For those curious, this article will detail my entire experience studying for 6 months at a university called Universidad del Norte in Barranquilla, Colombia.
It’s been about 6 or 7 years since I studied there as of this writing in 2021.
Just keep that in mind as things might’ve changed since then and also my memory isn’t 100% as I write this now.
Regardless, I’ll put down every memory I have studying here in case you are thinking of studying at this university also for any length of time.
Which, even if you don’t care much for studying in Colombia, doing so can help you stay in Colombia longer than 6 months and/or improve your Spanish.
When I did it, I was able to get a new tourist visa after my education visa.
Giving me the possibility of being in the country for a whole year versus the typical 6 months out of the year that simple tourists get.
I can’t say if that is still possible to do and I only stayed for 7 months in total anyhow.
Still, it’s a possible benefit to studying formally in Colombia.
And, regardless of what your motivations are for studying formally in Colombia, let’s get into the specifics of what it was like with everything that comes to memory.
First, you’re going to notice that the student population is a bit whiter looking than your typical person in Barranquilla.
Though the broader Caribbean Coast of Colombia does have white nationals, it was my impression that the student population here was whiter on average than what you’ll see in the street outside the campus.
On top of that, I remember learning that some of the students on campus were as young as 16.
I’m not sure if that’s typical for the Colombian education system to send teenagers so young to college but I remember learning some of those on campus were around that age.
With many obviously being older too.
For us Americans, I don’t believe you’ll have to worry about any raging incel showing up to campus with a rifle looking to pull a Columbine.
I don’t believe school shootings are as common in Colombia. None that I have heard of anyway!
On top of that, you’ll find that the campus feels rather safe in general.
You have to show some form of ID to get onto the campus and there is security.
Though I have heard of a few gringos being able to access the campus with a passport of an ID and saying that they are here to “take Spanish classes.”
Being a gringo, I imagine said security simply thought that it was legitimate without actually checking if they are enrolled in any Spanish class.
And, in my own personal experience, I was able to get onto campus a few times when I forgot my student ID that they give you by just showing a copy of my passport instead.
So it can happen from what I remember.
Not sure if they’d be as relaxed for any typical Colombian to do the same. If I had to guess, maybe they’d be stricter on them without a student ID.
Anyway, the general vibe of the campus is that you’ll feel safe.
While I never felt comfortable enough showing things like laptops or IDs out in public, I remember seeing quite a few students leaving their laptops, phones and other important belongings laying around.
It feels like students trust each other more on campus than what most people would feel out beyond the campus.
And I’d agree with that personally.
As I said, I always felt more comfortable on campus with my belongings more in the open than outside of the campus.
Never felt like someone would steal from me here.
Back when I went there, the campus had a Subway across the street.
Outside of that Subway, I don’t remember too many food options off the campus but nearby.
On the campus itself, you have a few food choices.
There’s a sandwich place I remember that was good too.
Next to the sandwich place was a restaurant that had pretty damn good food.
It had the best empanadas I had ever tried in all of Colombia.
Granted, that’s not saying much because Colombian empanadas tend to be shit anyhow in my experience.
Not like Argentine ones!
And the empanadas at this place, though they are labelled empanadas, don’t look anything like an empanada in the rest of Latin America.
But they tasted great anyhow!
For those who like tea, this same restaurant and the other food places on the campus had some sugary tea drink that wasn’t bad.
Outside of all of that, I remember there being two other food places.
One of them was a little café that had some computer spot in front of it.
If I remember right, the computer spot also had very comfy chairs that you can sit down on while enjoying some form of entertainment.
The entertainment in question was either music that you could listen to or a movie.
I forgot which of the two it was but, thinking back on it, I think it was music.
Where the chair was very comfy and it had headphones that you could put on.
And the computers are obviously nice if you need to print something.
Back then, it was possible to print whatever you needed.
And, like I said, they had one other food place close to the café in question above.
The café itself had alright food. It wasn’t bad.
The food place next to it also had food though. I don’t remember what it served but I remember going back a few times so it couldn’t have been bad.
The Taxis Outside
Outside the Universidad del Norte, you’ll find a taxi stand that is fairly formal compared to the rest of Barranquilla.
Where you don’t have to get a random taxi off the street and negotiate the price.
They’ll give you a ticket with a price written on it depending on where in the city you are headed to.
Though being this is Barranquilla, this doesn’t mean that said taxi driver won’t try to fuck you up the ass for being a foreigner.
That’s a side point – the taxi drivers in this city are some of the most retarded aggressive cunts you’ll ever come across in all of Latin America.
Santo Domingo of the Dominican Republic might be one to beat this place though when it comes to retarded taxi drivers.
Still, I remember one incident where I was given a ticket by the dude running the taxi stand.
Inside the taxi I go.
About 10 minutes into the ride, the taxi driver looks at me through the mirror, back at the ticket and then back at me.
And then he says “hey…hey!! This ticket no good! You changed the price on it!”
Somehow implying that I used a pen to turn a number into another number.
I forgot what the numbers were exactly but they it was either a 3, 6, 8 or a 9 I think.
And I somehow changed it to pay less.
Which the fucking thing was written in pen – how could I change it?
To keep it simple, the dude simply saw a gringo and reacted like a retard going “OH SI SI!! YA VEO UN GRINGO!!! DINERO DINERO!!!!”
And I ripped his ass apart in Spanish telling him to shut the fuck up you retarded little shit.
I know I called him a “boludo” because I had already spent some time in Argentina beforehand.
And the dude kept his fucking mouth closed after that.
Probably because he suspected that, being a foreigner, I can’t fire back in Spanish when I can.
“oh mierdaaaaaa….el gringo habla español. No jodaaa!! Como voy a pagar la renta ahora?!?”
And that wasn’t the only time a taxi driver tried fucking me over from that taxi stand.
One even tried doubling the price on me half way through the trip.
I insisted I get out, slammed his door LOUD to fuck with him and picked up another taxi on the street.
Looking back at it all, I almost feel like I had better luck getting taxis off the street than from that taxi stand.
Though, as they say, those from the street can be a little bit more dangerous and riskier.
That is true!
Though I never got robbed by one in my 6 years down here but it can always happen to you.
Anyway, I did have good experiences with that taxi stand outside the university but I had some bad apples too.
Location of the Universidad del Norte
Though I can’t remember where exactly the university was located, I just remember it being a bit far from where I lived in the city.
I tried once to arrive there by public transportation and it took me an hour and a half where I would have to take two shitty busses to get there.
I also lived in the northern part of the city.
From what I remember, the northern part of the city is nicer and also has better nightlife around some street that was numbered in the 80s.
In Barranquilla, all of the streets are numbered and not given any name like “Bolivar Street.”
I think it was either Calle or Carrera 83 or 84 where a bunch of the nicer nightlife is.
Of course, you got nightlife elsewhere in the city but that street had bars all along it.
And you had Buenavista mall not too far away that was nice to visit and set up dates with Tinder chicks.
All around, I’d recommend you set up shop around the northern part of the city close to the areas I am talking about above.
If you happen to study in Universidad del Norte, you’re simply going to have to take a taxi if you live where I suggest.
There might be some spots closer to that university that you can take a bus from though.
But here’s the thing – a taxi to that university from where I lived costed like 3 or 4 bucks at most per trip.
Yes, it adds up each week a little bit but a taxi ride isn’t crazy expensive like it is in the US.
I’m simply suggesting that you set yourself up in a nicer part of town that is more ideal for a young and single adult looking to have fun on the side while using a taxi to get to the university when needed.
But let’s get to the education system now.
The Education System
OK, so let’s get to the actual classes.
What classes did I take?
Well, from what I remember, I took 5 classes that were the following:
- An independent research class where I wrote a thesis under the guidance of a professor.
- A global politics class.
- A history of the Caribbean Coast of Colombia class.
- A class on Spanish language literature.
- A class on the literary works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
In all of the classes I took outside of the research class, I was integrated into normal classes with normal Colombian students.
They weren’t classes for just foreigners in English to take.
The instruction was all in Spanish.
Classroom sizes were typically smaller around 20 to 30 students with the Spanish language literature class having maybe a hundred students more or less.
Anyway, let’s review each class and how well taught it was.
The Independent Research Class
This was the only class I took where it had no other students and it was just me and some professor working together.
From what I remember, the university couldn’t find a professor to take on my project despite agreeing to it a month ahead of time.
So I remember half of the semester not having a project to work on nor a professor.
The class didn’t exist for half of the semester.
When I finally did get a professor, I walked into the dude’s office and we discussed it briefly.
It was going to be about coffee production in the coffee triangle of Colombia.
You can basically have the thesis topic be about whatever as long as the professor has some familiarity with it from what I could remember.
They didn’t cover my trip to the coffee triangle though to do the thesis but that wasn’t required either.
I could’ve done all the research online and it’d be a basic class paper.
Though I did choose to go to the coffee triangle but most of my motivation was to simply check out the area.
I didn’t care that much about the thesis since nobody seemed to take it seriously.
The university was definitely not in a hurry to get it started and the professor didn’t seem to give a damn about my project.
In fact, I’d be willing to bet 5 bucks that the dude didn’t even read my thesis.
I never met him ever again after our initial meeting.
He was always unavailable.
So I literally only met him once to agree on a project.
I sent him by email the project when it was done.
And I remember him being very late on sending in a grade.
I think he sent the grade in like 2 months after I finished it?
And this thesis was only like 50 pages long.
Finally, the thesis had to be written in Spanish for obvious reasons.
Which wasn’t a problem but keep that in mind in case you want to do an independent research class also in this university.
While they had some classes in English on this campus from what I remember, most are not.
One last thing!
Because it took them half of the semester to get me a professor for my independent thesis class, they had me attend some Economics seminar for the first half of the semester.
I guess out of formality because I was signed up officially to a 5th class but they didn’t have a professor to work with me for the first half of the semester?
But it was stupid.
I wasn’t being graded in the class.
Never had to do any assignments or take any tests.
So I stopped going to it.
I didn’t want to take it anyway but they put me into it anyhow until “we get you a professor for your research class.”
Really, I think it’s just an example of how people in Latin America can sometimes be very anal about “looking like they have their shit together” by doing stupid shit that doesn’t make any sense.
But, on the surface, makes things LOOK formal and well-organized.
Sometimes you notice that in people down here and that’s my best guess for why they signed me up to a class that I never asked for and was never graded on to begin with.
Not to mention that I didn’t have the criteria to understand the first few seminars anyway.
I had taken economics back in Ohio and did well but this class was way ahead of what I already studied.
It’d be like watching Creed 2 when you hadn’t seen any of the previous Rocky movies.
I don’t know what they were thinking on that one but let’s move on.
The Global Politics Class
Next, we have a global politics class.
It was a very basic class that focused on international relations and global issues.
Like the Iran crisis, the rise of China, multi-polar world, climate change, etc.
Out of all of the classes I took, this was probably the best one I had in Colombia.
It wasn’t amazing but it wasn’t shit.
It was good!
The professor was some young skinny dude in his 30s who knew what he was talking about, seemed passionate about the topic and taught the class well.
It was engaging.
All of it in Spanish too obviously.
What else can I say?
I liked it.
A History of the Caribbean Coast of Colombia class
For those who haven’t figured it out yet, the Caribbean Coast of Colombia is where Barranquilla is.
It’s a history class of Barranquilla and the surrounding area.
The class was also taught in Spanish.
At the beginning of the semester, we had some middle aged dude teach the class.
He taught the subject for maybe two classes before he disappeared.
From what I remember, I was told that he got a better job elsewhere and ditched.
So the university replaced him rather quickly.
It’s a shame because I remember the first two classes being quite decent actually.
It was interesting.
If I remember right, it started on about migration if arabs to this part of the world around Barranquilla.
Then he disappeared.
We were quickly given another professor to teach the class as I said.
Some middle aged woman with glasses who was maybe around 5 foot tall in height.
She was terrible at teaching.
Though I got an A in the class, I didn’t learn a god damn thing.
The only thing I learned from the class was when the first professor was around and we learned about arab migration to this part of the world.
That was it.
The second she took over, any learning was thrown out the window.
It genuinely felt like a waste of time going to her class.
She was a nice lady though!
Good sense of humor.
But completely directionless in how to teach the class, had no interest in the subject or teaching and was very aloof.
Not very engaging in teaching the subject.
All around, she’d be better at running a strip club in Barranquilla than teaching.
A Class on Spanish Language Literature
This class and the next one on Gabriel Garcia Marquez were taught by the same dude.
I’m pretty sure I still have his book that he wrote personally on Gabriel Garcia Marquez somewhere.
It was some yellow book explaining the legacy of the dude and why he was such a badass.
Anyway, the Hispanic Literature course was on more broadly different famous authors from Latin America.
A few from Argentina, some from Colombia and so on.
Maybe one from Peru if I remember right?
From what I remember, it wasn’t a bad class.
The dude knew his stuff.
Was definitely interested in the subject.
This class was the one that had like a 100 students in it.
So it was less personal in how he taught the subject.
I remember being a fan of some famous Argentine writer as the class spent a lot of time reading different short stories.
It was all short stories written by these authors that we read.
As I look back on it, I’m pretty sure the Argentine writer that I liked a lot was Jorge Luis Borges.
His writings definitely left a good impression on me.
And the professor knew how to teach the subject.
Let’s move on!
A Class on Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Finally, we have one of Latin America’s heavy weights in literature, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
The man. The myth. The legend.
Something like that.
Anyway, as I said, this class was taught by the same dude in the Hispanic literature class.
You could tell that all things Gabriel Garcia Marquez were his bread and butter.
The dude even had written a book on him as I said before that I still have somewhere in my suitcase.
As I said, the dude was very passionate about the subject and taught the class well.
The class had maybe 20 students in it at most.
The only odd thing to mention was the testing.
To give you an example, I remember one time I took a test in this guy’s class on the subject.
I genuinely did not study for the test.
In part because my grades on this campus did not affect my GPA in Ohio unless I failed one of them.
Which is pretty easy to not do – you have to really fuck up a class to actually get a F in my opinion.
Still, I didn’t study for the class.
I paid attention in the class to be fair.
But I didn’t study.
Showed up for the test.
And it was basically all essay format.
I don’t think he had any multiple choice questions or anything.
Here’s some 3 questions to answer in essay format is all.
And I’ll be honest….
I had no fucking clue what I was saying.
The questions were very typical of what you’d expect in a literature class where he’d throw in some literary terms and ask how you’d apply them to this specific short story of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
As I said, this class was similar to the Hispanic Literature class in that it was all short stories that you read.
No novels or poems.
Anyway, I’m not a guru on terms you’d find in literature studies.
Never been my thing.
But I did have some sense of what he was talking about because I did pay attention in class.
Still, I pulled it all out of my ass when it came to what I wrote about.
To my credit, I’m pretty good in pulling arguments out of my ass and coming across like I know something about a topic even when I don’t.
A few years involved in Debate competitions in high school prepared me well for talking out of my ass and winning arguments.
Plus, I think it’s just genetics too.
Along my dad’s side of the family is a long history of people who don’t back down from an argument.
We know how to argue.
So maybe that helped me in crafting an argument for the essay test.
And, despite not knowing what I was talking about, I somehow pulled an A on that test.
I genuinely thought I would get an F.
I have no fucking idea how I got an A.
It might be because of my ability to craft an argument…
Though, on top of that, I wonder if it had to do with a few other things…
First off, given that the campus has 16 year olds, I wonder if his expectations are lower for how we answer a test question?
Plus, being a gringo whose native language isn’t Spanish, I wonder if he took it easy on me knowing that I can’t express myself exactly the same way I would in English.
I always thought the last two points were what saved my ass from getting an F on that test.
But an A?
I only remember this particular test in person because I was just flabbergasted at how I got an A on it when I didn’t know shit about what I was writing about.
So your guess is as good as mine.
As I write this, I’ll have a shot of brandy right now as a way to say cheers to pulling off an A!
Final Verdict: Worth it?
Anyway, that’s all that comes to mind.
Was it worth it studying at Universidad del Norte?
If you are a college student looking to study abroad, then sure.
You’ll be set up nicely in Colombia.
If you are simply looking to improve your Spanish and nothing more, then I somewhat question if this is the path for you.
Could you find cheaper Spanish language classes in the city without going to this university that would likely be more expensive anyhow?
You know – I don’t know.
I never took those type of classes at more normal language schools in this specific city.
But I have taken them in Guatemala.
It was cheap in Guatemala.
But how much cheaper in Colombia would it be?
You’ll have to do the math on that one but I’d guess it’d be cheaper.
And consider if you’d get one on one instructions in Universidad del Norte if you want Spanish classes. I don’t know if they offer that but I have my doubts.
Still, do your homework if you are looking for that. Don’t take my word on it.
Finally, do you want to live in Colombia longer than 6 months out of the year?
One way to do that is to live for 6 months in Colombia from July to December. Leave the country to visit family and come back after the new years.
If you don’t want to do that, studying formally at a university with the necessary documents to get a education visa can be one way.
As I said way back, that’s how I was able to visit Colombia for a second time after already having done 6 months in the country on an education visa (or whatever visa it was, I forgot).
In which I was able to come back only a few weeks after and got a 6 month tourism visa approved.
Though I only stayed for 1 more month, I could’ve stayed for the entire 6 months.
Giving me an entire year to work with.
Of course, this also means you can even stay in Colombia for maybe even a year and a half straight!
Do the education option for 6 months from January to July.
Leave the country and come back for tourism.
Then leave 6 months later in December and come back after New Years is over for another 6 months.
Though, being fair, I don’t know if it’s still possible to ride out a visa through a university and come back right away on a tourism visa nowadays. What I did was 6 to 7 years ago as of this writing in 2021. So do your homework to verify if you can do this now.
And, if you could, I’d also wonder if you could get a education style visa lasting longer than 6 months for a program that is longer than that?
Something to consider.
Anyway, for purposes of simply staying in Colombia, it’s not a bad idea.
The classes don’t have to be rigorous, could teach your Spanish even and I even wonder if you even have to attend them after already getting the visa.
Do they report you to migration if you fail to attend the classes at all or at least skip some if you don’t care about the classes and just want a legal way to be in the country long term?
It’s a question I can’t answer but is something to ponder.
Anyway, for purposes of being in Colombia legally for a longer length of time, it’s not the worst idea in the world. It benefited me at one point years ago.
And that’s all I got to say.
Was Universidad del Norte worth it? Sure.
Was the education good? In some classes. In others, no.
And that’s it.
Drop any comments below in the comment section. Would love to read them.
Enjoy these videos on Universidad del Norte here to show you what the campus looks like.