Site Announcements

en barranquilla

So, I finally decided on a new name for my blog.  Actually, it’s the name I had in mind for my blog all along…  When I first found out I might be going to Colombia for my Peace Corps service, I felt a bit of guilt as a racked my brain for prior knowledge about the country and all that came to mind were Joe Arroyo lyrics.  Arroyo was probably Colombia’s most famous salsa singer, and also happens to be one of my favorites.  His song, “En Barranquilla Me Quedo” (In Barranquilla I Stay) became one of the theme songs to my packing/transition process, and I knew I wanted it to be the name for my blog, but I also thought it would be confusing considering I could be sent anywhere on the cost, not necessarily anywhere near Barranquilla.  Well, that brings me to site announcements…

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Sam handing me my site placement folder.  Photo courtesy of Carrie, a fellow trainee who is also an incredible photographer!

I’m staying right where I am!  We knew that one of the trainees would be staying at our training site and that trainee turned out to be me.  No, I will not be in Barranquilla, but as a suburban Chicagoan, I have no problem saying I live in a place that I actually live 40 min. away from.

Anyway, on to site announcements.  Probably the biggest milestone in my training so far.  Just so we’re all on the same page, I am two and a half months into our three month training.  Right now, we all live relatively close to each other in small towns outside Barranquilla, but when the three months is over, we will all be sent to different sites throughout the coast.  As you can imagine, its pretty nerve wracking waiting to find out where you will be living for the next two years of your life.  On site announcement day, we all met at our training site, and were given “Volunteer Survival Kits” with cute little symbolic gifts such as chewing gum to remind us to “stick together” and markers to remind us of the “mark” we will leave.  Aww…  Then, they called us up one by one not by calling out names, but by giving hints about each volunteer and having us guess.  Mine was about how I like to work with little kids at a center in my community.

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Site announcement day.  Photo courtesy of Carrie.

I’m not gonna lie, I had a feeling I was going to be the one picked to stay in our training site, so I was not surprised when they called my name.  There are a lot of things I’m looking forward to about staying in the same town.  I will be working at an all girls school and will be doing a lot of work with future teachers.  I absolutely love my current host family and will hopefully get to stay with them during this time.  The town is very nice.  It’s small enough to get the unique small-town experience, but not too isolated.  It’s very centric and it will be easy for me to visit people and vice versa. I will also hopefully get to be involved with training when new volunteers arrive.

Now that site placement is over we only have a few weeks left until swear-in!  This coming week we have our site visits (mine will sure be a journey!) and then we will be finishing up training.  Time has really flown by and while I look forward to many aspects of being a “real” volunteer, I’m pretty nervous and also sad to see the other trainees head to far off lands.  At the same time, I feel like more and more a part of my community every day.  In fact, time to watch the US Colombia soccer game!

 

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A New Normal

It’s amazing how quickly, when living abroad, you develop a new sense of normal: a new set of friends, new struggles, new goals, new frustrations… but it all becomes normal.  Daily challenges that I never experienced in the states are now a part of life for me.  Will the mototaxi guys whistle at me when I walk by?  Will the food at training be edible today? Will I get Zika or Chikungunya from all these mosquito bites? Will the power go out while I’m sleeping tonight causing me to wake up drenched in my own sweat?

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Granadilla and mango: a few of my favorite things.

But just as there are new challenges, there are new joys:  the fresh juice my host family makes every day, coloring and playing dolls with my 2 year old neighbor, seeing my students make improvements in their English, hanging out with my host family, long conversations with fellow volunteers, weekend trips, and so much more.

 

 

 

I wanted to use this post to try to explain a little bit about what my “normal” is like as a Peace Corps Colombia trainee.

Language Training: A big part of training for Peace Corps volunteers is usually language training.  My case is a little different since I already speak Spanish and what I really need is practice.  I did have 4 weeks of language training 3x per week to learn about coastal Colombian slang and culture.  Now I have Spanish class just once a week with the other trainees who are at the “advanced” level.  In this class we continue to learn about Colombian culture and we also get a change to practice more abstract academic Spanish.  We learn about and discuss social issues, politics, culture and history.  I really enjoy the opportunity to practice my academic Spanish.

Practicum:  Each trainee has been assigned a Colombian counterpart to work with throughout training.  We are responsible for co-planning and co-teaching with our counterparts in order to support their language instruction.  This is basically a practice for one of the most important aspects of being a Teaching English for Livelihoods volunteer, which is working directly with teachers in the classroom. I have been working with 6th and 7th grade English classes and have really enjoyed it.  The kids are adorable.  The 6th graders started with pretty much no English but they are very enthusiastic to learn.  They are very interested in me and ask me questions such as “Is snow cool?  What time is it in the U.S?  Do you have kids in the U.S?  How do you say my name in English?”  They also sometimes give me gifts such as drawings, guava candies and juice.  It’s really sweet.  Since their English is so low, we have been working on basic greetings.  They just had a test on this last week (they had to present a dialogue in front of the class) and they all rocked it!  I felt like a proud mother.

Professional development:  Another responsibility we have during training is to give at least 2 “charlas” (teacher training workshops) to local teachers.  I have to say at first it felt kind of weird telling teachers (some of which have been teaching for longer than I have been alive) how to do their jobs, but it turns out they are very interested in learning new ideas and improving their English.  We gave the teachers surveys to see what they are interested in and ended up deciding to do our workshop on teaching English pronunciation and listening.  It was definitely a challenge since English pronunciation is inherently complicated and Colombian classrooms often have limited technology, but we did our best to provide relevant activities that teachers could implement in their own classrooms.  It was a really awesome learning experience and we got a lot of good feedback.  Planning and implementing teacher trainings is definitely a part of being a volunteer that I look forward to.

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Teaching kids different ways to respond to “how are you?”

Side projects:  As trainees, we are also responsible for carrying out side projects.  These can be anything from community clean-ups to kids clubs to exercise classes.  I have chosen to do my side project at an early childhood center where kids from all around town go to “play to learn”.  They learn social skills and values while also having fun with the immense amount of toys and games they have there.  I am working with them on strategies to encourage positive behaviors and also teaching two English classes there.  The kids are really sweet and the place looks like a wonderland.  I look forward to learning more about activities for young children and also sharing what I know.

Technical training:  This is the part of training where we all get together and learn about

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So. Many. Powerpoints.

various aspects of being a volunteer.  These could be about anything from acute diarrhea to differentiating instruction to dealing with cultural differences.  They can be pretty tedious, but it is fun to get to see all of the other trainees.

So that was just a little snapshot of what my life is like as a Peace Corps trainee.  It can be challenging, but I feel like I’m learning something new every day.

…Then 3 weeks happened

So… sorry everybody.  I’ve been here for 3 weeks and I’m just now writing a post.  In my defense, I didn’t have internet that worked with my computer and I’m definitely not about to write up a blog post on my phone, but it’s all good now (thanks, neighbors!)

About my town

  • I live in a pretty small town about 30 minutes south of Barranquilla on the photo (3)Magdalena River.
  • The main source of transportation around town is a motocarro (basically a motorcycle with seats on the back).  They are constantly whizzing around and I am terrified of getting run over by one.
  • It’s really hot here as expected.
  • People here are really nice and I feel very safe.

About my family

  • I have a host mom, dad and four sisters (all around my age).
  • My host mom and her sister are both teachers at the school where I’m doing my practicum.
  • My sisters are all really nice and have worked hard to make sure I have not had a moment of boredom since I arrived.
  • My sisters all studied really cool sciency subjects like industrial engineering, microbiology and chemical engineering (except the youngest who just started college).
  • I live in a very nice house and have a very comfortable room.
  • I have a 2 year old host neighbor who practically lives at our house and loves to color and play Peppa the Pig and dolls with me.  She’s also an awesome dancer.
  • We also have a ton of birds including 3 talking parrots that know phrases such as “Gooool de Junioooor!”,  “Junior, tu papá!” and “Mi amor, mi vida!”

About Carnaval

  • Every Colombian I’ve met has said “You came here at the best time!” Why? Because
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    A marimonda riding a moto.  Sooo carnaval.

    Carnaval.

  • Carnaval is a celebration of the time leading up to lent that combines African, Spanish and Indigenous roots and includes concerts, parades, pageants, activities for kids and much more.
  • Carnaval is not a day but a season.  For pretty much the entire month of January and the beginning of February it’s pretty much a nonstop party.
  • Interesting Carnaval traditions:
    • People throw Cornstarch at each other.  No idea why.  They also spray each other with foam and water.
    • People dress up in a variety of costumes.  One is the Marimonda which basically looks like a weird, colorful, badly drawn elephant person.
    • Another popular costume is to dress up as a negrito and paint your entire body black.  It’s not considered offensive here as it is seen as a celebration of African culture.

So that’s just a little update about my situation here.  I’m having a blast and have definitely been super busy.  More to come later!

Made it!

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Suitcase was exactly 50 lbs.  I’m good.

So I just want to give everyone a quick update of what the last two days have been like for me.  The flight to Miami was really early but uneventful.  From there we were able to grab a quick empanada before we had to get to the conference room for Staging.  Staging was pretty much what I expected.  We did a lot of ice breakers, and reviewed important Peace Corps principles such as the 3 goals, 10 core expectations and approach to safety (if you’re interested in what those are, you can google them).  Our staging director did a good job of making this engaging, and I felt like it was a great opportunity to get to know the other volunteers in my cohort.  There are 29 of us, but I already know everyone’s name and I feel like I’ve had the chance to speak personally with and get to know everyone at least a little.

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Vaca frita con maduros.  So good.

After staging, I took a much needed shower and the Peace Corps gave us money to go out to dinner.  We went to this amazing Cuban restaurant and I had vaca frita (a dish of caramelized onions and shredded beef that I had heard about on Food Network and always wanted to try).  The food was so good and the restaurant did a great job of accommodating our large group.  It was nice to get a little taste of Miami.

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I got such a work out lifting heavy bags.

The next day, we left for the airport at 6:30am.  It seemed a little crazy since our flight wasn’t until 11:00, but when we got there, we realized that 29 people with massive (sometimes overweight) suitcases take a long time to check in.  Nevertheless, we were at the gate extremely early.  The flight was quick and uneventful.

When we finally arrived in Barranquilla, we had to wait in a long line to go through customs.  As I got further along in the line, I started to hear random outbursts of joyful cheering in the distance.  An official joked that Shakira was at the airport.  Of course, my gullible self believed him for a second, but I was confused when it kept happening.  I asked another official, “¿por qué gritan?”  and his response was “alegría por ver a sus seres queridos (joy from seeing their loved ones).”  When I got outside, I realized that the joy was for us!  There was a huge group of current Peace Corps volunteers and Peace Corps staff greeting us with signs, cheers and hugs.  It was a really nice welcome.

At the hotel, they had decorated our doors with our names and gave us cute goody bags with Colombian candies and teaching supplies.  They also have been hanging out with us a lot and giving us advice based on their experiences.  I really appreciate all of the work they put into it.  At the hotel, we had more ice breakers and an intro to what the next few days will look like.  We have two more days here at the hotel where we will go over safety, figure out how to get money, and get vaccinated (among other things). Then on Saturday, we get to meet our host families!  I’m really excited about that and have been really enjoying Colombia so far and getting to know my fellow volunteers.  I can’t wait to get out of the hotel and do some exploring!

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View from the hotel.  It’s hot and humid but there is such a nice breeze.

Under Pressure (me and my stuffed suitcase)

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Ahhh!!!

If I had to describe packing up to leave the country for 2 years, I’d say it’s pretty much like plummeting down a rabbit hole trying to grab for my belongings and the people I love while I still can.  I’d like to say it’s a little easier this time around since I’m somewhat experienced at packing for long trips, but that also makes it harder since I can remember everything I missed while studying in Peru (what a rookie mistake traveling to South America without bringing any hot sauce!). Now I’m in the process of deciding which comforts of home I will bring and what I will be able to live without.  With just 1 suitcase and 1 backpack, there will definitely be things I will have to leave out.

 

Some key things I will be bringing:

  • Sriracha, chili powder, chipotle seasoning, chipotle tabasco– Just because I’ll be south of the border doesn’t mean everything will be spicy!  Most South American countries are pretty wimpy with spice.
  • Lots of makeup-While there are plenty of white people in Colombia, I still can’t expect my extra-ginger shades to be readily available.  We don’t want a repeat of the Peruvian eyebrow pencil incident of 2012…
  • Head Lamp, Surge Protector, Power Bank-Apparently the electricity in small town Colombia can be a little spotty. Gotta be prepared!
  • Battery operated fan, weird cooling do-rag thing from REI-With a heat index consistently into the 100’s, I’ve pretty much accepted the fact that I will always be “that sweaty gringa”.  I’m hoping these items will provide some relief from the stifling heat.
  • 6 XL bars Secret Clinical deodorant, 1 Bottle perfume-In Ecuador, I hated always smelling like sunscreen, sweat, and 100% DEET bug spray when the locals all smelled so fresh and clean.  Don’t worry Colombia, this time around, I’ll be smelling like sunscreen, sweat, bug spray AND Marc Jacob’s Daisy Dream. ¡Qué sexy!
  • Fancified Crocs-It’s not an oxymoron!!  They have some cute flats these days!  Ok… decide for yourself… as my best friend says, “Crocs are Crocs,” but apparently they’re popular in Colombia.  Plus, what else am I supposed to wear when it’s pouring and the streets are flooded and I have to get to work?

If your interested in what else I’m bringing, my full packing list will be in the top menu.

With just 8 days left until departure, I’m definitely feeling the pressure of trying to savor everything (and everyone) while I still can.  That last Bears game, last visit with Grandma, last yoga class with mom, last Chipotle burrito, last hot tub with dad…  It’s definitely an emotional roller coaster, but I know it will all be worth it.  As you can see, I’m crazy busy with packing and preparations (and I’ll still be subbing a few days this week), but I welcome anyone who wants to stop by and send me off before Tuesday.  If not, there will be many ways to keep in touch with me and, of course, I’ll be back before you know it!

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Much better!

How do you measure a year?

About a year ago, I had just gotten back from my trip to South America and was working on finding sub jobs and not dying of boredom in the frozen tundra of Chicago in winter time.  I was just counting down the days until August when I would finally get to leave for Colombia after over a year of waiting.  7 months seemed like forever.  Then, I got the email…  They had made some changes to the program and pushed the departure date back to January 2016.  In other words, I would have to wait an entire year to leave.  It was extremely devastating news, especially after having waited so long already.

It’s a weird feeling waiting for something like the Peace Corps because you don’t really want to build anything or get attached to anything in your life in the States since you know you will be leaving soon.  I couldn’t get a real teaching job or an apartment or get to work on building my life as a recent graduate, because it just wouldn’t make sense.  I basically considered the time leading up to my service as wasted time, a waiting period, and suddenly, an entire year of my life was about to fall into this category.  The only way to cope was to prove to myself that this would not be wasted time, that I would fill it with meaningful activities and memories.  Here’s just a snapshot of 2015:10866233_915579881816310_6315900788417632346_o

I returned to my old elementary school as a bilingual reading support associate and proved that 2 Schiltz women are better than 1.

I trained for and ran my first half marathon.

I spent what could be my last summer in Madison, rooming with a dear friend, biking everywhere, and eating enough Ian’s pizza and Babcock ice cream to last me through at least 2 years in Colombia.

11863335_10156212707075179_5742307114940897677_nI visited Minneapolis for the first time and was reunited with my long lost “Peruvian” sister, Tiffany.  If only I could take her to Colombia with me…

I explored Spain with a woman 2 generations wiser than me and got to learn all about my roots – specifically, where my activist tendencies come from.12074756_10156407308745179_5881195465672458370_n

I savored the last moments with my uncle and had time to reflect on all of the love and happiness he brought into the lives of those around him.

I watched my big brother give an awesome speech as he graduated with his Master’s degree.

These are just some of the memories I made in 2015.  There are so many other little moments that are equally important.  So while the year didn’t quite go as planned, it was by no means wasted time.  Thanks to all of the amazing people in my life, 2015 has been a year I will never forget.