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Sharing Their Home and Culture with a Classmate

Jim Norman

It all started over dinner last November when the Siabatto brothers—Mateo ’22 and twins Felipe ’24 and Tomas ’24—were chatting with friend and classmate Xinyi “Lisa” Weng ’23 about their native Colombia. During the conversation, they casually invited her to travel home with them over winter break, thinking she would surely say no. Surprisingly, she accepted—and it turned out to be a pleasant surprise! The trip was so much fun that they decided to share it with the entire Canterbury community during a recent Saints on the Hill presentation.

The experience included a little bit of everything, from shopping and eating to enjoying a festive town square to hanging out on their uncle’s farm. During every step of the journey, Lisa learned a little bit more about—and came to fully appreciate—the culture and people of Colombia, and was eager to share all of it with her Canterbury family.

“My first comment when I arrived was ‘How can everything be so inexpensive and such good quality?’ As a professional shopaholic, I bought eight pairs of boots,” she said during the presentation. And the cuisine was equally enticing for her. “For those of you who don’t know, I eat a lot. I accidentally ordered a jumbo sundae that was the size of my head, and it was the first time I was defeated by food!”

The group sampled a number of other regional favorites such as fried empanadas with a spicy ají sauce; steamed Colombian tamales made of rice dough with pork, beef, chicken, and carrots; and pan de yuca (Lisa’s favorite), a flour-and-cheese treat with a guava jelly filling. The restaurant where they ate, Crepes & Waffles, has a compelling story. “It’s very famous because they exclusively hire only single mothers who need a job,” Mateo explained. “They also specialize in making artisanal ice cream and it’s less expensive compared to other high-quality restaurants.”

A visit to the farm owned by the Siabattos’ uncle, near a town called Girardot, gave Lisa the chance to try horseback riding for the first time and see the family’s orchard where, according to Felipe, “we grow papaya, lemon, tomato, and other things I don’t eat.”

The itinerary also took them to Cartagena, a port city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. There they visited El Castillo de San Felipe, a fortress built by the Spanish during Colonial times. The friends enjoyed the hospitality and vibrant energy of the Getsemani town square as well, where they mingled with tourists from all over the world, ate street food, and danced to music in the plaza. “People are very kind and very welcoming to tourists,” said Tomas.

After taking in all the breathtaking sights and sounds of Colombia, the students returned to the hilltop anxious to showcase that country and its culture to their fellow Saints in Maguire Auditorium. Oh, and there was one more thing the brothers wanted everyone to know before all was said and done: it’s Colombia, not Columbia!