BY CHRONICLE STAFF
In Colombia, it's not about adding years to your life, but life to your years. So goes a saying quoted by
Brian Andrews, a former TV news anchor from Miami who moved to Bogota sixteen months ago to pursue a dream and live a life with a different pace. "People take their time, they stop to smell the flowers, chew their food, think long and hard before they make an important decision," he says. "It's just the way things are here."
Andrews still anchors news - only this time for RCN, one of Colombia's leading TV stations. His daily broadcast is seen in TV as well as the Internet, as far away as China.
Latin Business Chronicle: Why did you move from Miami to Colombia?
For years, I had been visiting Colombia as a journalist and as a tourist. Cartagena became my escape when I wanted to get away from the craziness of Miami. Every time I was in Colombia, I felt different, happier, and more at peace. I would often think when I was here on vacation that I would really like to live in Colombia one day. The drum beat started getting louder in the fall of 2007. I had just signed a new contract with CBS4 and was at the height of my career in Miami TV News. I had done everything, reported just about every type of story, anchored just about every show... but I wanted to do something different. I dreamed about moving to Colombia and becoming a foreign correspondent for the networks, or even running my own English-language news department. On November 1, 2007, I took the plunge. My bosses at CBS4 thought I was crazy. I gave them four different ways to keep me on staff and still let me follow my dreams. They weren't interested in my passion for Latin America News and told me it didn't fit into where they wanted to take their news department. So, I resigned my position, put my house in Miami Shores on the market, sold my car, gave away just about everything I had, packed 4 suitcases full of clothes... and moved south!
LIBERATING AND SCARY
I left Miami in December of 2007 after nearly 15 years on Miami TV. I remember locking the front door of my house on 96th street... dragging four suitcases to the car and driving away. It was a liberating, but scary feeling. I'd just chucked my TV career for a dream. Would it pay off? Was I fool? What was I thinking! I realize God has a plan for everyone's life... and this must be part of the plan for me or I wouldn't be doing it. More than a year later, I have no regrets.
I got to Bogota in early December without a job or a real plan. I started freelancing for CBS News, NBC6, Al-Jazeera, WIOD, anybody who would take my stories... and quickly realized it was almost impossible to make a living. I ended up at Caracol TV as a consultant on the Novela about the drug war. While at Caracol, I pitched them on my dream job of doing news from Colombia in English. They thought I was crazy. My contract with them ran out, and I took all of my ideas and dreams to the competition: RCN. RCN welcomed me with open arms and has taken my dream of news in English from Colombia to new levels. Now, we're on the Internet and on TV Colombia. We are exploring new markets for this unique product that not only informs, but educates! I have an average of 2,500 visits to our English-language website each day. We're also getting lots of e-mail from people as far away as Australia and China who love watching Colombia News in English on TV Colombia. Plus, I found out that hundreds of school children are watching me each day to learn to speak English! So now I get to inform, entertain, and teach. I feel my work has more meaning here. Anyone can cover a shooting at a Burger King in Opa-Locka... but not everyone can cover a volcanic eruption, a hostage release, a 747 crash, regular political scandals, and the complex world of Colombian politics... and make them hit home for a global audience. I've learned to do more with less... and I've learned patience. Oh, my mistake, I'm still learning patience. Things here don't move as quickly as they do in the states. Colombia has its own speed and way of doing things... and you quickly learn you can't change the way things are done... you just have to adapt. It's been tough... but the best adventure of my life.
What do you love most about living in Colombia?
The way of life. Here in Bogota they have a saying: In Colombia, it's not about adding years to your life, but life to your years. Bogota is an amazing, vibrant city. Every corner and sidewalk is alive with people at all hours. Here, the coffee definitely tastes better, the air is crisp and cool, the mountains are green. In fact, everything here is so green! There's always a party to go to, someone to have dinner with, and things are cheap. Go to Starbucks and a cup of coffee in the United States will be $3.50. Here, it's less than a dollar. The food here tastes different. The flavors are rich. Lunch lasts for hours and it's OK if you don’t get back to the office in an hour. I love waking up each morning and thinking, wow, I live in another country, another culture...and I’m making it work! I have the most wonderful group of friends...and am more social and outgoing than I think I ever was in Miami. People actually smile at you and say Hola as you walk down the street. Women go out of their way to get dressed to the 9's when they go out each night. The culture here loves to dance and have fun. Being happy is key here.. family and friends come first, work comes second.
Plus, I love the fact that I'm doing something here that's never been done, that many told me would never work, but I've somehow managed to pull it off and create something special. People love that Colombia has a new window to the world, in English! Right now, we're the only English-language newscast on the entire continent. We're blazing a trail in this new world of digital media. People want to know about Colombia, they want to understand what's happening... and there's no better way to understand something, than to hear about it and see it in your own language. I got an e-mail from a guy in New York who has a Colombian girlfriend. Each night, they can sit around the dinner table and talk about what's happening back in their country, because he watches us at work on the Internet. That's so cool!
SECRET IS OUT
In the period you have lived in Colombia have you noticed an improvement in Colombia's international image?
Absolutely. and I'm sorry to say, the secret is finally out. I just don't want Cartagena to turn into a Myrtle Beach. Every time I am in Cartagena, I always run into people from South Florida who are hooked. They love the charm of the old city, the close proximity to South Florida, and the prices. You feel safe.. and Colombians want you to feel safe. They want all of us to tell the rest of the world how wonderful it was because they want to change their international reputation. Better press means more tourists... and that means more pesos! You can stay in a lovely place for under 100 bucks a night! And there's something magical about Cartagena, the warm breezes, and the old wall at sunset. You just have to experience it. Once you do, you won't want to escape to anyplace else.
In Bogota, I see more and more Americans... out shopping and dining. Miami to Bogota is three hours. It's like flying to New York or Dallas from South Florida. It's really close. Everyone who visits always says to me how they can't believe how cool this place is. It's got a unique vibe. Dining outdoors in the shadow of the towering Andes mountains is awsome.I have my breakfast at a little place on the 15... and always sit outside watching the people and traffic go by. And I have never been scared for my safety. You can walk the streets, go hang out in a park, do whatever you like. On Sundays, the entire city shuts down for cyclovia. This is when the main streets are used for biking, rollerblading, running or walking. There are huge crowds out every Sunday morning just enjoying the sun and exercising. It's a lot of fun and very Bogota.
What do you miss the most from living in Miami?
I miss the organization and speed of things. Take driving for example. Driving in Bogota is absolutely crazy. People making left turns from the right lane, busetas stopping suddenly in front of you to let someone on or off. And the huecos... yes, pot holes. They are everywhere. I miss I-95 at 70 miles an hour going through the Golden Glades without a bump. Fast food, I miss that too. There is no such thing here. Just ordering a burger at Coral will take 15 minutes. I miss being able to just walk into a building and go to an office. Anywhere you go in Colombia, security is ultra tight. You have to sign in, go through a metal detector, have your briefcase searched. It's just the way things are here because of history. You want to park your car at a shopping mall here, you have to turn off the car so the bomb sniffing dogs can check your vehicle out. I also miss punctuality. A 10 am appointment is really 10:30... or sometimes 11 here.
Also, things move a little slower here. It takes a long time for business deals to be done, contracts to be signed, meetings to take place. No one is in a rush. Everyone loves to stop and chat and have a cup of coffee. It takes a while to get used to when you are used to the speed of the United States where things happen in a New York minute. But, that's what makes this place special. People take their time, they stop to smell the flowers, chew their food, think long and hard before they make an important decision. It's just the way things are here. You learn fast that you cannot change the way things are done here, you have to adapt.
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