Alumni Spotlight: Mary Smith


Mary has been teaching abroad for the past three years. She has taught ESL in South Korea, The Republic of Georgia and most recently Colombia. She attended Missouri State University and graduated with a Bachelor's of Social Work in 2011. She enjoys traveling, cooking, running, biking and new experiences.

What is one piece of advice you'd give future students traveling with your program?

Mary: The one piece of advice I would have for a future participant in this program is to go with the flow. It is Colombia and things can and will change at the last minute. Communication isn't always the best but it isn't worth spending your time getting annoyed by it.

There were times when my coworkers would tell me I just needed to relax when things changed. Just learn to take things how they come and make last minute adjustments.

Did you run into a language barrier? Did you ever think you knew more/less of the language?

Mary: In the beginning my Spanish was very rusty because I hadn't used it since college. It has greatly improved since then but it is always a work in progress. When in doubt pantomime. It can get you a long way. I did this a lot in the beginning.

Also, remember that some of the words we think are the same in Spanish aren't and it is easy to get the words mixed up. I remember I was practicing what I wanted to say to my host mom with a friend. She started hysterically laughing at me because I said the word for body instead of room. Most Colombians are somewhat patient though so they will try their best to understand you.

Describe your most meaningful souvenir and why you love it?

Mary: My favorite souvenir is a bag of my host family's coffee that I have with me while I am backpacking now. I lived in the coffee region and I also went to my host family's finca and learned more about the coffee making experience.

After learning how much work goes into making one cup of coffee I try to appreciate every cup that I have. Drinking it also reminds me of my host family, the beautiful scenery in the coffee region and of my experience in Colombia overall.

Do you feel you got a chance to see the city from a local's perspective?

Mary: I do believe I was able to see my city from a local's perspective. After living there for a year, I was able to make friends with some locals and experience most of the cultural events in my city.

I was there in December and they really go all out for Christmas which made the city feel festive without snow. They have an event in my city and in a nearby town where they line the streets with lanterns on December 7 and 8 to celebrate the Immaculate Conception.