gra-dult-hood n.

1. A stage in life between graduation and adulthood.
2. Gradulthood often involves jobs that don't fulfil a graduate's expectations.
3. A term coined during the recession.

A Gradult in Colombia: Teaching English

In the second of two, back to back, 'Gradult abroad' articles (read Christian Lapper's article from South Korea here), Dave Procter (@latinodave) attempts to explain a typical day in Cali:

A Day in the Life? Defining a “normal day” in my life as an English teacher in Cali, Colombia is not easy, as this being Colombia and South America, nothing can ever be taken for granted. I like to think never having the faintest idea of what’s going to happen in the day ahead of you as an overwhelmingly positive aspect of life abroad, part of the adventure and variety of living in far away lands. But it is this unpredictability that can soon become tiresome, maddening, and for many people, what makes them bite the bullet and return to the normality of 9-5 back home.
So, life as a teacher in Colombia means an early start, especially if it’s teaching in a school. Early here is being there at 7.30am, which means preparing to battle with the public transport at 6.30am, and so hauling yourself out of bed around 5.30am. Not easy, especially went then confronted with the unwelcome prospect of an ice cold shower. I open the tap, stand motionless, and stare longingly at the water, asking myself if it’s really necessary. After a seconds thought of the Cali midday heat, I decide it definitely is. It is that thought that drags me through a long next 5 minutes.

You can get hot water in Colombia fairly easily, and it’s not even that expensive which is what I originally assumed was the developing world barrier towards it. When it’s put to Colombians about why they tolerate cold showers, a lot of them reply, as unbelievable as it may seem, by saying they prefer them. “Pero, me despierta bien.” (It’s good to wake me up). You don’t need to ask what’s the first thing I’m getting installed when I have my own place next year.

I then venture into the street for my 10 minute walk to the bus through Cali’s historic and colonial neighbourhood, San Antonio, where white washed buildings are occupied by an ever increasing number of art galleries, cafés and hostels, evidence of Colombia’s flourishing tourism industry.

I find my weariness gradually disappears with the view of the sun rising to shine over the 4,000m Andes that tower above the city. They make me think of those grey and rainy days in Oldham, how far I’ve come and how fortunate I am to be here. This feeling of fortuity is then rapidly compounded upon the sight of numerous homeless people sleeping on the street. A not so welcome wake up call, you feel guilty in your smart, expensive clothes, and then seeing a man with nothing but thread bare jeans and a scrawny rib cage, who could easily be dead for all I know. And this in a country, as in most of Latin America, where a minority of people live in staggering luxury.

The bus stop is my next port of call. Cali has its own metro system, called the MIO, which basically consists of bendy buses passing along exclusive lanes with their own enclosed stations where you get on and off. It’s not perfect, I describe it as a poor man’s metro, but it does work. I say that, but then any computer is only good as the person operating it, which is also applicable here. Colombians haven’t quite got our mentality or etiquette for mass transport, which I suppose is understandable seeing as we’ve had a hundred years or so to practise using it, and they are evidently just getting to grips with it.

Some older people don’t understand that the bus won’t stop unless at a designated station, and so try and flag a bus down in the middle of a road as it zooms along at 40mph. On the bus everyone congregates by the doors for fear of missing their stop, making the bus extremely cramped, even though it might not be full, and the custom to let everyone get off before anyone gets on does not exist whatsoever. If any Caleños went to London or New York where there’s a public transport etiquette, they’d get a shock!

Arrival at school is complete at 7.30, and then the fun really starts. Teaching children with behavioural and attention problems is not easy at the best of times. I had a pupil a few weeks ago throw the board eraser at someone’s eye. Needless to say, chaos erupted. Another time, a 14 year old boy spat, on the classroom floor, during the class, when I was speaking. Speechless.

But then there are upsides too, being able to hear 20 ten year old children spontaneously sing along to a Beatles song is a wonderful feeling, and does make you love your job. I’m not qualified to teach children, and so a lot of learning on the job is involved, but most foreign teachers in Colombia seem to have started like this, the lack of native speakers opens up these doors.

Whilst having to deal with frustrating things every day such as discipline and inefficiency, the moments when pupils engage with an activity, ask inquisitive questions about England and speak about wanting to travel there, does make you feel like you are having a positive influence on a society, country, but most of all on a child – which is undoubtedly the most challenging but rewarding aspect of being a teacher. And even more so in a country as beautiful, diverse and interesting as Colombia.

Pictures taken from Dave's own blog

1 comment:

  1. Reading this has got me excited about teaching English in Colombia !