A Good Old-Fashioned Update

I’m wrapping up the school year and preparing to go home for Christmas, which means it’s about time for a standard-issue update post! Aka, what’s been happening lately, the current state of affairs and a preview of next year!

The past few months have been pretty hectic, both in the school and in my secondary projects (not to mention personal travel and a few sick days.) The first half of the school year was my chance to observe, learn the school culture, build relationships with the faculty and the students, and generally settle in. But the second half was go time!

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Showing my sister around town–she was an instant celebrity

In July, my little sister visited and we had the best of times gallivanting about the coast. I can’t believe how much she’s grown up just in the past year! She’s beautiful, witty, easy-going, kind and talented as heck! I was thrilled to have her visit, and I know it’s just the beginning of our sisterly traveling adventures! Next stop, Geneva??

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Ziplining in Ecuador!

Right after she left, I hopped a plane to Ecuador, which I toured for 10 days with a dear friend from my DC days. We loved every minute of the whirlwind trip–the chilly Quito mornings, the long bus rides sharing music, the damp and musty Amazon rainforest. Ecuador had been a random pick, but I would absolutely go back and I highly recommend it!

August was definitely a blur of catch up and getting ready for the new group of volunteers to arrive. Among other things, August included:

–A project management and leadership workshop with PC, which I attended with several key counterparts from my community. The conference is where our current recycled art project idea was born!

–helping with a video conference at SENA, the national technical school system, about the Free Trade Agreement, which was broadcast all over the country. It was fun to talk about economics in two different languages, and I met some very passionate and professional Colombians!

–my two strongest counterparts left for a 3 month training in Arizona, leaving me with more responsibility in classes. We had planned the units ahead of time, but the execution thereof was a greater ordeal than I could have anticipated! The final unit was video production, so we put on a workshop…(see below)

–August ended with 33 new trainees arriving! I was chosen to be one of the welcoming committee members, which meant I got to

Welcoming the new group at the airport
Welcoming the new group at the airport

stay in the hotel with the new kids for their first few days in Colombia as they adjusted and settled in. The new group impressed me with their backgrounds in education and foreign travel, and most seemed to know what they were getting into with the Peace Corps.

September was jam-packed with lesson planning, getting 11th grade’s final portfolios started, helping lead training sessions with the new group, and prepping for a busy October.

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Three PCVs who live up to the title!

Most noteably, we put on an English drama and theater workshop for 150 10th grade students. The story goes like this: To kick off the unit, I planned a grand workshop centered around a guest speaker, a local drama instructor. I happened to have three of the new PC trainees visiting my site that week, so I was excited to show them what my students were learning in a project-based learning format.

However, the night before the workshop, the excited drama instructor suddenly had some conflict, and cancelled at about 9:30 pm. Now, I couldn’t have a meltdown in front of my three eager trainees, freshly arrived and anticipating some great day-in-the-life-of-a-volunteer experiences. So instead of cry, I decided to show them the real Peace Corps:

I roped those poor three souls (read: incredibly talented, flexible and creative) into helping me plan a backup workshop, complete with a drama skit we wrote, filmed and posted on the spot! The next day, instead of me trying to manage 150 students by myself, I had the help of these three (and a couple others) to lead a fully successful, interactive workshop! Can I just say, those three trainees (volunteers) embody exactly what Peace Corps is about: flexibility, adaptibility, tolerance, and a great attitude!

October has two important Colombia events: first, the “Semana Uribe” is an abrupt weeklong vacation designed to stimulate the economy. (I stimulated the economy by visiting Medellin and nursing my one-year slump with good coffee and riding the shiny, clean metro and cable cars around.) Second, the last week is Barranquilla’s designated Bilingualism Week, in which all the public schools hold events and do special activities to promote English.

Cisneros School representatives of the 10th and 11th grades

Peace Corps Colombia put on a huge Business English Fair, which brought together over 1,000 students to meet local professionals and learn about job and study opportunities. My 16 students got lots of compliments on their professional appearance and their intelligent questions! I got recruited to help make the PR video about the event, so I got to be close and personal for the whole process. This fair was a huge success that garnered a lot of interest both locally and on the national level.

The same week, my school hosted its annual English Song Festival, which is a singing competition that gives area schools a chance to compete and practice their English. This year, since we had been working on  region and country projects in 10th and 11th grades, we asked the students to prepare portfolios and/or brochures, along with visual aids and examples of the cultures to display at the fair.

I was stressing out before the fair because I expected that, as with any assignment, my students wouldn’t follow through and that I’d be left with nothing to show for a year’s worth of English projects. But they came! They started trickling in an hour before the fair, carrying posters, trays of food samples and brochures about their countries. One group even brought a living “Amazon” forest, complete with live trees, a live parrot and a real monkey!!

Not only did all the groups turn out, but they all decorated and presented incredible work! It was one of my proudest moments this year.

November consisted of wrapping up the school year, CII-6’s swearing-in ceremony, and secondary projects.

Since I moved to my site, I’ve really wanted to conduct teacher trainings. That’s where I really see a lasting impact could be made. In November, I finally had the chance to work with a few of the primary teachers and later, with my high school counterparts. In the primary,

Primary teachers learning English!
Primary teachers learning English!

we focused on simple ways to incorporate basic English into their multi-subject classroom, such as little “hello” songs and basic arithmetic with English numbers. In the high school, we buckled down and knocked out a beginning to a backwards design curriculum for 6th-11th grades. We are planning to meet in the new year to plan units and lessons!

And that brings us to December! The first week, I did a mini-camp for English immersion and reinforcement at my school, with the essential help of six other PCVs and two ASL volunteers. We put together a great camp packed with new vocabulary, interactive activities and team-building games. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive the support I was promised by my school, which left me with a much-shortened, under-attended camp and a lot of disappointed volunteers who had given their precious time and resources to make this camp happen. Thankfully, the students who did come were excellent campers, diving right into the activities and loving every minute of it!

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I’ve never sweated this much while making a pumpkin pie!

After camp, a friend from college stopped by Colombia, and we took a quick jaunt around Parque Tayrona and Taganga. It was great to connect with a fellow traveler, thinker, hippie/hipster (and eat his amazing red bean curry!) We even made a pumpkin pie together (aka he hand-rolled a flaky, buttery crust while I mostly just made a mess of the canned pumpkin).

Faroles, traditional colored lanterns with candles inside.

Last weekend, we celebrated Noche de las Velitas on the 7th of December. Apparently, it’s a holiday to celebrate the conception of the Virgen Mary herself (all I can say is, the Virgen Mary must have been a fan of firecrackers and candles!) My sweet host mom and I spent the evening together, lighting the ten faroles candles and saying a wish for each one. It was a chance to bond as we talked about the wishes we had for our siblings, our parents, our pueblo and each other. The last candle was for love, she said.

After lighting the colorful lanterns, we shared takeout Lebanese and two of my precious Reese’s cups! An odd combination, but strangely fitting to the occasion of us sharing an important family holiday.

 

And here we are, December 10! I’m wrapping up secondary project grant-writing and planning so that I can enjoy my Christmas break thoroughly–in the States! Yes, I’m going home for Christmas! I cannot wait to hop that plane and hug all the people I love. My family and friends have been 2-dimensional, pixelated smiles and sound bytes for a year and a half. I’m ready for some quality time with my people and my places.

Next year is already promising to be hectic! I’ll be putting more time into secondary projects in the community, including a recycled artwork/environmental education youth group and hopefully some swimming lessons! At school, I’m hoping to work some more with the primary teachers, emphasizing some of the core concepts the kids should know by the time they enter high school (6th grade.) In the secondary, we’re pushing ahead with a more focused curriculum, as well as continuing on-going projects like the song festival. And on a personal level, I’ll be studying for the GRE and the Foreign Service exam, and applying to random jobs when the first two get too formidable.

As you can see, I’m going to need all the prayers, happy thoughts, Whatsapp messages and peanut butter I can get!

For now, I’m off to tackle my last to-do list of this first year in service.

Saludos! 

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