By Thomas Nolan
One of the greatest aspects of my service thus far has been my relationship with my counterpart Gerardo Gil Peralta. Gerardo and I first met on October 21, 2013 in the Hotel Charthon at the Counterpart Conference. He has taken a liking to the Peace Corps, and has befriended many of the volunteers (CII-6, he is dying to meet you all). Gerardo and I spend a lot of time together both working and in passing time. I took the opportunity to sit down with Gerardo for a nice interview, and would like to share with you some of his responses that I found interesting. Gerardo also wanted to offer a deep word of thanks for all of our service. He holds a high respect for the Peace Corps and for all of the volunteers.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I was born here in Barranquilla in 1999. Haha…do you think they will believe that? I studied in San José Catholic School for men only. After that, I went to the army for one year in 1997.
When did you begin to study English?
After I finished the army, I decided to study English at Central Cultural Colombo Americano because I was so terrible at English in school. I really don’t know why I decided to study English. Maybe it was because I wasn’t doing anything. After that I applied to Atlantic University in the Economics program, but I was not accepted. So, I decided to study an English course, but it turned out that I accidentally signed up for an English major and not an English class. However, I did really well and took 13th place from more than 200 students, so now I am an accidental English teacher.
Why do you choose to work at a technical school as opposed to a colegio?
I did my internship in a school with students from 8-10 years old, and it was not so great. One of my neighbors used to work in a language institute, and I asked him for a job. I started to teach in Libre University. I like to work with older students, because supposedly, they are supposed to know what they want.
What is your favorite part about living in Barranquilla?
You won’t believe me, but I like the weather. I like the weather and the people. I grew up here. It is my home.
What do you think about Peace Corps?
I was surprised by all these organizations that wanted to help the teachers here in Colombia. They have been a good support and we learn a lot from them.
How do you feel about Peace Corps as compared to other organizations?
I think that Peace Corps has more support, uses new innovative ideas, and works shoulder to shoulder with the teachers. They are organized and pay attention to what happens in the institutes that they are involved in.
What was your favorite experience in working with Peace Corps?
I think that the process Peace Corps uses to help us is the biggest event that they have to achieve. It has been very helpful.
For the new volunteers mainly, what are some ideas you have to help them better integrate into Costeña culture?
Ok. You know that they have to integrate through cultural activities and to see the city from all perspectives. They will realize that there is a difference between people from the north and the people from the south. The culture is the same, but they think differently. For example, you can see that the people from the south are happier than the north, or it could just be in a different way. They should also learn the culture and the way they think, both the bad things and the good things. They need to be challenged to begin to understand how Costeños think.
What words of wisdom do you have for Peace Corps Volunteers?
You have to be strong and focus on the goal that you want to get at the end of your service here.