James talks to CW about his Teaching English experience in Cali, Colombia

To future candidates,

My name is James and I was part of the English Teaching Fellowship programme for the 5 month period and I was based in Cali. Like most of you, I didn´t really know what to expect from the programme or actually living in Colombia, so I hope this will help and answer any questions or quell any worries you may have. 

The program itself is a great concept and definitely is a huge help to the students that are able to benefit from it. We act as co-teachers and so if you are like me and had no prior experience then this is not a problem. You are there mainly because you are a native (or high level) speaker and they really want you to help with pronuciation, many grammar lessons will be led by the Colombian teacher. If you do have experience then you will find your feet incredibly quickly and if anything enjoy having two persons – as class sizes can reach as many as 50 students!
The orientation period can be a little tedious, but stick with it, there are a number of knowledgable people who are trying to enhance your experience and ability to help your students. You receive lots of help along the way from your regional coordinator, they are there to help with literally anything – problems at school, problems in the city or even just recommendations for where to go out! You do have to be paitent in this programme, the Colombian government can be a little disorganised at times but it is a large programme with a huge number of participants. You must be very flexible in your approach as things can change constantly and the Colombians do love a good strike.
Regarding Spanish, I personally came to the country with only the knowledge of the very basics – Hola, como estas y cuenta cuesta. This was very much chucking myself in the deep end, but I had a real desire to learn the language and didn´t mind the challenge. In the classroom this is not an issue, as the programme wants you to only speak English, even when explaining things, on the basis that the more they hear the more they will become used to it and learn – which is very true. So do not be worried about any lack of Spanish. You will soon pick up more than you think and well if you do speak Spanish they you will love it – Colombian Spanish is beautiful and much easier to understand than some of their South American counterparts (Chile for example!).
I know a big part of this is where you are based and many of you will from the off will desire Medellin (I did too of course) but I really wouldn´t worry about this. I was placed in Cali, a city that was not on my radar at all and scared me a little after doing some research. However, after 5 months there I didn´t want to leave and couldn´t have enjoyed it anymore – who knew I would be returning to the UK with the new-found ability to dance salsa! It was the same for most people I spoke to, Colombia is such a great place full of incredible people and you will enjoy your experience wherever you are placed. Anyway, you have so many long weekends and holidays that you are free to explore the places you wanted to be or have always wanted to see!
I hope this helps a bit and my best piece of advice really is just get stuck in! Don´t be afraid of putting yourself forward at school and try to fully experience the city or town you are placed in – you will be surprised at what you learn and enjoy! As they say in Colombia: ´el riesgo es que te quieras quedar!´ (the risk is that you will want to stay!)
Have fun!
James

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