It hadn’t really hit me yet that I was moving to Colombia until I boarded my flight in late June of 2015. On the plane I started watching the movie ‘‘Zootopia’’ where there’s a scene of the main character leaving her hometown and saying goodbye to her family. It was pretty on the nose for my situation at that moment. I had never lived in a different country before, and my only experience in Latin America had been a Prométour trip to Costa Rica, and a short vacation in Mexico. I had also taken maybe four Spanish conversation classes in anticipation of moving. So, there I was on the plane and the reality of my inexperience was setting in, but I was still excited.
I was on my way to Bogotá for a two-week intensive orientation into the world of ESL (English as a Second Language) teaching, and Colombia as a whole. It was a crazy two weeks where people from all over the globe gathered in anticipation of their eventual ESL journey to different Colombian cities. In between classes I got to fit in a couple of trips to local restaurants, and one trip to Monserrate, a beautiful mountain with a lookout point and a sanctuary.
Afterwards it was off to our cities. I was placed in Pasto, Colombia, the capital of the department of Nariño, and about a two-hour drive from the Ecuadorian border. It is a bustling city completely surrounded by gorgeous mountains, hence its name, ‘‘La Ciudad Sorpresa.’’ It was quite a humbling experience to be completely surrounded by the sights, sounds, and smells of a place so different from my own, realizing that this would be my home for the next six months. (What I thought would be six months actually turned into two years.) Even though I had ample help from other people in my program, it was quite the challenge getting by in a foreign country. I had to find my way around the city, hail cabs, do groceries, and not to mention find a place to live, all in Spanish.
As the weeks went on I got the hang of living in this new and exciting place. I was teaching at a public high school and absolutely adored my students and colleagues. People from the town were very kind and welcoming to foreigners. Some of them had never met someone from a different country, let alone someone from as far as Canada. I got to experience all the challenges that come with teaching, such as large classrooms sizes, boisterous students, and faulty equipment (darn technology!) However, it was all well worth it at the end of the day. In the first three months, my Spanish vocabulary went from zero to a thousand. I could converse in Spanglish to my students, order food at restaurants, and even haggle somewhat at the central mercado. (¿hay un descuento?) I wish I could say that my salsa skills had a similar trajectory of improvement. (I really tried though.)
It became clear that six months would not be enough, so that turned into a year, which then easily stumbled into two. My second year I tried my hand at teaching at an academy, as well as online, where I still continue to have a small little teaching career to this day. During my time in Colombia I got to travel around the country, as well as some close by countries like Ecuador, Peru, and Panama.
Along with a new language I also got to learn a lot about myself and my relationship to the world. I learned that I am a lot tougher than I once thought, but also maybe a little less easy-going. Most people there definitely had me beat on that one. I’m someone who struggles with being fashionably late, whereas they take that concept to a whole new level. (If ever you go, you’ll see what I mean.) That being said I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to be a part of a completely different way of life. The cuisine was good, the coffee was amazing, and I got to see some small beautiful corners of the country hardly ever seen by foreigners before. I also got to meet some amazing people and create incredible friendships. Nothing quite brings people together like travelling. I am definitely a fortunate soul, and nowadays I get the joy of seeing my own country through new eyes.
Read more about Lori here!