3 Secrets to Surviving Life Abroad

Secret number one? Coffee. pixabay.com CC0

How Alicia turned an interest in teaching into a Colombian adventure.

Honestly, I don’t even know how it happened. All I know is that it happened—and it happened quickly.

Ever since I visited Peru in 2008, I knew that I wanted to teach English in South America. While I was in Aguas Calientes, one of the ladies working at the hotel was trying to learn English. I spent some time helping her with the workbook she was using and teaching her the pronunciation of the words she was learning. At the time, I was working as a Training Specialist so I was comfortable with teaching and training adults, but the experience sparked the desire to teach English in South America. Up until that point the idea of teaching English abroad was something I had thought about as an option, but not seriously planned to do. So when the opportunity came—in the form of a job loss in the 2008 financial kerfuffle—to take the plunge and do it, I chickened out and stayed in Canada.

Fast-forward seven years, and I decided I wanted to take a month-long tour of Central and South America. I began researching different tour groups (as a solo traveller, I'm a big fan of tour groups) and started taking classes at the Spanish Centre in Toronto to prepare for my mini-adventure. I then attended the Go Global Expo to see what other options were available for solo female travellers. It was there that I met the representatives from Greenheart Travel, who told me about the Teach in Colombia program through an organization called Heart for Change.

The objective of the English Teaching Fellowship program is to place native English speakers in schools that are located in under-privileged areas around Colombia under the Ministry of Education’s Columbia Bilingüe program. There is a one-week orientation that takes places in Bogota, then the fellows are sent to their placement cities. The main goal of the program is to increase the number of secondary school students who are at a B1 level of English in the hopes of Colombia becoming a bilingual country.

So here I am, four months after arriving in Colombia and I’m amazed by where life has taken me. This is my first time working abroad and I never imagined that it would have been in Colombia. I have met some really interesting people and experienced culture shock.

I have had to get adjusted to operating at a very different pace. Looking back on it, things have been key to settling into my new life in Colombia:

1. Making connections with locals.

There are several fellows that associate exclusively with other expats, but I knew that was not an approach that would help me in getting settled. The program offers accommodations in a hostel for the first month to give you time to look for a place. I moved out after six days in the hostel and have been renting a room with a Colombian who has linked me to his social network.

2. Having a few favourite hangout places.

I have always liked coffee shops, so it was easy to making cafés my hangout places. I have two places in particular that I go to a few times a week. Also, I occasionally feel the need for a vegetarian meal, and I have a favourite vegetarian restaurant that I like to go to a couple times a week. Making visits to these places a part of my routine helped when experiencing culture shock.

3. Establishing a routine.

My teaching takes place in the afternoons, so I needed to create a morning routine. My routine usually includes meeting someone for breakfast or coffee, catching up on news from home, and an activity to improve my Spanish, for example watching tele-novellas on TV or Netflix.

It has been an intriguing ride so far and I look forward to the experience the rest of the year has in store.

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Alicia Williams

Alicia Williams is an English Teaching Fellow with Heart for Change in Colombia. Living in the Eje Cafetero, she has learned to take time for coffee, rather than getting coffee to go. She plans to live abroad for awhile.

Website: aliciaisincolombia.wordpress.com

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