Tim relaxes in a hammock at Hostal Colonial

Interview With a Fellow – Tim Hoban

Tim is one of five fellow who has worked alongside Colombian teachers here in Palmira from February to June 2016. We shared a house together while he was here and before he left I asked him the following questions…..

Who are you and where are you from?

Hi I’m Tim Hoban. I’m 23 years old and I’m from Melbourne, Australia.

Tim relaxes in a hammock at Hostal Colonial
Tim relaxes in a hammock at Hostal Colonial

Why did you decide to volunteer on the Heart For Change/Volunteers For Colombia co-teaching programme?

My sister started with the program in June of 2015 and she encouraged me to apply. She was having a great time and had decided to extend her contract for an extra six months. I wasn’t quite ready to get my first proper job after finishing my engineering degree so I was easily convinced to come over and and hang out with her.

Tell us a little bit about your school.

I love my school and I think I’ve really lucked out being placed there. It’s called Cardenas Mirrinao and its in the north of Palmira, quite close to some of the more wealthy neighbourhoods of the city, so both the school and the students seem to be slightly better off than many of the schools that other fellows have been placed in.

The location is great. It’s surrounded by large trees and lots of natural vegetation which have the effect of keeping the school relatively cool compared with the otherwise unbearably hot temperatures of the rest of Palmira.

The front entrance to Cardena Mirrinao School in Palmira by Jose Luis Correa

How have you found your co-teachers and your work in the classroom?

I work a combination of both the morning and afternoon which means I have three different co-teachers.

I have very few classes with Nora who is also my mentor. She teaches 11th grade so her classes tend to be focused on activities taken from past ICFES tests. This is the major test which the 11th grade students undertake to determine their score to enter into university. Nora has a very relaxed attitude and generally only likes to set one or two activities per class so they generally finish quite early.

Nora also does a lot of extra curricular organisation in the school and is involved in the teachers union or “syndicato”. This conjured up much more sinister ideas in my mind when she first told me about it!

Diana tends towards more dynamic activities in our 10th grade classes, which I enjoy a lot and she gives me a lot more freedom and responsibility to organise and carry out the activities. She likes it when the students are active and motivated, which changes from class to class. So she is very energised after teaching a class with 10-1 and a bit deflated after a class with 10-4.

I teach 9th grade with Natalia in the afternoons who is a bit younger than my other teachers and has fantastic English. She also tends to run some more interactive activities and is open to trying new ideas out. She even once initiated a feedback session at the end of an activity which required the students to use introspection! Far beyond anything else I’ve seen in the Colombian education system.

What will you miss most about living and working in Palmira?

I think I will miss the teaching most when I leave. After travelling for a few months I intend to go home and find an engineering focused job, so I’m not sure I’ll have many opportunities in the near future to do much teaching.

I’ve really enjoyed interacting with the students. They’re always fun and are constantly entertaining and making me laugh. There is also a creative problem-solving and adaptability required when teaching in a classroom that I find engaging, rewarding and challenging.

Tim celebrating the arrival of the new text books with some of his students
Tim celebrating the arrival of the new text books with some of his students

What won’t you miss about living and working in Palmira?

I will not miss the traffic of Colombia. I ride my bike the 20 minutes to school and back and it is generally somewhere between a frightening disaray and absolute chaos. I’m not sure what the Colombian road rules actually are but it tends to be you can do basically anything at your own risk.

I’m pretty sure that cyclists aren’t allowed to run red lights but I’m yet to see another cyclist stop at one when they were physically capable of going through without being hit by another vehicle. I’ve not had too many close calls, but it definitely wakes me up before my morning classes!

So Tim, do you like Colombian food?

Yes I absolutely love Colombian “fruits”!… you said fruits right..? The lack of seasons in Colombia means that there is an abundance of fresh fruits of every variety available year round many of which I had never seen or heard of before. Some of my personal favourites are maracuyas, granadillas, mango, guanabana, lulo, fresas, narajas, mora and ………. well the list just keeps going.

I usually like them in the form of a lovely refreshing juice or together cut up with a combination of ice, ice cream, and a seemingly unlimited supply of condensed milk in what Colombians call a cholado that I believe is their attempt to cancel out any of the health benefits provided from eating the fruits.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about travelling to Colombia?

I would maybe suggest having a tiny bit of Spanish before coming. I had basically nothing when I arrived and I have found Colombia to be probably the most challenging country that I have visited to travel around with only English. Having said that, don’t let that deter you too much, you should absolutely come,

This country is so rich in culture and diversity with everything from snow capped mountains, to Caribbean beaches, Amazon rainforest and everything in between. My go to phrase when asked about my impression of Colombia is ‘la gente son muy amable y el pais es espectacular” (the people are very friendly and the country is spectacular).

Many thanks to Tim for answering my questions. We’re going to miss his joyful nature and boundless enthusiasm for Colombian living.

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