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ANNA HARBOROW, ELA COLOMBIA 2010-2011
"You will learn a lot, you will meet amazing people and you will have a lot of fun. There will be times when you feel miles away from your comfort zone, but the benefits completely out weight the bad bits. I wish I could do the year all over again!" Anna Harborow, ELA in Bogotá, Colombia, 2010-2011.

I had already had an amazing year working as a British Council assistant in Spain so I had pretty high expectations. However this was my first ever visit to South America and most people have a rather negative image of Colombia, so I was not really sure what to expect. The year more than lived up to my expectations, Colombia is an incredibly welcoming country and has an incredible variety of things to offer. I am hopefully going to do a PGCE to teach English in UK secondary schools now that I am back in the UK.

The tips which the previous language assistant gave us at the pre-departure meeting were useful in preparing for the year abroad and gave us a real taster of what we had to look forward to. We then had a two day induction in Bogotá. This was most useful for helping us get our bearings in the city and the best part of the induction was probably getting to meet the other assistants! It also gave us an insight into the Colombian education system.  

I was working in the Colegio Jose Max León in Bogotá and was expected to work everyday. I had classes of about 25-30 students and would go into different classes and supplement the lessons which the students were doing with their normal teacher. My role changed quite often as the school had not had language assistants for very long and could not decide what the best way of us spending our time was! This meant I also worked with smaller groups, individually with student and with teachers. The main challenge of the role was the lack of organization within the institution were I worked. This was very frustrating and I felt I could have offered the school a lot more than what I did. It was difficult working with so many different students, as this made it difficult to learn names and to really get to know a class. The rewards came when I did get to know the students. Generally they were lovely to me and enthusiastic about getting a further insight into British life and culture. I did a lesson using tube maps which went down very well! Other bits and pieces like menus and postcards are also useful. Students love photos of friends and family. Blue-tac was an indispensable teaching aid which you can't find over there.

It took me a while to adapt as at the start I didn't live with Colombians and I was finding my hours at school really stressful. The work ethic is very different to in UK and this was quite a shock for me, as people are expected to work ridiculously long hours. People are also extremely relaxed when it comes to any kind of organisation, which for me, with my love of lists and plans, was quite stressful. However, as soon as I made good Colombian friends I quickly adapted and realised that I had lots to learn from their attitude to life and ability to live in the moment, cheesy as it may sound! In my spare time I took up salsa dancing which is not only great fun but also an indispensable social skill. It's really cheap to have private classes and will mean a lot more fun on a night out. I made the most of my holidays for travelling.

During the year I had long holidays during and made the most of Colombia's numerous travelling opportunities. I also got away on lots of weekend breaks. (Colombia is the country with the second most bank holidays in the world, take advantage!) My travelling highlight was without a doubt the Pacific coast and the beaches around Nuquí and Bahía Solano. This is a completely paradisical spot, pretty much free of tourists, where the jungle comes down to meet a jaw droppingly beautiful coast-line. On the Carribean coast Parque Tayrona also offers great beaches, but best to go out of season and Cartagena lived up to all the hype. Capurganá and the beaches on the way up to Panama are  A trip to Pasto for the “Carnaval de Blancos y Negros,” was great fun and a very unique experience. I also visited all the other main cities, did coffee tasting in the Eje Cafetero and had a surreal journey back in time to Mompox.

This experience was useful both personally and professionally. Living in a country where the culture is so different from your own puts you to the test and it is necessary to be open minded and independent. Working and living abroad shows you are culturally aware and gives you the added bonus of an extra language. At school I experienced a different working environment with a different set of codes and practices which I adapted to.

You won't regret doing an assistantship! You will learn a lot, you will meet amazing people and you will have a lot of fun. There will be times when you feel miles away from your comfort zone, but the benefits completely out weight the bad bits. I wish I could do the year all over again!

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