My Experience as an Atlas Corps English Teaching Fellow in Colombia
“Para mi, el amor debe ser como el café, a veces fuerte, a veces dulce, a veces solo y otro acompañado, pero nunca frío.” This is one of the popular Spanish quotes I learned in Colombia from cafes, where I spent most of my afternoons either planning my classes, reading a book, or making new friends. Sitting in one now as I write this blog.
The Atlas Corps teaching experience has been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences I have had, and in this blog I will be sharing with you four ways in which I have benefited from this program.
1. Learning a new culture:
Moving 9600 km from home means moving to a place that is very different, where people are expected to have different kinds of food, different ways of dressing up, different traditions, and so on. This was a big challenge for me at the beginning because I was moving into a new culture where everything was different from where I come from and, worst of all, I didn’t speak any Spanish. At the beginning, I felt bad sometimes, but after spending eight (8) months in this beautiful country I have learned Spanish, I have grown to love Colombian food (and learned how to cook it), I have learned about the history from the sources (unlike reading a book), in short, I have been immersed into the Colombian/South American culture. This has made me a better person.
2. Expanding my network:
It is usually said that “the wealth of a man is not measured by the amount of money he has, but by the number of people in his life”
Going by this proverb, I will say that teaching English in Colombia has made me wealthier. At orientation in Bogota I met about 150 young, dynamic, and optimistic fellows from around the world that were all anxious about discovering Colombia. I bonded with a good number of them and we became great friends. Back in my placement city, there were 17 other fellows already working there and a good number of other expats. We were able to share ideas about teaching and about how we could empower ourselves to be better teachers and better humans.
Also, the Atlas corps English teaching fellowship exposed me to a great online community of teachers and fellows, where I have been learning a lot.
Creating an Impact:
To me, the greatest achievement is living everyday, knowing that you are creating a positive impact in someone’s life. It gives you the energy to wake up very early with a smile on your face. For eight months, I was a very happy person because I knew that everyday I created a positive impact in someone’s life. My presence alone in my school was enough motivation for so many people to learn English. Most of them finally found someone they could talk to and this made them learn the language more.
Most of my students had never really known the importance of learning English until I came to their school. Eight months later, I also realized that my students’ level of English had significantly improved and I’m keeping in touch with most of them so that they stay motivated to learn and always have someone to help when needed. Working in the school with the students and co-teachers was a chance to learn and grow on all sides, and to share inspiration, motivation, and ideas. The presence of a native speaker is more than someone to check grammar–it’s an opportunity for cross-cultural and bilingual communication, and the results of this opportunity were tangible even after such a short stay.
As someone who is new to teaching, my time in my school working alongside Colombian teachers was a chance to learn about new teaching strategies and to practice classroom management and lesson planning, as well as to develop new strategies for explaining and demonstrating linguistic concepts for different levels of learners. My time in the classroom taught me about the unique needs of the Colombian public school students, and helped me to expand my role in the classroom to include motivational support, language modelling, pronunciation, and scaffolding in order to facilitate greater levels of participation and individual support for students. The program provides pedagogical training at orientation upon arrival, but there were also opportunities for continued professional development in the form of regional meetings and training sessions, and the wealth of my coworkers and fellow participants in the program helped to create an environment rich in learning opportunities. After eight months, I can leave the program certain that I have become a better teacher, with a greater store of resources and skills and a deeper confidence in my ability to offer a class that is meaningful and effective for all my students.
Just like el amor and el cafe Colombiano, my experiences here have been varied; sometimes powerful, sometimes sweet, always varied, but never cold.