Alumni Spotlight: Sherry Ferguson


Why did you decide to teach abroad with Sueños Compartidos in Colombia?

I had been to Peru the year before with the BCTF (British Columbia Teachers’ Federation) on a similar project but under the auspices of the union. I enjoy working with teachers as it broadens my teaching experiences, as well as reminds me of the similarities we all face when teaching and the ways in which each situation is different. I was able to go to Colombia in June because I had a leave from my school district.

I had never been to Colombia before, but I speak Spanish and previously visited two other South American countries. I had a sense from reading the Sueños Compartidos website what the situation would be like and knew that I wanted to give it a try. I contacted teachers who had been on the Peru Project with me about sharing their teaching packages, and like most teachers everywhere, they happily shared their electronic files. I wasn’t quite sure who would be in the classes, their level of English, their teaching strengths, or the kinds of materials I would need. So I took a look at some examples of student work, lesson plans, games, songs and art. All of it was useful and the Colombian teachers, of course, taught me a great deal too.

What made this teach abroad experience unique and special?

When I have taught in other countries, I have stayed in union accommodation, bed and breakfasts or hotels. This was the first time that I lived with a fellow teacher and her family in their own home. Early one morning, before school, we got on the motorbike and went to the indigenous market to buy all the foodstuffs that were needed for lunch.

Another day we went to a relative’s farm and had guarapo, a drink made from fresh sugar cane juice and a dash of lemon juice. I went on a family camping trip one weekend with the extended family of my host, and was asked to judge a beauty contest of men in drag. I will never forget a different family reunion, where a 160-pound pig was slaughtered, the bristle boiled off, butchered and roasted in my host family’s backyard. This is apparently a Colombian tradition when the extended family gets together and it was a first for me.

How has this experience impacted your future? (Personally, professionally, academically, etc.)

I would love to return to Colombia to teach. I have friends there now that I correspond and share teaching materials with. On the professional side, employers look at what kinds of international experience people have and how easily they can adapt to a new or different situation. It also prepared me for teaching abroad because I now know what conditions are like and the kind of things to ask about when negotiating a teaching contract.

From a personal perspective, it allowed me to see and experience Colombia in a way that most tourists can’t. I was accepted into the community and invited to volleyball games, birthday parties and even family outings. I started to understand the rhythm of life there and saw how proud teachers are of their school and their community. Schools really are the heart of the community. This was evident when I visited a school in a very poor area where parents were planting a tree at the school, to make the schoolyard more beautiful and add some shade.

What is one piece of advice you would offer something considering teaching abroad in Colombia?

When I took my first trip with the BCTF to Cuba, I remember a piece of advice that I was given---to roll with the punches. That advice has held true in any new situation I find myself in. I can’t always predict what will happen or how things will turn out but I try to keep a sense of humor, stay positive and look at the big picture. I may not have a hot shower for the next month but I am able to take a shower, wash my hair and stay clean. It’s only temporary and I know that I can return to my comfortable life, having learned a few new things on my journey.