How Much Foreign Language Is Being Taught In U.S. Schools Teach English in Colombia: Grappling with Grammar, Gold, Guns, and Guayaba

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Teach English in Colombia: Grappling with Grammar, Gold, Guns, and Guayaba

Americans avoid Colombia for good reasons. A virtual civil war has been going on for almost 40 years. Crime and violence rates are among the highest in the world. And then there is the “drug problem”. Why would anyone think of coming here to teach English?

“I came because a friend who worked in Cali liked it there and recommended it,” says Glenn Yates, a teacher now in his second year at a bilingual school. Tired of Canada’s frigid winters, fled to a land of year-round warm weather and an even warmer welcome.

Colin Jacobs, tired of dreary days and rain, found his way to teaching English in Cali from his native England over 20 years ago and hasn’t left since. “I don’t think I could live in London again,” he says. “After adjusting to the almost perfect climate, food and easy lifestyle here, I really don’t want to go back. I’m spoiled for life.”

So are I. Hundreds of varieties of flowers perfume the air, even in winter. Pantries abound with exotic fruits such as Guayaba and Carambolo. The growing season of the year allows papayas to reach almost the size of watermelons; mangoes can weigh up to two pounds each. Colombia’s strong, black coffee, considered the richest in the world, is served everywhere.

But is it safe?

There are problems, yes, but not of “run-scream-for-the-hills” intensity. Most of the conflicts are in the countryside. While this can make intercity travel risky at times, residents in major cities such as Bogotá, Cali and Medellin feel little impact and live quite normally. Add to that power failures, cell phone or water outages, and rainy season flooding is more annoying than life threatening. Bigger cities are reasonably well-cleaned and usually safe, if you’re careful.

Drugs? Most of the illicit production is destined for export, so, apart from warring drug factions in the coca growing areas, there is not much impact on a daily basis. During major holidays, the government steps up military patrols of major highways and holiday areas to ensure protection and safer travel for holidaymakers.

Quality of life

Cali, with two million residents, is known as the “salsa capital of the world”, rivaling Cuba. The two largest malls host multi-cinema complexes showing first-run American films in English with Spanish subtitles. English publications are readily available in bookstores and newsstands. English material can be borrowed free of charge from the Santiago de Cali University and for an annual fee of $3 from the Centro Cultural Colombo Americano. The Municipal Theatre, Tertulia Arts Complex and the Jorge Isaacs Theater offer regular productions in Spanish. Ethnic restaurants specializing in Latin American and Mediterranean cuisine continually tempt Caleño palettes. Holiday celebrations take place throughout the year. Check them out online at [http://www.holiday] festival.com/ Colombia.html. You will never be bored in Cali.

Jobs

Native English speaking teachers are scarce here. Wages reflect high demand. Most teaching positions require an applicant to be a native English speaker and have a college degree. A teaching certificate and some experience are a definite plus. Work is available in bilingual colleges, language institutes and universities. Sending a dozen resumes in English should land half that number of interviews, culminating in several job offers on site.

Don’t speak Spanish? Interviews are typically in English, but as a working resident, you’ll probably want to pick up more than a tourist’s Spanish. The University Santiago de Cali and the Pontifica Universitaria Javeriana have Spanish programs for foreigners. Berlitz (www.berlitz.com) has offices in Cali with Spanish classes. A private tutor is quite easy to come by.

“It hasn’t been a problem to find someone to help me when I need something done in Spanish,” said Glen Yates, who, with his limited Spanish, has found Colombians to be very friendly and sociable.

So don’t worry unnecessarily about news reports. Call, write or email schools and institutes to get a feel for their needs and requirements. Check out the websites. Gather your diplomas, certificates and letters of reference. Don’t forget to collect materials such as maps, postcards, flyers, magazines and memorabilia from your hometown. These will be invaluable for your conversations with students.

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