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What follows is the first entry in a collective story of blog entries authored by Youth Studies faculty leaders, Elizabeth Bishop and Jennifer Ayala, with different group members taking turns recounting their time together in Bogotá, Colombia. Throughout this week, you’ll hear from our working group members as they discuss topics ranging from youth organizing and political power to mental health, social emotional learning and non-conforming youth; from discrimination, colorism and socioeconomic status to parent involvement, staffing structures, funding sources and core principles of youth development.

“Ok let’s start with the temperature in the group: how are you all feeling right now?”–@DrBishopDigital

Asi empezamos. Seated on the sun-heated stones of the hotel’s outdoor terrace, with stunning views of the city and surrounding mountains, we started our first meeting in Bogotá. We each shared our hopes, excitement and expectations for the coming week: learning about CINDE, visiting with youth organizers, engaging in dialogue about issues that matter to us, creating community with each other as a class, imagining cross-border connections. It felt like this was a fitting unofficial beginning for the week of work ahead of us, sharing a feeling of wonder visually, with the green peaks amidst gray mists, viscerally with warmth touching our bodies where we sat, and vocally, with our minds and passion for the work of change and la mejoria of our communities engaged.

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The inaugural cohort of CUNY SPS Youth Studies students arrived in Bogotá, Colombia on July 28 to kick off our immersive experience here. We arrived on a half dozen different flights to converge for this week of powerful learning. We woke up on Sunday, July 29 for breakfast in our hotel and then met as a whole group at 11:00 am on the 8th floor roof deck. We passed out our auto-ethnographic fieldnote journals to all the CUNY SPS students. We talked about our purpose, our thematic working groups, our research questions, and the multiple ways that we hope to experience this trip.

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After we went over some of the most important details, including those in preparation for our Monday morning meeting with our host organization CINDE, we planned for our Sunday. We knew that we all wanted to eat dinner together on this first full night, to solidify our cohort community and to launch the formal start to this journey. Classic youth development style, we asked everyone to close their eyes and vote on a number of options. This strategy is useful to get a genuine read of the group without the pressure of watching others vote and feeling the need to change to accommodate the group. This process worked well for us. One group opted for a graffiti tour in La Candelaria, a more distant neighborhood, accessed with transit assistance from our hotel. The other group opted to explore the neighborhood where we are staying for the week.

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In the local neighborhood, we walked together under the trees in the middle of Calle 94. We headed to the bottom of the local mountain but did not ascend. Altitude differences are notable as we move through the landscape. We walked along the bottom of the mountain and entered Parque del Chicó, part of Museo El Chicó. The museum was closed for lunch but there was an organic pop-up market that was just next door that we chose to visit instead. Serendipity abounds. The market was delightful. After paying our 5,000 pesos por persona, yellow bands tied to our wrists, we entered an unexpected space. A green market built around organic materials and wellness principles, there was an abundance of essential oils, yoga texts, Buddhist statues, vegan ceviche, hand-made bags by mujeres rastas de Colombia, and other happy hippie gear. With Joe Arroyo playing in the background, someone facilitated a salsa lesson with families, followed by a laugh therapy exercise. We enjoyed the vibe and the low stress environment. It proved, as always, that wandering (within safe parameters) results in fun new paths and unexpected adventures. Our walk today is reminiscent of how research operates – one has to have a sense of direction, a reason for walking at all, and then be open to experience and explore, to see what transpires.