I majored in International Relations and Spanish at the University of Illinois and Christopher majored in Biochemistry at Fort Lewis University. Why are we now here trying to create a non-profit to teach Colombian kids English? Why aren’t we furthering our careers in more typical ways like working for big companies in the U.S.? Well I’m sure Christopher has some of his own answers as well but there are main reasons we are so happy doing what we are doing here- culture here vs. culture in the U.S., satisfaction we feel doing what we do here, our natural abilities with kids, and the hope there is for us starting a program like this here.
Culture here vs. Culture in the U.S.– This sounds pretty broad but it’s something we have discussed a lot and there are so many cultural differences we appreciate here. One of the main things we talk when comparing the U.S. and Colombia is SHAME CULTURE. The culture in the U.S. much more often shames people than Colombian culture. People are more afraid or unwilling to dance in the U.S. because if they mess up they will be SO embarrassed but here, everyone is encouraged to dance and learn and I haven’t seen anyone get humiliated for messing up here 🙂 People are just more open and inviting and NICE here. It makes everyday life easier and happier. Shame culture in the U.S. also works with romantic relationships. Guys so frequently get called “creeps” or getting humiliated for getting “rejected” in the U.S. but here, guys put themselves out there and it’s just not that big of a deal if they get “rejected”. Colombia is definitely behind on some of the radical movements I have gotten involved in in the U.S. (like feminism and anti-racism stuff) but it seems like more of a non-issue here. The last thing I would want to do is offend anyone with this post and I still regañar my Colombian friends for saying racist or anti-feminist jokes but the whole culture just seems more united and less hateful. It really feels like the culture I wish I had grown up in and I obviously love the U.S. but I feel like I could be happy here for the rest of my life and only go home to visit.
Satisfaction with what we do– I’m sure people feel similar satisfaction in other places for what they do but we found our satisfaction here. From the gratitude from the kids, their parents and the pueblo at large to the good weather and beautiful natural sites, doing what we do here gives us satisfaction. As I think you guys know, what we do for the kids here is free-of-cost. We want to make ACA Explorers a non-profit so every Colombian kid that is willing to learn and can keep up with the ACA promise will have a chance to be an explorer. Many of the kids we teach come from families with very limited economic resources. The culture is still to have babies pretty young and to live with or around the grandparents that help support but this program simply would not function the way we want it to function by charging these families. The great part is that we are both humble people and only look for donations and patrons to support our simple lifestyles here (and since the dollar is so strong here, you’d be surprised at how simple I’m talking!). The satisfaction comes from the people, the culture, the mountains, the rivers, the music, the food…. all of which we can enjoy on a very humble budget. The satisfaction comes from not NEEDING to have mortgages and car loans and debt up to our noses (even though I DO still have student loan debt…. maldito USA) to live good lives.
We love kids!!!– Both of us have a natural ability, or a “don” as the say here, for kids. I always knew I loved kids but I didn’t specifically know that my incredibly smart, sarcastic and confident cousin Christopher also had a way with kids!!! (I should have known because he’s older than me and was always hilarious with us as we were growing up.) I was so proud of him when he told me he was in Colombia teaching kids with just a whiteboard out in the public parks (#havewhiteboardwilltravel) and wanted to join so badly…. it took me like two years but now I’m here and am lucky to learn from him everyday about language methodology, professionalism and how to most effectively teach English language acquisition. I have taught English before coming here but not with the ACA method (aka I’ve contributed to the bad teaching methods that most schools use) so I’m learning so much everyday.
Hope for our project- This is what keeps us going. Despite all the Colombian holidays that keep the kids from coming to class or the lack of professionalism that results in situations like our public forum on the project getting over-booked by something else when they already promised us the space, we have hope in what we’re doing because we know it’s effective and we know it is lacking here. The average student here graduates high school with an incredibly low knowledge of a foreign language and anything they do know in English is said in such a strong Paisa accent that unless you have the ear for it (as we have developed), it might as well be a different language. Something like what we are doing simply doesn’t exist in these pueblos. It makes it easier to continue putting effort into it despite the hardships because so many people claim to want to learn English and the right methodology just isn’t utilized in the schools here. Hope for our project also has to do with hope and belief that people will donate to what we’re doing because it is good for the world and the community and inherently relies on donations to make what we’re doing possible. We haven’t started asking for donations but we hope when we do that those who support us will donate what they can to keep our dream going.
I felt a personal need to write this blog post after a weekend of partying and not doing much for the project and to come home to see Christopher and see how much he accomplished…. I needed to write this to remind myself and refocus my own efforts and mindset to why I’m really here 🙂