My Best Classes Involve Water Slides

So I was a wee bit MIA last week, but with good reason: I was busy hanging out with about 40 of my 9th-graders in Melgar, a very warm resort-y town about three hours outside of Bogotá, because my life is super-exciting like that. Actually, though, it was both exciting and a great opportunity to spend time with my delightful kids outside of the dark confines of school.

I didn’t just sneak onto a field trip full of 15-year-olds, I swear (okay, I kind of did. But there was a reason!). Colsubsidio, the organization that owns my school, also owns about half of the other buildings in Colombia — including a rather nice hotel in Girardot, right next to Melgar, and a water park, Piscilago, which features the longest water slide in Latin America. For some unknown but delightful reason, particular grades at the Colsubsidio schools get the opportunity for an overnight at the hotel and then a day at the water park. I was originally supposed to go with the 7th-graders about two months ago, but due to scheduling it didn’t work out, so I got shuffled to the 9th-graders instead. This actually ended up being a pretty lovely surprise, since I adore my 9th-graders and they are, on average, slightly easier to wrangle than a bus full of insane 12-year-olds. I’m not sure why anyone at my school thinks I’m a responsible enough human being to take care of a large group of other human beings, but I chose not to question it.

So instead of dragging myself through the polluted streets of chilly, rainy Bogotá, I spent two days frolicking in pools and water slides with my generally well-behaved children, shocking them with the fact that yes, I actually do speak Spanish (surprise!) and yelling at them to stay in their damn rooms and for the love of god please just go to bed (I never said that I slept at any point during this trip. I didn’t).

Being with these awesome kids for two days straight made me remember some of the things that I love so much about this work, and what a huge role my students have played in making this year such a positive experience. On Thursday night we had a bonfire outside, and we did an activity where everyone had an opportunity to speak to their peers about things that have been difficult or positive about this year. I went last, and after hearing the sweet, insightful and often very emotional things my students had to say, all I had to tell them was how much I love them and how important they are to me. They are the reason that I’m excited to come to school every day, and they’re the reason that all of the inconveniences and frustrations that come with working at this school and in this system are worth it. I’m already upset that I’m going to have to say goodbye to them in three months, but I’m trying not to think about it for now.

The two-day vacation was a fantastic opportunity for both fun (Riding the longest water slide in Latin America! Going headfirst through a dark tunnel on a water toboggan! Watching my students throw each other in the pool! Frolicking on playground equipment like a little kid! Not having to wear sleeves!) and reflection (oh my god I love these kids so much how can I ever leave them?). Even though it’s over now and I’m back in my cloudy, scheduled reality, at least I still have the memories (and 75 itchy, torturous bug bites on my legs) to remind me.

Día del Idioma: A Little Bit of Culture, and a Lot of Kids in Costumes

People here are really into holidays. As in, we celebrate something pretty much every week — holidays I never even knew existed in a formal sense, like Teacher’s Day, Children’s Day, International Water Day, and so on. Basically every holiday is an excuse for us to have an iza bandera (this translates more or less to “flag-raising” but is essentially a school-wide assembly. There is no actual raising of any flags) and for all the kids and teachers to miss class for an hour or two. I typically use it as an opportunity to tan my arms in the courtyard and whisper threatening things at 10th-graders who are hitting each other instead of paying attention.

However, some holidays merit even more than just an assembly with various patriotic songs and people talking. When they get serious about celebrations here, they go all out. A recent example at school — probably the best one so far — was Día del Idioma (Language Day, more or less). Día del Idioma is celebrated throughout the Spanish-speaking world as a day to recognize the global importance of the Spanish language, and has been a national holiday here in Colombia since 1938. It officially falls on April 23rd, as an homage to “Don Quixote” author Miguel de Cervantes, one of the most important writers in the history of Spanish literature, who died on that day in 1616. Even though the holiday has an official date, all of the schools where we volunteers are working seemed to celebrate it on different days. Ours was April 25th, and boy, was it a party.

Día del Idioma, although it seems like it should just be people talking about how awesome Spanish is all day (which would’ve been fine with me, too), turned out to be really more of a celebration of Colombian culture in general, or at least that’s how it played out here. Classes were suspended for essentially the entire day, since the festivities took up almost six hours. Every classroom was decorated according to some kind of theme — a different geographic region of the country, different kinds of food, different cultural myths, literature, and so on. Pretty much anything that contributes to culture had its own space, and some of the students from that class did a presentation on their specific topic. The rest of the students rotated around the school in groups, acting as the audience for the presentations.

It was pretty cute watching the students take a turn teaching each other, and we teachers got to more or less take a back seat for the day and just hang out with the kids and see the results of all their hard work. This was especially nice for the Spanish teachers, who had been driving themselves pretty much crazy with preparations during the week before Día del Idioma — I was legitimately concerned about the relative sanity of a few of them.

In the end, though, everything seemed to go fairly smoothly. The kids had a great time, all of the classrooms looked great, it miraculously didn’t rain for the whole six hours — plus, I got some great pictures.

Totally Inexplicable Things Colombians Love: #10. ’80s Rock/Hair Metal Bands

To be fair, this isn’t exclusive to Colombia. I noticed it when I was in Argentina, too, but I’m here now, and it’s amusing and widespread enough to merit a mention.

People here just love bad (and some good) ’80s music. Don’t get me wrong — I am a huge proponent of a large portion of ’80s music. I’ve watched the Breakfast Club more times than anyone without a recurring case of mono should, I have been known to dance around my room singing The Cure, and last week when my co-workers peer pressured me into doing karaoke with them, what did I sing? That’s right: “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” I have no doubt that I would’ve been awesome at the ’80s, and I have a healthy amount of respect slightly embarrassing love for synth-based pop tunes. However. I draw the line at hair metal.

this axl looks better than the real-life one

Welcome to the (Colombian) jungle.

My students — my sixteen-year-old students — listen to Bon Jovi, AC/DC and Iron Maiden. People wear these band t-shirts, unironically (heaven forbid!). The favorite band of my best friend at school is Guns N’ Roses. This is admittedly part of what makes her so awesome, but let’s be serious here: I don’t even know if Guns N’ Roses (whatever the current iteration may be) like themselves anymore. My bus driver the other day sure likes them, though — he had a GNR logo painted on the roof of the driver’s section of the bus.

Personally, I think it’s kind of great, since the ’80s are a chronically-underappreciated era in gloriously terrible music, but I can’t help laughing when one of my 8th-graders tells me how much he loves “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Just wait ’til you finally catch up with the ’90s, I want to tell him. There’s no way you’re ready for what EMF can throw at you.

(seriously, though, it’s worth your 4:00 to watch that video. It is rather, dare I say, unbelievable?)

Top Ten Questions For CEIC Norte’s New English Teacher

Working as a teacher is filled with joys, challenges, lesson planning — and answering the same questions 9000 times a day. It’s even more extreme when you’re the only foreigner in a school filled with curious children, in a country where it’s socially acceptable to ask incredibly personal questions within about two minutes of meeting someone. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had enough time to adjust to the constant barrage of questions directed my way, but sometimes I can’t help but laugh at the frequency with which I get asked the exact same things, every day. At the least, I can say that if I ever end up on the wrong side of a press conference, I’m going to be totally prepared for any and all weird questions that people want to throw at me.

In the meantime, I’ve been perfecting my responses to these particular gems:

Don’t you want to see what the questions are?