After nearly six months of holiday I returned to Bogota on the 10th January to start work. During October and November I’d applied for and got a job from January until November teaching English in a public school in Palmira as part of the Colombia Bilingue program that is being run by the Colombian Ministry of Education.
Having spent six months travelling independently, first with Vicki and then alone, it was a novel experience to be met at the airport and transported to an upmarket hotel for the first weeks of training. Having got used to being on my own, organising my own plans and spending time on my own I was suddenly plunged into sharing a room with four strangers, having a schedule to follow and barely having a moment to myself.
I was obviously keen to set a good impression with my new employers and co-workers. Unfortunately I had a breakfast of dubious provenance on my last morning in Medellin. By the time I had landed in Bogota I was already feeling a bit queasy and at the hotel it was all I could do to dump my bags on the bedroom floor before spending a long time in the bathroom. My new roommate came in a couple of hours later and was greeted by the sight of me kneeling in front of the toilet looking somewhat green.
Needless to say, this was not the first impression I had hoped to make.
It took me a few days to get back to normal, but I was able to drag myself to the various orientation activities. As well as information about the programme there were also visits to the Immigration Office and Banco de Bogota. These were to apply for our Colombian Cedula (national ID card) and for a Colombian bank account.
These weren’t the most exciting of excursions, but what they represented made me very happy. When we set out in July one of my aims had been to live and work in one place for a year and get to know a different culture and way of life. A Colombian ID card and bank account were both symbols that I was well on the way to achieving that. Oh, and now I get to tell people that I am an honorary Colombian.
The session from the directors of Heart For Change and Volunteers Colombia, the two Colombian social enterprises that run the program, were really interesting. They spoke about the Colombian education system and especially the inequality between public and private schools.
In Colombia about 20 per cent of children are educated in private schools. A lot of them have native speakers who support English lessons, the kids will often have people in their family who speak the language and so they usually
have a good standard of English themselves. The schools are well equipped with Internet access and the students obviously come from more privileged backgrounds.
The public schools have scarce resources and many of them have separate morning and an afternoon shifts to make the maximum use of the schools. This means that lessons start as early as six o’clock on the morning shift. At 12 to 12.30 the morning lot leave and the afternoon school comes in, working until between 6 and 7 o’clock.
This was the first time anybody had mentioned a six am start to me and I was a bit startled by the proposition.
Anyway, the Colombian government through it’s Ministry of Education is setting a lot of store on improving young people’s English. Colombia is currently classified as having a Very Low Proficiency In English according to EF Education First. The government see English proficiency as necessary in a global economy, hence the Colombia Bilingue programme.
After two weeks spent meeting lots of other new teachers I set out for Bogota airport at 3.30 in the morning – I think they were getting us ready for our early starts – with my new colleagues who were also coming to Palmira.
I was tired, a little apprehensive about moving to my new home and even more so about my ability to help the students learn English there. Mainly though I was pleased that all the planning and preparation of the past 15 months had come to fruition.