Posted by: pckatie | August 16, 2014

Close of Service Conference

Peace Corps service is 27 months long and there are many milestones along the way.  We started with three months of pre-service training, moved to our sites, had a reconnect conference, various in-service trainings, and now my group, CII-4 (aka the best one ever), just spent three days at our Close of Service Conference!

The view from the COS Conference in Salgar!

The view from the COS Conference!

The COS conference is a time to reflect back over the last two years, share our successes and challenges, look ahead to the future, discuss reintegration and reverse culture shock, receive administrative information, and most importantly….gather as a whole group one last time!  Peace Corps service is unlike any other experience and the people you share it with become your family.

Putting together a puzzle of our greatest accomplishments.

Putting together a puzzle of our greatest accomplishments.

Meals were provided by the hotel in a pretty restaurant with ocean views.

Meals were provided by the hotel in a pretty restaurant with ocean views.

We spent three days at a beautiful hotel/conference center in Salgar (about 30 minutes outside of Barranquilla).  During the day we attended sessions with various PC staff members and in the evenings we were free to enjoy the pool and celebrate being together as a whole group!

Dancing the 'Cupid Shuffle' by the pool.

Dancing the ‘Cupid Shuffle’ by the pool.

Air conditioned hotel rooms with a balcony overlooking the ocean!

Air conditioned hotel rooms with a balcony overlooking the ocean!

At the end of the conference we gathered with the entire PC staff in the office to present them with our legacy.  We shared what we have accomplished together as a group and I was really proud to hear the impact we have made.  Some examples include teaching over 10,000 students, working with over 60 counterpart teachers, forming more than 10 youth groups, leading teacher training workshops, presenting HIV/AIDS charlas, and so much more!  We presented the staff with a tiny plastic chair (kind of an inside joke..) that each of us signed.  We also asked our bosses George and Jason to sign the chair since they are also leaving their positions and in a sense ‘COS-ing’ with us.  To close we danced ‘Ras-Tas-Tas’ as a group and then showed a video of pictures from the last two years.

The 'basicos' who came in two years ago at basic Spanish proficiency.  We've come a long way!

The ‘basicos’ who came in two years ago at basic Spanish proficiency. We’ve come a long way!

It is hard for me to believe I am writing about my COS conference.  Although we all knew the end was approaching and many have been counting down the days until we return home, this really made it a reality.  I already had to say a few goodbyes and there will be many more in the coming months.  While it is hard to say goodbye to people who have become such a huge part of your life, I find comfort in the fact that this really is an amazing group of people who are going on to do awesome things with their lives.  I know we will keep in touch and I am already looking forward to an epic reunion somewhere down the line.

My homegirls.

My homegirls.

The beautiful Barranquilleras!

The beautiful Barranquilleras!

Santa Marta crew.

Santa Marta crew.

It's always a good time with these guys around.

It’s always a good time with these guys around.

After two years of hearing about almond croissants..Nora took me to get one!

After two years of hearing about almond croissants..Nora took me to get one!

To my CII-4 family: I could not have made it through these past two years without you.  From the very first day in Miami, I knew this was a special group of people.  We have been through so much together and I can’t believe it is already time to say goodbye.  I am so excited to see what the future holds for each and every one of you.  Know that I will think of you all often, especially anytime I sit in a plastic chair, eat rice, listen to champeta, or am profusely sweating! 

I love you guys….thanks for the memories.

CII-4 Arriving in Colombia August 2012

CII-4 Arriving in Colombia August 2012

CII-4 COS Conference August 2014

CII-4 COS Conference August 2014

Until next time….paz y amor.

 

See all of the pictures from the COS Conference by clicking on the pictures tab or here.

As I enter into my final months of Peace Corps service, I have found that my emotions have been more extreme than at any other time during my two years here in Colombia.  On the one hand, I long for the comforts of home and am so ready to be reunited with family and friends.  On the other hand, my time here is finite and the reality that I am going to have to leave a place and people that I have come to love is beginning to dawn on me more and more with each passing day.  In reflecting on these emotions, I realized that there is a reason why I feel so much more conflicted now than I did when I left home two years ago.  When came to Colombia, I was anxious about leaving everything I knew behind and excited about the adventure that awaited.  I was following a dream that I had been passionate about for many years.  It was difficult to say goodbye, but it was tempered by the fact that it was only a temporary goodbye, more of a see you soon.  As I begin to prepare myself emotionally for my departure from Colombia, I am becoming aware that this is a much more permanent goodbye.  Of course I can return to visit at some point in the future, but the reality is that I will never return to my life as it is in this moment, at these places, with these people.

Two years can be a very brief or a very long period of time depending on how you choose to view it.  In the span of my lifetime, two years is very short.  In the span of my entire life so far, two years is 1/12 of the time I have spent on this Earth.  Two years is long enough to build a community and a life for yourself.  It is long enough to settle in and call a place home.  And it is long enough to build real relationships with people.  Some of these relationships I will be able to continue after returning home.  The reality is that I will not be able to stay in touch with every single person who has impacted my life here in Colombia.  But I can promise that these people and these relationships are something I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

In light of these reflections, I wanted to share some of the people who have been such a huge part of my life these past two years.  Some have truly inspired me, others have amazed me with their kindness, and some simply brighten my day just by being who they are.  So without further ado, please meet my friends and family in my home away from home.

La Familia Lessing: My Barranquilla host family who took me in when I was lost, confused, sweaty, and spoke no Spanish and loved me like their own!

Mamá y Papá (Erik and Escilda)

Mamá y Papá (Erik and Escilda)

Mis hermanas (Andrea and Carolina)

Mis hermanas (Andrea and Carolina)

Abuela and Tia Olga

Abuela and Tia Olga

La Familia Martinez: My Bayunca host family who eased my transition into pueblo life and will always be my one true Colombian family!

Marlene, my host mom and biggest support.

Marlene, my host mom, friend, and biggest support.

Tia Heidi and Tio Antonio

Tia Heidi and Tio Antonio

Juan Manuel, Maria Carolina, and Elias David (my favorite Uno playing crew)

Juan Manuel, Maria Carolina, and Elias David (my cousins and favorite Uno playing crew)

Abuelo Alfredo (my very best friend and favorite person on this Earth)

Abuelo Alfredo (my very best friend and constant reminder to live life to the fullest…all 94+ years).

Tia Marlin, literally the sunshine in my life and most caring person I have ever know.

Tia Marlin, the sunshine in my life and the most caring person I  have ever or will ever know.

Not even close to the whole family, but the most I ever managed to get in one picture!

Not even close to the whole family, but the most I ever managed to get in one picture!

Mamá Cecilia: My Santa Marta host mom who simultaneously provides me with love, support, and non-stop entertainment with her crazy antics!

All dressed up for Carnaval!

All dressed up for Carnaval!

IED Simon Bolivar Family: My teachers are an amazing group of people who have gone above and beyond professionally,and become some of my closest friends personally.

My three best teachers who give their all everyday.

Milena, Rosiris, and Bibiana.  My three best teachers who give their all day in and day out.

Betzaida, the teacher who would go to the ends of the Earth for her students education.

Betzaida, the teacher who would go to the ends of the Earth for her students education.

Raquel, who I cannot be in the presence of for more than 30 seconds without bursting into laughter.

Raquel, who I cannot be in the presence of for more than 30 seconds without bursting into laughter.

Emilce, accepting her English Teacher of the Month award.

Emilce, accepting her English Teacher of the Month award.

Carmen, who claims to hate English, but impresses me every day with her progress.

Carmen, who claims to hate English, but impresses me every day with her progress.

TEPC Family:  My night class students tend to come and go, and while they have all been a big part of my life, these ladies are constantly the highlight of my week.

Our best and most dedicated students.

Paola and Martha, our best and most dedicated students, not to mention two of the nicest ladies around.

The Kids: There is not enough time in the world or space in my blog to express how much I love my students.  They drive me crazy sometimes, as all students do, but at the end of the day they are the force behind everything that I do and they have kept me going these past two years.  I wish I could put a picture of all 800+ of them, but here are just a few…

My three ducklings who follow me everywhere.

My three ducklings who follow me everywhere.

Walter, my very best first grade friend.

Walter, my very best first grade friend.

Two aspiring English teachers.

Two aspiring English teachers.

Taking these ones with me when I go...

Taking these ones with me when I go…

Silliest kids in the world.

Silliest kids in the world.

There are many other people who are a part of my day to day life, from Karina at Juan Valdez to my friend who works the buses outside Buena Vista.  I will never be able to convey to many of these people just how important they are to me or tell them that I really will remember them forever.  In some of the most challenging and impactful moments of my life, I was 3000 miles away from the people I love.  Fortunately, it did not take long for me to realize that I have plenty of people I love here, too.  Time goes by so quickly.  Never miss an opportunity to tell people how much they mean to you.

Until next time….paz y amor.

 

“Sometimes people come into your life for a moment, a day, or a lifetime. 

It matters not the time they spent with you, but how they impacted your life in that time.”

Posted by: pckatie | July 9, 2014

Copa del Mundo 2014

If you think the world has World Cup fever, Colombia takes it to a WHOLE other level. People here eat, sleep, and breathe fútbol and the World Cup only intensifies their love of the sport. Getting to experience the World Cup here in Colombia has been one of the best parts of my service. Colombians are some of the happiest and most passionate people in the world and those qualities make for a pretty fun game watching experience!

Getting excited for the chaos to begin!

Getting excited for the chaos to begin!

For Colombia’s first two matches I was here in Santa Marta, the following two I was in Bogota, and the final match in the quarter finals I was back on the coast. On game day, I wake up and put on my bright yellow jersey and Colombian flag accessories and then head out into the sea of other yellow jerseys. Literally, EVERYONE is sporting their Colombia gear on game day. The streets are filled with vendors hawking tri-colored goodies from earrings and headbands to jerseys and Colombian flags. The vuvuzelas start blowing before dawn and continue their deafening drone until well after I have gone to bed. The excitement in the air is palpable.

Streets crowded with Colombian fans!

Streets crowded with Colombian fans!

While it is not official, school is basically canceled when Colombia plays. Sometimes, it is declared a ‘tarde civico’ which means no work so everyone can watch the game. In order to secure a seat, people begin to gather well before game time wherever they have decided to watch the game. Tiendas are the most popular viewing location, but many people watch at home, restaurants, in parks, or even at the mall! There are televisions and projector screens set up basically everywhere because once it’s game time ALL other activity is suspended. When the game starts, people join in the national anthem and then it’s basically non-stop alegria the rest of the game. When Colombia scores a goal…..I can hardly find the words to describe the madness that ensues. EVERYONE jumps out of their chairs, hugs everyone around them (whether they know them or not—we are all Colombians!), screams and yells, chants COLOMBIA, blows their vuvuzela, and any number of other random acts of excitement. I once saw a guy jump up on a chair and pick up another chair and chuck it across the room in a fit of joy. In case that’s not enough, the Colombian players do a pretty god job of celebrating too with some awesome Colombian dance moves!

When Colombia wins, we celebrate!  When they lose, we celebrate some more!

When Colombia wins, we celebrate! When they lose, we celebrate some more!

Giant buckets of beer for $5 mil!

Giant buckets of beer for $5 mil!

Watching Colombia play in the quarter finals.

Watching Colombia play in the quarter finals.

Game day happened to fall on 4th of July!  All the more reason to celebrate!

Game day happened to fall on 4th of July! All the more reason to celebrate!

After the game, whether Colombia wins or loses, the celebrations will go late into the night if not into the following morning. People drink, dance, and gozar life in a way that only Colombians know how! When Colombia lost to Brazil in the quarter finals, I expected people to be very sad and possibly even angry (many felt Colombia got robbed in that match). I was SHOCKED at the reaction people had to the game. There was a few moments of sadness (mainly while we watched a teary James walk off the field…break my heart!). Then, the entire country erupted into a huge celebration that lasted basically the entire weekend! They were so happy for their team and how far they went in the tournament. Colombia broke records and played their hearts out and their country could not be more proud of them. While there was a lot of talk about a bad referee and some dirty play on the part of Brazil, Colombia basically united as a whole and said, “Who cares, we know our team is the best and that’s all that matters!” It also helped ease their pain when Brazil got absolutely annihilated by Germany on Tuesday.  Everyone is excited to see whether it will be Germany or Argentina who take the cup on Sunday!

After Colombia's victory against Uruguay!

After Colombia’s victory against Uruguay!

CHAOS!

CHAOS!

Basically to sum up my World Cup experience here in Colombia:
1. Colombia has the best fútbol fans in the entire world.
2. Colombia is home to the happiest and most passionate people in the world.
3. I am madly in love with James Rodriguez.

Until next time…..paz y amor.

P.S. For my favorite moments from the World Cup check out the following links (yes, I am obsessed with buzzfeed):

How to Dance Like a Colombian Soccer Star

An Open Letter to the Colombian Team

World Cup Most Touching Moment (aka the time I almost cried watching sports)

Giant Bug Lands on James

Welcome Home Colombia

Posted by: pckatie | June 30, 2014

Beautiful Bogota

Schools here in Colombia are on a different schedule than schools back in the states.  Here, the school year follows the regular calendar year.  We start school in the end of January and end the year in the beginning of December, with a three week break in June.  For my June break this year, I decided to combine business and pleasure and take a week-long trip to Bogota!  I needed to take the GRE (apparently I cannot just hang out abroad forever, I have to start making some sort of plan for the future…..).  They only offer the computer based test in Bogota and I figured if I was going to go all the way there, I might as well hang around and enjoy the beautiful city and chilly weather for a while!  My friend Nina had never been so we planned a week long getaway.

Church in La Candelaria

Church in La Candelaria

Bogota brought me some full sized hot beverages...and I was so EXCITED!

Bogota gave me my first full sized cup of coffee in Colombia…and I was so EXCITED!

This was my second time to Bogota, but I was only there a few days last time so there was still plenty to see.  Bogota is the capital city of Colombia and it is HUGE!  To put it in perspective, my little town of Santa Marta has about 400,000 people and Bogota is home to around 7 million!  I was very impressed with how neatly the city is laid and how easy the city wide metro is to use.  Like any highly populated urban center, Bogota is not without its share of crime and vandalism, but we were SHOCKED at how many police officers and security guards are around keeping things safe!  With a nice mixture of old architecture contrasted by modern buildings, a lively history and a bright future, and a thriving city just miles from rolling green hills and quaint rural towns; I could definitely see myself living in this beautiful city!

Bogota has lots of beautiful and interesting graffiti/murals!

Bogota has lots of beautiful and interesting graffiti/murals!

The adorable street leading up to our hostel.

The adorable street leading up to our hostel.

Some of the highlights of our trip were:

Monserrate

We headed up to the top of the mountain, which can be reached either by walking, riding the funicular, or taking the cable car!  There are plenty of breathtaking views of the city and surrounding green mountains, a gorgeous church with an ornate interior, vendors selling souvenirs, and treats like hot chocolate with cinnamon and clove to keep you warm!

View of the city from the top of the mountain.

View of the city from the top of the mountain.

I thought it was cold in Bogota, then I went up to almost 10,000 feet above sea level...BRR!

I thought it was cold in Bogota, then I went up to Monserrate at almost 10,000 feet…BRR!

Can't pass up the souvenirs....

Can’t pass up the souvenirs….

The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá

A short 2 hours outside of the city is a charming little town called Zipaquirá.  Aside from beautiful plazas, quaint restaurants, and people going about their daily business….this town’s claim to fame is the Salt Cathedral.  It is an underground Catholic church built within the tunnels of a salt mine.  Nearly 200 meters underground, the Salt Cathedral holds beautiful sculptures representing the stations of the cross and a temple with three sections representing the birth, life, and death of Jesus.

World's biggest cross.....that is underground in a salt mine.

World’s biggest cross…..that is underground in a salt mine.

Amazing carvings in the Salt Cathedral.

Amazing carvings in the Salt Cathedral.

My favorite...carrot soup was part of the almuerzo del día in Zipaquirá!

My favorite…carrot soup was part of the almuerzo del día in Zipaquirá!

World Cup Madness

Colombia played three times while we were in Bogota and we watched all three games at the same café (since it was obviously good luck!).  All of Bogota has a ‘ley seca’ on game day which means no alcohol (to cut down on alcohol related crime and accidents).  There is really no way for me to describe what it is like…..Colombians are some of the most passionate futbol fans in the world and game day is like nothing I have ever experienced.  I LOVE IT.

After Colombia's victory against Uruguay!

After Colombia’s victory against Uruguay!

Chaos in the streets!

Chaos in the streets!

The main reason for my trip was to take the GRE and I was glad to get it out of the way one of the first days so I could enjoy the rest of the vacation!  The test went well and that made it even easier to kick back, relax, and enjoy all that Bogota has to offer.  A week in the cold and rain was exactly what I needed to refresh and recharge.  Now I am back in Santa Marta ready to hit the ground running and to take on my last semester at school.  I have just over 4 months left here in Colombia……yikes!

Beautiful Bogota!

Beautiful Bogota!

Until next time………..paz y amor.

See all of the pictures from this trip HERE.

Posted by: pckatie | May 11, 2014

The Latest and Greatest

Sorry for the major blogging hiatus I have been on lately! About a year and a half ago, towards the beginning of training, it was often mentioned how the second year of service goes much quicker than the first. I had no idea just how true that would turn out to be, but this year is just flying by!
Since I somehow managed to let two whole months go by with no update, I am going to do a highlights post and share some of the latest and greatest from my little slice of paradise here in costal Colombia!

Sunset over the bay in beautiful Santa Marta.

Sunset over the bay in beautiful Santa Marta.

Two of my high school teachers hard at work planning English!

Two of my high school teachers hard at work planning English!

Holy Week/Easter:
Leading up to Easter there were many religious events at my school. The large majority of the kids are Catholic and the ones who are not are asked to just observe quietly and respectfully. Easter here involves a lot less candy, bunnies, and colorful eggs and a lot more Jesus. I was very impressed with the student’s behavior during all of the (sometimes very long and always very hot) religious services and activities.

Mass in the courtyard at my school. (Note me on the right trying not to die of heat exhaustion)

Catholic mass in the courtyard at my school. (Note me on the right trying not to die of heat exhaustion)

On Easter Sunday, all of the volunteers here in Santa Marta got together to have an Easter brunch potluck. It is always a good time when we are all together, and it is nice to be with your second family when you are away from your real family, especially on holidays!

Santa Marta volunteers!

Santa Marta volunteers!

My pintrest-y contribution to the Easter potluck.

My pintrest-y contribution to the Easter potluck.

Teaching English for Primary Classrooms:
Last year I worked with three other volunteers to teach an English methodology class in the evenings for primary teachers. Teachers here are required to teach English to their students, but unfortunately many of the primary teachers have never studied English! The class we offer is open to primary public school teachers who attend voluntarily. We teach English in a way that the teachers can take back to their classrooms and replicate. The idea is that they get the English vocabulary while simultaneously learning methodology for teaching English to primary students. Nina, Andrew, and I started it up again at the beginning of this school year, and after a rocky start due to logistical issues, we are back in full swing!

Paola and Martha, two of our best and most dedicated students!

Paola and Martha, two of our best and most dedicated students!

Teaching us about Christmas traditions!

Teaching us about Christmas traditions!

FUN!
It’s not all work and no play around here, I live in an endless summer just miles from the beach! With my time winding down, I have made it a personal goal to use my weekends making sure I see as many beautiful beaches as possible before my time is up. I also live a short distance from the centro where you can find quite a few delicious restaurants and an always vibrant night life! My volunteer living allowance doesn’t allow for too many nights out, but it is a great treat!

Headed over the mountain from Taganga to Playa Grande for some beach time!

Headed over the mountain from Taganga to Playa Grande for some beach time!

Treating ourselves to drinks in the centro!

Treating ourselves to drinks in the centro!

The Glasses Story:
Towards the end of last year I noticed one of my students was very withdrawn and unmotivated in class. For a first grader, this is pretty unusual behavior. I began watching her more closely and one day it finally dawned on me that she was having trouble seeing. She lives with her mother in a very modest home up in the hills. After approaching her mom to discuss her possible need for glasses, I learned that their family had been displaced (as have many of the families I work with in Gaira). This very young mother and her daughter are all that remain of their family, which means a girl younger than myself is charged with the monumental task of providing for and raising a little girl all on her own with very limited means. I began asking around and after a very long and drawn out process (nearly 6 months), I was able to work with her mother and a local organization to get her a free eye exam and a pair of glasses. The little girl’s demeanor changed drastically and she is now an active participant in class and rarely seen without a huge smile on her face. I was worried that being one of the only students in the school with glasses would make her feel self-conscious, but it turned out to be the exact opposite. On a daily basis, she approaches me and asks me to take her picture with her new glasses. I was invited to their home to have lunch to say thank you for my help. After lunch, the mother expressed some very personal thoughts and sincere gratitude for being able to provide this opportunity for her daughter. It was a very touching experience that ended in a hug with tears of both hardship and joy.

Literally could not be any cuter :)

Literally could not be any cuter :)

The last few months have brought me some of my highest highs and lowest lows of my service so far. Some days I feel like the time is passing slowly and I long for the comforts of home. Other days I look around and can’t believe how little time I have left here. On the one hand I look back at my service and see all that could have been done, but on the other hand I am proud of my teachers and students and all we have accomplished. I have sixish months left in my service, and all I can hope for is that they are as memorable as the last 20 have been!

Until next time…..paz y amor.

Posted by: pckatie | February 28, 2014

Viva los Carnavales!

Barranquilla, Colombia is home to the second largest carnival in the world (right after Rio in Brazil).  Each year basically the entire month of February (okay…and most of January) is spent in preparation for the four days of intense celebration leading up to Ash Wednesday.  Although the actual Carnaval is held in Barranquilla, the entire costal region joins in the celebration.  Last year, I traveled to Barranquilla to experience Carnaval first hand.  This year I decided to stay here in Santa Marta, where there is definitely no shortage of Carnaval craziness!  After the month long preparations, normal activity on the coast is paralyzed for four days while parades, concerts, festivals, street parties, and mass chaos takes over the cities.

Marimondas

Marimondas

Los Negritos

Los Negritos

Traditional Carnaval Costumes

Traditional Carnaval Costumes

The last few weeks at my school have been a little crazy with all of the preparations and today was IED Simon Bolivar’s “Carnavalito”.  Schools on the coast have varying levels of celebrations at their schools.  Some of the more affluent schools go all out and rent amazingly beautiful costumes, have performances, decorate the school, and put on quite the show!  My school is very limited in terms of funding, and most of the students and their families cannot afford to contribute much, but I was amazed with what they were able to do with limited means!  Not to mention the fact that these kids don’t need anything fancy to have a good time, they were having the time of their lives!  The kids all came to school around 6:30am all decked out in their Carnaval gear.  The idea in dressing for Carnaval is basically the flashier, the better.  Colorful t-shirts, big crazy jewelry, head pieces covered in jewels/feathers/sequins/ribbon, and crazy print leggings were some of the favorites.  In addition, there are the traditional Carnaval costumes like the marimonda, el garabato, el negrito, el torito, monocuco, los cabezones, las muñeconas, and el tigrillo (google those  to see pictures!).  Once everyone was assembled in the street, we blasted music and paraded through the streets of Gaira.  Each year there is a king (rey momo) and queen (reina) of Carnaval, and the schools also choose a king and queen!  Our rey momo and reina got to ride up on a float.  One of the staples of Carnaval is ‘foamy’ or ‘spuma’ (foam) and ‘maizena’ (cornstarch) which everyone throws everywhere.  When we returned to the school, the next three hours were spent having a giant dance party, a makeshift reggeton concert, and some more full blown chaos.

Like a princess!

Like a princess!

Reggeton concert at my school.

Reggeton concert at my school.

Me and some teachers after the parade.

Me and some teachers after the parade.

Kindergarten princesses.

Kindergarten princesses.

La reina!

La reina!

This kid got hardcore maizena-ed.

This kid got hardcore maizena-ed.

A float full of Carnaval cuties!

A float full of Carnaval cuties!

Los Negritos (this is traditional and in no way offensive or racist during Carnaval here)

Los Negritos (this is traditional and in no way offensive or racist during Carnaval here)

Quien lo vive es quien lo goza!

Quien lo vive es quien lo goza!

La Reina and El Rey Momo

La Reina and El Rey Momo

Teachers in their Carnaval best!

Teachers in their Carnaval best!

I left school covered in a mixture of sweat/foamy/maizena, exhausted from a huge five hour party, but with a huge smile on my face because seeing the kids have so much fun makes me so very happy.  The spirit of Carnaval here in costal Colombia is unlike anything I have ever experienced.  The motto sums it up pretty well, “Quien lo vive, es quien lo goza!” (Who lives it, is who enjoys it!)

Until next time…..paz y amor.

See all of the pictures as well as others from my second year at IED Simon Bolivar here.

Posted by: pckatie | February 23, 2014

International Development

About a year and a half ago, shortly after I had arrived in Colombia, a question was posed to my group of volunteers.  “What is development?”  Over the course of the next two hours, we talked through the many different definitions of the word ‘development’ and what it can mean in various contexts and to different people.  In the end, the purpose of the session was to enlighten us as to the philosophy and approach to development used by the Peace Corps. Peace Corps defines development as ‘any process that promotes the dignity of a people and their capacity to improve their own lives.’  By working within a human capacity building framework the focus of the work is on the development of people instead of things.  This approach to development focuses on helping people learn to identify what they would like to see changed, use their own strengths, and learn new skills to achieve what they believe is most important.  Development work is said to be sustainable when a community is able to continue on its own, without outside support.  The Peace Corps sees sustainable development as a process in which people learn to build on their own strengths to address their expressed needs.

Me, two PC staff members, and three of my counter parts at a capacity building workshop.

Me, two PC staff members, and three of my counter parts at a capacity building workshop.

Participating in a workshop on how to teach English with limited resources.

Participating in a workshop on how to teach English with limited resources.

My work here as a TEL Trainer is to work alongside Colombian teachers to help strengthen the English program in an effort to help them meet the nation’s bilingualism goals.  My work can be very slow, at times inefficient, and occasionally frustrating for myself and my counterparts.  So I am often asked by both people back home and locals, “Why don’t you just teach the English classes yourself?”  If I am being completely honest, half the time I have to bite my tongue from shouting, “I WISH I COULD!”  It would without a doubt be easier for everyone involved (myself, my counterparts, and the students).  But I remind myself that it would not be sustainable and it does not fit with the Peace Corps approach to international development.  And at the end of the day, those are two of the biggest reasons I decided to join the Peace Corps.

Co-planning with two high school teachers.

Co-planning with two high school teachers.

Prepping materials with a third grade teacher.

Prepping materials with a third grade teacher.

Betzaida implementing part of our co-planned lesson.

Betzaida implementing part of our co-planned lesson.

Two years is a really long time.  There were times at the beginning when I wondered what I had gotten myself into and whether a shorter program would have been a better choice.  Now that I am settling into my second year, I can say hands down that the two year timeline is essential for the success of this program.  I spent my first year getting to know the culture, my counterparts, and building relationships within my community.  Now, in my second year, I was able to hit the ground running and am better prepared to help my teachers build on their strengths to implement change that will have lasting effects long after I leave.

Ruby after successfully executing an entire English lesson from start to finish!

Ruby after successfully executing an entire English lesson from start to finish!

Bibiana implementing new dynamic activities in her English class.

Bibiana implementing new dynamic activities in her English class.

I recently came across a story that has gone viral online written by a young woman recounting her experience with ‘voluntourism’.  You can read the story here.  While I don’t necessarily agree with everything this young woman says or the manner in which she chooses to phrase it, I do agree with her overall message.

This is a debate in which I find myself falling into the gray area.  I have always lived my life with ‘the starfish story’ in mind.  You know the story.  A kid is walking down the beach picking up starfish that have washed ashore and throwing them back into the ocean.  A man stops him and says, “Why are you wasting your time throwing those starfish back in, there are thousands, you’ll never be able to make a difference!”  The kid tosses another starfish back in, looks up at the man and says, “It made a difference to that one.”  I may not be able to change the world, but whatever small difference I can make is worth a shot.  On the other hand, when choosing to go abroad for volunteer work it was very important to me to find an organization with a development philosophy that was sustainable and focused on human potential.

Unfortunately, I do not have an answer.  Maybe, there is no right answer.  I can only hope that people continue to volunteer, aspire to make positive change in the world, and with every good deed, have only the best of intentions.

I leave you with a quote from the article above that really resonated with me:

“I don’t want a little girl in Ghana, or Sri Lanka, or Indonesia to think of me when she wakes up each morning. I don’t want her to thank me for her education or medical care or new clothes. Even if I am providing the funds to get the ball rolling, I want her to think about her teacher, community leader, or mother. I want her to have a hero who she can relate to — who looks like her, is part of her culture, speaks her language, and who she might bump into on the way to school one morning.”

Until next time……paz y amor.

The pre-carnaval activities have already begun!  Post with more pictures coming soon!

The pre-carnaval activities have already begun! Post with more pictures coming soon!

Posted by: pckatie | January 4, 2014

Postcard Project Update!

Here in South America the school year is opposite of the school year in the states.  School starts in mid-January, there is a two week break in June, and the year ends in the beginning of December when students begin their longer ‘summer break’ over Christmas.  This means that we are just about to kick off a new school year in about a week!  It’s nice to know that some things never change, and just like I always was back home, I am excited to get back to school!

As I am spending my last few days of break organizing things for the upcoming (and my last) school year, I realized I am well overdue for an update on the Postcard Project!  As many of you might remember, way back in May I posted about the Postcard Project I am planning to do with my students and I asked for your help.  All I needed was for you to send us a postcard!  Originally I had said I needed at least 30-40 cards so that each student in a class could have one to use.  I posted the request, crossed my fingers, and waited!

Here we are eight months later and MAN did you guys deliver!  I have received 82 postcards from all over the United States and even a few international ones!  A BIG thank you to everyone who has contributed to this project.  I wish I could thank each of you individually, but many of you took the smart route and sent postcards from lots of people in one envelope!  I do have to give a shout out to the people who were some of the biggest contributors.  The Lewis Family in Phoenix, Arizona is a family I grew up babysitting/pet sitting/house sitting for and they collected lots of postcards from so many places!  Susan Mulvaney is the mother of one of my fellow volunteers and was kind enough to contribute many postcards and wrote lots of interesting things for my students to read!  And last but not least, my wonderful mother, who collected a huge stack of postcards from all her friends and coworkers!  Again, a huge thank you to EVERYONE who contributed to this project, it wouldn’t be possible without all of you!

So many postcards!!

So many postcards!!

My students will be so excited, thanks to everyone!

My students will be so excited, thanks to everyone!

As the school year gets started we will begin using the postcards and I will be sure to update with pictures along the way!

Until next time…paz y amor.

P.S. Here is the list of postcards we have recieved:

US States         International 
Alaska (4) Canada
Arizona (4) Stanley Park
Grand Canyon (6) Vancouver
Sedona Ecuador (2)
St. Francis Xavier Church Galapagos Islands
California (2) Quito
Beverly Hills El Salvador
Catalina Island Coatepeque
Los Angeles (2) Mexico
LAX Cabo San Lucas
Redondo Beach Todos Santos
Santa Monica Peru
Florida Lima
Miami (2) Machu Picchu
South Beach (2)
Hawaii
Maui (3)
Massachusetts
Nantucket (5)
Shellburne Falls
South Hadley
University of Massachusetts
Minnesota (3)
Minneapolis
Nevada
Las Vegas
New England
New York (3)
Brooklyn Bridge
Buffalo  
Niagra Falls  
Peace Bridge  
Radio City Music Hall  
Statue of Liberty  
Times Square
Pennsylvania
Philidelphia  
Pittsburgh  
Liberty Bell
South Dakota
Mount Rushmore  
Sturgis
Texas (5)
Houston  
Johnson Space Center  
San Antonio
Posted by: pckatie | January 1, 2014

The McCarthy’s Do Christmas in Colombia!

The saying is true, ‘there’s no place like home for the holidays’.  This is especially true in my case because I happen to have grown up with a mother and grandmother who make the Christmas season especially magical.  It is a time full of traditions and many of my favorite memories are from Christmases past.  That is why I am so excited that next Christmas; I will be back in the states and am looking forward to celebrating my favorite season with my whole family.

Christmas back home!

Christmas back home!

This year, we broke tradition and did something completely different.  My family celebrated an early Christmas back home with my Grandma so that they could travel to Colombia and celebrate Christmas with me!  As much as I missed the family and traditions back home, it was so wonderful to have my parents and sister here in Colombia and to be together for the holidays!

The McCarthy's in Colombia!

The McCarthy’s in Colombia!

I left home sixteen months ago, and saying goodbye to my parents at the airport in Phoenix was the last time I had seen them.  Sixteen months is by far the longest I have ever gone without seeing my family, so needless to say I was very anxious to be reunited!  After a day of traveling I arrived in Bogota around 8:00pm on Christmas Eve.  My family’s flight was delayed almost two hours so I had a long time to sit around in the airport with butterflies in my stomach!  They finally arrived and immediately spotted me pressed against the glass waiting for them.

Trapped outside the glass!

Trapped outside the glass!

A hug I have been waiting 16 months for.

The hug I have been waiting        sixteen months for.

Reunited!

Reunited!

After a quick trip through customs, I was hugging my family (in front of lots of pointing/watching/smiling Colombians)!  We headed to a beautiful hotel and I hopped into a long awaited hot shower.  When I got out, there were fuzzy pajamas, Christmas decorations, and Christmas cookies waiting for me!  They also brought me a whole suitcase full of things I have been missing from home like makeup, toothpaste, raisin bran, clothes, wheat thins, and so much more!

Suitcase full of my favorite things!

Suitcase full of my favorite things!

We spent three days in Bogota and I was amazed at the size of the city.  We took a day trip out to Zipaquirá to see the Salt Cathedral, explored La Candelaria, visited the Gold Museum and the Botero Museum, saw many beautiful churches, hit up my favorite brewery, went out to experience an open air market, enjoyed some traditional Colombian soups, and rode the cable car up to Monserrate.

Walking through a beautiful neighborhood in Bogota.

Walking through a beautiful neighborhood in Bogota.

So much salt!

So much salt!

Inside the Salt Cathedral

Inside the Salt Cathedral

Complimentary draft beer at the hotel...heaven!

Complimentary draft beer at the hotel…heaven!

Sancocho, Ajiaco, and Frijoles

Sancocho, Ajiaco, and Frijoles with jugos naturales.

Pig foot in Mom's soup.

Pig foot in Mom’s soup.

After enjoying dinner outside under the heaters!

After enjoying dinner outside under the heaters!

Fancy mall!

Fancy mall!

View from Monserrate over Bogota.

View from Monserrate over Bogota.

Next we headed back to the coast to spend two days in Cartagena.  We spent our first day walking around the historic walled city, browsing the shops, visiting the plazas, enjoying some Crepes and Waffles, and trying to stay cool!  That night we went up on the walls and enjoyed the beautiful Christmas decorations throughout the centro.  Our second day was spent relaxing on the beach in front of our hotel.  We had some traditional costal Colombian lunches, sampled Colombian beers, tried some treats from the vendors, worked on our tans, and cooled off in the refreshing Caribbean sea!

The clock tower.

The clock tower.

Sweaty, but happy!

Sweaty, but happy!

Beautiful Cartagena

Beautiful Cartagena

Looking at Christmas lights!

Looking at Christmas lights!

Beach day

Beach day!

Mom's favorite food...

Mom’s favorite food…

On our last night we headed up to the hotel room where my family packed their bags to go home.  I took them to the airport and we enjoyed some Juan Valdez while we waited.  Eventually the time came for them to head through security and we had to say our goodbyes.  Luckily this time we are only saying goodbye for about 10 months!  My wonderful Dad arranged for me to stay in the hotel one more night, so I headed back and enjoyed a few more hot showers and some Keeping Up with the Kardashians in the air conditioned room!

It was a really wonderful trip and so much fun to share some of this beautiful country I am currently calling home with my family!  Hands down the hardest part of this experience is being away from so many people I love, so I am really thankful that I got to spend some time with the most important people in my life, my parents and my sister!  I will never be able to express how much it meant to me to be together for the holidays.

Mi Hermanita

Mi Hermanita

It's not goodbye, just see you soon!

It’s not goodbye, just see you soon!

I hope that you all had a wonderful holiday season filled with love and that you are entering into the New Year with hope that 2014 will be the best year yet!

Until next time….paz y amor.

You can see all the pictures from our trip on my PICTURES tab or by clicking HERE.

Posted by: pckatie | December 15, 2013

From One Paradise to Another

A few months ago an opportunity was presented to the Peace Corps volunteers here in Colombia to apply for a program being put on by the Colombian Ministry of Education.  The program is an English immersion program that is hosted twice a year on the island of San Andres.  I wrote up a resume and a proposal for the methodology workshop I would present if selected, sent it all off to the people in charge, and then crossed my fingers and waited!  In the end of October I finally found out that I had been selected to participate, about a week before I would be leaving.  I gathered all of my methodology and English teaching materials, packed a bag, and was off!

Me, Nina, and Kait reppin' PC at the immersion!

Me, Nina, and Kait reppin’ PC at the immersion!

Postcard? No.  This is beautiful San Andres!

Postcard? No. This is beautiful San Andres!

San Andres is a small island that is located in the Caribbean sea off the coast of Nicaragua, historically tied to England, and politically part of Colombia.  The official languages of the island are Spanish, English, and Creole.  The island is about 10 square miles and there is one main road that circles the entire island and is about 19 miles long.  There is ‘the centro’ where the majority of the hotels, restaurants, and lots of duty free shops are located.  The rest of the island is more rural.  The entire island is surrounded by beautiful turquoise water/white sand beaches and coral reefs and is covered in lush green trees.  It is super hot and humid with a very islandy feel (I never went a day without hearing Bob Marley).

I wasn't kidding when I said lush green trees...

I wasn’t kidding when I said lush green trees…

The English immersion was put on by the Colombian Ministry of Education, INFOTEP, and SENA.  English teachers from all over Colombia submitted applications and 120 were selected to participate in the program on San Andres.  The program is one month long and includes a rigorous schedule of English classes, methodology workshops, test taking and technology courses, and culminates in a language exam and final project presentation.  I worked along with two other Peace Corps volunteers (Nina and Kait) in two different capacities.  We worked every morning alongside the English language tutors (English speakers native to the island) teaching English.  The tutors took on more of the grammatical side of the class while we brought in dynamic activities the teachers can bring back and use with their students when teaching the same topics.  Our second role was that of ‘methodologists’ (they named us that….I don’t claim to be anything so fancy sounding).  We each taught two methodology workshops each week.  Based on feedback we received, the teachers really enjoyed our participation in the immersion, so hopefully Peace Corps will continue to have a presence in these programs in the future!

One of the classes of teachers.

One of the classes of teachers.

Final presentations included language and culture components.

Final presentations included language and culture components.

Aside from working, there was plenty of time to explore the island and all it had to offer!  On Saturday afternoons we were invited to participate in some cultural activities that included visiting the First Baptist Church, a pirate museum, a lake full of crocodiles, and LOTS of traditional dancing!

First Baptist Church

First Baptist Church

Lake full of crocodiles...

Lake full of crocodiles…

Learning the 'raga raga'.

Learning the ‘raga raga’.

A traditional dress (this was nice and cool...)

A traditional dress (nice and weather appropriate for a Caribbean island…)

Each Sunday was completely free and we visited lots of beaches, cays, and took a boat out to some smaller islands.  We lived in what is called a ‘posada nativa’ which is a big house divided up into a few apartments and run by the family that lives there.  Our hosts were Edula and George (with some help from the neighbor Antonia).  They provided all of our meals which were pretty typical (breakfast was fruit, yogurt, cereal, and a little sandwich…lunch was HUGE with rice, meat, and breadfruit, and dinner would be a sandwich or soup).  We also got to try the traditional dish of the island which is called rondon and is made of coconut milk, conch, pig tails, and dumplings.

Johnny Cay

Johnny Cay

Rondon

Rondon

Coco Locos!

We couldn’t go a whole month on the island without some coco locos!

Overall it was a wonderful experience and I feel so fortunate to have been a part of the program.  Working with the teachers was very rewarding, the island was breathtakingly beautiful, the culture was so vibrant, and the people were warm and welcoming.  If you’re looking to escape the chilly winter, head down south and spend some time in paradise on San Andres Island :)

Beautiful San Andres

Beautiful San Andres

My favorite little friend :)

My favorite little friend :)

The happiest man on Earth.

The happiest man on Earth.

These girls could out-dance Shakira!

These girls could out-dance Shakira!

Until next time…..paz y amor.

P.S. In exactly 8 days, after 16 months with out seeing them, my family will be coming to Colombia!  I can not put into words how excited I am to see them and to be together to celebrate Christmas.  I will miss my family and friends back home (that’s you Grandma!!), but I will be looking forward to spending next Christmas back in the states.  I will update here again in 2014!  So for now I want to say that I wish you all the warmest wishes for a wonderful holiday season with your friends and family and many blessings in the new year!  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2014!

'Christmas waves a magic wand over the world, and everything becomes softer and more beautiful.'

‘Christmas waves a magic wand over the world, and everything becomes softer and more beautiful.’

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