Serving on San Andrés

By Stephanie Sheffield

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To serve as a Peace Corps volunteer on the coast of Colombia is such a blessing. I am able to jog in the morning while enjoying gorgeous views of the Sierra Nevada mountains, spend weekends at beautiful local beaches, and slow down my North American-paced rhythm of life to adjust to a more cogela suave attitude. What could possibly beat this experience? Having the opportunity to be apart of the Immersion Program on the stunning Caribbean island of San Andrés!

The Immersion Program is held at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia Sede Caribe on two islands: San Andrés and Providencia. It’s funded by Colombia’s Ministry of Education, and is one of the biggest efforts that the Ministry has developed to improve bilingual education in Colombia. Public school teachers from all over Colombia apply to the Immersion Program and have all expenses paid once they are accepted. There are two immersion programs a year: one in June and one in November. Each is one-month long.

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There were 120 teachers who attended the Immersion Program on San Andrés and 60 teachers who attended in Providence. Teachers were broken up into 6 different classes, based on their English proficiency levels. Every day, they had English classes in the morning from local tutors, who were native English speakers from the island. The PCVs helped to teach two hours of those daily English classes, focusing on speaking activities that were related to the theme of the morning.

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After lunch at the posadas (family-owned bed-and-breakfasts where we stayed during the program), teachers participated in different activities. Twice a week, they attended our TEFL workshops. Each PCV had two workshops prepared, and the groups rotated to see each of our sessions. On the other afternoons, they worked on class projects, attended technology sessions at SENA, or participated in other cultural activities. In addition to the Monday-Friday schedule, cultural activities were organized every Saturday morning and PCVs were always encouraged to attend.

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Working at the Immersion Program on San Andrés was a beautiful experience. The teachers who participated in the program were very excited to learn and practice English, the local tutors were professional and organized, and I gained a lot of professional experience through the opportunities offered there. The island is absolutely breathtaking and the culture is fascinating, due to the mix of groups that exist there today. I strongly encourage anyone to apply who has considered going for the next round in June!

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