Fellow Blog Post
From what I've gathered from other fellows doing this program, I can conclude that there is no specific/single type of experience that this program offers. Everyone is having a completely different experience, with their own trials and tribulations. It's impossible to foresee exactly what will happen when you embark on this journey, simply because the nature of the program is not simple. It depends hugely on your city/town, your school, your co-teachers, your living situation, your friends, and mostly, yourself!
Some advice that I wish I was given:
- Do your research on Colombia and it's different regions and cultures. I am aware that you cannot choose your placement cities, however, you are able to give preferences. If you really despise hot weather, I suggest you state that you do not want to be placed in the Caribbean region! If you don't like seeing other tourists or you want to be the token gringo, I suggest you state that you don't want to be placed in big cities like Bogota or Medellin!
- Be prepared to live less luxuriously than you do at home. I'll be honest with you, I'm privileged and I know the majority of fellows are too. I have had to do a lot more cooking and cleaning than I usually do at home, a huge amount of hand-washing, careful budgeting, sharing confined spaces, and a lot more walking. All these things are absolutely normal and part of life, but if you know you are spoilt at home, learn to be unspoilt! There's no harm in acknowledging and appreciating how fortunate you are.
- Know enough Spanish. We are urged to not speak Spanish in the classrooms. However, if your students have a very low level of English, it is sometimes necessary to throw in a keyword or two in Spanish to help them along. Also, to avoid getting lost in translation with your co-teachers, try speak to them in their own language now and again. Going to the grocery store, seeing the doctor, taking busses, and recharging your cellphone's minutes are all examples of experiences that would be a lot less stressful if you speak Spanish.
- Be confident and resourceful in the classroom. Be assertive but calm and friendly. Be heard but don't shout. Have control but also allow students to be creative and think for themselves. Decide on your teaching style, maybe even practice teaching beforehand if you can. Because of the moment that you stand up and open your mouth in front of a class of 45 students for the first time, is an intimidating moment. Have a plan. With regards to resources, have access to pens, pencils, crayons, paper, tape, string, and whatever other things you can use to make learning different and interesting.
Do remember, these suggestions are formulated from my own experience and own opinions. Other fellows may disagree, but as I said before, that's the nature of the program. There is no perfect model that describes how your experience will be. Therefore, it's best to go with an open mind, lower your expectations, and most importantly, have a positive approach to any situation. One of the most important things that I've learned on this program is that you are in control of how you deal with adverse situations. If you look at things optimistically and find the positive aspect of a shitty situation, your life will be easy. Do not have self-pity!
Also, remember why you came on this program in the first place. Did you come to travel or teach or to do both? Work can be intense, with long hours and lots of planning. You may not always get the chance to travel. If you want to explore Colombia, I suggest doing it in your own time! Remember that you are here to teach. It's first and foremost about the students (during your contract).
Overall, I'm proud that I did this program. I've gone through some difficult times and it's only fair, to be honest about that. Come prepared to work hard and travel is secondary. The more difficult your experience is, the more you will grow. I feel a sense of completion, a sense of “I can do this”. Good Luck with the program and remember to be kind to yourself and others, and always keep your head up and be positive.
Author: Carly Wise
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