Sorry for the late post, but I’ve been in Colombia for about a month! For the months of June and July, I was home in NYC, and that definitely refreshed me. I thought I would go through some major reverse culture shock after being in Bogota, Colombia for 10 months, but I was totally fine. I missed NYC deeply, like in my core, and I realized how much I loved it. Now, for the most of June, I was sick due to an awful stomach virus I got right before I left Bogota, but once I got better, I was able to see my family in the DR for a few days, which was really important to me. My return home recharged me, and I felt ready for my 2nd year in Colombia.
I’ve started my second year with Fulbright as a Senior English Teaching Assistant at the Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia in Pereira, and things are going well so far. The past few weeks were a bit stressful finding an apartment, but I chose a place I liked, and I’m finally settled in. My first impressions of Pereira have been good ones: it’s a warm and small city, it’s more relaxed than Bogota, and people here genuinely take the time to listen to what you have to say, which was not always the case in the capital given the fact that it’s a bigger and bustling city. But, hey some assistants really do end up loving Bogota, so no shade! I like Pereira so far, and I’m happy to say things are genuinely moving forward and I’m doing well.
Our first few days in Colombia were spent in Bogota for an orientation, and while it was a shorter orientation than last year, I had a good time meeting the new ETAs. As a Senior ETA, I’ve been assigned a group of new ETAs to mentor and advise throughout their grant year on a bimonthly basis. I like this part of the job, and I feel I’m able to provide support in this role because I can now say I have had long term experience living and working here in Colombia. I never thought I’d be able to live and work outside of the US, and I’m very grateful for the experience. It wasn’t an entirely smooth year (I burned my hand, I dealt with challenges in the classroom, and I wasn’t exactly in love with my city), but I grew as a teacher, I grew as a person, and I am clearer about who I am and where I want to be in the future. That opportunity is one in a million.
My classes have been going great as well. I feel more comfortable in the classroom, and I am doing a better job of listening to my students. I am getting out of my head and connecting with what is actually happening in front of me. For example, little interruptions are no longer annoying to me. If my co-teacher says something that makes everyone laugh, I give myself permission to laugh (usually I need to first make sure I understand the joke haha). If we sidetrack just a little, I pay attention instead of being in my head and worrying about whether or not my lesson plan is going to fail. I am being present.
At the Cooperativa, I teach a range of students from age 17 to age 60, and I teach at two campuses: one in Pereira, and another in Cartago, a nearby city (that is not so nearby because of the hour bus ride I take, but the route is scenic). I like the range in students because it keeps me on my toes and each group of students is very different. A student this week asked me if I was homesick. I said ”not yet, check back with me in December” and we all laughed, but in all sincerity, if I do get homesick, I will be much better prepared for it this time around. Here are some things I’ll try:
- I will head to another city or town because I like to travel, so I know that a change of scenery will help.
- I will ask for a day off from school because sometimes we need a mental health day.
- If I am having trouble in class (which may bring up feelings of homesickness), I will ask my tutor to give me feedback as a teacher. Getting observed in class by someone who is trained and experience is good practice as a teacher.
- Lastly, I will examine if I’m spending enough time with my friends and if I’m taking care of myself properly.
Last semester, I definitely got homesick due to a mix of feelings: feeling like an outsider in Bogota, having issues in the classroom, etc. But thanks to some very special people in my life, I moved forward, and I finished my year more rooted in myself. I don’t know what this year will bring for me, but so far, I feel comfortable having my own place, and I am feeling comfortable here in Pereira. One thing that helps is that there are other POC here as well. I’ve even see interracial couples, which I didn’t see in my previous city, and overall, I don’t feel out of place which is important to me. I am enjoying every day as it comes, I’m cooking at home, I’m walking places because I’m super close to everything, and I’m settling into the routine I’m creating.
I’ll hopefully be writing again in a month because I’ve enjoyed keeping track of my journey here in Colombia.