6 Months in Colombia

Posted on 05/04/2012

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Wow. I can’t believe it’s been a little over 6 months 1) since I moved to Colombia and 2) since I updated my blog. The past 6 months have been hectic, busy, interesting, eye-opening, amazingly, and picked to the gill with awesomeness. I’ll try to give you an overview of the most important things that have happened since I moved to Barranquilla.

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I’ll start by telling you about my job. As you all know, the reason we moved to Barranquilla, Colombia (well one of the reasons) was because I got a job as an English professor at la Universidad del Norte here in Barranquilla. El Instituto de Idiomas (you can follow them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/idiomasuninorte) has 4 different English programs: undergraduate, extension (for non-university students, i.e. kids and adults), medicine, and business. The students I teach are in the undergraduate English program. English is a requirement for all undergraduate students at the university here, so my classes are full (on average I have 15-20 students per class). My students’ majors vary, but I’ve found the majority of them are engineering majors. As far as what levels I teach, I am teaching mainly higher level students. The Instituto de Idiomas is currently undergoing a switch in their system of levels. I am teaching a total of 4 classes right now, 2 in the new system and 2 in the old. Two of my classes are part of a new set of classes based on the concept of CLIL (Content & Language Integrated Learning). The title of these two courses is Content I: “Intercultural Communications,” and it is a course still in the making–this semester has been a true piloting. This course has been a big challenge for me, as I have been working very hard to “create” and find materials in order to have a basic “textbook” created by the end of this semester (end of May-ish). I’ve never really “created” a course, so it’s all been a new experience from which I have learned and continue to learn. I do, though, enjoy this course, because the content (intercultural communication) is something that strongly interests me; it’s been an interesting topic to cover with me students. The Content I classes are the next to last level in the new system–students in the old system do not take the CLIL based levels. My other two classes are level VII (in the old system, level V in the new). There is a total of 8 levels in the old system, so it’s the next to last level for students enrolled in the old system.

In addition to teaching, I am also working on two projects. I am helping organize the 2012 CLIL Symposium (more information here: www.clilsymposium.org), to take place at la Universidad del Norte on October 5th and 6th. It is a biannual event put together by la Universidad del Norte, la Universidad de la Sabana (Bogotá), and Pearson Colombia. The year’s topic is “From Theory To Classroom, Matching Models To Contexts,” and it looks like it will be a very interesting event. Hopefully we’ll have good attendance (feel free to spread the word if you know people that might want to present/attend the event). The other project I am working on is applying for an English Access Microscholarship Grant (http://www.grants.gov/search/search.do?mode=VIEW&oppId=156873) for el Instituto de Idiomas. We are just now beginning to work on our application, but this is a really exciting opportunity. It would be awesome if we were grant recipients. I’ve got my fingers crossed–cross yours, too 😉

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In regards to the university itself, the campus of la Universidad del Norte is beautiful. It’s very green, has loads of bougainvillea, lots of roaming iguanas, and a whole host of resident cats (my favorite is named Bandit, and reminds me of my cat Snowy–she’s in the picture above). The iguanas are native to Barranquilla–you see them in random parts of the city; the cats, however, are a product of people’s irresponsibility. People who no longer want their cat tend to bring it and drop it off on the university campus. Why? Because the university is outside the city, and as there is a group on campus that cares for the cats, people know the cat(s) will be well taken care of. El Instituto de Idiomas has it’s own block on campus (the campus is divided into blocks), and is close to the several of the eating points on campus. There’s a general cafeteria where you can pick from a host of different eating places, there’s a more sit-down cafe that has semi-gourmet options: pasta, crepes, etc.. and there’s a real sit-down restaurant called 1966, where my boss hosted a Thanksgiving lunch for us. I really do love the university campus. If you want to know more specifics about the university check this page that’s got more pictures of campus and information, albeit in Spanish 😉 http://www.uninorte.edu.co/catedraeuropa/catedra2011/secciones.asp?ID=47. Here’s a few of my own as well..

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Since I’ve started teaching here, I have noticed many differences between Colombian university students and U.S./U.K. university students. University students in Colombia tend to be MUCH younger than university students back home. Colombians generally finish high school at the age of 16, meaning university students here can be as young as 16! Due their young age, Colombian students have a totally different mindset/maturity level than U.S. students. Another difference is that it’s very outside the norm to have a Colombian university student who also has a job. While most U.S. students have some type of job during their time at university (whether it’s to earn extra money during Christmas break, or to pay for their own degree), most Colombian students do not get their first job until after they have graduate from university. For some majors in Colombia, students are required to take on an internship, which can provide them with job-like experience, but most are unpaid and not all students are required to have one. Another difference I’ve noticed is the time classes start and finish. There are classes at la Universidad del Norte (and at most Colombian universities) that start as early as 6:30am–I just cannot imagine myself being able to attend class that early, and classes that last until 8:30pm. Some of my students actually have class ALL day from 6:30am-6:30pm, with little or no break. I remember having tough days when I was at the University of Alabama, but never did I have a class at 6:30am, nor did I have days of 12 hours of class time. The classes students are required to take here are also different. In the U.S. students not only have the major/minor classes to take, but they also have a list of general, or core, classes they must take. Colombian students will only be required to take their major classes; there is not requirement for core classes or classes outside your major. English classes are an exception–due to the Colombia Bilingüe (Bilingual Colombia) program created by the Colombian government, English is becoming a requirement not only at a university level, but at an elementary, middle, and high school level as well. It has been interesting to become aware of all these differences…

Other than teaching, I’ve had the chance to travel a bit on the Atlantic/Caribbean coast. In October, took advantage of my fall break and went to Santa Marta (a coastal city about 2 hours from Barranquilla) and made a day trip to Parque Tayrona (a Colombian national park close to Santa Marta). Here are a few pictures from our trip:

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For New Year’s, we also did some traveling and went to the department (Colombia is divided into 32 departments) beside ours–la Guajira to visit our friend Nini. I have wanted to go to la Guajira, and more specifically el Cabo de la Vela since 2008, when I was in Colombia. It was an amazing trip that I will never forget. I’ll let the pictures talk for themselves.

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el Cabo de la Vela

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el Pilón de Azúcar

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On the left, me in a cactus forest on the way to Poportí where I found the shells on the right 🙂

The month of January flew by as I anxiously waited for my mom to come visit! Mom got here just in time for Carnaval (Carnaval here in Barranquilla is a UNESCO World Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity).

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The weekend before mom got here, Ele and I went to a Carnaval celebration in a small town close to Barranquilla called Santo Tomás (pictures above) with some people from the university. Like any good Carnaval parade, there was lots of foam and flour being thrown about. The incredible thing about the “Carnaval season” here in Barranquilla is that the WHOLE city comes to life. Everything is decorated for Carnaval, everyone wears things with Carnaval emblems or characters. Department stores, grocery stores, etc.. are all decorated for the event. There are also loads of concerts during Carnaval season. This year’s main concert was opened by Marc Anthony. It’s amazing. Even if you’re not “participating” in Carnaval, you can’t help but feel it all around you. Carnaval itself lasts 4 days, and the entire city shuts down–transportation, shopping, etc… to celebrate. Although we only made it to one of the official Carnaval parades, it was fantastic, and I can’t wait for next year’s Carnaval to get here.

 Image  me and mom with one of last year’s Carnaval queen’s dresses on display at a shopping mallImage

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Carnaval: Desfile de Fantasía (Fantasy Parade); the last picture is of the university’s folklore dance group who participated in the parade 🙂

During mom’s time here in Colombia, we did lots of things. Since mom flew in to and out of Cartagena (another coastal city), we decided to explore. After a hotel mishap with Orbitz, we checked in to our hotel and hung out on the beach, Boca Grande (where we learned the “burning” benefits of coconut oil). The next day, we had a bit of time on the beach & then did some walking around in the historic center of the city. Cartagena really does have a special air to it. We had a blast and a half! I am so glad I got to visit this incredible city with the best mom ever 😉 Of course, here are a few pictures:

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In Barranquilla, other than enjoy Carnaval parades, we did some serious apartment decorating and furnishing. There really is nothing like a momma’s touch 🙂 Mom did a GREAT job helping us to organize the apartment. After her wonderful touch (you guys know how much she LOVES to decorate and organize), the apartment feels homey. I know most of you haven’t seen our apartment, so here are (of course) a couple of pictures.

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ImageWe also had some beach time with mom close to Barranquilla at Climandiaro–our new favorite beach spot close to home 🙂 Mom got to try some typical Colombian coastal food–coconut rice, fried plantains, miloja, torta de tres leches, fried red snapper, bocadillo (which she LOVES), chicharrón (the dessert/bread, not the meat), almohabana, and more. It was incredible having her here with us. I am so glad she got to see where I live, meet my co-workers, and friends, and truly see why I enjoy living and working in Barranquilla. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before she (and the rest of my family) returns to visit (hint hint).

Since mom left, not much has gone on. Work carried on a as normal, Ele carried on with her job hunting, and the kitties kept growing–Oh, yeah! The kitties!!! We are now the proud moms of two beautiful kitties: Milo and Sophie. Milo, we found in the parking lot of a store much like Home Depot, and Sophie belonged to an acquaintance who couldn’t keep her. They are around the same age–both around 5 months old now, and are precious. They have been the perfect addition. (The first picture is of Milo as a baby, then there’s one of Sophie when we first got here, and the last one is a more recent one of both of them together).

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Right now, we are celebrating semana santa (“holy week”), which is the week before Easter. Other than Christmas and Carnaval, it’s the biggest holiday here on the coast (and in most of Latin America). It’s the equivalent, for me, of Spring Break. I have had the whole week off from work, which has been GREAT, and we have done nothing but do some much needed lounging around and errand running. Part of that lounging around time has been spent looking for tickets to fly home (Birmingham, Alabama) for my sister’s wedding in July (& to meet my baby nephew Cason, who will be arriving at the end of April/beginning of May). I am SO excited to meet my little nephew, who, even though my sister denies it, will share mine and my dad’s middle name (Michael). I am sure I will go a little haywire with baby-gift-buying and wedding present shopping before I leave Barranquilla 😉

Alright, I think this is a fairly sufficient update on what all has been going on in the last 6 months of my life. I am sure most of you follow me on Facebook, and I’ve posted loads of pictures on there of life here in Barranquilla. Even so, I’ll try to post again soon and give you a better idea of daily life here in Barranquilla–as I know this post just focused on major highlights.

Love to you all.

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Posted in: Colombia, Travels