I chose to teach abroad in Colombia through API because of the exceedingly positive experience I had studying abroad with API. I was working at a job I hated, but that focused on student travel, and I was itching to live abroad again. My resident director from my study abroad program encouraged me to take the plunge and go for it. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
After graduating from college in 2012, Julie has taught English abroad in Spain and Colombia, worked for an educational tour company and currently works in study abroad at the university level.
Why did you choose this program?
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
I went directly through API and was funneled into Volunteers Colombia, a nonprofit organization that works directly with the Colombian government to place English-speaking teachers in K-12 schools and Colombia's government-run college alternative, SENA. API organized my health insurance and worked directly with VC so that I barely had to do anything except book my flight and start my visa application online. I have come to realize that API goes above and beyond in its services and makes sure its participants are informed, safe and ready for an adventure.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
It is easy to get frustrated with last minute class cancellations, having your classroom be unavailable and all around inefficiency compared to what you may be used to at home. Just go with it! Be flexible and embrace that time moves more slowly and people may show up an hour late for plans. Enjoy the differences in cultures, talk to locals and try new things. I made a fool of myself in front of my students DAILY, and in turn, they were less embarrassed to make mistakes and we built a strong trust.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
Depending on your city and school, you could have classes in the early morning, afternoon or early evening. The number of groups you taught varied as well. I was lucky to teach the same two classes every day for two hours a day each. I really got to know my students, and even though I returned over two years ago, I still keep in touch with them.
I would teach in the morning and lesson plan in the afternoon. A lot of evenings I spent time with my wonderful Colombian neighbors and practiced my Spanish and played with their dogs to pacify missing my dog back home.
On the weekends, especially the Puentes, I explored the beautiful cities and countryside of Colombia. Colombia is the second most ecologically diverse country in the world and the people are some of the most welcoming and hospitable I have ever met.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
I always have a fear of change and failure, that what I choose to do will end up in flames and I will be disgraced. I was most nervous about teaching, because in Spain I just tutored one young child, whereas in Colombia I would have classes of 20 students aged 16-25. What if my lessons are terrible and boring? What if my students hate me and are turned off to learning English? What if I cannot communicate with anyone because my Spanish is different?
In my previous experiences abroad, I always had English-speaking friends to fall back on, and most people spoke English to some extent. In Colombia, that was not the case, and it forced me to really practice, get frustrated almost to the point of tears (setting up the internet for less than 12 months on a contract is IMPOSSIBLE), and not rely on English to skirt by. Put yourself in frustrating and terrifying situations (language-wise, not safety-wise!) and laugh off the mistakes. When I left Colombia, my Spanish was excellent and I had lifelong friendships.
What was your unforgettable experience in the program?
I had my 25th birthday while I was in Colombia, and it was on a school day. One of my classes had somehow found out and when I walked into the classroom, it was completely decorated, there was a big cake, a homemade happy birthday sign, and little gifts. One of the students had made a video of photos of me with the class and they all signed a card with such thoughtful notes. I was completely overwhelmed and started to cry from their generosity. These students took the time and effort to make sure I had a memorable birthday and I was beyond grateful. I still have their birthday notes saved, and will remember that birthday forever.