It’s remarkable when a week can feel like a day, or six months like a month, as happened recently before my January departure to Colombia with WorldTeach 2014. Several weeks have passed, and I am now living in South America, blogging bi-weekly from an Internet café in Cota during my volunteer orientation. Before I dive into the amazing new adventure of my life, it seems only virtuous to recollect and be grateful for the weeks leading up to the present.
Christmas day featured a dinner of traditional, home-cooked German food and wine, plus opening gifts around a tiny tabletop Christmas tree decorated with Latin celebrities, flags and tiny paper strips inscribed with wishes and thanks. The day, which included phone calls to loved ones and a visit to the neighbors, was definitely resplendent with love, appreciation and gratitude, inching closer to the end of an incredible year.
After Christmas, I rushed to pack the last bit of my life into 2 large suitcases (with help from two beloved friends) and caught the 6:05 a.m. flight to Miami, propelled by a mix of jet fuel and earlymorning coffee. My friends Marcos and Esther graciously hosted me in their modern apartment near Margaret Pace Park, and included me in their New Year’s Eve festivities on the 27th floor of a lovely, generous couple, Dominic and Michelle.
I felt truly blessed for my life, with friends new and old, as together we watched the Neon Orange drop down the side of a nearby building as fireworks explode over beautiful South Beach.
Two days later, I was on a flight to Bogotá with an amazing, enthusiastic group as part of the WorldTeach Colombia 2014 program. Chatting excitedly with my compañeros as our plane landed and we spied the first glimpses of our home for the next year, I felt all the anticipation and nervousness from months of planning suddenly slide away as we touched down on the tarmac.
For the past week our group of 34 volunteers, ranging in age from early-20’s to mid-60’s, from all walks of life and from different places within the US and UK, have been living in Finca Santa Cruz, a large community-based farmhouse near Cota.
It has been a growing process for use all, as we get to know each other, while also learning Spanish, exchanging ideas about teaching English, and enjoying home-cooked meals of comida de Colombia.
Savory breakfast, lunch and dinner include variations offresh fruit, baked goods, meats, fish, rice and salad, as well as yucca and plantains. I feel well-cared for as one of a few vegetarians, with our meat-free options including baked pasta, lentil soup, bean casseroles.
The finca is spacious, clean and rustic, with dormitory-like sleeping rooms, his and hers community
bathrooms, large common areas, comfortable sitting spaces, and expansive, sunny brick patios. Our
classes are held in the sitting spaces and we stick to a daily schedule, with some room for flexibility
(always needed in the country, where you’re subject to exciting events like power outages).
On the 2nd day of training, several volunteers celebrated the 23rd birthday of another with an after-dinner walk to the nearby tienda, where saludos included a shot of Colombian traditional Aguardiente and a serenata de cumpleaño by a group of local paisas. ¡Felicidades, Frank!
Our days are mostly spent in 2-hour learning sessions where we learn about classroom management and lesson planning, watch videos of past volunteers working, and discuss the cultural differences of teaching in Colombia versus other countries: all good information to learn prior to our placement.
The sessions fill volunteer’s minds with statistics, theories and methods, our training is helpful an interesting and our Field Directors are really fantastic leaders.
Of course, the learning sessions are exhausting at times, so whenever there is downtime, volunteers take full advantage of breaks with relaxation and recreation, everything from cat naps to card games. On one particularly beautiful day, several people played a friendly game of futbol with some locals, while others practiced wire-walking or relaxed on the scenic grounds of Santa Cruz.
As the first week of Teacher Camp 2014 (as the volunteers have humorously dubbed it) comes to an end and we anticipate the next, whether experienced in the classroom or teaching for first-time, one resounding and universal thoughts appear obvious: we are all excited to begin our volunteer service with WorldTeach and can’t think of a better way to be starting this New Year.