No Idea Too Small

By Regina M. Ernst

There’s often a lot of hype surrounding secondary projects in Peace Corps Colombia. When you work in a small community (or a large, conducive one), secondary projects are beneficial, exciting, and serve as a break from the, at times, lackluster routine of co-teaching or, in some cases, direct teaching. However, some sites are nontraditional and don’t quite fit into your “perfect expectations” mold. Still, secondary projects make things a little more interesting.

I work at SENA in Cartagena, where many aspects of my job change without notice from day to day (e.g., students, buildings, classrooms, horarios, etc.), and unfortunately, I don’t work with any Colombian English teachers at site. For those reasons, I’ve been collaborating with volunteers from other organizations who also teach at SENA, and together we’ve been developing some easy and flexible (and hopefully, fun!) extracurricular activities for interested students to encourage English speaking outside of the classroom.

Given that most of our students at SENA are in their twenties and have jobs or kids in addition to their six-hour horario at SENA, we needed to design something they could do during their self-determined free time. During the last week of August, we organized a city-wide English scavenger hunt that took place over the course of four days in the hours before our classes started. The activity was voluntary, and about twenty students participated in pairs. We wrote clues in English for various famous sites around Cartagena, and the students first had to decipher the clues, and then had to photograph or video record themselves accomplishing specified activities in English. Here are a couple of examples of the clues we used:

  • There are many signs for stores in Cartagena that have English words. Task: Take 5 photos of 5 different store signs that are in English.
  • There is a famous song for children called “The Wheels on the Bus”. Task: Learn one verse of the song and get on a bus. Take a video of you both singing the verse on the bus.
  • There are many hotels for tourists in Cartagena. Go to two different hotels and ask the price for a room for two people for one night. Task: Take a video of you asking for the price in English. Bring back the video and a business card from each hotel.
  • There is a salsa bar in the old city where there are many photos of famous people on the walls. Task: Go to that bar, and ask someone to take a video of you and your partner dancing salsa in front of the wall with all the photos.

They used their phones to take photos and videos and the outcomes were funny and clever.

That first event stirred a general interest in the students, so in early October, we held a Cultural Collage & Cookie Day in which three US citizens (my fellow SENA English instructors and I) made collages about our expectations and experiences of Colombia’s culture, and interested students, in turn, made collages of their notions of US culture. We crafted our collages together, then we presented and explained why we chose our images, while munching away on some delectable cookies. Here are some photos from that day:

regina1reginaregina2

We asked our students for ideas and made a list of their suggestions for future activities and events and we’re on a mini-roll.

I’ve learned over the last year that long-term projects are difficult, if not impossible, to facilitate in SENA Cartagena. Thus, the simpler activities work out well for me, as they accommodate the constantly changing factors at site. All this is to say that there are no limitations for things you can do at site, whether the ideas are simple, like these, or much more complex, like the week-long camps to which some volunteers tirelessly dedicate themselves. All ideas may not be successful, but they’re all worth trying. There’s no idea too small. You’re good to go as long as you’re always doing your most important job, engaging with people and sharing knowledge and cultures.

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