Thursday, August 25, 2011

Setting up shop in Bogota

I cannot believe it has only been four days since I arrived - my brain is on fire (constantly translating things from Spanish to English and English to Spanish!) and I've been going non-stop.

On Monday morning I began teaching. My schedule is different each day. Some days I have no classes, some days I have a little over three hours of classes. The students are adorable, incredibly organized and eager to learn. As with all 6th and 7th graders, some of them are a bit hyper and many of them need you to spell out every detail for them - they are not yet comfortable making decisions on their own (Kate, do what's the title? Kate, do we need to copy the instructions? Kate, can I throw this out? Kate.. Kate... Kate..) And yes, at my school teachers go by their first names - I LOVE it.

The school seems to be a really great school. The students have a lot of independence - even as middle schoolers - but they seem to be able to handle it very well. They are punctual and respectful. The staff is also so kind. Many teachers do not speak English and so I am getting a lot of practice and learning new words and phrases each day. My department head has been by my side working every day - helping me get my keys, my supplies, complete paperwork, prepare my scope & sequence, etc. It is a lot of extra work for him but he does not let it show that I am inconveniencing him.

Today I had no classes, so I was given the day to get all my errands done so that my paperwork could be completed. One of the staff members met me at 7:30 am and was with me until 5 pm running errands all around the city. Again - the hospitality is unbelieveable. It would have been nearly impossible for me to get everything done today without her. I should note, she speaks no English. So I survived an entire day in Spanish. It was tough in the beginning but she taught we a lot and we even found ourselves laughing a few times at our jokes. It was great fun. So what did I have to do? First I had to get a medical exam. Then I needed to find out my blood type so I had to go to lab to get my blood taken. (Turns out I'm A+ if anyone's curious) :) Next we had to go to two banks - one to make a payment for my tarjeta de extranjera (kind of like a green card) and one to open a bank account. I then had to get photos made and finally (before lunch) I went and applied for my tarjeta de extranjera. I am now official in the eyes of Colombia because I have my own I.D. number. Hooray.

After lunch Melida and I looked at several apartments and I am happy to announce that I have found one! They were all pretty nice but I will be living in a home with a mother and her daughter who is in college. I have my own bedroom and bathroom and then share the kitchen and other living spaces. It is in a gated community that is absolutely beautiful and is in a more residential area in the northern part of the city. They have two dogs (pugs - so cute!) and the mother is very crafty - she makes jewelry, knits, bakes, etc. She also owns a farm in the mountains outside of Bogota and goes there every weekend. She has told me that I can join her whenever I would like - SWEET!!!!

So a very successful day and successful few days. I will be living in the hotel until August 31 and will move into my new place on Thursday, September 1. As is probably pretty apparent - I am extremely happy and cannot wait to see how things continue to play out.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Why Bogota?!

Tonight I arrive in Bogota. I cannot believe it. Tomorrow I begin teaching and it all just feels a bit unreal but I am very excited. There will be many more details to come as this tale unfolds but many of you do not even know why or how I ended up here in Bogota, so here’s the story (I’ll do my best to be brief, but it’s kind of weird twist of events):

I went to Harvard this year thinking I wanted to return to Uganda to work. All my major papers were written about Northern Uganda – policy and program proposals for how to improve the education and thus the economy and quality of life. Despite this fact, I continued to study Spanish while at Harvard. I felt like the only person in the International Education Policy program NOT fluent in at least two languages and because I already knew some Spanish that seemed to make the most sense. I think my advisor and program director disagreed – but now I wish I had take two semesters of Spanish.

In addition to studying Spanish, I also served on my program’s advisory board. Through this position, I ended up helping to plan an international study trip to Bogota and Cartagena, Colombia to look at the country’s education system and some of the innovations in education taking place there. See the blog our group created if you want to learn more about it. The planning of the trip was supported by Cecilia Maria Velez, a visiting professor at Harvard and the former Minister of Education of Colombia. She is an incredible woman and helped us to put together and incredible visit to Colombia. I fell in love with the country.

Finally, prior to graduate school I taught in Houston, Texas. Many of my students come from families where Spanish is the primary, often only, language spoken in the home. I loved teaching and the work I was doing in Houston but I was constantly frustrated that my lack of proficiency in Spanish prevented me from developing strong relationships with families of my students – relationships that would ultimately have increased my students’ success.

So – studying Spanish, visiting Colombia and not wanting to ever be prevented from communicating with the families of my students – I’ve decided to leave the States for two years. I will be teaching at a school called Gimnasio La Montana. The school is for students K through 11 (which is equivalent to 12th grade in the U.S.). I will be teaching 5th grade geometry (which is equivalent to 6th grade in the U.S.) and 6th grade mathematics and geometry (which is equivalent to 7th grade in the U.S. …noticing a pattern?). Additionally, I will be a part of committee to help the school revise its curricula to incorporate 21st century skills in all that they do. It is still a bit unclear what this exactly means but I’ll keep you posted. As far as housing goes, I’ll be living in a hotel my first week until I am able to look at some of the places my school director thinks are nice and can choose the place that is best for me.

This is what I know.
Let the adventure begin!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A longer stay in Colombia

So many of you have already heard, but for those of you who haven't - I've decided to move to Bogota, Colombia. I've signed a contract with a private bilingual school in the city where I will be teaching 6th and 7th grade mathematics and working on curriculum with the school.

I leave on Sunday, August 21st. My goal is to actually blog for the next two years to document my experience living abroad. I think I might be crazy (old news to many of you I'm sure) - but I am very excited.

Stay tuned for the details...