Orientation in Bogota

Before heading back to Colombia, I got to spend some time in Georgia with my sister and her family. I got in lots of quality time with the niece and nephews, hung out with the Mom’s Club, made a trip to the Sweetwater Brewery, saw the Bodies Exhibit in Atlanta, and just had a general good time.

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On February 1st, my sister kindly drove me to the airport in the middle of the night. I made a stop in Ft. Lauderdale and then on to Bogota. It’s amazing how much faster you can get there when you fly out of Atlanta instead of Sioux Falls. At the airport, there was a group of Volunteers Colombia teachers waiting to load up the bus and head to the hotel that we would call home for the next 2 weeks. Once we all packed ourselves and our stuff into the bus, we headed about an hour out of the city to the Xue Sabana Hotel Campestre in Cajica. Which is basically a hotel kind of out in the middle of nowhere. I was in the right place in line when we were checking in, because I happened to get a room all to myself.

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The next 2 weeks was a lot of fun, but also very tiring. Technically, I didn’t have to go to orientation, since I was a teacher last year, but I thought it would be a good thing to do, since the Heart For Change “orientation” I received last year was severely lacking. Pretty much all they said was “Try not to get drugged so that people can’t rape you and steal all your money.” Then they put me on a plane to Armenia and contacted me maybe twice for the rest of the year. In December, a week before the semester ended, they called to check up on me and make sure everything was going ok at my school and with my living situation. So nice of them to finally give a fuck 2 months later, when I’m about to go home. Clearly, I’m not a fan of HFC, but luckily I’ve found Volunteers Colombia to be a much more organized and helpful organization.

I also wanted to go to orientation so that I would be able to meet the other teachers that are going to be around Colombia, and I’m really glad I did. The best part about orientation was getting to know the other volunteers. All of them had interesting stories about traveling and teaching all over the world. This is why travel is addicting. Because everywhere you go – in hostels, at your job, wherever you’re volunteering – you hear amazing firsthand stories about all the other places in the world that you have yet to see.

There were about 170 of us, I think, and I connected with a lot of other Teach and Learn in Georgia (TLG) alums who had the same crazy memories of supras and tchatcha and gorgeous landscapes that I did. I talked with some AmeriCorps alums. I swapped stories of German host families, some crazy, some wonderful. As usual, I was the only South Dakotan.

It almost felt like summer camp, especially when standing in line in the dining hall for every meal. At the beginning, you made an effort to get to know everyone and tried to remember names and backgrounds. However, after a few days, you got a little sick of the “What’s your name? Where are you from? What city will you be in?” game and you just sat at a table and joined in on the conversation, just ignoring the introductions, knowing that there was an unspoken understanding that at this point there was just too many of us to meet everyone and keep them all straight.

For TEFL training, we were broken into four groups, so we got to know our groups a little better. Aside from the TEFL training, we had culture and safety sessions, and we took a trip to Bogota to get our bank and visa stuff all sorted out. At the end of training, we also took a couple days to go into Bogota and do a practicum where we taught classes to some students at the SENA centers. Because of some logistical issues, it ended up not being super productive, but it was still a nice chance to see the centers and get out of the hotel. However, the bus-ride-induced nausea was not so great.

There were also some fun activities planned – yoga, salsa, bonfires, an overnight trip to Bogota with a free day to see some sights. At the end, it was sad to leave, knowing that a lot of the friends you just made, you would never see again. But, I think everyone was ready to get out of the compound and get settled into their cities. The last night was a fun night drinking around the bonfire and hanging out one last time with all the other volunteers. The next morning was a not so fun bus drive to the airport where there was a lot of puking into plastic bags going on. And then back to my beloved Armenia!

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