Only Three Months Left!? A Teaching English in Colombia Update

I’m Sorry, what month is it!?

Class last week left me in a state of shock after writing the date on the board each day “September…” What!? September!? I had NOT realized August was coming to an end so quickly.

It’s crazy to realize that I’ve already been in Colombia for 11 months! That’s the longest I’ve ever been away from home. Plus, to think that I’ve been in my new position teaching English in Manizales for seven months? Whoa!

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I suppose my surprise is just evidence that I’ve been enjoying my time here a lot. I’ve gotten to know my awesome students, other teachers, the city, the region, and beautiful Colombia in general! Not to mention working daily on improving my Spanish.

I’ll be back, Colombia, I’ll be back.

The longer time I spend here though, the more I feel that staying until November is not enough time. There’s so much to see! So much to do! Even the idea of leaving my students makes me sad – many of them have come so far with their confidence and abilities in English and it sucks to think I may never see them again!

That’s why even though I already have my trip planned back home in December (yay!), I’m really hoping to extend into next year and come back! Things work a bit slowly in Colombia, plus with some administrative changes coming up, I’m not expecting to know anytime soon whether I’ll be able to continue or not.

But, hey, I’m a glass-half-full type of girl so as of right now, my heart is set on being here next year, one way or another!

Are you thinking of coming here, too?

Are you debating coming to teach in Colombia next year or sometime soon?

Well I have three words for you – Go for it!

My experience has been really amazing here. I’ve learned so much about myself, about my interests and my passions, what I’m good at, what I’m not so good at.

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For example, hiking! Continuing to explore this passion has taken me to some beautiful places. Being out in nature on weekends revives me like nothing else!

Going outside my comfort zone has been tremendously rewarding and I encourage any who are willing and/or capable to do the same to GO. FOR. IT.

From exploring my placement city of Manizales, to exploring the school (I didn’t know there was a cafeteria hidden in the enormous building until the third month…), there’s always something new to discover.

Plus, Colombia is beautiful.

There are lots of amazing opportunities for teaching English abroad all over the world.

This has been my first experience in the field, so granted, I can’t compare it to any other countries for you… but I can say that Colombia is an incredible country with helpful people, great dancing, good food, and incredibly diverse landscapes.

Who knows, maybe I’m biased for my half-Colombian heritage, but speaking as objectively as possible, I really do think there’s something for everyone here.

The Experience 

What’s life here like? What are schools like? Accommodations? Here are a few quick facts about different aspects of life here as an English Teaching Fellow. Of course, each fellow has a unique experience depending on their placement city, their school, their Fellow community, etc., but you can use it as an example of what life may be like for you.

School
My school is an Escuela Normal. That means it’s a regular public school, but with an additional program focused on the formation of teachers. From sixth grade onward, students take Pedagogy classes, and upon graduation they have the choice of continuing in the “Complementary Training Program” that after two years will have them certified as primary teachers. Due to this, the quality of teaching in Normal schools is generally quite high.

Number of classes I teach: 8
Grades: Nine and Ten
Number of students I teach: 300 (I’m still struggling trying to remember all the names!!)
Number of co-teachers: 2 (but only 3 hours with one)
Students’ Level of English: Varied, but mostly low.
Class Hours per week: 24
Teacher hours per week: 1
Extra English club hours per week: 1
Daily schedule: depends on the day; 7am-1pm; 10am-4pm; or one day a week 7am-4pm
Volunteer Stipend: 1,500,000 Pesos per month ($511 USD)

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One of my tenth grade groups and my co-teacher, at a recent Internationalization Fair here in Manizales.

Home
I live on the sixth floor of a nice centrally-located apartment  in the city. There’s no balcony, but the view from my spacious room is incredible!

Distance from my school: 4-5 minutes walking 🙂
Number of roommates: 2 (University medicine students)
Roommates’ English knowledge: None (Lots of Spanish practice for me!)
Number of pets: 0*
Monthly rent costs: 300,000 COP (+ roughly 110,000 for servicios like water, gas, and internet)

* Those who have followed along on the blogs know that I lived with my roommate’s cat, Polo, for a while. Unfortunately, he left to live in Mocoa with her family :'( I miss him lots but apparently he’s doing well. He even has a girlfriend and will likely be a papa cat soon!

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An early picture of my room before I decorated, got a bedframe, a new mirror (since Polo broke this one) etc. etc. – nice and spacious! 🙂

Manizales
There are lots of amazing cities in Colombia, but I’ve gotta say I especially love my small city of Manizales! At 2100m elevation, it is high enough for amazing views over the surrounding mountains, but not so high that it’s as cold as Bogota. It gets pretty cold sometimes but is generally a comfortable warm. It’s also very culturally developed and has lots of theatre, film, literature and art festivals year-round.

Population: 400,000 (2017)
Average Temperature: 16.4°C.
Number of English teaching Fellows: 20
Number of hills: A HUNDRED BILLION*

*Not proven but my calves assure that it’s about right.

Community Engagement

Another special thing about Manizales is the high level of community engagement. We have some amazing regional coordinators that encourage us fellows to get involved with not just our schools, but our community and really promote English as a pathway to more opportunities both within Colombia and abroad. We organized a city-wide English Immersion Day back in May, and recently participated in an Internationalization Fair at the Autonoma University of Manizales, with some of our students in attendance.

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A group of my grade nines and tens setting up a tent as part of my Canada station at the English Immersion Day back in May.

Additionally, when disaster struck Manizales back in April with heavy rains leading to landslides, our coordinators responded with a GoFundMe page to raise funds for the many affected and displaced people.

It’s made me realize that no matter where you are teaching abroad, getting involved in the community is such an important part of the experience. I’d encourage any current/future/hopeful participants of this program, or any other in the world, to really make the most of their time abroad trying to engage as much as possible, even if it’s something simple!

Until Next Post…

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this update on my experience teaching English in Colombia if you’ve been following along, or else I hope it provided you with some useful information if you’re considering coming to teach here.

And don’t forget, you can subscribe to my blog to receive updates whenever I post!

See you soon,

L

If you want to get involved in the change happening in Colombia, or check out other similar programs, find all the info you need here: heartforchange.org, and greenhearttravel.org.

10 Lessons You’ll Learn Teaching English in Colombia

It’s now been over two months since I arrived in Manizales and started teaching English. Incidentally it’s also been over a month since I’ve written a post – oops! The life of an ESL teacher is apparently a busy one. 🙂

These past months have been and continue to be a huge learning experience – I am not professionally trained as a teacher nor have I taught in a classroom before. But, using what I learned as a swimming and aquatic leadership teacher back home, I’ve (thankfully) managed to get into the swing of things pretty quickly.

Of course there are tough days when students don’t listen or when I feel exhausted after so many early wake-ups, but my overall impression has been incredibly positive and I find the work really rewarding.

Maybe you are thinking about teaching English abroad as well, or perhaps you’re just curious as to what it’s like? Well, you’re in luck! Reflecting on my time here so far, I’ve compiled a list of what you can expect and learn as an English teacher in Colombia. 

1. Class sizes are LARGE.

My smallest class has 32 students and my biggest has 43. At times this can lead to a bit of chaos in the classroom, so you need to establish a routine early-on to have the students behaving well and not disrupting the class. My co-teacher is quite strict with the students (in a good way), so that luckily makes my job easier. When I’m teaching and all 40 students start talking at once, I normally can just stare at them with an unamused look until they’re quiet. It’s worked pretty well so far!

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Lots of students in one class!

2. Students’ English levels can be very varied.

I have a few students with whom I can have a full, fluid conversation about nearly anything, while there are others that stare at me wide-eyed when I ask them “How are you?” The majority, though, are in between the two extremes. It’s important to take into account the wide variations while thinking up lessons – ensuring it’s interesting enough content to keep the strong students interested, but explained in a way that is easy enough for the weaker students to understand.

3. You will learn to become a master charader. 

When students don’t understand something and I don’t know how to explain it to them in English nor Spanish, I resort to exaggerated hand gestures and acting that often end up being pretty entertaining. Leaping across the classroom in heels to demonstrate what “long jump” is was just one example. I’m definitely at the top of my game for charades now!

4. B.Y.O.M. – Bring Your Own Materials 

This makes sense to some extent, but was also a surprise for me. Most schools back home have a supply of markers, pens, papers, etc. that teachers can use. Here, you should buy and bring anything you need for the classroom yourself, as they are not provided. This includes whiteboard markers – one day I forgot my entire pencil case at home so I had to borrow markers from students during my English Club. Not the ideal situation!

5. Also, B.Y.O.T.P. 

Bring your own toilet paper! My first few days at school, I didn’t know this was a rule and thought the toilet paper had just run out in the bathroom. After a few times too many doing the “shaky shaky shaky” I finally learned that you had to come with your own…. don’t be like me, be prepared from day one!

6. Get Used to Paper-Free Lessons

In high school, I remember getting countless hand-outs in nearly every class. This is not the case here – each handout either comes out of your pocket or out of the pockets of students. There is no photocopier at the school so all photocopies need to be taken outside class. My co-teacher then normally asks the students to pay for the cost of their individual photocopy of a worksheet or quiz. Of course it’s not very expensive, only 50 pesos (<2 cents USD) per page, but it can add up after a while! I’ve therefore learned more environmentally friendly ways (yay!) to have lessons in class such as writing out things on the board or using powerpoint slides or pictures, that the students can then copy into their notebooks.

7. Being Adaptable is Key

You may have an amazing activity planned for, let’s say, Tuesday afternoon. You stayed up late preparing it, only to find out that that class has been cancelled due to an important national soccer match. Classes cancelled for soccer? Yeah, it happens in Colombia.

It’s easy to feel annoyed but hey – you get time off too! So being adaptable to changes is very, very important. Just today at my school, we were supposed to have class only from 7am – 10am (instead of 4), due to a strike that had been planned because the teachers hadn’t received their pay. They finally did receive their pay after planning the strike, and so it ended up being a normal schedule in the end. It resulted in a bit of chaos – many students had arranged transport for 10am so they had to try to call and change it back to normal. Some just had to go home early anyways because it couldn’t be changed.

Many classes have also been cancelled or disrupted for other things like school-wide events, strikes, professional development days, mass, or presentations by other students or teachers. But hey, it happens, just enjoy! Here’s a photo of a bunch of students dancing salsa during a fun school-wide concert:
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8. Get ready for all of the affection 

Students and other teachers hugging and kissing you on the cheek is totally normal. To say hi or to say bye, it’s very common in Colombia to give a kiss on the cheek with a quick hug. It’s a bit strange at first in a professional setting, but you get used to it and it becomes endearing. 🙂

9. You learn how to wake up really f***ing early 

I’ve never been a morning person. In university, I avoided 9 a.m. classes like the plague. Getting up at 7am just doesn’t work for me. But here, I’ve had to make it work for me; school starts at 7, so that means I wake up between 5:30 and 6! It’s usually still dark out at that time so it’s a struggle to get myself out of bed. On the plus side, I am in the coffee region… coffee is never hard to come by!

I’ve also recently had significant help from Polo, my roommate’s cat, who comes and attacks my pillow or sits on my chest until I get up. Three alarms and a cat have thus helped make it *slightly* easier, but I definitely still have a lot of progress to make on that front!

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You won’t see me smiling this big in the morning, but Polo helps!

10. You learn how to dance your troubles away!

While in Peru last December, my cousins overheard a drunk backpacker raving about Colombia because “people are just dancing all the time!” And well, he wasn’t wrong. Even though Manizales is not one of the most popular cities for dancing in Colombia, students and teachers alike can be seen dancing regularly inside and outside class. It’s awesome!

 

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Teachers spontaneously dancing during a break 🙂

So there you have it – ten things I’ve learned while teaching English in Colombia! I’m excited to keep working and to share what other fun things I learn throughout the year. And of course, if you have any questions about teaching English abroad or about anything really, feel free to leave a comment or send me a message!

Til next post,

L

2016: It Kinda Sucked, But It Also Kinda Didn’t

Well it’s the last day of 2016. It sure has been a turbulent year for the world, what with Brexit, Colombia initially voting no to peace, Trump elected as president, the migrant crisis leaving millions without a home, not to mention all the hate crimes and terrorism reports that fill our news channels.

It’s easy to pay attention to all these negative news and reports and forget that there actually are lots of good things happening in the world as well! I was definitely guilty of falling into a black hole of despair when contemplating all the negative things that have happened. But when you think about it, there are still lots of reasons to have hope.

For example, Colombia managed to renegotiate a peace deal that was more accepted, a fierce effort of perseverance to put an end to 50 years of war. Canadian PM Trudeau held his word to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada, and the country pulled together to make it happen, hosting families, donating goods, and all around making them feel as welcome as possible in their new home. Sri Lanka eradicated Malaria. The gene that is linked to ALS was discovered. The protestors at the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline met with victory after a lot of resilience and commitment.

These are just some of the good big things that happened, but there were a lot more small victories all around.

It also made me reflect on my own personal victories that I’ve achieved this year. I decided to make a list of 16 things I’m grateful for that happened in 2016. Here it goes:

1. I welcomed in the new year with a Mexican family I didn’t know, and it was amazing.

I used couchsurfing to gain contacts in Mexico, and one of the people I got in touch with, Christian, showed me around his city the day after I arrived. We got along well so he invited me to spend New Year’s Eve with him and his sister. I thought we’d be going out to dance and see fireworks right away, but it ended up being a dinner in his house with his whole family. They were all really welcoming and kind, even despite the slight language barrier.

Afterwards, I did end up going to dance – not with just him and his sister, but the whole family! It was probably one of the most random nights of my life, but for that reason, it was really special. It was an awesome way to start the new year.

2. I got to explore New York with one of my best friends.

Between tough final-year courses and two jobs, I was a bit stressed out in my final semester. I didn’t have much time to socialize and spent a lot of my time reading and writing frantically. Taking a mini vacation to New York with my also-stressed-out friend, Agatha, was much-needed and was the push we needed to keep going until graduation. 

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Top of The Rock, getting a nice view!

 

 3. I fell in love with Mexico, twice.

My trip to Cancun was my first time in Mexico, and I absolutely loved it. I raved about it to my mom and told her how lots of people had told me how cool Mexico City was, so the day after my final exam, we got on a plane and went! The people were right – Mexico City is fascinating. My mom and I loved it! I definitely want to return sometime soon to get to know it more in depth.

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My mom and I at the house of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

4. I graduated university!

After four years of hard work at U of T, I finally got to make the walk from University College to Convocation Hall to walk on stage and receive my diploma! It was one of the happiest days of the year. I loved studying at U of T and I’m proud of how much I learned there, but by the end I was more than ready to move on to the next chapter of my life. Convocation was a great way to say Thank you, and goodbye.

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Literally couldn’t have been happier!

 

5. I went on my first multi-day hiking trip, loved it, and went on a bunch more.

In June, I took a trip with one of my best friends, Andrew, to Algonquin Park. We had never done a multi-day hiking trip but both wanted to do one, so we planned it out and went! Besides being in high mosquito-season, and being slightly petrified of coming across bears, it was amazing. It was 3 days and 2 nights, the perfect amount of time for beginners like us. It gave me the confidence and desire to do a lot more hiking, and I went on to do some amazing treks in Hawaii, British Columbia, and Peru. I can’t wait to do some more this year, in Colombia! 

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Peninsula campsite on the Highland Trail in Algonquin

 

 6. I set foot in the Pacific for the first time. 

One of my good friends, Megan, who I met while studying abroad in England, is from Hawaii and invited me to visit her. She had visited me in Toronto, so I jumped at the chance and booked a flight early to get a good deal to go see her. I had never been to the Pacific before; it was amazing to go to such an exotic location to experience it! I had a great time with her in Honolulu before flying to Maui for a solo adventure.

 

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Visiting the beautiful Makapu’u

 

7. I learned to hitchhike and to have faith in the good of humanity.

In Maui, I took my chances and agreed to go on a roadtrip with someone who’d responded to a post I made on couchsurfing. We got along really well and it was an amazing time! I was so glad I’d decided to go for it, because I got to see a part of the island that I wouldn’t have on my own.

I used these ‘trusting’ skills more in BC. Where I was living in Squamish, it was a bit of a challenge to get around without a car or bike. I relied on hitchhiking a lot of the time to get me up and down the highway to where I wanted to go. Besides one odd character on my way to Whistler with a friend, everyone was really friendly and just wanted to help out.  

8. I worked in a hostel.

Ever since I studied abroad and stayed in lots of hostels, I thought it would be really fun to work in one for a while. Then I found out about workaway.com., a site that connects you with a bunch of places looking for volunteers. I only sent out one message, to the Squamish Adventure Inn, and got accepted to work for stay there for about six weeks. It was a really cool experience – I did odd jobs, housekeeping, reception, and led a few social events, so I learned a lot of new skill sets!

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The hostel’s patio, overlooking The Chief – not a bad view!!

9. I learned to rock climb outdoors.

Squamish is also a place renowned for its amazing rock climbing. Working in the hostel and living in the town surrounded me with people from all over who had come to climb. It was inevitable that I learn, and I absolutely loved it. I’ve gained a new hobby that keeps me fit, and entertained. Since, I’ve been pacifying my craving to climb by practicing at indoors gyms, but I can’t wait to eventually improve my outdoor skills some more.

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Near the top of my first outdoor climb.

 

10. I learned to surf in Tofino.

Tofino was my first stop on a roadtrip around Vancouver Island.  I had always wanted to try surfing, but didn’t end up having the chance to do so in Hawaii. Tofino was finally the place to do it. Although it was raining and the water was cold, the first time I successfully managed to stand up on the board, albeit for a short time, got me super excited about the sport. I hope to keep practicing sometime soon!

11. I saw dolphins, sea turtles, stingrays, whales, sea lions, otters, penguins, and llamas in their natural habitats.

From the sea turtles, stingrays, and iguanas in Mexico, to the dolphins in Hawaii, to the sea lions, otters and whale (yes, just one) in BC, to the penguins in Peru, it was awesome for an animal-lover like me to see so many different animals in their natural habitats. “Awwws” all around! 🙂


12. I raced my first Tough Mudder.

I went with my good friend, Andrew, to the race in St. Louis Moonstone, Ontario. It was defintiely muddy. And it was definitely tough. But it was a blast.

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13.  I moved to Colombia, and now my Spanish is improving everyday.

Knowing I had a job lined up in Colombia for January, I decided to come a bit early to live with family and practice my Spanish. It was a bit tough at first, and I still struggle to understand when people talk really fast, but I’m learning. Right now, I’m about 100-pages in to my very first ever Spanish novel, and I’m amazed at how casually I’m able to read it! 

14. I got to explore Peru with two of my cousins.

From sandboarding in the desert, to hiking the Inca Trail, to 20 hour bus trips, exploring Peru with my cousins was unforgettable. I couldn’t have asked for better company. 🙂

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15. I got my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification. 

During my first weeks in Colombia, my free time was spent doing an online TEFL course. I don’t technically need it for my upcoming job but I thought it may be useful, and it opens doors for the future! I’m definitely glad I took the course. 

16.  I got paid for writing an article and got inspired to write more, starting this blog!
Starting a blog wasn’t something I expected to do, but here we are, and I’m really enjoying it. It’s given me a lot of opportunities to practice my writing, as well as to share my adventures with family and friends (you!). I’m hoping it may lead to future writing opportunities, but for now, it’s just good fun. Thanks for supporting me and reading my posts! 🙂 

I am beyond excited for what awaits in the new year. In upcoming days, I’m looking forward to exploring more of Cartagena, and Santa Marta. Then I have my big move to a city called Manizales, where I’ll live for the rest of the year teaching English. I’ll get to experience looking for my own apartment, teaching in a real classroom, and getting to discover more and more of this beautiful country.

Further than that, who knows what’s to come! I’m filled with hope and excitement.

I encourage you to look back on your own year and maybe even make your own list. Perhaps there are some sad events, or some things that made you really upset, or experiences that scared you. But I’ll bet that there were some good things there too. The new year is the perfect time to reflect on the past: learning from rough times, appreciating the good times, and preparing to better ourselves for the year to come. I know I have a lot of things to work on, but hey – everyday is a new day, and tomorrow, it’s a new year!

I hope you have an amazing New Year’s celebration, and I wish everyone health, happiness, and love for 2017! 🙂

Cheers,

L

How to Deal with Feeling Homesick Abroad During the Holidays

Today is my first Christmas away from my family at home. I’m sitting in bed relaxing, listening to Christmas music, and wondering what I would be doing if I were home in Toronto. I know my mom must be getting ready to go over to my brother & sister-in-law’s place for Christmas dinner. I guess I’d just be getting ready as well!

Christmas in Colombia is a bit different; celebrations happen on Christmas Eve rather than on the 25th, but the 25th is a holiday so everyone is still relaxing and enjoying time with family. I went out to the grocery store earlier with Elena and was shocked to see how empty the normally traffic-ridden street was. It was a beautiful day, sunny and it got up to 21, so I was walking in a simple t-shirt, thinking damn, this isn’t Christmas weather at all.

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I’m more used to weather that requires this type of apparel in December. (I can’t believe I’m putting this on the internet!?)

 

The part of me that hates the cold was super satisfied at that, but the part of me that loves Christmas felt pretty homesick. Where’s the snow? Where’s my jacket that goes down to my knees?

Even surrounded by family here and after a fun Christmas evening, I can’t help but feel a bit of longing for home and what I’m used to.

Perhaps you’re abroad as well and are also feeling homesick. Everyone has different strategies to cope, but here are a few that helped me along this December:

Christmas Carols

I’ve been listening to the same few Christmas playlists on Spotify ever since my cousins and I returned home from Peru. Lots of them were new Spanish songs so I could get into the Colombia Christmas spirit, but on days when I felt more homesick, I made sure to go for the classics. It made me feel back home, where carols play pretty much all December.

Note: Singing along is recommended, but not required.

Movies & Shows

Ever since I’ve been in Bogota, I’ve been watching Gilmore Girls in Spanish to practice my language listening skills. The past few days, I’ve reverted back to watching it in English to give myself a break. It’s helped! I also watched a movie that made me happy, Chicago. I’d never seen it, but I watched the broadway show in New York with my mom so it reminded me of her and our trip!

 

Retail Therapy

Malls are pretty much the same everywhere in the world. I never really noticed how true that was until I spent a bit of time in the nearby mall almost everyday this past week. Kids playing in the Santa area, people rushing all around, long lines. I’m normally not a big fan of shopping but I found the familiarity of the environment soothing. Buying gifts for my family here, too, was a fun distraction.

 

Eat what you love

Food not only fills the stomach, but the soul! I’ve eaten a lot of chocolate and sweets these past few days. I always do around this time of year, so being abroad was no excuse to stop! I also love the Colombian Christmas foods of buñuelos and natilla, so made sure to have my fill of those. *Nom nom nom.*

Colombian buñuelos - basically fried cheesy balls of deliciousness, & natilla - a sweet custard-type dessert.
Colombian buñuelos – basically fried cheesy balls of deliciousness, & natilla – a sweet custard-type dessert.

 

Skype

Skype is of course a great way to keep in touch with friends and family that are far away. I’ve found it especially useful these past few days. Chatting with friends and family face-to-face relieved a bit of the homesickness and made me feel like I was hanging out with them back home. Well, not really… but it’s the next best thing!

 

Enjoy the festivities in your host-country

Christmas may not be the same here as it is where I’m from, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing! I actually loved seeing how the season is celebrated here. There were lots of lights in the streets, with clusters of decorated trees in parks and malls. There was also a really cool light show that happened in Bogota’s main square. I went to see it with Elena, my aunt Consuelo, and her family. A chilly night, with lots of street vendors selling Christmas goods, it got me more into the holiday spirit.

 

Pay more attention to detail

While out and about in the city, I tried to pay more attention to the details of the city. The buildings, the people, the nature, the sky. Focusing on things I hadn’t noticed before made me appreciate more where I am. It’s not home, but it’s still pretty amazing!

On a recent trip to the botanical garden, I was able to marvel at all the pretty flowers and trees that grow here.
On a recent trip to the botanical garden, I was able to marvel at all the pretty flowers and trees that grow here.

 

 

Talk with locals 

I’m fortunate to still be with family here in Bogota. Chatting with my cousins, uncles, and aunts here always makes me feel loved and at home. I know a lot of travellers may be totally solo in a city which makes things a bit tougher, but I found that even small exchanges with strangers in the streets or in malls can be nice. My cousin and I took a bus one day but had no money on our metro cards, so asked if anyone on the bus could use theirs in exchange for cash. One man used his card for us, but didn’t take our money after. It was so nice of him that we felt like there was definitely some Christmas magic in the air.

 

Sleep as much as you need

After Peru, I was perpetually exhausted for a while. For the most part, I’d go to bed early, wake up late, and take naps in the day. The part of me that feels a strong need to be productive was appalled at how much time I spent sleeping at first, but then I just let go. I started feeling better after I allowed my body the sleep it needed. Being tired and cranky is not a good combo with homesickness so make sure to get those Zzzzzs. 

 

Do something silly!

I spent 10 minutes singing and dancing in front of my cousin’s cat yesterday while I was getting ready for the evening’s party. It allowed me to let loose and laugh, making me feel more relaxed and less homesick. The cat, on the other hand, didn’t seem too amused.

This is the cat, Pascala, looking at me with her staple unamused look.
This is the cat, Pascala, looking at me with her staple unamused look.

Do you have any more tips for fighting homesickness abroad? Let me know in the comments or send me a message!

Thanks for reading, and wishing all a merry, merry Christmas! I hope you’ve spent it doing exactly what you love, wherever you are in the world.

Lots of love,

L

The Joy of the Journey

20161121_162017A few days ago, I started my day in a park close to where I’m living. I brought along a notebook and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude, planning to pass some time writing and reading under a tree while the sun was shining hot and bright. I had no other plans for the day – but that changed pretty quickly.

I had texted my Tio Carlos asking him to call me so I could clarify something about my phone plan. He called while I sat there reading, answered my question, then said adios. He called back a few minutes later: he seemed surprised I was spending the day alone, so invited me to lunch at his place. I said sure, and he picked me up about an hour later.

After a yummy lunch and a quick siesta, we hopped back into his car as he had the idea to take me to visit a nearby ‘pueblo’ – a small town or village. He wasn’t sure where exactly, so we drove without a clear destination. We continued to pass possible candidates, but he dismissed them as uninteresting so on and on we went.

We ended up driving about an hour and half away to a town called La Vega – far enough to have a noticeably warmer climate than Bogotá. To get there, we had to pass through an area called “Bosque de Niebla” – Forest of Fog. It involves driving up to a point densely covered in clouds and fog. Upon descending, as the clouds clear again, the Cordillera Central – the central mountain range of the country, becomes visible in all its splendour, seemingly going on forever. Of course there was also a rainbow to make everything seem more magical.

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After many “oohs and ahs” on my part, we got to La Vega. We didn’t stay long, however. In fact, we just drove around a bit in the town, got out at a store to buy some goodies, then headed right on back the way we came. Driving back into Bogotá (and into all its rush hour traffic glory), there was even a really pretty sunset – the perfect end to our last-minute roadtrip.

It was a mini-adventure that truly matches the phrase “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” Between chatting and admiring the beautiful views, it was one of those moments that are so special for their simplicity: just a man and his niece driving through the countryside.

Experiences like these, so simple and spontaneous, make me reflect on the importance of taking time to do more things like these, to just go for a drive, to just spend time chatting. It is so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of work and school and commitments in the fast-paced life that so many of us live these days. I’m definitely guilty myself of overloading my schedule, having to make appointments just to spend time with my family and friends. But it doesn’t have to be so complicated – just drop by to say hi, just give someone a call; it doesn’t take long. We’re all on this journey together, let’s not rush through it; let’s take some time to get to know each other better. Let’s take some time out of our busy schedules to show kindness, love, compassion. Let’s take some time off to just live. I know I’ll be trying harder to do so from now on. 🙂

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Thanks for reading!

L

A Look at Bogotá Street Art

For the few weeks I’ve been in Bogotá, I’ve noticed a lot of beautiful street art pieces scattered throughout the city. The bus I take most often goes through a tunnel that is covered in art. There’s so much that every time I pass through, I notice something I hadn’t noticed before. Intrigued by this subculture, and upon hearing from two cousins about a tour that explored the graffiti in the city, yesterday I decided to go for it and learn more. I was blown away by how interesting it was! The tour guide, Carlos, told us about the artists, described various artistic techniques, and explained the meanings behind some of the works.

Since I studied literature, I’m a huge fan of “searching for meanings” so it was really cool to do an urban art tour like this. I didn’t know much (cough, anything) about the topic but through the metaphoric imagery, I felt like I could still connect to a lot of the works nevertheless. Of course, a lot of art and literature are connected in the way they both use creative mediums to critique or subvert various social realities and ideologies. I am fascinated by this sociopolitical function of art, and where better to explore it than in Colombia, a nation with such a turbulent history.

Here are some of the more political pieces we saw, along with some explanations:
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This is a piece by DJLu, a professor and trained architect and artist who elusively never shows his face. To explain some elements of this mural:

Pineapple Grenades: Pineapples are very aggressive to the soil they are planted in; nothing else can be planted afterwards. Similarly, war is aggressive to the land —   destructive, with incredible repercussions for the future.

Insect Guns: Insects carry diseases far and wide, just as war does.

People – In addition to images of war and violence, DJLu is known for his representation of people who live in the streets. The man on the far right is a man known as “Calidoso,” a well-liked street dweller who was burned alive in the street by an enemy in 2014.

Other than that, he may be alluding to victims of the False Positives Scandal – a scandal in which military figures were to be given financial rewards for the murder of guerrilla members, so they lured many poor and mentally challenged people out of the city with the promise of work. They then staged victims’ deaths as if they really had been guerrilla members to increase their body counts and make more money. According to a UN report, there were more than 3000 victims between 2002-2008, until the scandal was afterwards discovered and investigated.

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This is another piece by DJLu. “Todos Contamos” means “We all count,” and he is referring to voting and abstention. Colombia normally has an incredibly high rate of abstention, and it was made evident in the recent October referendum for peace, where 62% of citizens did not vote. The figures DjLu has painted here represent those who are practically unable to vote since they live too far off the grid, needing to travel up to 15 hours to get to a polling station.

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This is another part of the first wall shown, but painted by Lesivo. The message “La explotacion arruina la vida” means that “Exploitation ruins lives,” and the images all represent this idea:

Exploitation of labour: Coffee farmers undergo very difficult life and work conditions, including cramped space, inadequate access to toilets and hygiene, hard work with few breaks, and little pay. Coffee then sells for high prices, but farmers see a very small fraction.

Exploitation of land: Government and guerrilla groups moved people off their land to use it for their own purposes, displacing them largely towards the cities, causing a large-scale refugee crisis.

You also may notice Ronald Reagan with horns stenciled lightly in the middle. He was president during the start of USA’s war on drugs. The plan involved fumigating large stretches of lands with glysophate to kill cocaine plants. It killed the plants, but also innocent crops, and due to its carcinogenic properties, innocent citizens.

Exploitation of mineral resources: Illegal mining of gold causes the production of a mercury-cyanide compound, which is then disposed of in streams, contaminating drinking water.

These three pieces are just a taste of the social and political injustices that have faced many, but primarily the rural poor in Colombia in recent decades. By representing such problems through art, citizens and visitors alike can begin to question and critique these realities, encouraging positive social change.

Not all the graffiti art in Bogotá is politically driven however. A lot of it is simply aesthetically pleasing – not promoting any particular message, but just beautifying the streets and maybe telling a story. Here are some of my favourites:

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A shop in a narrow pedestrian-only street in the historic and colourful area known as the Candelaria.

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Not all art is painted – there are fun sculptures like this all around the Candelaria.

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Each cat in this restaurant’s mural was painted by a unique artist, and interestingly the street sign and post have been incorporated into the art! 


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A piece by Vera, a prominent Ecuadorian female street artist.

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A natural scene depicting Bogota before the conquistadors arrived, when it was primarily the land of the Muisca people. The artist used concrete to make the art 3D.

I left the tour much more informed about the history of street art and its development here in Bogotá, as well as on social and political issues in Colombia that have inspired a lot of the art. It also made me reflect on my trip two years ago to Berlin, where I walked along the Wall and looked at countless pieces by countless artists critiquing the division of the city, and rejoicing in the wall’s fall. It makes me think about how art can speak to people from all walks of life, and unite them in a common goal against injustice.

My final impression is one of hope. After all, there are tours happening to show the art. These artists are permitted to paint these (as long as they ask), so clearly something is changing. I am optimistic about the future of the country. One day, just as people today walk along the Berlin Wall and see a Germany that has recovered from a harsh past, I hope people will walk along Bogotá streets and look at these artworks as pre-Peace relics.

Just as walls can be painted and repainted over and over with new images by new artists, I believe that one day Colombia will be able to paint over its painful past, in its place leaving something beautiful and new.

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If you are interested in doing a Bogotá Street Art Tour, you can find more info here: http://bogotagraffiti.com/ 

Feel like staying local? Check to see if your city has its own graffiti tour – they’re increasing in popularity all around the world!

Thanks for reading!
“Hasta que nos encontremos de nuevo” / “Until we meet again”

L

Whoa – a month already!

It’s been over a month now that I’ve been in Colombia, and I can’t shake the feeling that it’s been way longer. When I first got here, I came with my mom. Five of her six siblings live here, along with the majority of my cousins, so there were lots of visits, outings, meals, and parties planned. The three weeks she stayed were therefore a whirlwind of all these. We stayed with my Tia Helena and Tio Jorge at their place near Bucaramanga (a nice and hot part of the country) for two weeks before driving to Bogotá to stay for one week. It’s a really, really beautiful seven-hour drive that goes through (and by through I mean up, up, up and down, down, down) Chicamocha Canyon, and then through lots of little towns and varying landscapes. Here are some photos from the journey:

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Driving up in the clouds. 

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A quick stop on the side of the road to admire the beauty.

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A stop at a famous restaurant, “Caseteja,” in Socorro, for some “postre de natas” – a cream dessert.
I made sure to make use of their hammock! 

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My mom walking in the old streets of the town Socorro. 

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My Tio Carlos sipping his coffee and taking a break from driving at another “Caseteja” stop.

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Beautiful country landscapes dominate the last stretch of the trip. Rolling green hills and grazing cows are everywhere.

After one final week in Bogotá, saying bye to my mom at the airport was really hard. I’ve been away from home before but never for over a year so it’s something new for both of us. Plus, she’s a crier…I’m a crier…. things inevitably got emotional. But I’m excited to get to know the country she grew up in, and I know she’s excited about it too.

Since then I’ve been staying with my cousin, Elena, and my Tia Consuelo at their place in Bogotá, and it’s been really fun. I’ve been able to explore the city, to try and figure out the (highly illogical) metro system “Transmilenio”, to hang out with lots of family, to get a taste of Bogotá nightlife, to work on my writing and my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course, as well as to continue practicing my Spanish.

But back to that feeling of I’ve been here forever: I’m having trouble recalling what my room back home looks like. My job with the city seems like a distant memory. Speaking English out loud is feeling weirder and weirder. Paying more than the equivalent of $1 for a coffee is starting to seem extravagant! But with this feeling have come some definite positive personal changes. For example, two days ago I was reading an article online, and I didn’t realize it was written in Spanish until the very end. Wow! That felt really good.

Additionally, a lot of my worries and questions about the safety of wandering the city have been alleviated. Colombia has a bad rep as a result of its incredibly rough past (which has been further exaggerated by movies and TV shows like Narcos), but it is definitely a country on the mend. It’s evident in Bogotá streets. Thieves are not lurking at every corner. There are no gun fights happening in the middle of the night. Instead, there are just ordinary people doing ordinary jobs, trying to make an honest living just like everyone else; there are wide, clean streets; there are big, modern buildings; there are delicious restaurants with food from all around the globe. Not to mention that there are marches and events happening with hopeful citizens demanding peace. It’ll happen soon!  It’s a bustling, exciting, at times chaotic city but all in all, I have never felt like I was in danger, and taking regular precautions, I feel comfortable exploring solo.

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An encampment for peace in the Plaza de Bolívar – the main square of the city.

This increased sense of security, my improving fluency with the Spanish language, and the comfort of having lots of family around have all led to this feeling of having been here way longer than reality dictates. And actually, that makes me really happy – it feels good to be so comfortable in a city that is in my genealogical roots.

In a way, it feels like I’ve come home.

That being said, I do miss a good Tim Hortons Boston Cream donut every now and then, but hey, you can’t have it all!

Until next post.

L

Why I Suddenly Have a Blog

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I never thought I was the type of person who would have a blog. I love reading other people’s blogs, and I always look to them for travel tips or yummy recipes, but it just never seemed like something I’d do myself.

Well, opportunity arose: while looking for ways to write and make money while I’m away from home and out of a consistent salary, I came across a website called travelicious.com.au. They’re looking for writers, and I’m looking for ways to get involved in the freelance writing scene. Upon successful application, they publish and pay for a travel article written about any place you want! Only one catch: you have to create a blog ($12) and follow a writer’s guide to creating websites and writing interesting content. Well – I didn’t have much to lose so I decided to go for it. Loisislost is the result! I’m now a proud property owner with my very own little home amid the vast web universe.

I’ve got to say that I think this is the push I needed. I love writing, but can never seem to find an appropriate outlet besides journals and rough, unfinished Microsoft word documents. I hope this will help me work towards further freelancing goals, while at the same time (hopefully) inspiring a few people and just generally providing updates on where I am and what I’m up to!

I hope you’ll follow me along on this new adventure in writing, as well as in my travels. 🙂

You can read my very first internet published article (yay!) on the travelicious website here: http://travelicious.world/hiking-the-juan-de-fuca/

If you’re interested in creating your own blog and writing an article for them as well, you can check out their application page here: http://travelicious.world/write-for-us/. No experience is required and for me it’s been good so far. I’ll be sure to update if anything changes. And if you already have a blog and have any advice for me, I’d love to hear it!

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more. 🙂

L