Bilingual and Bewildered

Picture 1While it may seem from this blog that all I do as a volunteer in Colombia is teach and travel, there are some rewarding obligations as an educator, which is the true basis of my year living in this gorgeous country. After a week of diving into clear blue waters of picturesque Isla San Andres, Colombia, came a week of diving into language teaching during Barranquilla’s VI Semana Distrital de Bilinguismo (6th Annual Biligual Week), 27 – 31 octubre 2014.

My contribution to Bilingual Week started early as I developed  a presentation titled Bilingual Bloglingual: Using a Blog to Promote Bilingual Learning in the Primary ClassroomBeginning in late September with a simple web page and blog, I added students’ work and information about naming the url, links to building a web site and finding a suitable host, and suggestions for maintaining what you’ve created.


The weekend before Bilingual Week, I made another trip to historic Cartagena, returning to Barranquilla to find my Macbook has a case of bad RAM. Days earlier, my trusty Canon PowerShot stopped opening its lens window, meaning no more photography during frequent travels. Rather than think of how to write a travel blog after the loss of these items, I brainstormed how to improvise. I gave thanks for printing the handouts for Bilingual Bloglingual in advance, as well saving all files to an external drive.

Fortune favors the prepared mind.
– Louis Pasteur, French Chemist (1822-1895)

Bilingual Week in Barranquilla began on Monday, October 27th as teachers, businesses and administrators gathered at reception center Combarranquilla to enjoy five business days filled with workshops, lectures, presentations and awards. If you think seminars and meetings are boring, you haven’t been to one in Colombia, where most activities are fueled by tinto, interspersed with song and integrated with dance. Every day of Biligual Week was another exciting opportunity to learn helpful information and enjoy inspiring entertainment.


Mi Jefe! Secretario de Educación José Carlos Herrera Reyes

After a ceremonious welcome from the Secretario de Educación José Carlos Herrera Reyes,  several companies and schools delievered presentations. Ser Bilingue, a company that offers intensive teaching courses to schools, wowed the crowd by demonstrating their pedagogy through songs, while Peace Corps volunteer Andrea Doyle from Colegio Distrital Gabriel Garcia Marquez dazzled the audience with a unique version of the Rainbow Behavior Chart for classroom management.


The Lady in the (far right) Front Row:  With my campaneros de WorldTeach

The actual presentation for Bilingual Bloglingual was a short but thorough slideshow supported by printed handouts. Since information about the location, facilities or equipment was not provided in advance, I prepared as I have before, teaching in Mexico and Colombia: expect there will be nothing, and celebrate if there is something.

Only the prepared speaker deserves to be confident.
– Dale Carnegie 

Fortunately, Combarranquilla was equipped with large screens and projection rooms, but having discovered this the day of the presentation (and the day after my Macbook stopped working), I improvised with printed handouts, delivering 45 minutes of facts and entertainment. While it was hard to judge if the audience enjoyed what was being said, it was a pleasure to talk about using a blog in the classroom.


WorldTeach volunteer Shauna Dillon and some of her beautiful students

Creating a presentation with little information on the available resources or environment caused me to think about my time in Colombia and the challenges that occur on a daily basis. Everything from power outages and no water, to my now inoperative Macbook and broken Canon Powershot, have made it clear we often have to find workable solutions to life regardless of the cirucumstances. Right now I’m struggling to move forward and calculate grades, update websites and write this blog, but I am also rediscovering things like reading novels, cooking delicious meals and creating collages.


A little “light” reading on isla San Andrés

The quote by English critic and novelist Aldous Huxley is a great mantra to apply during unpredictable moments:

“Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him,”  


Ahhh yah, la bebida de los campeones and Shakira!

Most of this year has been spent discovering creative ways to teach English, adjusting to life in Barranquilla, and getting lost on buses en route to some of South America’s most beautiful beaches. With recent events – both celebrations and setbacks – it is bccoming clearer what may be the real reason behind being here, an idea that surfaced ironically during the 6th Annual Bilingual Week:

Life isn’t about what is happening to me in Colombia, it’s about what I am doing with what happens to me in Colombia.

To this I say, traer el.

8 thoughts on “Bilingual and Bewildered

  1. Steve Stroup says:

    Lo siento que estás experimentando dificultades pero parece que eres capaz de superarlos. One of Paz Regina´s (my Wife) nephews was in San Andres two years ago diving for research on a paper he was writing. Nice work if you can get it! Saludos de Paz Regina y de Charlie y Barbara tambien.


  2. ED Wunderlich says:

    Once again, Kate – your blog is absolutely super and inspirational! I hope to make something as clever and in my own spirit soon!

    Your preparedness and the web-links are all so helpful (for anyone – teachers, students, etc).

    Thanks for the beautiful update on your marvelous contribution to the world.

    xoxox Seestor


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