Esperanza en La Fantastica

esperanza /ess-peh-RAHN-zuh/ feminine noun 1. hope (deseo, ganas); expectation (confianza, expectativas); org: Spanish

The first three months as English teacher with Aspaen Gimnasio Cartagena de Indias have been exhausting, interesting and overall satisfying. Though the schedule of class hours are average for a profesora, the school is anything but average. Located on a grassy acreage outside of the city, this notable Cambridge International Exams-affiliated school consists of several large, modern buildings and sizable classrooms connected by brick walkways, with colorful peacocks roaming freely on the grounds.

peacockschoolTeaching English to levels 9, 10 and 11 includes instruction of literature, with a focus on reading, listening and speaking, as well as creative writing. Reading five different books in a term is demanding, but also a task any literary nerd would embrace with enthusiasm, and respond to by sharing this enthusiasm with intelligent young minds.


Photos with loved ones, Cafe Cordoba, alarm clock from Spain and… four out of five books!

Embraces aside, this experience varies greatly from volunteering with 4th and 5th grade public school students last year, but some things about life on the coast, and teaching as a foreigner, feel similar. Most students are curious about life in the US and speaking with an extranjera, as well as ready to dance at a moment’s notice.


Señora Samara with the smiling girls of Colegio Distrítal Hogar Mariano

During Carnavales, a video featuring the dancing docentes of Colegio Distriál Hogar Mariano in Barranquilla, Atlántico, made its viral journey to hundreds via Whatsapp. Watching beloved campeñeros of last year’s WorldTeach Colombia 2014 volunteer school shimmy across stage was a bittersweet reminder of the challenging and inspiring time spent with them.


Next Stop: Bonga

In February, the teachers of GCI attended a convivencia (overnight retreat) at a gorgeous finca just outside of the city. A huge country house with dozens of rooms, large sitting areas and an enormous second story patio, Bonga is located on a grassy hillside overlooking the ocean near Manzanillo del Mar, halfway between Cartagena de Indias and Barranquilla.


Welcome to Bonga!


The ocean view from one of the sleeping rooms at Bonga.

Teachers were treated to team-building workshops, planning discussions, and worship sessions, including a special mass in the beautiful chapel. We talked about the importance of family and student relations, as well as participated in role-playing activities.


The teachers all had mass together here. So sweet.

With its early-morning meetings, family-style meals and breathtaking views of the Colombian coast, Conviviencia Bonga enero 2015 provided a busy 24 hours and a wonderful way to forge new friendships with the amiable and fun teachers of Gimnasio Cartagena de Indias.


Where was your last company retreat?

Bocagrande y Base Naval

Like most places in the world where life is busy, the weeks in Colombia pass quickly. Living in Bocagrande under restrictive shared housing until a new apartment is ready in April means getting out now and finding relief outside of the torre 10 floors up.

Paintings of Cartagena welcome guests at Hotel Balcones de Bocagrande

Paintings of Cartagena welcome guests at Hotel Balcones de Bocagrande

One evening, the sidewalks on both sides of the main street, Avendia San Martin, filled with families celebrating La Virgen de la Candelaria. Calvagata, a Colombian tradition of horseback riding and showmanship in traditional clothing, featured sturdy caballos mounted by paisas who handled the strong animals with perfection, parading by in a charismatic presentation.


That’s probably Aguardiente in his pocket. Giddyup!

Another weekend, an invitation from a friend to tour the SS Providencia, docked at the Base Naval , provided amazing views of the city and marina one can only experience from the deck of a boat, in this case, a large Navy ship. From the captain’s area, where the boat is steered, to the top deck overlooking the engine room, touring this boat was a unique honor.



Fantastic view of La Fantastica from afar

As Caribbean winds whipped through the steel tresses of La Providencia, practice Navy barcos, private yachts and tourist boats commingled in the busy waters, gliding towards port as colorful skies settled into evening.


Happy tourists aboard “El Mejor” – the best!

Finally, leaving the boat at 6:00 pm, it seemed the entire Naval base went still for the sounding over speakers of the Colombian national anthem, Oh! Gloria Inmarcesible , wrapping up another weekend in Cartagena in patriotic style.


On the deck of the SS Providencia with historic Cartagena in the background

¿Por Que, Colombia?

As time passes, adjusting to a new school and its students, as well as living in a breathtaking, beautiful city,  has its moments of stress and doubt. “Why Colombia?” People often ask. “Why Cartagena?” It’s difficult not to ask oneself this, when tearful days of disappointing lessons and heartache from missing family and friends feel overwhelming.


Juan Valez Café, a comforting place for grading papers

In these moments, it’s best to remember coping techniques learned as a volunteer, including to the often-accurate W Chart, which shows highs and lows of a dramatic life experience (one typical example is first year university). This simple yet effective way of seeing a situation provides not only insight to “why am I feeling this?” but also one essential element: hope, in this case that things will get better. Just as the lines of the W go down, they also come back up; believing the future may rise often helps.


graphic provided by Thought for Food

One effective way of “going up in the W” is reflecting on the things to love about living in Colombia, unwavering reasons like the incredible scenery, the gorgeous people and the picturesque city; its difficult to be sad when there is so much beauty everywhere. Another reason is the music, with its wide range of tempos and origins. Lately Carlos Vives’ La Fantastica, an anthem of adoration titled after Cartagena’s nickname, feels especially enlightening.


One of the beautiful people in La Fantastica

With it’s referential lyrics, rhythmic tambor and shrill gaita sounds, heavy spirits begin to lift with just one listen of this song. Combine the sound of  La Fantastica with the gorgeous view of golden-hued colonial buildings, weathered cobblestone streets, and warm smiles of the people here and suddenly there is no question as to why, just bountiful thoughts of gratitude… and how to make a new life in Colombian work for the best.


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