Hola de Colombia! My name is Sara French and I am an English Teaching Fellow in Colombia, South America. I graduated from Davidson College in North Carolina this past May with the daunting thought of “what am I going to do with my life?” I think this crosses every college graduates’ mind at some point. I studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina during Spring 2014 and always knew I wanted to return to South America.
After a summer of extensive internet searches I found Connecting Worlds Latin America, an Argentine-based organization that places applicants in paid volunteer positions throughout Latin America. Cristina, the founder and director of CW, has been an integral part of awesome experience here thus far. Cristina and her team are experienced, professional, and personable. A big thank you to Connecting Worlds for allowing me to live my dream here in South America!
After months of planning, days of packing, and some unexpected flight delays, I arrived in Bogota two weeks ago for orientation. There are 400 fellows starting with me this January and are placed in various cities throughout Colombia. I am placed in Cali, a city located near the Pacific coast, with around 40 others. Known as the world capital of salsa, this city already has me hooked. Despite the large population of around 2 million people, Cali has a small town feel in each of its distinct barrios.
Let me backtrack a bit. Orientation was full of helpful events such as seminars on Colombian culture, safety, and an extensive TEFL workshop. Located in the vibrant capital of Bogota the past two weeks were eventful, tiring, and fun. Orientation brought together all the fellows from across the globe. I had roommates from Kenya, Venezuela, and Brazil.
One of the best parts of my two weeks in the capital was getting to know this eclectic group of fellows. Our busy training schedule did not deter us from exploring all Bogota has to offer. Lined with intricate street art, there is always something to do in Bogota. If you enjoy shopping Bogota is the city for you as it not only boasts many small artesanal markets but also state-of-the-art shopping centers, such as Unicentro.
La Zona Rosa is an energetic part of the city with a variety of nightlife options. Here a few of the fellows experienced “Gringo Tuesday” a Tuesday night language exchange that turns into large fiesta at night. The historic city center, La Candelaria, transports tourists back in time with its colonial architecture. Overall Bogota is a city I wish I had more time to explore and I will definitely be taking a long-weekend trip back to experience life as a bogotano.
Now, Cali. I arrived to my placement city less than 72 hours ago and I already feel like I am home. Calenos (people of Cali) are warm, friendly, and always willing to help out with directions or when you may be struggling with Spanish (say while you are ordering a coffee at Juan Valdez…).
I am writing from the beautiful balcony of my hostel which overlooks a cute barrio filled with cafes and local restaurants. A side note on Juan Valdez, this cafe chain has locations throughout Colombia and I have recently become addicted to their coffee. Each morning I walk 3.5 blocks down the street to order a “cafe con leche.” I love the cafe culture of Colombia as it is hard to walk outside without spotting a corner cafe offering coffee, teas, and pastries. I will probably need to find a gym soon…
This week I visited the school where I will be teaching for the year. It is located in the residential barrio El Sena in the north of Cali. I am placed with another fellow which is nice so we will be able to bounce ideas and other teaching strategies off one another. My co-fellow and I were greeted by not just our co-teachers but the entire faculty. I have never felt so overwhelmed with excitement and gratitude as many teachers offered assistance finding permanent housing, restaurant recommendations and kind words of appreciation.I already have quite a few dinner invitations.
While I consider myself extremely independent and self-sufficient it was so nice to receive such a warm welcome in a new school, new country and new continent. Ever since my arrival in Cali I have felt at times more at home than I did in the States. The friendly Caleno spirit is contagious and I am so excited to be a part of it.
After touring the school we were invited to a teacher luncheon at this delicious Colombian restaurant where we were treated to “comida tipica.” Bandeja Paisa is a typical lunch dish here in Colombia and it does not disappoint. This dish contains a hefty combination of rice, plantains, beans, chorizo, arepa, chicharron, and is topped with a fried egg. You can find this plate at almost any restaurant here. Colombians love their lunch, in fact it is usually the largest meal of the day. Each restaurant has their own special of the day which both affordable and tasty. I once again find myself writing about Colombian food in this article. In short, you will not be disappointed with the cuisine in this country.
I could write another five pages on my first three weeks in this beautiful country. While not everything has been easy, I have met the challenges with the happy-go-lucky spirit of Colombia which has made the few hardships less stressful. By hardships I mean the occasional Spanish language misunderstandings and a lost bag. For now I am focusing on finding more permanent housing with the help of my regional coordinator.
In each city there are 1-3 regional coordinators that assist fellows with finding accommodation, language barriers, and serve as support bases. I am so excited to finally be in Cali and am ready to begin a challenging, fun, and rewarding year here in Colombia. I will be posting about my time here in Colombia throughout the coming months along with pictures (if I can remember to take them). Until next time, Sara
Infinite possibilities and the chance of a life-time experience are awaiting you! Want to join us?