A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series — How to Teach When Students Won’t Talk to You – The North Star Reports – by Laura Blasena. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal
I am tall, and have light brown eyes and light brown hair.
(My hair is definitely light brown, but everybody in Colombia assures me that I do, in fact, have blonde hair. I`ve been told to “not be modest” about my hair color when I try to argue, as if having almost-blonde hair is a great personal achievement).
It isn´t a big deal in Minnesota, but my goodness it`s a big deal here.
As a white person growing up in Minnesota I never experienced what it meant to be the “other”. I was never a foreigner and I was never what could be considered, in any way, “different”. While the sudden shock of becoming utterly and completely “other” when I moved to Bogota was just that —a shock— I know that I will look back on this experience as incredibly valuable.
I am not a large, imposing person. I have issues twisting caps off of plastic water bottles — I am not strong.
Before moving to Bogota, I would have laughed if somebody told me that they were afraid of me. In fact, I did laugh (or, at least chuckle) the first time one of the English professors informed me that the students were shy and afraid to talk to me. I didn’t believe him, until I tried to communicate with students.
In many classes, I am lucky if the students speak Spanish to me. (An English conversation is a far-off dream).
Students will ask questions to the teacher and try to use the teacher as a medium to communicate with me. When I refuse to answer the question unless I receive it directly from the student (Spanish or English—I am just desperate for communication) the students will often shake their heads, look away, and laugh and giggle to their classmates. These students are of a traditional college age (18-22) or, in most cases, older than 22 and older than me.
My favorite conversation with a student went as follows:
I sit down in the classroom in a desk at the far side of the room, waiting for students to finish arriving so that I can begin my activity. I turn to the student next to me and say in Spanish , “Hi, my name is Laura. I am the English assistant here. What’s your name?”
Rather than answer my question, the student turns behind to her friend and loudly exclaims, “Oh my God! She’s a foreigner,” while her friend stares at me with wide eyes.
They tell me that I`m scary.
It`s frustrating, but the English professors constantly remind me that for some of the students I am the only foreigner that they have ever met. While I find it hard to believe that I am literally the only foreigner that they have met in a large city like Bogota, it`s very possible that I am the only foreigner that they have been forced to talk to.
(Sometimes I feel like my English students are like these angry, wet pigeons. Me speaking English to them is like water. They’re flooded with the language when I speak to them, but they just let it flow around them like an annoyance. They sit in the water/English class just because it’s a requirement for them to graduate.)
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.
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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.
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