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.

My school: A two-story building with eight classrooms wrapped around a courtyard that serves as our playground. I store my things in a large closet upstairs that is part library, part my office, and a few minutes before 7, the students pour in the front door in their green collared shirts. With shouts of “Hello, teacher!,” the day has begun.

I teach five hour-long classes a day, with one half-hour break. Each class is a whirlwind of me acting out and shouting English phrases for the kids to repeat (the shouting due to the reggaeton music often blaring in the street), then attempting to keep all 40 students quiet while we play games to practice their new skills. They love “Board Race,” where two students attempt to touch the correct phrase on the whiteboard first, as well as “The Price is Right,” where they guess prices of grocery store items to practice shopping terminology. In my younger classes, the 1st and 2nd grades, we finish by singing a goodbye song — with dance moves, of course. Then they pummel me with group hugs as I leave for the next classroom.

The day flies by, since I rarely have time to check the clock. At noon, the final bell rings and I pile into a classroom with other teachers to discuss and plan our classes. I generally get out of there, back on the bus and back through El Lago plaza just in time for an afternoon nap. And after that, it’s more lesson planning for the next day! With, of course, a dinner break. I make plantain, vegetable and tofu stir-fries so often nowadays you’d think my life depended on it!

When I think about it, my favorite part of a weekday in Colombia is being greeted by my students. When they all clamor to give me hugs and compliments and notes, the exuberance is infectious. Throughout all my commuting and lesson planning and setting an alarm for dawn, they keep a smile on my face.

And such is the day of a life of an English teacher in Colombia!