my understanding of Colombian culture and the primary industry opportunities there.

I already had a good base of Spanish before I arrived, having studied it for almost 10 years. But being in Colombia really pushed me in expressing myself in Spanish, extending my ability to hold well-structured and formal conversations. The Colombian accent is very easy to listen to. Everyone is exceptionally well-spoken which made it a prime destination to study Spanish!

I did four-hour intense contact sessions with my tutor every morning, reading articles, watching videos, making presentations and critically discussing Colombian history, free trade, sociology and current events.

I’m extremely passionate about Latin American culture and agribusiness relations with New Zealand. I’m currently studying towards a Master of Arts in Spanish and I hope to research New Zealand primary industry relations with Latin America as part of this.

During my time Colombia, I went on a tour of a commercial coffee bean farm a few hours from Medellín and saw the process from crop propagation right through to the harvested bean grading process. I really enjoyed learning every step of the growing and production process, using my agronomy experience to understand crop husbandry practices, gross margins and market dynamics.

“I really pushed myself to make the most of my short time there – this trip was a real chance for me to dedicate time to a topic that I’m so passionate about.”

Living in a different culture is a fascinating experience. There are so many questions you’re anxious to ask when you’re in another culture, and it was a good exercise asking why things are the way they are, and to not compare New Zealand with Colombia.

SarahTaitpicThe greatest challenge was getting my head around Colombia’s complex 20th century history and politics, understanding how corruption has permeated through the society. This concept is rather foreign to us as New Zealanders, and one that Colombians today are dead set on changing. But in Colombia, even people who have experienced hardship still radiate positivity.

By far the most interesting aspect for Colombians was how young and conflict-free New Zealand is as a country. It was also interesting discussing how our cultural differences influence the ways women are perceived in our countries, and how this is evolving in Colombia with a growing sense of feminism.

I really pushed myself to make the most of my short time there to study Colombia and its relationship with New Zealand. Having the opportunity to meet New Zealand diplomats has changed my career aspirations – seeing the jobs and roles that exist as our trade relationship strengthens was very helpful. I think it is difficult for students and young professionals to visualise our futures without seeing for ourselves what trade, markets and diplomacy look like in real life. The experience has had a big impact on broadening my horizons.

I don’t take for granted the opportunity this scholarship has given me – life becomes busy with work, relationships and “reality”, and this trip was a real chance for me to dedicate time to a topic that I’m so passionate about.

What's in it for me?