Tag Archives: Integration

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

IMG_8260[1]
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.)

IMG_8152[1]
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.)

IMG_8461[1]
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.

IMG_8232[1]
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.

IMG_8181[1]
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.

IMG_8455[1]
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!

IMG_8090[1]
Before…
IMG_8099[1]
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. 

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

To Flush or Not to Flush: 5 Indicators You’re Entering the Cultural Transition Zone

One of the most baffling truths of modern transportation is that in the space of a couple of hours (more precisely, two cat naps and one plane-bathroom break), one can take-off in one culture and climate and land in a completely different one. Breakfast in 90-degree Colombia, lunch in 20-degree America.  Let’s call this the “cultural transition zone.” 

#1.    What’s the very first sign of the “cultural transition zone?” The toilet paper. During your pre-boarding pee break, you don’t even blink when you have to perch on a porcelain bowl and throw the paper in the trash can. You’ve done it for like, 500 days already. Continue reading To Flush or Not to Flush: 5 Indicators You’re Entering the Cultural Transition Zone

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!

Continue reading A Good Old-Fashioned Update

Integrated and it feels so good

(Note: This week, I’m writing my one-year-in-service reflections. There’s a more comprehensive post coming, but I was enjoying writing this mini blog tangent, so I figured I’d share it now!) 

Here’s a huge–though gradual and ongoing–success: I’m integrated! That is to say, the integration and culture struggles no longer take the bulk of my time or energy. At the beginning, every conversation took extensive effort, and I spent a lot of time getting lost, asking questions, observing people and trying to deduce the idiosyncrasies of this culture.  Continue reading Integrated and it feels so good

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

Back on Track

I’m finally feeling a bit more settled. After over a month of living out of my suitcases, I have once again starting unpacking into a more permanent place. I can finally find all my accessories and my books will have a home as soon as I get a bookshelf in my new room! It’s nice to be establishing a new routine and integrating with my new host family.

I didn’t anticipate the effect that being between houses would have on my work, my energy and my organization. Not to mention the stress it caused. It ended up being a pretty draining process, with a lot of diplomacy lessons along the way.

Now that my home life is a bit more settled, I feel better equipped mentally and emotionally to get back on track.

I am re-focusing on my goals for the next few months. I can’t believe we have already been here for 9 months!

Some of the things I’m working on:

Developing and implementing a curriculum for our Call Center-hopefuls in 10th grade. We are trying to combine a customer service/telephone class with our English conversation laboratory. Any input is appreciated! 🙂

Environmental Committee: I’m the new chairperson of a fairly new committee, and we just had a successful first meeting! We’ve seen that trash and conservation are big issues for us on the coast, so we are designing some projects that PCV’s can implement in their sites, such as awareness campaigns and hopefully some field trips.

Co-teaching and co-planning: this is our primary project. I have great counterparts and a supportive principal, and we’re working to make the English program strong and effective. It’s actually a lot of fun to co-teach–the teacher and I can bounce off each other’s ideas. And she can tell them all to sit down and be quiet.

Primary teachers: with one of my counterparts, we are putting together some workshops for the primary teachers. I’m hoping to target their English skills in order to have stronger English in the students coming from primary to secondary.

English clubs: when you’re the token native speaker, people stop you in the street and even show up at your house to ask for English tutoring! I have an adult class, a high school club and am hoping to start a class at my friends’ foundation and one with the preschool kiddies at the convent. What could be better than singing English baby songs for an hour?

That’s a brief overview! Throw in gym time, sit-on-the-sidewalk-and-talk-about-nothing bonding time, and thinking about studying for the GRE, and I’m keeping busy.

But it’s a good busy, a settled, productive, fulfilled sort of busy. And that feels good.

Integration one egg at a time

Today, my small success was learning my tienda man’s name: Alfonso. He’s quiet and doesn’t make many facial expressions, but he always crinkles his eyes when I come to the counter. He knows my face and my strange requests, and he and his wife always greets me graciously. We hardly talk, but our exchanges carry warmth and neighborly solidarity.

There’s an elegance to his movements, as though the sundry toiletries, groceries and snacks he wraps in brown paper are precious valuables and fragile gifts to be borne with utmost care to the palaces and castles of our pueblo.

Today, I ordered the usual: five eggs, two bananas and a papaya. He gently wrapped my purchases and counted my change.

“What’s your name?” He suddenly asked, carefully.

I broke into a grin: “Shanna! And yours?”

Our conversation was only a few obligatory sentences, but we shared the most tangibly friendly smile imaginable and as I gathered my items, we traded a lovely phrase:

nos vemos“, see you soon.