Made it to Manizales!

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On Tuesday morning last week, all of the new volunteers staying at the Bogota hostel got up bright and early to pile into buses and go to the airport. We split off according to our city, some heading to Cali or Armenia, others to Medellin, Pereira, and Pasto, just to name a few. My particular group was, of course, headed to Manizales.

The seven of us groggily got off the bus and got to the check-in desk at the airport. Since we were so early, the airline workers asked if we wanted to get on an earlier flight – yes please! We then had just a small wait time before getting on our plane.

I had heard all sorts of bad things about the Manizales airport – particularly that oftentimes, it can’t land due to heavy cloud and fog. This means that planes often need to either reroute to nearby Pereira, or go back to Bogota. One group member’s fiancée had texted him that the day looked beautiful in Manizales so we had high hopes that everything would be fine. And there was sun all the way! At least, until we got to Manizales.

The clouds were super thick, and we could no longer admire the lush green scenery below us. When it was time to land, the plane started to descend and we could hear the wheels coming out of the wings. Even after descending and descending, the clouds didn’t seem to have an end. All of a sudden, the plane lurched forward with a boost of power and started to rise again. No luck this time.

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In the never-ending clouds….

We circled the air for about fifteen minutes, the pilot waiting to see if there would be an opening in the clouds. We then started descending once again, but again, after going down and down, we had no luck and launched upwards. Landing was impossible. Off to Pereira we went!

Landing there, there was bright sunshine and beautiful green rolling hills. The heat hit us hard when we got out of the plane, but it felt amazing! It was amusing to see the Pereira fellows show up shortly after us, their friendly greetings quickly turning to confused shoulder shrugs as to what we were doing there.

After grabbing our bags, we got on a courtesy bus that took us to Manizales. About an hour-long trip, I was excited to see the scenery of the coffee region that I’d heard so much about. So much for that though, I could hardly keep my eyes open. I woke up briefly about halfway, thought “wow, this is so beautiful!” and then promptly fell back asleep again until we were entering Manizales.

Taking a taxi with three other fellows to our hostel, we quickly realized there was no exaggeration involved when people had told us that the hills were steep in the city. The taxi pushed up and up the mountain, curving through the streets until arriving at Mountain Hostel, where we’ve been since.

We had that first day to relax and explore, and some of us went out walking pretty far, even to where some of our schools are.

I found out my school was on the main street on the city, across from a beautiful little park and about halfway in between where I’m staying now and the downtown core.

The next day here, we had more free time. I went to pick up my Cedula – my Colombian identification card, and started the search for an apartment.

The hunt technically continues, but I’m pretty sure I’ve found a place. I just need to finalize some things and then we’ll see what happens. If it works out, I’ll be just about a four-minute walk from work. Can’t beat that!

House-hunting has definitely been an adventure, especially since I’ve never had to do it before. I used some leads that were provided by my coordinator and other fellows, but also just walked around calling numbers listed on “For Rent” signs around town. It was great practice for my Spanish, although I’m still struggling a bit with the fast speakers now, since the accent here is a bit different.

It also allowed me to get to know the regional “Paisa” hospitality that everyone told me about. Nearly everyone I met was eager to go out of their way to help out the foreign girl walking around looking for a place to live. Even a taxi driver offered to drive me around so I could write down numbers to call. I definitely think I’m going to like it here!

Another exciting thing that has happened since I’ve got here is that I’ve gotten to know my school! After an event with the Secretary of Education where the fellows got to meet some of our principals, mentors, and/or co-teachers, most of us headed off to go to our schools for the first time.

I met one grade ten class that I’ll be having, and even ended up playing some English games with them when my co-teacher was called to a meeting. I was thankful for the recent orientation, as I had some quick ideas up my sleeve!

Friday was my first full day there. School starts at 7:00AM so I left the hostel at 6:15 for the half hour walk to get there. I got to meet a lot more teachers in the staff room, as well as two more groups of students that I’ll be with for the year. One, a group of grade nines – mostly boys, and one, a group of grade tens – mostly girls.

They were really sweet and a lot of them were eager to ask questions and to participate in the class. The levels of English are quite varied, with some students knowing quite a bit, with others knowing very little. This will definitely be a challenge to overcome, but I’m eager to take it on. I can’t wait to meet the rest of the students next week!

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Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de Nuestra Señora del Rosario (not my photo)

For now, it’s been nice enjoying a carefree weekend. With nothing to do really, the other fellows and I slept in, had the delicious hostel breakfast, and then headed out to the centre to explore it for the first time. There’s a massive and beautiful cathedral in the main square, so we went there first. On its second floor, there’s a nice café where we had milkshakes and cake with another fellow who came to meet us.

After exploring a bit more of the centre and checking out an apartment that had rooms available, we decided to head to the cable car to take in the city sights from the air. What’s awesome is that it’s not a touristic attraction – it’s a veritable form of transportation to get from the top of the city to the bottom and vice versa. Of course, the best part is that the whole time you get an amazing view! Here are some pictures:

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Tomorrow, there’ll be more of the same relaxation, plus hopefully I’ll get the apartment business sorted. Exciting times, exciting times!

I’m hoping to post more often once I’m settled in my new home. I’ll be sure to share lots more about Manizales and the surrounding areas.

Til then,

L 🙂

 

What The Heck Am I (Still) Doing in Colombia  

 

Sitting on top of Bogota at Monserrate... yup I'm still here!
Sitting on top of Bogota at Monserrate… yup I’m still here!

It’s been over three months now that I’ve been in Colombia. I’ve visited family, done a bit of travelling in the country (and outside, to Peru), and I’ve worked on my writing, starting this blog.

Talking with friends back home, I’ve realized that quite a few thought I was on more of a vacation, and they’re wondering when I’m coming home. But in reality, I don’t know, I don’t even have a return flight! (Yet, anyways – don’t worry Mum 🙂 )

In fact, I am now a proud owner of a Colombian visa, allowing me to stay here until the end of November this year.

Why? you may ask:

Well, I’m moving on to the next phase of my stay here, the one that initiated my arrival in Colombia in the first place.

Starting soon, I’ll be working with a Colombian volunteer organization called Heart for Change, teaching English in public school classrooms for the year. It’s a program sponsored by the Colombian Ministry of Education, as part of its plan to make Colombia bilingual by 2025.

I applied without knowing much about the program besides that basic description, but have slowly learned more and more about it and am getting increasingly excited at the opportunity I’ve landed myself in!

I found out about the program through an external organization called Greenheart Travel, one of many agencies that recruits English-speaking university graduates from around the world to come teach for the program. You can find more about them here if this sounds like your type of program. They have opportunities all around the globe! 

Yesterday was the first day of orientation here. It’s a 10-day affair that goes over living in Colombia and teaching, as well as logistical stuff like visas, identification cards, bank accounts, and phones.

For these ten days, we’re staying in a really nice hotel in Bogota called Estelar La Fontana. It’s been a while since I’ve stayed somewhere so fancy! I’m definitely enjoying the luxury before the relative homelessness I’ll have before finding a place to live in my placement city. (Perhaps I’m being a touch dramatic?)

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Photo taken from the hotel website. I’m not accustomed to this level of fanciness…

The first day of orientation was a long one. It started at 5:45 for me when my alarm rang, because I had to get in a taxi with a few other fellows to go to the visa and cedula (national identification card) office. We were special cases, as we had applied before the program started and needed to get the process done within a 15 days limit. It was a long morning spent mostly in lines, but in the end, everything is complete and I now feel officially legal!

Today was an even earlier wake-up, as breakfast started at 5:00. By 6:00, we were boarding buses to go across the city for an event with the Ministry of Education. We were all sporting our new “Colombia Bilingüe” (“Bilingual Colombia”)  t-shirts and bright green Ministry vests looking super fashionable, of course.

We watched some videos about Colombia, and about the program, as well as some music videos by Colombian artists. Even though it was super early, it got most of us pretty pumped up for the program. Some people even started dancing! It was still a bit too early for that for me though. 🙂

Near the end, we had a presentation from the Minister of Education. She also chatted with some of the fellows, and it was all really inspiring. I couldn’t help but get teary-eyed with happiness and excitement for the country!

In this important time of newfound peace, Colombia is now able to focus on how to further improve itself. Education is of course a big part of that, and English education especially. Better English opens doors for students to better education and employment opportunities, in effect contributing to an improvement in Colombia’s international relations in the future.

I’m really passionate about the program and its goals and can’t wait to start teaching!

For the rest of orientation, I’m not totally sure what to expect, although I know we’ll be getting 40 hours of teaching instruction meant to prepare us for our classes (for me, and many others, it will be the first time teaching in a classroom). Then we’ll all be getting on our planes and heading off to our destinations. Many will head off to big cities like Medellin or Cali, and others will fly to smaller cities or even more rural towns.

I’ll be flying to a small city called Manizales. It’s nestled in the coffee region, and is ideally located right in between three main cities: Bogota, Medellin, and Cali. It’s a city built into the mountains, and apparently the streets are super steep! It’s surrounded by other small cities and towns that I can’t wait to explore, and is even close to a big active volcano called the Nevado del Ruiz.

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A photo of Manizales I found on the internet – looks amazing doesn’t it!?

I’ve never been to Manizales before but have heard amazing things about it so can’t wait to get there and see it for myself! I’ll be sure to write lots about it.

Once I get there, I’ll have about a one-week orientation in the city, and then straight into the classroom I go!

The teaching program is really cool because it’s not only about benefitting the students, but about the teachers as well. We’ll be working as co-teachers in English classes, offering both students and the teacher exposure to a more immersive English experience.

The hope is that after a few years of the program (this is the third year it’s being run on such a large scale), the English teachers will feel more confident with the language, and therefore the overall quality of English education will improve.

It’s all part of the Bilingual Colombia initiative in the country, which aims to have more and more students graduate with at least an average B1 level of English (in listening, speaking, reading, and writing). Currently, English education in private schools is generally quite good, but it’s lacking in the public school system. This program is therefore helping to combat that discrepancy.

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It’s also meant to inspire these students, many of whom will be at schools in unprivileged communities, to dream big and think outside of their neighbourhood and rather, on a more global scale.

I’m still full of questions about where I’m going to live, what my school is going to be like, and how many classes I’m going to have, but I’m excited and optimistic. I can’t wait to share more about my experience with you!

For now, dinner time.

Thanks for reading!

L