Settling In in Villavicencio

Whoa, I was pretty lost for real there for a while! I took a break from writing to focus on a few other things in my life, and since I’ve returned to Colombia it’s been a bit tough getting settled in to my new city. But things are coming together finally so I thought it’d be the perfect moment to continue adding some entries, starting with one about my new city: Villavicencio!

Villavicencio?

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More fondly called “Villavo,” (‘vi-ja-vo’ for the non-Spanish speakers) by the locals, Villavicencio was a city I never thought twice about let alone a place I thought I’d be living in. But here I am! I was back in Toronto wondering what to do and where to go when I got a message saying that the Teaching English in Colombia program still needed fellows. Hmm…

I had decided not to continue back in January because there had been a major change of organizations that left the program in a bit of a mess – I didn’t know anything about the new organization running the program and didn’t know if I could trust them. But after speaking with some previous fellows who had returned who said it was all normal, I decided to go for it once again!

In With the New…

I decided to choose a new city I’d never been to with some particular assets: somewhere relatively close to Bogota, and somewhere with hot weather. That led me to choose Villavicencio! It’s just a three or four hour drive from Bogota (depending on traffic and most of that is just getting out of Bogota’s gridlocks!) but it’s nice and HOT in comparison to the capital and other cities nearby. It’s in the department of Meta, and is known as “La Puerta al Llano:” the gate to Los Llanos – the Plains of Colombia.

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Overlooking the plains from a viewpoint up in the hills called “Mirador Piedra del Amor”

The city itself is nestled right at the foothills of the Andes so on one side, you can see mountains, and on the other, flatlands as far as the eye can see! The plains stretch all the way to Venezuela and are actually shared between the two countries.

“Llanero” Culture

The ‘cowboy’ culture is strong in this region of Colombia and cattle raising, horse-riding, meat-eating are all aspects of the Llanero culture. There’s also a well-known sport practiced here called “coleo” – basically a rodeo, where cowboys on horses chase cattle on a path to try and make them fall down… I personally wouldn’t want to see such a spectacle due to my love for animals and belief in animal rights but nevertheless, it’s a tradition in this region.

There’s also a famous dance here called “joropo.” This aspect of the Llanero culture is a bit more my speed! Here is a youtube video for anybody interested in seeing what it’s like:

Pretty incredible how fast the dancers can move!

I’ve yet to experience the typical Llanero culture firsthand though – I’m still pretty new here and haven’t gone out exploring too much besides roaming the streets in search of a place to live.

Home Sweet Home 

Speaking of which, I finally found one! After some shuffling around, I am finally somewhat “settled in,” living with another fellow in the teaching program, a guy from Switzerland. We found a two-bedroom apartment that is behind a family’s house and that is pretty central for both of our school placements. The family is very kind and have two daughters that are starting to feel like our little sisters! They also have the most adorable pug named Hannah who loves to snuggle.

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One of their daughters also goes to the school where I teach, but is in a lower grade so I’m not her teacher. Nevertheless, the family has been super nice with us, giving us some furniture, some food, and general advice about different things in the city; it’s nice to have our own space but also to be able to count on a ‘family’ just a few metres away.

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The new neighbourhood: “La Esmeralda”

The neighbourhood is beautiful too with lots of nature! The only thing – there seems to be some sort of a bird – a cockatoo? a parrot? that frequently “talks” with another cockatoo or parrot and together they sound like screaming children. Plus, it seems that the same family also has an actual screaming child! I’m already getting used to it though, luckily – all part of the morning wake-up call. 🙂

School Sweet School 

The new school I’m working at is amazing too – it feels like a natural park! It’s up in the hills so it’s nice and cool compared to other parts of the city where it feels like a furnace.

The buildings are also very colourful with lots of student art around, there’s lots of interesting trees and plants and flowers, and there are also interesting animals, namely, monkeys! I’ve seen them three times so far swinging up in the trees. There are two dogs  that live there as well and I love getting snuggles from them between classes. 🙂

Of course I miss my old school in Manizales a lot, but I’m so happy that my new placement is another beautiful place with friendly staff and students (and monkeys…and dogs…)!

Here are some photos:
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And that’s all for now – short and sweet! But keep an eye out for future posts about Villavicencio and other cities and towns in Colombia.

Thanks for reading!

L

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.