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?
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.
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
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.