Category Archives: TEFL in Columbia

The life of a working traveler

4 weeks.  1 job.  2 cities.  And I’m told understandable Spanish.

Open windows beg for voyerism and I continue to look through every door and window I can.  This is from Cartagena, though these same delights hide behind Bogota doors.

Open windows beg for voyeurism and I continue to look through every door and window I can. This is from Cartagena, though these same delights hide behind Bogotá doors.

Mix it up for a happy month and a dizzy mind.   After a month in Colombia, from the Caribbean to the capital, I’m confused, or maybe just overwhelmed.  Walking the streets is like being shaken inside a kaleidoscope, causing me to stop at corners and look 6 ways.  Maybe it’s all the coffee – more likely it’s all the sights and sounds.  On top of that, like Goldilocks, I’m in search of the right spot to settle into for the next few months.  All I know, is looking for work adds an interesting dimension to traveling – I’m asking myself how it would feel to be ‘here’ for any period of time – and questioning what I want most of this ‘adventure’.

The Palace of the President!  Recommended by my hostel' hostess (Spanish speaking only!).  Grand and seemingly accessible too.

The Palace of the President! Recommended by my hostel’ hostess (Spanish-speaking only!). Grand and seemingly accessible too.

Back in Bogotá for a few days before I head to Medellin, the expected verdict is written in cobblestone:  this city is too big, buzzy, crowded, and smoggy for me.  While big cities are in my blood, at this elevation my blood is thinner and the appeal of a big city isn’t flowing as smoothly.  Though my perspective has softened:  I view the hustle and grunge around me through 1980’s NYC eyes.  This will be a powerful place in years to come IF they can switch from diesel.  That’s the deal breaker for me.  There’s already so much in the works for turning this into a model city including building a pedestrian mall along the main street.

This courtyard seems to be by the cathedral - and guarded.

This courtyard seems to be by the cathedral – and guarded.

The city is filled with historic grandeur and architecture spanning several centuries.  Anything you desire is likely to be sold on the streets or within a block or two of where you are.  People linger over coffee at Juan Valdez, Colombia’s Starbucks where businessmen and students mingle in the warm afternoon sun.  Although life moves faster here than in Cartagena, I see more people stroll than race down the street.  I’ve wandered into almost every museum, grasping for history and culture of this diverse and rich country, and learning mostly about my limited communication skills:  I’m the mono-lingual ‘ugly (north) American.  My sympathies are renewed for all non-English speakers who venture into the U.S. and walk around seeing without being able to understand everything around them.  I eagerly returned to the Museum of Heroes today for a promised 3:00 tour in English that wasn’t.  My hope and expectation is to understand by December….

Last picture of my Presidential Palace walk.  I was in a museum and heard a marching band.  Racing out, I discovered they were changing the guard - nothing like Buckingham Palace.  These guards all looked to be around 18 and learning the ropes of marching in step.  I never saw the band though….

Last picture of my Presidential Palace walk. I was in a museum and heard a marching band. Racing out, I discovered they were changing the guard – nothing like Buckingham Palace. These guards all looked to be around 18 and learning the ropes of marching in step. I never saw the band though….

It’s all about the language:  that’s why I’m here, right?  Why should people speak English?  Any more than most of us in the U.S. speak Spanish.  Yet, as this city and country turn to the future, it’s with a bi-lingual voice.  Unbelievable to think about right now that by 2018 English will be found on restaurant signs and spoken at airports or hotels.

There is one unifying action that ties the world together:  being glued to our phones while walking, sitting at a cafe, or just for taking pictures.  And I’m embarrassed to say, awaiting replies, I’m slowly wearing away my right thumbprint swiping open my email.  Language be damned – we are all connected!

Passing through one museum into another in Bogota's center

Passing through one museum into another in Bogota’s center

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A new journey: Bogota I have arrived!

Once a wanderer, always a wanderer.  Three years ago I took off for Eastern Europe conversing with Jewish communities about identity.  Little did I know how much those conversations would become part of my identity and world view.  These past years found me physically in New York, but mentally in transit.  Last Yom Kippur I decided it was time to reconcile my mental and physical states and temporarily changing countries.  That’s the cliff note version of how I now find myself in Columbia – looking for an English teaching job.  Like I said – cliff note version.

 

Every country has their 'coca cola' sign - perhaps most appropriate here?  This was taken at the modern art museum

Every country has their ‘coca cola’ sign – perhaps most appropriate here? This was taken at the modern art museum

This is the beginning of conversational journey 2.0:  I’ll be connecting with the Jewish community here (as soon as I get security approved – more on that later).  Thought I expect to take lots of side trips on this road including staying here for several months and teaching English (I hope).   Columbia is a country in flux, with a presidential vision to become the premiere seat of Latin America.  Increasing English fluency is part of that vision, and I hope to be part of it.   Three days into my ‘trip’, I’m feeling differences between Latin America and Eastern Europe:  or is it my filter?  Is it just that I feel different? I suppose time will tell.

One of main squares filled with families enjoying the 'shows'.  Yes, those are llamas.

One of main squares filled with families enjoying the ‘shows’. Yes, those are llamas.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t go back to Eastern Europe to teach English – good question:  it is hard for Americans (with no experience) to find jobs.  Companies prefer to hire people with EU passports with no need for visas.  Besides, I now have the opportunity to explore a new part of the world, with a different history and very different culture.

The city center is filled with stalls and was crowded with Saturday shoppers.  Different - but with a touch of NYC's Chinatown

The city center is filled with stalls and was crowded with Saturday shoppers. Different – but with a touch of NYC’s Chinatown

One thing is for sure – language – or more specifically a common language – is key. When I first traveled to Soviet Eastern Europe over thirty years ago, my non-verbal communication and an occasional word got me by with shared laughter and (I think) understanding.  The power of youth prevented the lack of a common language from being a barrier.  Three decades later, in 5772, it was verbal communication that secured my trip’s meaning and connection.  Lucky for me, English is, and is becoming, the international language.

English need = Linda’s job opportunity!

As my 2014/5775 trip began on LAN airlines from Miami to Bogotá, English was the obvious step-child.  Translations were rushed and not well enunciated.  You’ll be happy to know I made it through the flight – and more importantly through customs with my less than mediocre Spanish.  Seeing the sites requires open eyes, listening to stories requires an open mind – and a common language.   I’m dusting off and polishing my Spanish with the expectation I’ll understand the flight attendants on my December return flight.

Bogota has a superior network of art museums.  Most famously, the Museo de Botero.  A larger version of these statues welcome visitors to the Time Warner building in NYC's Columbus Circle.

Bogotá has a superior network of art museums. Most famously, the Museo de Botero, which highlights Botero’s work. A larger version of these statues welcome visitors to the Time Warner building in NYC’s Columbus Circle.

I’m used to diversity in New York.  A daily ride on the subway was shared with people and languages from all over the world.  Still, it was my English and my culture that kept me safe while feeding my sense of worldliness.  Non-english speakers traveling to the states were seen huddled around maps on street corners.  They were unable to ask for directions.  What a lonely way to travel – as I’m experiencing right now.  I’m doing a darn good job of just smiling and nodding.

I'm looking forward to enjoying the natural beauty of this diverse country.

I’m looking forward to enjoying the natural beauty of this diverse country.

So I start this new journey without a clear path or even final destination.   I’ll listen and learn from those I meet, while listening and learning from my own experiences as a newly minted expat teacher.    Stay tuned and share any advice or thoughts on teaching abroad or learning a new language.

Wishing you great conversations!