By Shanna Crumley
Peace Corps Colombia’s first FIT business English fair, designed to create a forum for networking between the private and public sectors and to address the utility of English in the workplace, brought together professionals from 16 local and international businesses and organizations and over 1,000 area high school English students and their educators in Barranquilla’s Hotel Sonesta on October 16, 2014.
The fair included booths from each organization, where students could meet professionals and learn about their work and the role of English in Barranquilla’s workforce. Sponsored by the Peace Corps, the U.S. Embassy, the Secretaries of Education of Barranquilla and Atlántico, AMCHAM and Cambridge University Press, the event also highlighted several language institutes, universities and contact centers that employ English speakers.
“I enjoyed this event because it had a lot to do with professional preparation,” shared Miguel Angel, an adult student at the Instituto Tecnico de Soledad Atlántico. “It showed that English is one of the most important things that can help me professionally.”
At each booth, students were encouraged to ask questions and received information about job opportunities and scholarships for language study. As students worked their way around the fair hall, young professionals periodically gave testimonies about their own experiences with studying English and finding work in various companies and institutions.
Gustavo Gutierrez, an English teacher who works with a Peace Corps volunteer in Castillo del Alboraya, shared his experience as a Barranquilla student who chose to pursue English in his career: “For me, English was an opportunity. I chose to stay in university longer to finish studying English, even after my friends finished, and it paid off.”
Gutierrez and two partners recently founded their own language foundation, called Funidiomas, which utilizes communicative competencies to teach all levels of English.
Ronald, a student with Fundación Aliarse Contact, a call center program, enjoyed hearing the professionals’ experiences: “For me, it was especially encouraging to see that this dream [of working in language institutions] is possible and that if we keep working, we can achieve it.”
Jeremy Booth, a Peace Corps volunteer serving at Pies Descalzos, assisted students and professionals around the exhibition hall, keeping the fair running smoothly. He observed students and professionals interacting: “I saw costeño students utilize their inherent social skills in a new context that they had not been exposed to before.”
Participants from every sector expressed their appreciation of the event and its significance in the landscape of Barranquilla’s workforce. The first of its kind, this event united representatives from multiple sectors and fields with the common purpose of discussing English language and its role in the workforce.
Peace Corps would love to continue this kind of collaboration with local organizations, providing a crucial opportunity for the public education sector to engage with professionals and for the private sector to invest in local youths’ futures and, by doing so, in Colombia’s own future success.