A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series — Aguadulce and Teaching – The North Star Reports – by Laura Blasena. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal
All Fulbright ETAs in Colombia are required to complete, in addition to their thirty hours of work at their placement university, a fifteen hour social project somewhere in the area of the community that they are placed in.
For me, with a background in education and a desire to eventually return to the United States and teach, I wanted my social project to involve elementary education. As luck would have it, one of my fellow Fulbrighters ended up choosing to temporarily live in the guest house of an organization that runs eco-tours in the Bogota area and, on the side, runs a wonderful organization called InterChange Colombia. Interchange Colombia works with two communities outside of Bogota, the first being Quinini (a farming community) and Aguadulce.
Aguadulce is the community that I volunteer in. Every Monday morning, I wake up at 5:30 AM to take public transport to a bus station in the south of the city and then take another, smaller, bus 45 minutes outside of Bogota and arrive at the rural school by 8:00. As the bus climbs up the mountainside at the edge of Bogota, the temperature drops and the cement and city buildings are replaced with tall trees that eventually give way to the short shrubs of the Paramo, a type of ecosystem present in the mountains surrounding Bogota.
[Photo 1: The view from the playground at Aguadulce, featuring a shrine to the Virgin Mary. The school is public, but each classroom features religious statues, and the students study religion on Wednesdays.
The bus winds along a small, two-lane road, passing small farm houses and small cafeterias. The trip there is peaceful, but the way back is often terrifying. When driving back to Bogota, the bus has to drive on the side of the road at the edge of a cliff, and, with many people and my students crowded onto the bus bound for Bogota, I often have to stand smashed against the window of the bus, staring down into the ravine with only a small metal fence and a few feet of dirt separating the bus tires from the edge.
The school serves students from Kindergarten to 5th grade. Kindergarten, second, and fifth grade are in one classroom, and first and fourth grade are in another classroom. Each classroom has one teacher, and each grade level works independently on homework assignments, consulting the teacher occasionally when they have questions or if they think they have finished an assignment and want to turn it in. Understandably, not much work gets done most days, and the students spend a large amount of time arguing with each other, wandering around the classroom, or simply not completing their assignment because they receive very little direct help from the teachers.
When I teach English, I teach in grade groups of two (fifth and fourth, third and second, first and Kindergarten) using the white board in the larger classroom while the rest of the students that are not in the English class crowd in the back of the room and work quietly on math homework.
As with teaching the university students at my placement in Bogota, teaching students in Aguadulce proved to be a challenge at first. Copying down information is a large part of the curriculum in all subject areas in Aguadulce, and their social studies assignments are sometimes literally dictation assignments, where one student reads from the textbook and the rest copy down the sentences. It took a while for the students to become accustomed to activities that involved moving around, drawing, and different sorts of games, but the fact that they’ve had other volunteer teachers (Interchange Colombia has sent volunteer interns to the school once a week in the past), so the learning curve was fairly smooth.
The best part of the school day is certainly the “food break” (not lunch) that takes place at 11:00 every day and lasts until the teachers feel like calling the students back into the classroom.
[Photo 3: It’s raining and freezing almost every day in Aguadulce. Whenever it’s sunny, the students stay outside longer playing, flying kites, running around, and lounging in the grass behind the school.]
About our special correspondent Laura Blasena: Ever since I was a little Kindergartner I’ve always wanted to be a teacher.
I graduated from St. Scholastica in the summer of 2015 with a double major in Elementary Education and Spanish Education after student teaching as a 5th grade teacher and also as a Spanish teacher at NorthStar in Duluth, Minnesota.
While my future plans before graduation were initially to become a classroom teacher, I decided to wait a year to begin teaching in the United States and have chosen to work as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Bogota, Colombia. In Colombia, I will be working with a university as an assistant in the language department, attending classes, running conversation clubs, and offering the perspective of a native speaker.
I’ve always loved to travel. In college, I participated in several study abroad trips, visiting England, Guatemala, and Mexico. (I loved visiting Mexico so much that I even went back a second time!). I’m looking forward to the travel opportunities that I will have while working and living in Colombia.
Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu
See also, our Facebook page with curated news articles at http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports
The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, The College of St. Scholastica and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal’s online learning community and outreach program with undergraduate and K-12 classes around the world. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:
The North Star Reports publishes edited essays from our students, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Students have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, Colombia, Norway, northeastern China, Nicaragua, Micronesia, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, El Salvador, England, Finland, Russia, Cyprus, and Haiti. We also publish student reviews of books, documentaries, and films, and analysis of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches, and report on their interactions with the North Star Reports students and teachers. We thank The Department of History and Politics and the School of Arts and Letters of The College of St. Scholastica for their generous financial support for The North Star Reports and The Middle Ground Journal.
Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica.
Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.
(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu