I can’t believe I’m saying it, but I have less than a month left in my first semester as an English teacher. You can already feel the end of the year approaching by the increase in celebrations and cancelled classes. As I look back on the past four months, here are some of my favorite stories.
Unfortunately, being a teacher in Colombia means school typically begins at 7 a.m. That means at 5 a.m. I’m up feeling my way through a dark apartment so I don’t wake my housemates with lights. And so begins a day in the life of an English teacher in Pereira!
After I pack a massive lunch to get me through the next eight hours (there are practically zero food options near my school), I try to be out the door around 6. I walk through El Lago plaza, which looks even more beautiful than usual in the early morning; the church on the north end is lit by the rising sun, and vendors are just starting to set up on the wide pathways. I’m headed for the MegaBus, Pereira’s main transportation system. It’s a system of double-long buses that drive on dedicated lanes to elevated stations. Forty-five minutes, 60 cents and two buses later, I hop off about a block from my school.
So far in my CourseTalk blogs about teaching in Colombia, I’ve spoken at length about my classes and the educational system, but I’ve left out some of the most scintillating details — those about my daily life! Let’s rectify that.
Moving from Silicon Valley to Colombia has been a bit like replacing your Rembrandt painting with a Picasso — you end up with something less organized, maybe even a little chaotic, but all the more enchanting for its relaxed charm. I’ve had to get used to things like traffic rules being ignored, restaurants offering half the items on their menu, and bathrooms often lacking toilet paper, but I have gained so much more!
Online learning companies, like this one in Salento, are far less common in Colombia than in the U.S.
This spring, CourseTalk released a study that shed light on online learning in Colombia and other developing countries. It found that, while awareness of MOOCs remains low in these countries, students who are learning online there tend to receive certification at very high rates. It also found that few students are learning just for fun. After nearly two months teaching English in Colombia, I’m starting to understand the underlying factors that may be causing these trends.
I live in a city of 500,000 in Colombia’s coffee region, and so far I’ve met only one person who reported taking a MOOC. I’ve sensed a few cultural idiosyncrasies that I suspect play a role in the country’s low MOOC usage and high certification rates. Of course, I am only one person in one city in the third most populous country in Latin America, so if your experience of learning in Colombia has differed, please share!
Imagine a classroom of three dozen 7-year-olds. Now imagine them speaking a mile a minute in a language you only partially understand. Add in the fact that they’re dashing to you from their seats every few seconds to hand you candy and tell you about their relatives who live in the U.S. Plus, the classroom’s windows and doors are all open while another class plays right outside. Welcome to the world of teaching English in a Colombian elementary school! Every day is a mix of excitement and chaos, progress and frustration, fun and hard work.