Friday, March 20, 2015

Cultural Exchanges

One of the amazing things that comes out of traveling is the ability to experience and participate in new and exciting cultures. I have already had the privilege of celebrating one of Colombia’s biggest and most famous holidays, Caranval. After having a thoroughly enjoyable time soaking in the parades, music, and throngs of people, I decided that I wanted to return the favor with the next American holiday to my students and teachers at school. This holiday just happened to be St. Patrick’s Day.

This predominantly Irish/European/American holiday is not celebrated here in Colombia or most other Latin American countries. Goal 2 of the Peace Corps is all about sharing the American culture with the people of your host country. I saw St. Patrick’s Day as the perfect opportunity to help fulfill this goal. Even though I am no Irish, St. Paddy’s Day is always one of my favorite days every year. Being able to share this day with my students and teachers made it even more special this year.

My students here in Colombia wear uniforms to school every day. Sadly, they do not have any green in them, so after getting my counterpart on board with the idea, I had to make sure that it was okay with the coordinator that the students wore green and jeans on Tuesday. She was very much in favor of this idea and, to help spread the festive mood around the school, she helped me convince the other teachers to also wear green for the occasion.

My 9th, 10th, and 11th grade classes were the lucky recipients of this cultural lesson. When I informed them a couple of days before that they were going to be able to wear green to school, I was taken aback by the amount of questions they had regarding what type of clothing they were allowed to wear. Despite the fact that I kept telling them ANYTHING with green on it (a shirt with green writing/picture, green headband, green bracelet, etc.), the doubts and worries continued to flood in. I guess when your whole life is spent wearing the same uniform, the ability to choose your clothing sends waves of panic coursing through your body.

Overall, my students thoroughly enjoyed the day and learning at St. Paddy’s Day. They came to school all decked out in green shirts, pants, and bandanas. I was pleasantly surprised by my 9th graders with various green foods (pears, oranges – they are green here, not orange, candy, etc.). My 11th graders even went so far as to print out pictures that represented St. Paddy’s Day and post them around the classroom. A couple of the girls even made green Jell-O for the celebration!

My school also just recently started serving a small lunch to the students after school. Tuesday, the lunch was potato salad and a cracker. To my surprise, they had dyed the potato salad green and served the meal on green plates. Talk about getting into the holiday spirit! I was blown away by the amount of enthusiasm and effort that my school put into making this celebration a special one. One of the secretaries even made paper clovers. She thought that the 3-leaf ones were good luck and felt horrible when I told her that it was in fact the 4-leaf ones that were a sign of luck. She vowed to get it right next year!

Being able to share a portion of the American culture with my students and teachers here in Repelón is one of the many highlights of my Peace Corps service so far. I can’t wait for the next big holiday to roll around! 

My 9th grade students showing their St. Paddy's Day spirit
My counterpart and I (she provided the hats!)
Showing off the gifts from my 9th grade students
Just hanging out in between classes
10th graders hard at work on their pot of gold maps
My 10th graders
The other teachers here at IE John F. Kennedy sporting their green
11th graders working hard in the computer lab
11th grade students - some of the best at the school!
Just chilling with my St. Patrick's themed potato salad!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Six Month Milestone!

One’s Peace Corps service is filled with important milestones: staging, training, swear-in, 1st day at school/site, etc. These milestones help to break up the daunting prospect of spending two years in a foreign country, away from all that is normal and comfortable. One of these such milestones was recently achieved a couple of weeks ago: being in country for six months!

It’s hard to believe that six months have already flown by. It feels like just yesterday I was meeting the rest of the C II-6 volunteers for the first time in Miami. Since then, so much as happened, including a massive upheaval of urban volunteers into rural sites. Those tumultuous few months have finally subsided and given way to some sense of normalcy. 

I have now been in Repelón for a little over a month and life is finally settling down. I’m beginning to establish a routine and this pueblo is starting to feel like home. Currently, I’m working with the 8th-11th grade classes during the mornings and three adult classes at night. So far, the night classes are my favorite. The students are divided up based on what grade they were able to finish during their time in school and range in ages 16 to 55. Despite this large gap, I have been able to create a fun and engaging environment to help teach them some basic English.

 Another aspect of my night classes that I’m enjoying is the fact that I am the sole English teacher and have the ability to teach what I want. With this responsibility also comes the task of creating a curriculum from scratch. While this seems like a bit of a daunting job, it’s a skill that I will hopefully be able to utilize further down the road. 

I just recently acquired the help of a counterpart for my night classes and this has honestly been a blessing in disguise. She has been a huge help when I need something clarified in Spanish. Before, when I was teaching these classes solo, I would struggle sometimes to answer student’s questions or find the right way to explain a concept. Granted, my Spanish has improved because of these classes. However, it’s still nice to have a native speaker backing me up when needed.

Teaching vocabulary to my adults through the use of pictures
Outside of the classroom, things are going well. I’m starting to bond with the other teachers at my school. The coordinator at my school (equivalent of a guidance counselor) is a talkative, spunky woman that likes to give me a hard time whenever she can. Between her and the three janitors, I’m constantly on my toes, warding off the latest zing and trying to come up with a witty comeback in Spanish (which is honestly a tough thing to do). The other teachers have accepted me at the school and treat me like one of them, which is an awesome feeling. There has been talk about starting a possible English class with some of the teachers, so hopefully that will help me feel even more a part of the team.

If the first six months are any indication of what the rest of my service here in Colombia will be like, I’m in for some great times and adventures. I’m excited to get to know the people of this town better and trying to get some other projects off the ground. I’m hoping to start a running club at my school and possibly organize some town wide “health walks” at least once a month in accordance with the running club. These projects, and others that I’m sure will pop up, will hopefully make the next six months just as adventurous and intriguing as the last.