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!

26e312ef13bc68703984cab530828149eb5a314b6e4a072f130c6b8cd1a25612

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.

img-20170723-wa0005
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)

img-20170830-wa0021
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!

20170313_144111
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.

20170531_100422
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!

20170222_153424
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:
20170316_121258

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!

20170223_162431
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!

 

20170330_094754
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

Ten Things I Love About Living in Manizales

20170215_110717

A month or two before I started my position here in Colombia, I learned from a handful of people that my new placement, Manizales, had a bit of a reputation. It could be described by what’s called the 3 F’s – frio (cold), feo (ugly), and faldudo (hilly).

Considering that I had (somewhat randomly) requested to be placed in Manizales, I was naturally a bit alarmed. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a fan of the cold. Good thing I had packed lots of sweaters I suppose. As for ugly, was it? I had heard it was pretty! I quickly re-googled images to see if it was true – but I just saw the same images of rolling green hills populated by neighbourhoods with a brilliant snow-capped mountain (well, volcano) in the distance. I’d have to see, I thought. And for ‘faldudo’, well that one I had expected. I consider it a positive though as it would make even just a casual walk outside into a bit of a workout.

20170202_175626
One of the more gradual hills… faldudo indeed.

Well I’m now a month into my program and I’ve got to say that I do not agree with either feo or frio – while there are ugly parts, the surrounding views more than make up for it. And same for cold – while there have been cold days, it’s generally warm enough to walk around in a tshirt or with a light cardigan. And hilly, yes it is! Even my quick walk to school has me trudge up a bit of a hill so that’s always a good wake-up call at 6:50 in the morning if I haven’t managed to have a coffee yet.

Besides these things, I continue to fall in love with Manizales more and more each day – it’s a small place but it’s packed with charm and surprises. Reflecting on my past month here, I’ve come up with a list of ten things I love about Manizales (so far). Here goes!

1. Manizales is a small city but it doesn’t really feel like one.
There’s still a lot to do in and around the city, so there’s no time to get bored. I tend to be a victim of the paradox of choice– if there’s too much to do, I just won’t do anything. That’s what makes this the perfect environment for me! There’s just the right amount of choice.

2. Transportation. Leaving the house to get somewhere is always a mini-adventure.

20170204_140236

Buses: like in most of Colombia, there are no specific set bus routes. Rather, there are a number of buses that run throughout the city that have cards saying which main areas they’re heading to on the front window. As long as you’ve made sure you’re on the right side of the road for the direction you want to go, you just look for the cards on the buses until one you need comes along. You flag it down to stop, hop on, push yourself through a turnstile, and give the driver your change. He counts out your change as he whips around curves and other cars.

The buses that go up and down the hilly neighbourhoods are the best – it’s like getting a ride on a very cheap roller coaster! And, when getting off, the doors usually open as it’s still in motion. To be safe, it’s best to wait til it stops completely, but hey, if you’re a thrill seeker or in need of some duck and roll practice, this is your chance.

Cable Car: you can take a cable car to get around! The highest station is near the downtown core, and there are two more stations that it goes down to – one being the bus station, and then there’s one more in a suburb called Villamaria that can be reached after the cable car crosses over a pretty ravine below. Views are amazing the whole time.

Walking: walking isn’t necessarily that exciting, but what is nice is that you can walk to most places if you want. Another perk of a small city!

3. Hot Springs!
Just a short bus-ride out of the city will bring you to a string of thermal baths. I initially went one day when plans for a hike outside the city were ruined by rain, and it was awesome! It’s the perfect rainy day or evening plan. Better not on a hot day, though, as the water is already pretty hot. The one we visited is called Termales del Otoño. There are two sections: one fancy and expensive one, and one that’s less fancy and cheaper. We went to the second one and had trouble picturing what the nicer one would be like because it was nice as it was!

20170212_150958

4. FREE activities.

Just as those of you who know me well know I don’t like cold, you also know I love free things. You can therefore picture me blissfully trotting along the sidewalks of Manizales with no cash in my pockets as I head to the free events here. Last Friday night, a group of us headed to a free musical performance featuring an orchestra and a fourteen-year old American piano prodigy. Plus, apparently these shows happen about every two weeks!

20170215_164033
Some free dance classes happen here – in the beautiful park, Bosque Popular. It’s also just nice to hang out in!

Similarly, I’ve just recently found out about free zumba/fitness classes every Tuesday and Sunday, as well as more free cultural events and movie nights at a building right by my house called Confamiliares. Check their calendar out here if you want to know more about it.

Plus, on Sunday mornings until noon there’s also a Ciclovia here just like in Bogota – the main street is closed to cars to allow for biking, jogging and walking throughout the city.

5. Hiking.
Ever since graduating, I’ve realized how much I love hiking. It was fun to do it near home in Algonquin Park, in Hawaii, in British Columbia, and in Peru, but is hiking a thing in Colombia? I wasn’t sure. Turns out, yes! There are some awesome treks throughout the country that I definitely want to do eventually, but for now, I’m excited because there’s a local Manizales hiking group that goes out every weekend to do various routes.

I’ve only gone once so far, but it was awesome. I was picturing more of a leisurely stroll throughout the countryside, but it was actually pretty physically demanding and went through some really beautiful sections. There was one part that made it feel as if we were in the middle of the jungle – so cool! If you’re interested in joining the groups, you can find a link here to their facebook page.

20170218_141206  20170218_115446  20170218_103217

 

6. Centro.
The centre of Manizales is an interesting place. Some may call it ugly and dangerous, but I prefer to think of it as a magical treasure trove much like Ariel’s undersea collection – “it’s got gadgets and gizmos aplenty, it’s got whoozits and whatzits galore.”

bmb3zt6icaei4_8
Literally every store vendor in Centro. 

 

There are various sections where you can find sets of stores selling roughly the same things. For example, I got my mattress in the main furniture area, and my duvet and pillow in the duvet & pillow area. Not kidding.

It also isn’t even that ugly – many of the buildings are built in an older style giving it a bit of a grungy European look. Plus the cathedral is really beautiful!

 

7. El Cable.
El Cable is probably my favourite area of town. It’s the main area to go out at night to bars or clubs, but also has nice cafés and restaurants and also a big mall with a movie theatre. Plus, an incredible empanada place can be found here, called San Juanitas. Find it here. The general vibe of El Cable is always fun and bustling.

8. Climbing Gym.
I was excited to learn that there was a nice bouldering gym here in Manizales. It’s not very big, but it has a lot of routes and variety so it’s an awesome place to improve on skills even for those with a low level like me. In addition to monthly memberships, they also offer a training program with cross-fit and technical practice at a reasonable price. I can’t wait to get started on it to finally see some good improvement in my climbing skills! You can find out more about the gym on their facebook page here.

9. Location, location, location.
Manizales is ideally located in the country as well for day- or weekend-trips to other towns and cities nearby. Three of the country’s main cities, Bogota, Medellin, and Cali, are all a reasonably long bus ride away, between 4 and 7 hours each. I know I’ll be heading back to Bogota soon to visit family, but I’m looking forward to escaping to Medellin and Cali soon during some long weekends. There are also smaller cities and towns that are, like Manizales, part of the coffee region. Some examples are Pereira, Armenia, Salento, and Santa Rosa de Cabal. It’s easy to just head to the bus terminal, buy a ticket, and be on your way!

export

 

10. Views.
Views in Manizales are incredible. On a clear, sunny day you can see the surrounding mountains and hills clearly, and sometimes even the Nevado del Ruiz and other snow-capped mountains nearby, like I wrote about in my last post. There was even one very foggy day (one of many to come, I’m sure) which led to there being no views at all, which is also kind of cool to see. My school is quite high up in the city so when sitting in the teacher’s room, looking out the window, it can sometimes feel like we’re in the middle of the sky. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of admiring the city’s views.

20170213_160315
Just look at that view outside one of my classrooms! 🙂

So there you have it! Ten amazing things about Manizales and therefore ten good reasons you should come visit me over here, or at least visit the city if you’re in Colombia. You won’t regret it! 🙂

Will be trying to post more frequently in coming days now that I’ve gotten into more of a routine here!

Til then,

L

Hogar Dulce Hogar: Settling in in Manizales

Hogar Dulce Hogar” – Home Sweet Home

20170212_071039

It’s a cliché phrase, but it’s perfect. I’ve finally started settling in to my home for the year here in Manizales, and I can’t think of a better way to describe it. From the location, to my roommates, to the views, it’s definitely a sweet set-up.

I live on a sixth floor apartment with two roommates, Alejandra and Daniel. They are both really funny, welcoming, and kind, making it a home sweet home indeed! They’re both medicine students in their final year, so often talk about the surgeries or patients they had each day. I’m therefore learning lots about the behind-the-scenes med school life which sounds really hectic, but interesting.

20170211_204743
Roomie Selfie!

Alejandra also has a cat named Polo. He’s a white fluff-ball, not even one years old yet, but incredibly tender and loving. He comes often to hang out with me in my room, curling up to nap next to me, or sometimes even on top of me. He also likes to drink from the tap, which I find hilarious.

20170208_205201       20170211_210432          20170210_223436

My room is big and spacious, although sparsely furnished for now. I just have my mattress on the floor and a cute night table I got at the used clothing & furniture store across the street. I’ll definitely be getting some more furniture once I receive the first month’s pay, but for now, it’s all I really need!

Buying my mattress was entertaining. I got it from a place downtown for an amazing price, and then had to get a taxi to bring it back home. Lugging it up the stairs was an adventure (why is there no elevator!) but luckily Daniel came down to help me.

img_20170210_182633_619
A funny sight to see – the store clerk lugging around the mattress as I try to get a cab during rush hour

The view out my window is also pretty cool. On one side is just a busy street, so not too interesting, but on the other side, I can see far into the valley neighbourhoods. When it’s not foggy, I can clearly see the mountains sitting prettily in the distance. I could even see a small cloud of ash coming out of the nearby volcano one morning!

 

20170210_060251
Small puff of ash coming out of the volcano in the early morning

And it gets better… the apartment is just a 4-5 minute walk to my school! It makes those early 7am starts so much more manageable. I even pass a delicious-smelling panaderia (bakery) on the way, which never ceases to tempt me.

But enough about my new hogar.

On Friday, I finished my first full week of school! It was an incredible experience to introduce myself to all the students and to start getting to know them. I work with two co-teachers in a total of eight different English classes (so many names to learn!!). I have 2-4 hours a week with each grade nine class, and 3 hours a week with each grade ten class. Each of my co-teachers has a distinct teaching style, but I can tell I’m going to learn a lot from each of them. I’ve already picked up some classroom management tips from them that were really helpful for classes I taught solo.

For the most part, the students are very engaged and eager to participate in class, and are excited to have a foreign native speaker in the classroom. It’s so inspiring to see their excitement, and to hear “Hello, teacher!” when I enter the class or when I’m walking in the halls. One sweet student even insisted on giving me her bracelet, so now I wear it happily as a reminder of each student’s individuality.

It’s easy to think of the classes just as “the grade nines” or “the grade tens,” especially at the beginning meeting so many students all at once, but my goal for the year is to get to know each student at least a little bit. I know that my past teachers who took the time to get to know me were the ones that I felt most inspired by, so I can at least hope to try and do the same for my students.

As for city sights,

I haven’t done too much touring around just yet, except for the places I mentioned in my last post. I did visit one amazing place since then though, called Chipre. This is the highest point of Manizales, and is really cool to visit. I went with my friend Chloe and my roommates last weekend after I had finalized I’d live with them.

At a viewpoint on Chipre, you can look in all directions, getting an incredible view over the city and the surrounding lush coffee country. We took a tour there at the intricate Fundadores (Founders) monument to understand it a bit more, and admired the parasailers in the distance.

20170205_154155

Additionally, as a student told me in class, Manizales is known as a fabrica de atardeceres – a “factory of sunsets.” This was an accurate description, I soon learned, as we stayed to take in the sunset. As the sun disappeared behind the mountains, the show continued – faint yellows, reds, oranges, pinks, purples, and blues painted the sky. It was stunning.

20170205_180949
Chloe grabbing the sun before it sets 🙂

I’m looking forward to exploring a lot very soon as I settle into more of a routine. For now, I’m content being homey and enjoying my new hogar dulce hogar. 🙂 

Til next post,

L

Made it to Manizales!

20170201_121009

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.

20170131_092453
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!

16
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:

20170204_140651

20170204_140823

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?)

est_fontana_fachada_1
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.

manizales-colombia-578x345
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.

logo-colombia-bilingue

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