Friday, January 29, 2016

Dissecting the Pueblo Classroom

Monday marked the first day of school for many students all along the Caribbean coast of Colombia. After two months of vacation, it was time to come back to the daily grind of Colombian education. Two weeks of teacher meetings established new rules and procedures that hopefully will help make the school flow and progress in a more organized way. Despite all of these changes, there is one thing that remains the same: the classrooms.

This composite of various classrooms from the school I am currently serving at, I.E. John F. Kennedy, shows some of the conditions that teachers have to teach in and students have to learn in. It's easy to see the mostly bare walls, lack of a ceiling, and numerous seats. However, there are many other aspects to each room that make teaching even that more of a challenge.

6-01: Lack of Desks

One of the unfortunate things that occurs in many schools all over Colombia is overpopulation of classrooms. It is very common to see anywhere between 30-38 students in a normal Colombian classroom. Not only is teaching to a large number of students difficult, but many times basic necessities, like desks, are in short supply. That is the case with this classroom. With close to 32 sixth grade students using this classroom at one time, at least 4-5 are left without a desk. Sometimes, even chairs are in short supply and students are forced to sit on the floor. It's hard enough to concentrate on math when your desk wobbles - imagine having to do that while sitting on the floor.

7-01: Open, Dead Space

The openness of Colombian classrooms is necessary. The constant heat and humidity make closed classrooms impossible. However, this necessity is also a hindrance. Since every single classroom in the school is constructed in this same way, the happenings of other classrooms are constantly incorporated into daily lessons. It becomes hard to hold student's attention for long periods of time. Conducting quiet, focused activities are almost out of the question. Learning how to adapt and use these conditions to your advantage has been something that requires an ample amount of time to do.

7-02: "Cooling" System

In the above photo, there are two fans on the far wall of the classroom. The extreme heat and humidity and overall lack of a breeze make the classrooms stifling. Lack of air movement leads to a profuse amount of sweating and easy irritation. The fans in the rooms are meant to help counteract this reality. However, the fans only really reach the first row of desks placed directly below them. The air current created by the fans does not reach the front of the room or the other side of the classroom. Students are constantly battling for those prime seats, which leads to unnecessary quarrels and disagreements.

8-01: Teacher's Desk

One of the luxuries of teaching in the United States is having your own classroom. The students come to the teacher, who is able to store all of their items in a secure location. Here in Colombia, the opposite is true. The students stay in the same classroom throughout the entire day with the teachers rotating to them. This means that the only "space" that becomes the teachers is the desk. In this photo, the teacher's desk is in the opposite corner under the colored squares of paper. The only main issue is that many, if not all of these desks, are broken. Some days just looking at the desk wrong causes it to collapse in on itself. As a teacher, it is very difficult not having a secure place to unpack your things during the day. The constant shuffling and packing up of things after each 50-minute classroom adds additional stress to each day.

8-02: Mucked Up Whiteboard

The whiteboard is the central tool of any Colombian teacher. With reliable technology not really available, the whiteboard becomes the main source of communication information from the teacher to the students. This importance isn't always obvious to everyone at the school. The top 1/3 of this whiteboard is pretty much unusable due to an unfortunate glue incident. A couple of months before the end of last year, students were decorating for Teacher's Day and decided to glue letters onto the whiteboard as a part of their decorations. In doing this, they failed to consider what would happen when they tried to take the decorations down. The result is a whiteboard that is only 2/3 usable.

9-01: Weak WiFi Connection

One of the biggest surprises that I received during my first day at IE John F. Kennedy was the fact that the school has 4 separate Internet networks, over 50 laptops, and close to 150 tablets for the students to use in the classroom. This obviously made me extremely excited and happy, as being able to incorporate technology into the classroom is something that I love doing. Just one major problem. Despite all of the available possibilities, there are many outside factors that get in the way. For example, this particular room does not receive a WiFi signal of any kind. Attempting to use applications on the tables is nearly impossible due to the lack of a strong, stable signal. Being a school that supposedly specializes in the use of technology in the classroom, these little bumps make that reality a difficult one to attain.

10-01: Not so SMART Boards

On the right hand side of this picture you can see a projector sticking out of the wall. This projector is part of a SMART Board in the classroom. This is another amazing technological tool that is unfortunately not being used to its full potential. In this case, there is no way to plug in the board since the power cable was severed by some students last year. The lack of a power source renders the SMART Board moot. Outside of that, students have decided to use the boards as a graffiti practice wall. It's really disappointing and sad that this overall lack of respect for some very useful and interactive tools adds to the difficulties teachers face in the classroom.

10-02: Street Noise

As I mentioned earlier, the openness of the classrooms is both a necessity and a hindrance. Here is another example of how this openness becomes a hindrance. This classroom faces a road that passes along the school. During the day, there is a fair amount of traffic (motos, motocoches, cars, etc.) that pass by the school. Every now and then, larger vehicles make their presence known with various honks and shifting gears. There was even a period of time last year in which construction on the street battled instruction within the classroom. Having to deal with this extra outside noise, in addition to that of the students both inside the classroom and the other classrooms, creates an almost unbearable environment in which concentration and learning are next to impossible.

Spending between 5-6 hours daily in these classrooms has made me appreciate the luxuries that are taken for granted in the United States. Things like air conditioning, closed classrooms, assigned classrooms, and solid doors, among others, makes the teaching environment one that is more conducive to learning. Here in Colombia, however, that isn't always the case. Instead of letting these presumed difficulties bog me down, I have attempted to find different ways to use these elements to help motivate my students.

So far, the second school year is off to a positive start. I feel more comfortable with not only the teachers and students, but also the conditions of the school. I am very excited to see what type of results my students can produce with the help of my improved understanding and realities of these classroom conditions. 

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Living on the Cheap

American money is boring. It's dull to look at and lacks character that other monetary denominations possess around the world. Despite this boring state of appearance, there's no better time than now to be using the dollar as your base currency. The overall strength of the dollar has made life abroad a much more affordable endeavor. This is especially true here in Colombia.

The local currency here in Colombia is the Colombian Peso (COP). Currently (as of January 27th), $3,355 COP is equivalent to $1 USD. When I first arrived in country a year and half ago, $1 USD was equivalent to about 2,300 COP. Needless to say, it's a great time to be an American living here! Due to the overall strength of the dollar here currently, the prices of many every day things are fairly cheap when compared to the United States. Those prices become even more affordable when living in a rural pueblo.

Colombian Pesos
In the pueblo, one of the main centers of commerce and gathering is the local tienda. Here in Repelón, tiendas litter every street corner. At any given time of the day, groups of men can be found here playing dominoes. Business deals are completed over a local delicacy from the bakery and a coke. Beers and conversation are shared by all ages as sitting in front of the tienda is a popular way to pass the hot, humid days. It is also at these tiendas that some of the best deals in town can be found.

A small collection of the various tiendas around town
I will admit that I'm not the most active shopper in town. I have been extremely lucky that my host mom is an amazing cook and prepares the majority of my meals for me. However, many of the other volunteers in my group do shop in their pueblos. So, in order to figure out just how strong the dollar currently is and what things cost, I asked some of my fellow PCV's to help me out by supplying me with some of the common items that they buy either on a daily or weekly basis. Below is a table that compiles all of the items that they supplied me with. It's really shocking to see just how cheap things really are when they are laid out in this way.

*Special thanks and shout out to Jessi, Alejandra, Jordan, and Katrina for helping me out with this post! Couldn't have done this without you guys!*

It's honestly pretty amazing how far $1 USD will go in the pueblo. All that I know is that I'm going to have a really hard time readjusting to food prices when I get back stateside...

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Faces of Repelón: The Barber

Monday is a rough day for anyone. It’s the beginning of a new work week. The relaxing conditions of the weekend are in the rearview mirror. However, I always know that as I turn the first corner on my way to school, a huge smile and warm greeting will be waiting for me. My neighbor Jaime always knows how to start a week off on the right foot. A jolly “Hola!” followed by a jovial wave has become the norm when passing by Jaime’s house as he sets up his equipment to being his day as a barber, shoe repairer, and fixer of chairs. A jack of all trades, Jaime is one of the happiest people I have met in my community.

Born here in Repelón, Jaime is part of a large family. His mother, who is from Repelón, and his father, who is from a small pueblo by the name of Sopla Viento in the neighboring department of Bolivar, have lived in Repelón for 32 years. All of Jaime´s family lives either in Sopla Viento or Repelón, further supporting the Colombian ideal of close family relations. The youngest of three children, Jaime, who is 22, has lived on his own for the last six years, ever since he graduated from high school. He recalls watching his grandfather and uncles cut hair and fix shoes from a young age. This had a huge impact on his decision to follow in their footsteps.

Learning solely from sight, YouTube videos, and lots of practice, Jaime has become one of the most popular barbers in town. I trust my haircuts with him and only him. He has a great eye for what style looks good on anyone. Anytime anyone needs a quick fix on their shoes or a re-threading of a chair, Jaime is the person the pueblo turns to. He didn’t always want to follow in his grandfather and uncle’s footsteps. Like a great majority of Colombian boys, he had grand dreams of playing soccer in front of large crowds of screaming fans. Starting at a young age, Jaime remembers playing soccer in the street with his friends, during recess in the school cancha, and on a traveling team that allowed him to mix it up with other players in Medellin, Barranquilla, and Cartagena.

Following graduation from high school, Jaime quickly realized that the path to soccer stardom was a larger climb that he was able to make at the time. Due to an overall lack of access to resources and, most importantly, money, Jaime changed his focus toward his current career. At age 19 he fathered his first of two children and started cutting hair from the front of his house. It’s obvious that he loves his job and really couldn’t happier doing anything else. His social and outgoing personality immediately makes anyone passing by gravitate towards his front door for a quick hello or two hour conversation.

Jaime is extremely proud of his Colombian heritage. He loves living in Repelón due to the abundant amount of fish available from the local lake and the dance culture that consumes the estanderos and casetas every weekend. Also, the overall sense of family and friendship that dominates life here is really hard for him to imagine living without. Cities, in his opinion, tend to be cold and overwhelming. There is so much hustle and bustle that people don’t always take the time to be appreciative of what they have. Life in the pueblo has taught him to be appreciative of every day and to cherish each and every conversation and interaction that he has with those around him.

Jaime has quickly become known throughout town as not only a super hard worker, but also the “gringo’s friend”. He has expressed multiple time how much this latter association truly means to him. When he talks about our friendship with others, the glowing smile returns and his eyes light up. Being his first, and at this point, only friend from outside of Colombia means a lot to me as well. He’s talked to me multiple times about coming to United States for a visit once I return home and I’m going to do my best to make this dream come true for him.

With less than a year left in my service, I know that my opportunities to interact with this amazing Repelonero are dwindling. Instead of focusing on that aspect, I’m looking forward to more pristine haircuts, long chats on his front patio, and a continued bond of friendship that will eventually span continents. 

Jaime doing what he loves!
At the 25th Anniversary celebration for Peace Corps Colombia
Jaime and his family
The house where all the magic happens

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

That Fishbowl Feeling

...Gazing through the glass, I can see people moving about. There's a farmer on a donkey making his way to the finca. Children with backpacks make their way through the streets towards school. The neighbor  out sweeping the sidewalk. The pack of dogs running wild, barking and yelping at any one passing by. On this side of the glass, I am safe. No one is able to harm me. I am alone with my thoughts and my ideas. It is when I move beyond this safety net that lives are turned upside down and dreams are dashed...

The idea of a "fish bowl" is not a new one to me. Having grown up in a small, rural town in Iowa has acquainted me with the sometimes tumultuous living conditions that close-knit towns bring with them. Or so I thought.

There are days when I feel like my life here in Repelón is under a microscope. Every minute movement that I make is scrutinized, analyzed, and recorded by the town as a whole. It definitely doesn't help that I am the only gringo (white person) living here. There's a natural curiosity to know what the foreigner is up to. I mean, someone who looks different MUST live differently as well. Two separate experiences have demonstrated just how much of a fish bowl my pueblo really is...

Instance #1:

I am beyond lucky to have another Peace Corps volunteer less than 10 minutes away from me. Luckily, she is also one of my best and closest friends here in Colombia. This immediately proved to be both a blessing and curse. On one hand, it has been awesome having another English speaker close enough that I can escape when a break from surrounding world of Spanish and a loud host nephew is needed. However, it also immediately made me the target of some unwanted and undesired pueblo gossip...

I returned home one afternoon from a few drinks at a tienda in the plaza to what seemed like an endless litany of questions from my host mom regarding my new girlfriend. A look of complete befuddlement and confusion contorted my face as I attempted to process what she had just asked me. Girlfriend? The last time that I checked I was single and unaware of any new commitments I had made in the companionship department. My host mom proceeded to describe the girl that I was just with in the plaza: white, blonde hair, freckles, and very pretty. I quickly realized that she was talking about Jessi and dismissed the girlfriend talk with a tense laugh and the "she's just a friend" explanation. Problem solved, right? Not quite...

The next day, I was approached by my counterpart as soon as I got to school. The first question out of her mouth, even before the usual morning salutations, was "So I hear that you have a girlfriend!" Keep in mind that my counterpart lives in Barranquilla, a city that is 2 HOURS AWAY from my pueblo. 2. HOURS. It became apparent to me that word travels fast in Colombia, especially when juicy gossip is concerned. Once again, a flabbergasted glaze took hold of my face as I once again explained that this was not the case. I spent the rest of the morning fending off requests for more information regarding how we met, when we started dating, blah, blah, blah. Finally, after what felt like the 100th inquiry into my new, non-existent relationship, I made an announcement clearing the air that Jessi and I were just friends and that people would be seeing us together A LOT over the next two years.

Moral of the Experience: Expect to be bombarded by numerous, unrelenting questions when spotted with a member of the opposite sex in a pueblo.

Instance #2: 

Coming into this school year, I knew that I wanted to do something that enabled me to work with a vast majority of the teachers here in Repelón. The school system here is a bit different than in other pueblos of the same size. Most pueblos have one school with separate buildings for primary students (PK-5) and secondary students (6-11). Here, we have three separate schools - IE Jose David Montezuma Recuero, IE Maria Inmaculada, and IE John F. Kennedy. Last year, I solely worked with the teachers and students at IE John F. Kennedy. However, when I would walk around town, I was constantly bombarded with requests and questions from teachers at the other two school asking me why I wasn't working with them and when they were going to get a volunteer.

I decided that in order to try and rectify this issue, I would offer English classes for the teachers of Repelón. While the classes are going to be open to anyone who teaches in town, the focus is going to be on primary teachers. Many primary teachers are not trained and properly equipped to teach English to their students. The idea of the classes are to give these teachers ready made lessons that they can use in their classes with their students. When I ran this idea by my counterpart at the end of last year, she was thrilled with this idea. So, you may be asking, how is it that this idea can backfire on me?

Before pitching this idea to the other schools, I wanted to set up meetings with each of the principals to explain to them what I wanted to do and get them on board. Using my American logic, I figured that this would be a great first step. However, I only have ever had contact with the principal at my school, since I was there all of last year. Luckily, I knew one teacher at each of the other schools. I sent them a message seeing if they could help me set up a time to come and talk with the teachers at their schools. 

A couple days after sending these seemingly harmless messages, I was at school when my counterpart approached me. She mentioned that she had heard that I was offering English classes for all of the teachers in Repelón, which I didn't deny because it was true. While she was still fully behind the idea, she calmly pointed out that I hadn't said anything to any of the teachers at my school yet. Truth was, I was waiting to talk to the principal to set up a time to talk to the teachers. However, because I had been in contact with teachers from other schools, it appeared that I was putting more worth and time into things happening outside of the school and focusing on my work at the school. This was actually a pretty contentious point throughout the end of last year, and something that I did not want to repeat this year. 

I quickly corrected my line of thinking and announced the classes to the teachers at my school before approaching the other schools. There's a real sense of loyalty here and many at my school have a great source of pride that I'm working at Kennedy and not one of the other schools in town. Granted, I had no say in where I was placed, but it's something that I have to constantly keep in mind. Some days it feels like I'm checking every action that I do or word that I say just to make sure that I'm not doing something that could be offensive to the teachers at my school. It becomes quite tiring and a bit of a burden. Instead of taking this experience as a negative setback, I'm using it as a way to open up lines of communication that were shut off last year due to many misunderstandings.

Moral of the Experience #1: Colombians are very prideful and enjoy showcasing that pride whenever they get a chance. It has become apparent that my presence at the school is very important to the teachers as a whole, even those that I don't directly work with.

Moral of the Experience #2: Repelón itself is a fish bowl, but the teaching community here is a microcosm of that fish bowl. Teachers are in constant communication with each other and sometimes, even a great idea with pure intentions, can be contorted and misinterpreted. 

Both of these experiences have served as amazing learning experiences for myself. I wouldn't say that I'm constantly watching my back to make sure that I'm not becoming the next topic of pueblo gossip. Instead, I feel better equipped to deal with these instances when they do occur, because let's face it, it's going to happen again before my service is complete. It's all just part of the experience of living in a small, rural, Colombian pueblo...

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A Day in the Life

The daily happenings in a coastal, Colombian pueblo vary from day to day. To be totally honest, some days it feels like every hour presents new events that have the ability to throw off your entire schedule and groove. Keeping that in mind, here is a series of tweets that hopefully help capture some of the daily activities in the pueblo!
Michael Owen @mowen1101 - 4:45 am
My alarm seems to go off earlier everyday #runningwiththecops #coolesttimeoftheday #notamorningperson
Michael Owen @mowen1101 - 6:10 am
@RepelónPolice another 5K in the books #morningruns #policechiefbonding
Michael Owen @mowen1101 - 6:40 am
@pueblorealities lack of running water = bucket bath expert #nowaternoproblem
Michael Owen @mowen1101 - 6:55 am
Daily companions on the way to school #goatgang #farmanimalsgonewild

Michael Owen @mowen1101 - 7:00 am
@IEJohnFKennedy ready to sweat and teach #sohot #nofans"sweatragattheready
Michael Owen @mowen1101 - 9:10 am
Recess chaos has ensued #hopenoonedies #childrenareliterallyclimbingwalls  #nosupervision
 Michael Owen @mowen1101 - 10:00 am
Students lugging speakers to the concha #impromptuassembly #organizedchaos

Michael Owen @mowen1101 - 11:37 am
Lunchtime trumps instructional time #gottaeatRIGHTnow #rollwiththepunches
Michael Owen @mowen1101 - 12:31 pm
Best lunch in town #myhostmomisabettercookthanyours #highlightoftheday 

Michael Owen @mowen1101 - 1:17 pm
@colombianheat parked in front of my fan for the foreseeable future #mysweatissweating #slowlymelting

Michael Owen @mowen1101 - 5:08 pm
Collecting materials for class tonight #alwaysateacher
Michael Owen @mowen1101 - 5:37 pm
@IEMontezuma please find the key to my classroom #lockedoutagain #flexibilityatitsfinest
Michael Owen @mowen1101 - 6:00 pm
Warm up all ready to go - waiting on my students #colombiantime #typical #sixpmreallymeanssixthirtypm
Michael Owen @mowen1101 - 8:00 pm
@communityenglish wrapped up another successful class #lovethesestudents #bestpartofmyday

Michael Owen @mowen1101 - 8:26 pm
Scraping together dinner #yogurtandgranola #peanutbutterandjelly #cheesetris
Michael Owen @mowen1101 - 9:49 pm
All tuckered out and watching TV reruns #friends #HIMYM #bones #modernfamily #parksandrec #bigbangtheory
Michael Owen @mowen1101 - 11:30 pm
@PeaceCorpsColombia lights out #repeattomorrow #neveradullday #peacecorpslife

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Finding a Sense of Home and Community

"Home is where your rump rests" - Pumbaa from "The Lion King"

When constantly traveling, it can be hard to feel a constant sense of "home". Whether I've stayed somewhere for six weeks or two years, it can still be a struggle to utter that phrase "I feel at home here." Luckily, I haven't really had too many issues with that here in Colombia. My time here has been marked by three very distinct moves:

1. End of August 2014 to mid-November 2014: For the first three months in country, while we were completing our initial training, I lived in Barranquilla in a simple, one floor apartment above a small tienda. My host parents were amazing people and I still visit them from time to time when I have time or need a place to crash in the city.

2. Mid-November 2014 - End of January 2015: After receiving my initial site placement, I moved in with another family, this time in southern Barranquilla. This two-story house was filled with my host parents, host grandmother, host brother, his girlfriend, their newborn, and my host sister and her son. It was a lot of people for a small space, but I quickly learned to enjoy the constant hustle and bustle of having people in and out of the house.

3. Februrary 2015 - Present:  I was moved a third time at the beginning of Februrary 2015 to Repelón, where I am currently living and serving the remainder of my Peace Corps service. Here I have been blessed with really not only one home, but two. The first home is my current place of residence. My host mom runs a restaurant from the back of the house and serves the best food in town (I may be a bit biased, but it's true). My host dad works on the local finca and is always bringing home fresh mangoes and papayas for us to enjoy.

The house itself is one of the nicer ones in town. Inside the actual house itself are 5 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen, and a living room/dining room combo. Out back, behind the house, is where the real benefit lies. Another kitchen is accompanied by three more rooms (one of them being mine) and a beautiful cabana that doubles as a restaurant during the lunch hour. Due to the small size of Repelón, the extra rooms and space double as a type of hotel for those that are visiting family and friends and need a place to stay. Once again, my life here is definitely not devoid of activity and human contact.

My humble abode here in Repelón
The living room/dining room that's really just more for show that use
The outside kitchen where all of the food goodness happens
The cabana/restaurant in the back yard
My second "home" here in town came about as a bit of a surprise and rather unexpectedly. On my second day in town, I was at school when my coordinator came to find me. She told me that the local police were looking for me and wanted to talk. Naturally, I was a bit freaked out since no one really wants to have the cops actively looking for them, especially in a foreign country! Turns out, the police chief, who is definitely currently one of my best friends in town, wanted to introduce himself and inquire about English classes for himself and the other cops in town.

Gradually, over time, I have used the police station as my get away in town. One of the real benefits about the station is the air condition and free WiFi. When living in a town that constantly feels like it's on the sun, any escape from the heat is welcomed and sought out. Over time, what started out simply as English classes has turned into a "home away from home" while I've been here. Who thought when I moved to town that my best friend would be the police chief and I would actively choose to go to the police station!

The road leading to the police station
Where the motorcycles are kept when not in use
The soccer field where local kids play daily to keep active
The actual station itself 
Throughout all of my travels, I have stayed in various homes, apartments, and living situations. However, through all of those experiences, there is just one thing that I can always count on - the people. I am constantly being blessed with amazing people who come across my path, no matter where I am living or what I am doing. It is through this sense of community that I am able to overcome any feelings of homesickness or loneliness that I may have. It is through these unexpected experiences that the true joy of traveling and living abroad is born.

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Journey to Colombia

As the calendar pages flipped from 2015 to 2016, I have found myself doing some reflecting on the past few years. In the last year of my 20's, I have been asked by many people the question of how I ended up in Colombia, along with why I am still single and show no signs of settling down anytime soon. To really answer that question, we need to start a few years back - 29 to be exact...

Ever since I can remember, I have been a traveler. My first flight happened when I was no more than 3 or 4 months old, as my parents and I would make trips back and forth from Washington D.C. (where I was born) to Iowa and Illinois (where my parent's families are located). This constant moving about to new places and cities just became part of life. 

When I was 5, my family moved to a small town in southeastern Iowa to be closer to family. This move, from the large, bustling city to a confined farming town was a huge factor in why I currently find myself sitting at a café in Colombia recounting my journey. Growing up, I was never satisfied with the limits that living in a rural community presented me. The want and desire to explore everything around me began building up inside of me.

Finally, as a 16-year-old, my first opportunity to truly step outside of my comfort zone presented itself. I spent six weeks during the summer living in San Jose, Costa Rica. The efforts of the local Lions Club helped make this adventure possible. This was my first true taste of what existed beyond the borders of Iowa and the United States. Remember, I had a very limited Spanish ability and had no real idea of what I was getting myself into. However, I just remember the rush of stepping off the plane in a foreign land and just having to figure out how to survive and persevere.

My trip to San José quickly turned into a two-week stay in the town of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, where I took intensive Spanish courses at a local school. This was my first experience traveling with a somewhat organized group and it stuck. Being able to meet and interact with other people from the USA helped open my eyes to how others within my own country lived and thrived. It also shed some light on the fact that Iowa is somewhat of an anomaly to Americans. Quickly, I was charged with not only representing my country, but also my state. Needless to say, this challenge has been accepted.

As my high school days came to a close and I started college, I gradually discovered that opportunities to continue traveling surrounded me at every turn. It was during college that my current desire to visit every continent was instilled. Through the help of Camp Adventure Child and Youth Services, a program headquartered at the University of Northern Iowa that equips college students all over the country with the skills and opportunity to be summer camp counselors on American military bases all over the world, I was able to start checking things off my bucket list.

The time that I spent in Japan, Germany, Italy, and Hawaii really helped shape who I am today. Seeing the beauty that each of these separate locations (as well as those nearby) just reaffirmed the fact that there is so much to see and do. The memories of visiting the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, hiking to the top of Mt. Fuji in Japan, and seeing the ruins of Rome, Italy, among other amazing experiences, continue to fuel my desire to never be tied down to one place for an extended period of time. 

Also during my college years, I was fortunate enough to be able to study abroad in the quaint, yet lively city of Oviedo, Spain. This semester truly opened my eyes to the hundreds of options that were available to me in terms of future plans. I was able to not only experience a different education system for the first time, I was also able to successfully live and thrive in a new culture and language that was not my native one. Looking back on my journey, it was truly this semester in Spain that really sparked my desire to teach outside of the United States. 

Following my graduation from college, I decided to take the plunge and try my hand at teaching outside of the US. I embarked on the long 13-hour flight to Seoul, South Korea not at all sure what I would find or how this next adventure would end up. The next year was marked with a renewed appreciation for the American education system, friendships that literally spanned the globe, and an even greater understanding of where my true calling was.

So, after a two-year stint in southern Florida with an amazing AmeriCorps program (which also just further justified my new found desire to both teach and be outside of the Untied States), I applied for the Peace Corps and was accepted as a Teaching English for Livlihoods (TEL) volunteer in Colombia, South America. I am currently living in a small, rural town in the northern department of Atlanticó. While these past 17 months have been anything but easy, they have taught me so much about not only myself but what it really means to be apart of a community of humans that do generally care.

Being able to finally live out one of my biggest dreams and goals in life has been nothing short of amazing. I've given up serious relationships, financial stability, and special moments in the lives of friends and families to not only be in Colombia, but to be true to myself and travel the world. So, I'm looking forward to the new highs and lows that 2016 brings me. Hopefully the close of this magnificent ride in Colombia will just lead to more amazing and exciting opportunities.

Travel Timeline

With my host family in Guatemala (2005)
Capsule hotel in Tokyo, Japan (2007)
Parque Guell - Barcelona, Spain (2008)
Reichstag - Berlin, Germany (2008)
Cinque Terra, Italy (2009)
Diamond Head - Honolulu, Hawaii (2009)
John Lennon Wall - Prague, Czech Republic (2010)
Baseball Game - Seoul, South Korea (2011)
Jungle Experience - Bangkok, Thailand (2012)
Top of Taipei 101 - Taipei, Taiwan (2012)

South Beach - Miami, Florida (2014)
La Piedra - Guatape, Colombia (2015)

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015