The flight and arrival to Colombia was wonderfully uneventful. The drive to Villavicencio required me to put great trust in God and Dale. Once we arrived in Villavicencio, I was put at ease. Everyone was welcoming and patient with my lack of Spanish. Having Kim there to share my observations and mistakes made the transition easier. Once she and Dale left I thought I would experience culture shock since Martin is the only other fluent English speaker and he wasn’t due back for a week. Everyone was so helpful and concerned about me it felt like I was part of their family after only being there a week.
I began my English teaching by filling in for Martin in his classes and teaching classes after school for elementary through adult students. As a teacher in the U.S., I had my expectations for discipline and methods of teaching. I soon found that I couldn’t teach or discipline the same way I had in my own classroom. First of all, I wasn’t able to express what I wanted to say to the students in regards to my expectations because I didn’t know how to say it in Spanish. The discipline director, academic director, and other teachers quickly stepped in to express their expectations. The class sizes required that I adjust my teaching methods in order to maintain order and interest. I was very frustrated at the lack of interest in the middle school age students. I had to constantly think of ways to keep them actively involved and on task. Once the students and I developed a rapport they were more attentive and interested. This matches their development, as elementary age students are more open to change and making mistakes in front of their peers. The high school age students knew the importance of learning English for their future careers and college. The middle school age students didn’t have a goal in mind like the older students or the comfort level of the younger students. My after school classes were easier as the class sizes were small and the students had chosen to attend. I was also creating the curriculum so I was able to use teachable moments to guide my teaching. While I wasn’t there long enough to see great progress I did see students begin to make connections between previously taught concepts and those we were currently discussing. This is a sign of true learning and not simply memorization.
While in Villavo I unexpectedly become involved with the youth. Youth is considered anyone middle school age through unmarried adults. Therefore surprisingly, I wasn’t the oldest one in the group. The youth included me in their conversations at school and outside of school. We spoke partly in Spanish and partly in English as we both tried to teach each other. They invited me to their youth meetings and to hang out with them. In the course of our casual exchanges I was able to support some of the church’s teaching on issues that affect the youth. They weren’t always receptive, but another voice supporting what they know in their hearts to be true to God’s word may be the one they remember when faced with a difficult decision. I never experienced culture shock while in Colombia. I attribute that to the people. I was not treated as an outsider or foreigner. I was supported, encouraged, and welcomed.
The people in Colombia were amazing. No matter how little they had or the trials they were facing their faith was strong and they shared it openly. It was so refreshing to hear teachers able to share their faith and administrators that supported and encouraged that. I hope that I was able to impact the people in Villavo even a tenth as much as they impacted me.