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.

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