Time is passing quickly for my WorldTeach Colombia 2014 peers and me; we are in the home-stretch of training, learning to master South American life skills including calculating pesos, eating street meat with maizorca and playing a mean game of tejo, as well as how to plan a well-executed lesson in only 3 hours.
On Sunday our group was treated to a rare “free” day which included another bus ride into Bogotá, this time to La Candelaria, a neighborhood brimming with universities, cafés, street vendors and a magnificent view atop Monserrate, high above the city. Most volunteers rode the funicular, a small electric train that took standing passengers up a steep mountain side, while a few others braved the terrain and walked the hour-long climb to the top.
Religious carved dioramas depicting the crucifixion of Christ lined the stone path that lead to catédral San Augustin, where a mass was being held with the congregation spilling out of the front and side doors. Many volunteers enjoyed the sprawling view of Bogotá, and walked around the lush park area, breathing in the sunny afternoon air.
A small group, curious for more of Colombian culture, braved sampling local cuisine and shared a serving of morsialla, tripa, chicharonnes and plantains, described by volunteer Frank Hand (Paco Mano) as tasting like “a zoo.”
As the climate changed from chilly and damp to warm and dry, we shed our sweaters and jackets, noting a few stares from the crowd. One especially tall volunteer, Justin, had a beautiful Colombian girl request a photo with him; I took an identical photo to capture the moment of this anonymous cultural encounter.
In addition to learning Colombians are friendly and curious about non-Colombians, we were told in our training that if your eyes are light-colored (blue or green), people will ask you for them. While no one directly received the request for their eyes, our group did receive it’s share of attention as touristas.
After enjoying la buena vista, volunteers descended down the mountain, again a few by foot and others by man-made devices, this time, the Teleferico, a small cable car on wires that swiftly moved passengers below. Hungry for anything but morsialla, we split up into groups and searched for lunch before returning to the bus for a sleepy ride back to Finca Santa Cruz.
For our last week of orientation, volunteers began Practicum training: our first day in the Colombian classroom, and for many, the first time ever teaching. Some volunteers fumbled while others excelled, and some experienced ripples of chaos followed the next day by waves of achievement.
Despite living in Finca Santa Cruz, with no Internet access and limited resources, the general consensus for our teaching practicum was that of success, as volunteers asked each other for advice and shared ideas to help with lesson planning.
With Practicum now finished, volunteers appeared to have gained perspective from peer observation and “de-briefing,” where our Field Directors discussed what worked in the classroom and what did not. While some parts of Practicum were difficult, such as traveling in smoggy Bogotá or leading 45 4th graders in a reading lesson, most of us were grateful for the experience, and enjoyed meeting the staff and directors of the schools.
As orientation comes to an end, our Colombia 2014 group remains alive and well, as we prepare for our prospective placements as WorldTeach volunteers.