As I mentioned before, all 36 of us have been coexisting in a little country home retreat outside of Bogotá called Santa Cruz, until the 22nd when everyone ships out for our placements. Our group is really cool, with people from all over the U.S. (many from California and DC), two Australians who resent our shameful renditions of their accents, three married couples, two returning volunteers and a forty-year age range. It’s made for lots of great conversations and laughs but like I said, I’m ready to get out to Tabio and get started.
We spend most of our days in a series of classes related to English language teaching, classroom routines and daily Spanish lessons. Spanish has been frustrating for me because I just feel like I’m done with the classroom learning and can only improve through interaction with native speakers.
Orientation has also included a few trips to Bogotá, and the more I see it the more excited I am to be stationed right outside. It’s not an aesthetically pleasing city in the least but there are mountains, tiendas and buses and it’s so essentially Latin American. We went to an office called DAS to get our Colombian ID cards and christened it the Dumb American Services as we waited in line for a few hours and reinforced American stereotypes for all passerby.
The most interesting field trip was a long day of wearing dress clothes and looking important. We had a scheduled visit to the Colombian Ministry of Education that was apparently a huge press conference. We sat unknowingly in a meeting room and grew more and more confused as reporters and cameras filed in. WorldTeach Colombia is not directly aligned with the Ministry of Education as we partner with an NGO called Volunteers Colombia, but the Minister herself greeted us and said some nice words about their new education plan with our smiling gringo faces in the background. Some of us were pulled aside and interviewed and one volunteer gave a great speech for the cameras. Everything was on all the news channels and they picked the most ridiculous picture possible to put on the front page of El Tiempo newspaper. Another news crew hunted us down during a training session at a Bogotá school, and someone volunteered me to do a radio interview in Spanish that may or may not ever happen. It’s really great and well-earned publicity for WorldTeach in the states though from the Colombia perspective it’s…interesting.
After the Ministry visit we had a security briefing at the embassy which was far more realistic and down-to-earth than the one I had in Ecuador. The guy enlightening us on carjackings and militants wasn’t much older than I am and just gave it to us straight: Don’t be stupid. Colombia has a rough recent history but the cities are just as safe now as big cities in the U.S. and the same concerns apply*. The embassy reps were very friendly and seemed genuinely excited that we’re here.
Aside from a possible flea outbreak in our room and some nights at the tiendas across the street from Santa Cruz, things have been as tame as Colombia can get. Some pictures below…I swear I have human friends here, I just really like dogs. And barbed wire.
*The guy sitting next to me at the internet cafe just advised me that Bogota is very dangerous and I shouldn’t talk on the bus because people will know I’m foreign. He also tried to Facebook friend me and let me know that I can call him if I need anything. Oh, Colombia.