Working as an English teacher in Colombia often means facing new challenges that come with living abroad. While many teachers are able to depend on their co-workers or roommates for support, some may find they need additional encouragement such as social interaction or idea-exchanging outside of the workplace or home. Here are some ways to find what may be missing.
VISIT BI-NATIONAL CENTERS AND LIBRARIES WITH BOOKS IN ENGLISH
An English teacher in Colombia may discover that books in their native language are difficult to obtain or expensive to buy. Fortunately, there are Bi-National Centers working with the Network of Colombian American Centers, which together offer cultural activities, libraries, and U.S. educational advising programs. Most of the libraries have a large range of English books available, and it is normally not necessary to be a student to purchase a library card, which is typically valid for one year. As of 2017, BNC’s may be found in Armenia, Barranquilla, Bogota, Bucaramanga, Cali, Cartagena, Manizales, Medellin, and Pereira. There are also public libraries in many cities and, while their selection of English books may be limited, they are a great place to meet other teachers and working professionals.
FIND LIKE-MINDED TEACHERS THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA
Browsing social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, it’s often easy to find groups of English teachers in most major cities throughout Colombia. Members associated with the groups are typically eager to exchange ideas with one another, and discussions online may range globally, such as tips to making the most of your teaching experience, to locally, like how to enjoy your new city. Some social media groups even offer opportunities to get together with other English teachers, in common social events or organized travel to explore parts of the country.
VOLUNTEER WITH A LOCAL ORGANIZATION
Outside of work, it is sometimes difficult for an English teacher in Colombia to meet new people or make friends, especially if their teaching schedule is hectic or demanding. Weekends, evenings and holiday, however, provide some time and opportunity to volunteer with others in need of help. Giving your time as a volunteer is often rewarding, especially if your efforts are met by a grateful organization worth supporting. Animal welfare, public healthcare and ecological conservation rank among the leading groups for volunteers in most parts of Colombia, and many offer a variety of ways to meet others with similar beliefs while working towards progress and change.
TAKE A CLASS OR SIGN UP FOR AN EVENT
In addition to finding connections through social media and volunteering, taking a class or signing up for an event is an excellent way to meet others and gain support while teaching in Colombia. Classes may be free or cost a monthly or weekly fee, and range in options from culture and cooking to traditional dance and yoga. There are even academic options available as continuing education through universities and other learning centers; it is not always necessary to be a Colombian citizen to take a class. Similarly, signing up for an event can open many doors to meeting others and finding support. Food and music festivals, cultural or historical activities, even attending a local sporting event, are all great options for mingling with new people and making real (versus online) conversation.
ASK OTHERS FOR THEIR RECOMMENDATIONS
Perhaps reaching out to find support from English teachers at libraries or events just doesn’t seem to be working. Sometimes, it seems that other people are very busy, or that they already have their group of friends and co-workers with whom they rely on. If this seems the case, take one step further when joining a local social media group, and ask online. Post a question to the group from your account, asking what they have done to find support. Ask matter-of-factly and politely and be ready and open to all responses, making note of what sounds interesting or possible with a busy teaching schedule. Finally, allow some time for these ideas to work. Chances are slim an English teacher in Colombia will arrive at a large group of trusted friends, or a long list of options for support, however, with some effort and focus, it is possible to make teaching abroad easier and more enjoyable, leading to a variety of positive experiences definitely worth having.
Kate Dana is an independent writer and international educator currently located, and teaching English, in Barranquilla, Colombia. An avid fan of travel and snorkeling in blue waters, she has lived on the Caribbean coast of South America since 2014. Find her online at www.katedana.com