Hola! My name is Joe Caraway and I am a 2016 WorldTeach volunteer in Colombia at the Universidad Minuto de Dios. I really enjoy teaching, and I cherished the chance to practice both my teaching and Spanish skills. While I was a little nervous about coming to Colombia, I was excited to get to know the people and culture I had been hearing amazing things about. I was out of my comfort zone, but I couldn’t have been happier while trying to communicate with the locals or finding my way around Bogotá.
It took a while to get accustomed to the calm, easy-going life that Colombians lived, but once I did, my social and work life became much easier. I had never been a patient person, and at first it was frustrating when people would walk slowly in front of me at the mall, or when a friend would show up late to an agreed upon time, but there was something liberating about not worrying about the time all day. The Colombian people are warm and friendly, and are very patient and helpful when speaking Spanish with you.
This was especially true with the students at my university, Universidad Minuto de Dios, or UniMinuto. While they were surprised to have a teacher the same age as them, or younger in some cases, they were upbeat and eager to learn, and maintained a positive attitude throughout the course. I think that having a native teacher made the experience of learning English feel more real to them, that they weren’t just learning how to rearrange letters with different sounds, but learning to communicate with and embrace a new culture. It was difficult at times, and I often think that I learned more from them than they did from me.
I was especially thankful to have been placed with my host family in Sibaté. They welcomed me into their home and showed me how to use the public transportation system. They invited me to Sunday mass and even to their cousin’s baptism. We played bubble soccer, which I highly recommend for any soccer fan, and went to watch comedy speakers in the Bogotá parks. I can’t imagine how I would have become comfortable in Colombia without them. They were amazing.
The most interesting event to take place during my stay in Colombia was the vote for or against peace with the guerrilla movement in the country, the FARC. Colombia had been at war with them for more than 40 years, and the people would have the final decision to continue with the peace terms arranged by the government. The people were completely divided, and while everyone wanted peace, not everyone was happy with the terms put forward by the government. I remember spending an entire class discussing the deal with my students, trying to understand their point of view and why someone may vote for or against the peace. I was upset to see everyone trying to accept that the conflict would continue when peace talks failed.
I’ll be sad to leave Colombia in December, but I wish that I had more time to spend here. It’s fun to look back and think about how foreign the lifestyle here felt only six short months ago. I feel like I really have learned how to slow myself down, something I often struggled with before coming to Colombia. I know that I will carry these lessons of warmth and tranquility with me as I return from South America to the life I left behind.
Bonus video featuring Joe!