September 2018

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What comes to mind when you think of Colombia? Undeniably, the first things that rush to my mind are the Andes mountains, breathtakingly beautiful landscapes, the Transmilenio, Empanadas and Arepas, good customer service, vast lands, rich colonial architecture and pigeons! Before embarking on this unforgettable journey of becoming an English Language Assistant in Colombia, my main intention was to just take a year off and travel.

The opportunity to teach English in a Latin American country inevitably resulted in many changed perceptions, improved my foreign language capabilities, improved my teaching and public speaking skills, gave me a great sense of independence and personal growth and introduced me to a completely different culture which, in my strong opinion, can all come with the experience of a study exchange or being an English Language Assistant in a foreign land.

I completed my UWI degree with a special in International Relations and a minor in Spanish. At first, I thought that the English Language Assistant programme was limited to students with a Major in Spanish. It turned out that students pursuing a minor in Spanish could also apply.

The native Spanish Lecturers and their excellent course plans at the Centre for Language Learning (CLL), set the general foundation, but the learning experience you get from living in an actual Spanish-speaking country can never be gained in a classroom setting.

I was forced to speak the language every single day since most people did not know English. I was able to speak more fluently after a few months. Bearing in mind that conversational Spanish was not so easy for me before, I can now confidently tell anyone to take advantage of opportunities like these and live in a country for a year if you really want to fully learn a language or improve your fluency!

Teaching was the last thing on my mind as a profession. Leading up to the training sessions and mock classes at CLL in preparing us for the trip, I did not feel confident at all in the way that I presented topics and I clearly remembered questioning myself if this was something that I was capable of doing. More anxiety came when I learned that Language ‘Assistants’ would be individually assigned classes at the university, that is, no supervisor, no head of the language department, just you and the University students.

When I got to the University in Bogota I found that three language assistants from the United States and England would be there too. The teamwork, the creation of lesson plans, presentations and even a workbook for students to follow definitely made our work much easier and enjoyable. Without those three, life at the University would not have been the same and I must say that dancing to the Black Eyed Peas’ songs in our planning sessions was memorable!

So what were the students like in Colombia? I taught at a private university and found they were very respectful and willing to collaborate. Their English levels were really low and most times I found myself teaching English by speaking Spanish for them to fully understand the explanations. We used technology in class, the television, did PowerPoint presentations and played games. I often found myself Googling various in-class activities in order to make learning more fun.

Sharing the culture of our island was perhaps the best part where I often showed music videos and even did cultural presentations. I was amazed at the interest they had in our culture, even though most did not know where Trinidad and Tobago was located. The expressions on their faces were priceless and many were astonished at the fact that such a tiny island can comprise such diversity and yet exist in harmony. I had never felt this much patriotic in my life.

Even after 2 years I can vividly remember every single detail of my time in Colombia. I only worked 18 hours for the week which therefore meant a lot of free time to explore and learn! I took advantage of almost all the long weekends and holidays and attempted to travel to every inch of Colombia. This was to my disappointment impossible but I did get to do a substantial amount of trips while I was there. I mostly found myself hiking on the mountains, getting lost at times, learning about the history of various sites and mastering the art of travelling on the Transmilenio.