Staff Spotlight: Jessica Zlotnicki

Jessica Zlotnicki graduated from the University of California, San Diego with a degree in Socio-Cultural Anthropology with an emphasis on Human Rights and Migration. She served with both the International Rescue Committee and a grassroots non-profit in Venezuela. She was the Program Manager of the Norman Mailer Center before becoming a WorldTeach volunteer and then returning to serve as the Field Director in Colombia. Prior to that, she worked with the Centre for Global Education at UCLA.

Interview with Jessica Zlotnicki, Field Director for WorldTeach Colombia

What makes teaching in Colombia with WorldTeach so special and unique?

Jessica: Colombia is an incredibly diverse and vibrant country, and it consistently ranks as one of the happiest countries in the world. The vast environmental, geographic, and cultural diversity of the country allows us to have an equally varied program for our volunteers. We teach in large cities like Bogota, which sits high in the Andes Mountains, to Barranquilla, which swelters on the Caribbean coast. We also teach in smaller towns and cities in the coffee region, and on the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Our placement types vary by city, allowing WorldTeach Colombia volunteers to teach in elementary schools, high schools, universities or community centers.

Did YOU teach abroad?! If so, where and what inspired you to go?

Jessica: I taught abroad twice. First, I worked with a grassroots non-profit teaching English to indigenous children in rural Venezuela. More recently, I served as a WorldTeach volunteer in Colombia. I was inspired by my sense of service, passion for education and development, and seemingly endless need to explore, travel, and live abroad.

What should teachers know about the classroom and workplace culture in Colombia (e.g. student-teacher relations, staff relations, etc.)?

Jessica: Teaching within the Colombian school system has its challenges and rewards. Many volunteers work as co-teachers alongside Colombian teachers in elementary and high school classrooms. This is an incredibly beneficial setup for the students as it combines a certified Colombian teacher with a trained native speaker. This can create a work culture in which the volunteer becomes part of the school’s family.

In university placements, volunteers lead their own classes. This allows for the volunteers to be part of the team of dedicated educators, working closely with post-secondary students to offer them the skills and knowledge to find jobs in the growing Colombian economy. Generally speaking, students, teachers and staff have very tight-knit relationships with one another and volunteers who are open, flexible, and personable will easily become a part of their school team.

What can you tell us about the current state of education in Colombia? How do you see this changing in the next 10 years?

Jessica: Education in Colombia is rapidly undergoing many changes. The goal of the country is to become bilingual by 2025. As such, bilingual education is receiving much needed attention and support. One of the major challenges to Colombia's ability to achieve this goal is the low level of English not only amongst students, but amongst teachers of English. Commonly quoted statistics say that less than 10% of English teachers speak a passing level of English. During the next 10 years, we anticipate that our role will include continuing to work with students as well as teachers to create sustainable English language programs with our partner schools.

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

Jessica: Get rid of the word "expectation" from your vocabulary! Of course, we highly recommend doing research, watching movies, eating Colombian food, and talking to Colombians in order to prepare for what will come. However, the reality on the ground will always be different from anything you could foresee and expectations will only limit your experience here!