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!
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).
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!
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!
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.
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 :)
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!