Tag Archives: coast

But first, an update!

This week, I’m taking a break from #carasdecolombia to tell you why I haven’t written lately. It’s been a busy few weeks with ending second quarter classes, graduation for our weekend class, my parents visiting and finally, Camp GLOW. Here’s a first peek at all the happenings.

Coorposur Graduation

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The school that hosted our weekend classes
For the past few months, several friends and I have been teaching weekend English classes through a friend’s non-profit, designed to help students from an under-served community access an opportunity for better education and employment.

What he didn’t tell me is that he and his uncle had brainstormed a way to help their vulnerable community and decided that the solution was English class. However, they weren’t English teachers. No fear, said Estefanel, I know a PCV! (With his brains and charm, this guy is going to be the president someday.)

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L-R: My parents visiting, Uncle Humberto, a student, me, PCV Megan and teacher Yuranis.
Without telling me I was the answer to their problem, he invited me to check out the project and see if I wanted to help. “Come see our non-profit, Shanna!”

That first week, I taught an English lesson to 106 students, between the ages of seven and 66,  and after that first visit, I was hooked by their motivation and discipline.

I went to my fellow PCVs next, asking for some help with a new community class. “They are so excited to learn!” (With my brains and charm, I’m going to be a diplomat someday.)

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The teachers in our favorite post-class lunch spot! L-R: Angela, me, Janne and Megan. Missing: Kathleen, Yuranis, Estefanel.
The next week, Megan came and we split the group in half, kids and adults. Then, we added Angela and Kathleen, then a Belgian exchange student, then two Colombian teachers.

Every class, seeing those students was the highlight of my week. After a long week of struggling in projects and politics, I felt like my heart grew a size when I saw these kiddos.

I memorized their names (mostly to say, “Elian, sit down!” a lot) and loved watching the little personalities connected to the names as they grew more confident and creative with their English.

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My graduates!
We closed the class term with a graduation ceremony, handing out certificates and taking a million selfies with students and parents. My parents were visiting, so they provided the candy and video recording.

I’m so glad I said yes to that first class visit–working with these kids has been a highlight in my year. It’s been hard for me to feel like a “real teacher” sometimes, without the certifications or experience that many other PCVs have. But these kids were gratifying test subjects, helping me develop my lesson planning and classroom management skills (ha ha.) I look forward to seeing where they go next.

Primary Projects 

In PC lingo, primary projects are those that fit the initial job description. Mine are any projects that are English language-related, including my assignment to the school in Puerto Colombia. In addition to the above class, I’ve continued working in the school, partnering with an incredible Colombian teacher in 10th and 11th grades.

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My 10th graders meeting my mom
Together, we’ve reached a really comfortable teaching and planning relationship. Lately, we’ve been planning lessons that integrate life skills, such as debate, powerpoint and public speaking, with the English curriculum we built. To this day, they mention the lesson we did on Malala Yousafzai, and recently, I saw a group of girls plan a project proposal with a great powerpoint.

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Serena and Elliot entrancing the kids with their British accents
Outside the classroom, two British volunteers and I started a reading program in the primary school. After months of empty promises from the school administration for a library space to contain the donated books, we decided to just show up at the primary, throw out a blanket and starting reading books to the kids!

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Before…
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Two helpful students in the “during” picture, with books moved in!
After a few weeks of that–and a lot of renditions of “Yoga ABC’s”–the library idea started to take shape through the help of my co-teachers, some strong 10th grade boys, and even the elderly lady who sits at the primary school entrance, who took it upon herself to organize the textbooks we brought.

I don’t have an “after” picture yet, because we’re hoping to get the wall and bookshelf painted. Ideally, we’ll be able to paint another world map–a beautiful space is much more conducive to making reading an enjoyable, sought-out experience.

One of the truly frustrating aspects of my service here has been facing the reality that people often just don’t want to make any effort to change things. People love to say, “yes!” and “we want change!”  but don’t follow through. I once wrote an entire grant for a project, only to realize that the people who asked for it didn’t really have the time to make it happen, and me doing it myself defeated the purpose.  This library has been just one in many struggles between promises and outcomes.

But I have to keep taking small steps, following the people who DO have the combination of vision and grit, because they’re here! My students wowed me this week when they masterminded an anti-self-harm awareness campaign all by themselves, complete with a project write-up, a powerpoint and a design idea! Despite being shot down by admin, they’re optimistically re-designing the project to make it work.

So stay tuned to hear how the painting process and the anti-self-harm campaign turn out…if I’ve learned anything in Colombia, it’s that progress is slow, but not impossible. And usually happens with the most unexpected helpers and innovators.

Thanks for reading! Next, I’ll continue the update with my parents’ visit and our girls empowerment Camp GLOW. 

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Costeno Body Language 101

Have you ever seen a coastal Colombian talk? It’s 85% body language with animated facial expressions, broad hand gestures and full-body emphasis on the Most Important Points. Even their feet are fidgety, listo to break into a salsa step. Imaginate what it’s like when the subject matter actually involves dancing!

Because or body language is so central to the culture, the idiosyncratic gestures and facial expressions are essential communication tools to survive as adopted costenos.

Once you master these haptics, your cultural fluency will skyrocket, your language skills will improve, and costenos everywhere will adore you (if only to laugh at you.)

How to Ask for Clarification with Your Nose 

This is the costeno shrug, the Colombian gesture for the universal “huh?” Use this gesture to say you don’t understand, to ask for the speaker to repeat their statement, to indicate a doubt or question, or to amuse your host family.

Continue reading Costeno Body Language 101

Culture Spotlight: Cumbia

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Cumbia queens at my school

Cumbia is a sacred word on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, especially during Carnaval season. The dance is a mesmerizing infusion of Spanish dance, African drumbeats and indigenous instruments, an ode to the history of this region. It’s also my personal favorite dance, so I’m going to introduce you to this stunning cultural masterpiece. Continue reading Culture Spotlight: Cumbia

Distinctly Colombia

I’ve lived here on the coast of Colombia for 13 months now, which has given me enough to time to observe a few trends, customs and oddities of the Barranquilla culture! I thought I’d share a few of the Costeno-isms that I’ve noticed.

1. Walk like a Colombian… women here walk like they’re on a catwalk–whether it’s a crosswalk, the mall circuit or just down a hallway, these women move. Their omnipresent heels don’t hurt the effect, either. In contrast, you can tell a gringo from a mile away–we walk like we’re in a hurry and with bad posture.

2. To the left, to the left…While you’re walking like a gringo, there’s one important thing to know: pedestrians pass on the left. If you don’t, it gets rather awkward, rather quickly. If you forget, it’s also perfectly acceptable to walk very slowly in the dead center of the sidewalk, blocking both oncoming and passing pedestrian traffic.

3. Bus entertainment…There’s a lucrative informal economy in action around: Every few minutes, your bus will be commandeered  by a candy hawker, a pen salesman, a rapper or, my personal favorite, a two-person vallenato duo belting tone-deaf ballads and beating a makeshift drum. Continue reading Distinctly Colombia

Because Hummus

Am I about to write an entire blog post just about my hummus? Probably. But I’ll talk about the rest of the day, too, since it was a goodie. Continue reading Because Hummus

Bienvenidos to Puerto Colombia

I haven’t made time to write much lately, but I promise there are a few posts in the draft queue. In the meantime, I thought I would give you a quick introduction to my new home, Puerto Colombia. This is my permanent site on the Colombian coast, where I’ll be living for the next two years!

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Welcome to the main street into Puerto Colombia!

According to the official statistics, Pto as a municipality has about 45,000 habitants, but our “pueblo” claims about 5,000. There are several little townships squished together, and you can walk between Puerto Colombia, Pradomar and others in just a couple of minutes.

Puerto was the main, bustling port of the coast about a hundred years ago, when the pier linked Caribbean shipping lines with the Colombian railroad. Over the years, as Barranquilla built up its port, Puerto Colombia has quietly downsized to a sleepy fishing village/bedroom community to B/quilla.

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The famous “muelle”. It still has remnants of the train tracks that used to run train cars straight out to the waiting ships. Now, it’s the fishermen, bored teenagers and tourists who walk the concrete catwalk out to deep water.
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Today’s pier broke into pieces about 7 years ago, and now the only way to visit the end of the once-long and majestic pier is by lancha, or small fishing rowboat. Or by swimming, if you’re brave/stupid.
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A view looking towards the beginning of Puerto Colombia’s coastline. I actually visited Pto before they announced that I would be living there for two years. Love at prior sight/site!
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My school, which is K-11th grade in two branches. This building houses the middle school/high school ages, from 6th grade to 11th grade.

In Colombia, high school is 6th-11th grade (I know, can you imagine being put through the high school experience 5 years?), and at 11th grade they graduate, usually at the age of 16 or 17. From there, kids either go straight to work, attend public or private university, or attend a technical college.

My school is K-11th grade, and I’ll be working mostly with 9th to 11th grade (at least in theory.) Since a large part of my job is facilitating the professors’ work, I’m hoping to work in depth with them, improving their pronunciation and English conversation skills, as well as contributing ideas to curriculum and materials design.  I have five counterparts to work with, some of whom teach mostly grammar and others that teach English laboratory.

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My counterparts and principal!

I’m assigned 18 hours with my school, which will be partly working with the English faculty, partly working with the primary school teachers, and partly co-teaching classes to our 10th graders who are prepping for the ICFES (now called the Pruebas Saber). This test is their qualifying exam for university, and it measures the usual math, science, literature, etc. as well as a huge portion of English grammar and conversation. Because of the importance of this exam, I’ll be spending a lot of time with both the students and the faculty in making sense of the speaking/listening/conversation part of the English language.

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These are my 10th graders, demonstrating the use of technology in the classroom for a film crew from Bogota.

Fun story about the above photo: My first “teaching” moment happened in front of a film crew. I showed up on a weekend to help out with a segment at my school, and ended up teaching a brief English lesson for the camera and my future 11th graders! Apparently, a cable channel in Bogota is doing a show on technology in the public school classrooms of Colombia, and our school was chosen to demonstrate said technology. One of our students placed in the top category on a recent national test, as well, so Cisneros has been featured several times lately. This class of 10th graders was the most-behaved and quietest that I’ve ever seen (or will see.) Once the cameras turn off, they’re back to their usual vibrant and costeño selves–loud, excited, curious and not at all excited about studying!

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Now that school is out for the holidays, I’m spending time integrating into the community. I’m meeting my neighbors, learning my way around town, and trying to get a feel for the porteña life! I’ve already been warmly welcomed and people are receptive to the idea of English clubs, community work and teaching me to dance salsa! I’ll be here for the holidays, so I’m looking foward to getting the full experience, Caribbean style.

Happy holidays from Puerto Colombia!

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