by Cherryl Cannon, Current WorldTeach Colombia Volunteer
It’s been exactly one year since I made the decision to embark on a new journey and decided it was time for me to fulfill my dream to travel and live abroad. However, I didn’t want to just become a tourist. I wanted to embrace another culture, speak a new language, travel to unknown places and make an impact in the city that I would call home for an entire year. So for the past three months, I’ve been fortunate enough to be living and working in Barranquilla, Colombia as a volunteer and English Teacher for WorldTeach. Since my departure, I’ve grown tremendously and have learned so much during my time.
I knew it was going to be an amazing year the moment I saw a woman dressed up as an angelic nun blowing kisses at me from across the room. She was the Principal at Madre Marcelina, the all girls public school that I was assigned to. She, along with my co-teachers welcomed me with open arms, hugs, kisses and so much more. Every day at school, I learn something new about Colombia, the people, their customs, their pride and passion for their country. Their tenacity to overcome challenges is memorizing. It’s a beautiful thing to witness and it has encouraged me to re-connect more with my Filipino heritage. I also had a unique opportunity to volunteer as a YMCA Camp Counselor in an English Immersion Camp led by YMCA Colombia and the Ministry of Education. For two weeks in March, I taught English, led recreational activities and Pedagogic academic sessions to 53 of my 10th grade students from Madre Marcelina. As a native English speaker, not only was I able to share my cultural experiences and knowledge but I was able to provide guidance to these remarkable students. It was certainly a life changing journey for many of them as they discovered the values of honesty, respect, caring, responsibility and teamwork. The English immersion camp was such a blessing to both the students, the other camp counselors said and certainly to myself. I felt as though I learned more from the students than they did from me. It was truly an unforgettable experience that I will cherish with me always.
I have become an early bird. In fact, I wake up every day at 5:30 am so I can be at school by 7 am and look forward to teaching. I envy my students passion, competitive drive, eagerness to learn and appreciate their kindness and willingness to help. However, in order to be up that early, I start my morning with a large cup of tinto. I never thought in a million years I would have a love affair with plain black coffee and now I embrace it. Most days you can find me at a Juan Valdez or OMA café satisfying my love for good Colombian coffee. My degree of cultural growth and acceptance for others has also expanded. I’ve learned that less is indeed more. Living on a teacher’s salary isn’t for everyone but developing relationships, creating a global impact and cultural exchange has far more value.
Travel, travel, travel and as often as possible. Not only is it my mantra but I honestly believe that traveling opens your eyes, your heart, your mind and your soul to many beautiful experiences, creating unforgettable memories and ultimately life long bonds. So far, I’ve been blessed to have visited the Botero Museum and the captivating view of Monserrate in Bogota, did a balancing act on top of Castillo San Felipe in Cartagena, took the metro cable to the top of Medellin, witnessed the beautiful waves, sunsets and sunrises of Playa Blanca, Taganga and Santa Veronica, and hiked the picturesque mountains of Minca. Along the way, I’ve met people from all over the world. Solo travelers in search of their next adventure, couples chasing sunsets and wondering souls eager to connect with the world and people around them. Traveling has also given me the strong desire to photograph and capture the essence of Colombia to educate and hopefully break people’s misconceptions about this diverse and captivating country. I’ve also learned that we all smile in the same language. Living abroad and being lost in Spanglish translation is no easy task but you would be surprised how far a simple smile can get you.
My First Tattoo
If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do then my goodness, what are you waiting for? Tomorrow is not guaranteed so kick your fears to the curb, put your excuses in a sealed jar and do what makes you happy. I did just that when I decided to finally get my first tattoo. I was so nervous that I had to turn my head away and squeeze my friends hand throughout the whole 25 minute process. After a lot of thought, I decided my first tattoo would say “Travel Often” as a reminder to myself that no matter where we are in our lives, traveling should always be an essential part of life. In addition, living in a foreign country has also made me appreciate the little things, it has enabled me to break away from my comfort zone and essentially living a less stressful life. I no longer allow the hustle and bustle and the desire for corporate success interfere with my mental and physical health. I take my time and enjoy the simple moments like savoring each meal, taking public transportation, and negotiating with taxi drivers and street vendors.
These are just a few experiences and life lessons that I have learned from this remarkable country. It’s often the small things that make a new cultural experience so valuable and engaging. For the next nine months, I look forward to meeting those strangers that I will soon call friends, to new dishes that will touch my lips, to discovering the rest of Colombia and South America and to the new me that I will meet along the way once this chapter of my life comes to an incredible end.
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