Posted by: pckatie | September 22, 2012

Colombian Schools, Celebration, and Culture!

It has been awhile since I have updated here and I apologize but things have been very busy as we are training six days a week! We have technical and language classes Monday-Friday from 8am to 5pm and then Spanish classes on Saturday mornings as well. After class I eat dinner and spend time socializing with my family. By the time I escape to my room around 9pm I am exhausted and usually read (I am reading “Killing Pablo” and rereading the Harry Potter series) or listen to music (John Mayer/Dave Matthews on repeat). Here are some highlights from the last few weeks:

School Practicum:

I started my school practicum last Thursday. Every Thursday for the remainder of training (until November) I will be going to a school in my barrio to teach a ninth grade English class. The first two weeks I was just observing and next Thursday I will begin teaching.  The school has students in 6th through 11th grades and it happens to be the school where my host sister Andrea goes to school.  We had a very warm welcome from both the staff and the students both days we have visited the school.  We were introduced to the staff in the teachers lounge and most teachers took time to introduce themselves personally and welcome us to the school and to Colombia.  Everywhere we went students wanted to talk to us and many wanted to practice using the English they have been learning!  One of the things I loved was the very warm and friendly relationship between students and teachers.  The school felt alive with a positive energy from the cheers on the futbol field, to the kids working with teachers during their prep, to kids talking with their friends in the courtyard.

As much as it felt like it was all rainbows and smiles, there were some very obvious challenges as well.  If had to choose one word to describe the schools I have seen so far in Colombia it would be an easy choice: LOUD.  There are bars on all of the windows but no glass so the noise of every classroom echoes throughout the entire school and the sound from the courtyard, halls, and futbol field can be heard in every classroom.  I am working with a teacher named Jenny who has been teaching in Colombian public schools for many years. She is speaking English to me and I speak Spanish to her so we can both practice.  Jenny explained to me right away that it is difficult to teach because the students talk a lot and many do not seem interested in learning.  I got the feeling she feels like she is fighting a losing battle.  I am empathetic towards these teachers because, as in the US, they are over worked and underpaid. Add to this the serious lack of resources (most teachers have a whiteboard and a few markers to work with…some have computers and projectors but my practicum school does not), students who are disrespectful and misbehave in class due to a lack of structured classroom management, the extreme level of noise coming from the hallways, courtyard, and soccer field, and the heat of an un air-conditioned classroom on the Colombian coast and it is easy to understand their frustration. Classrooms have tile floors and bare walls (except for the graffiti type writing that covers the walls), desks in various conditions, a whiteboard on the wall which is often cracked and stained, and one or two ceiling fans that help with the stifling heat but add to the noise. Many students arrive late to class and it is normal for class to begin 5-15 minutes late.  While Jenny was teaching there were many students carrying on conversations, shouting things out, eating, or sleeping.  The class I observed had 40 students.

There was one thing that was the same as every classroom I have ever been in….there were cheerful kids who have the capacity to learn and meet their potential if they have the right tools and feel empowered to do so. I knew coming in to this it wouldn’t be easy.  I am very nervous to jump into teaching in this challenging environment that is so different than what I am used to (my experience is in a classroom of 24 first graders in the US).  At the same time, I am really excited to get in there and start trying things so that when I get to my permanent site I have some ideas as to what might work and what is going to fail miserably (from what I hear that old saying ‘It’s not how many times you fall, it’s how many times you get back up’ is going to be really applicable here.) One thing that is so instrumental in my happiness here is that I LOVE kids and am so passionate about teaching and interacting with students. Being in a school setting, no matter how crazy, is where I feel most at home.

This is not my practicum is another very nice school I was able to observe at the begining of this week. This is a fourth grade classroom.

Courtyard outside the classroom.

Other Highlights:

-On Friday at school our language and culture facilitators put together an entire afternoon of learning about ‘Carnival de Barranquilla’ complete with costumes, music, and dancing. We learned how to salsa and cumbia. We are pumped for Carnival in February.

-Thursday was Nate’s birthday and we all went out to celebrate and had a great time.  We went to a club where we enjoyed flaming shots, big fruity drinks, and a lot of dancing.  The Colombians showed us how to dance to latino hits and we showed them how to break it down to Nelly’s “Hot in Here”.  It was cultural exchange at its finest.

-The dog who lives at Colombo Americano where we have classes had three puppies three weeks ago….we got to hold them today. The cat who lives there has a kitten. The iguanas got in a fight and one was bleeding from his tail. We learned today from Leida that iguanas do in fact whip people with their tails. These animals (cats, dogs, iguanas) coexist in harmony in the gardens at the school. Yes…I take Spanish classes in the wild kingdom.

Mama and her new puppies!

One of the many iguanas who roam the campus where we have Spanish classes!

Gatos taking a little siesta 🙂

-Yesterday with my dinner I had a banana.  Yes….I am excited about this banana.  It was bright yellow…not brown or severely bruised.  It was cold.  And best of all?  It was NOT fried 🙂

-Today we had Spanish class at the “Casa de Carnival” where we learned even more about Carnival.  We got to try on masks, listen to music, and of course…more dancing.

At ‘La Casa de Carnival’

Today I spent the afternoon with my sister Andrea and her friend (also named Andrea).  They are making a video for a project for their English class.  I helped them with pronunciation and memorizing their script.  It is great practice for me too because except for the script I converse with them in Spanish.  Tonight Andrea and I went to meet Kerry and her host mom (Andrea’s aunt) to watch a guitar concert.  It was beautiful and I am loving all of the cultural experiences I have been able to enjoy!

Life is good here on the Colombian coast!

Until next time… paz y amor.

P.S. I posted a lot of new pictures here:

Keep in touch with me via email!  Check my ‘Contact Me’ tab.  I love hearing from everyone about what’s going on at home 🙂



  1. Hi Katie,

    Wow, it sounds like you’re having such an amazing experience over there.
    My name is Yaniv. I’ve been blogging, recently, about volunteering and trying to encourage others to volunteer too.
    You’re experiences definitely give a boost of motivation for all those out there to get involved in volunteering.

    Do you any recommendations to get more young people involved in doing voluntary work in their community or elsewhere?

    Thanks and great job!


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