by Stacy Johnson
Peter Macala, a former CII-4 volunteer, has been continuing his work in Colombia as an English teacher, but this time he’s working in a very well recognized bilingual school in Barranquilla. When I asked him if he felt a major difference in working in a private school versus public school, his response was diplomatic and humble:
“Public vs. private schools… Personally, I don’t really focus on that. The big difference is it’s bilingual. The facilities are nicer, and the kids all come from affluent families. I work with elementary school, so they’re about 10 years old. In my experience, kids are kids, rich or poor. They all have their struggles or their quirks. All kids have problems, and all kids have strengths. All kids have something to learn and something to contribute.
The biggest difference is my role. As a volunteer, I was trying to support and encourage the growth of teachers. Now at Marymount I have control of the class and am focused on becoming a better teacher.”
Do you think that’s easier? Is it easier to manage and appreciate your work?
“Since I have my own class, I definitely have more control. It’s satisfying. I don’t really think it’s that much different from what it would be like teaching in the states. Like I said, it’s really just the role that’s different. I’m the teacher in charge, not someone who’s trying to influence other teachers.”
I assume that private schools are a lot more organized.
“Yeah I’d say so. Is still has its quirks and its toque Costeño. If I had gone there straight from the states, it would have been a culture shock.”
I know you got a great job offer at Marymount, but what else made you want to continue living here?
“Hmm let me think… For starters, any time I returned to Colombia from a trip, I always felt home when I got back. I really enjoyed my time here as a volunteer. My goal after Peace Corps was to get a job where I would be able to live more comfortably and start paying back my student loans. When I found out how much it was possible for a teacher to make here, I knew I wanted to try and stay, at least for a little while.”
What about Barranquilla? Obviously there is something it offers you as a suitable city to live in.
“There’s a lot I like about Barranquilla. I like the weather. I’m used to the heat, and it’s nice having sunny weather almost all the time. The climate really agrees with my body. I almost never get sick here, and I don’t suffer from any allergies, whereas in New England I would suffer horribly.”
As a volunteer in Barranquilla, I actually see Peter quite often; practically every Saturday at Mazzinos Pizza, actually. I’m not sure if he comes to partake in the amazing conversation and fun activities that are part of the Conversation Club at Mazzino’s, or maybe it’s the fact that he is the bass player for the Mazzinos jazz band. Either way, he always finds a little time before their set to sit down and chit-chat a little while with the group before taking to the stage.
“I like being a part of the band at Mazzinos. I haven’t been playing the bass for very long, and in fact I started learning here in Colombia. I see Mazzinos as an opportunity to continue learning music that I wouldn’t have anywhere else. I get to play live every week, and I get paid for it! I’d have a hard time finding something like that back in the states.”
All right Peter, I know that your story here can’t be all rainbows and lemon drops. Surely you’ve encountered at least slight difficulties and hardships. What has been hard for you?
“It feels as though things are changing a lot. At first I had a really strong social network here. Peace Corps is here, I had my host family, etc. However, I no longer live with my host family, and more and more people I know are moving away. Both friends from the United States – and Colombians that I was close to – have moved to other places. This is probably going to be the deciding factor in whether or not I stay here long-term.”
Speaking of family back home, how do they feel about your staying here? Do you see them often?
“I get to go home to the states twice a year. This helps me keep in touch and maintain relationships. Since the flights are so short, it’s easier than if I had moved out west or something. Also, Colombia isn’t a bad place to visit, and I’ve had a great time whenever friends or family have come here.”
Any final comments?
“Here in Barranquilla I basically feel like a big fish in a small pond. I stand out because I’m a giant gringo. I have opportunities here that I wouldn’t back at home. Perhaps that will lose its novelty over time, but we’ll see. I guess it all just ties back to the fact that while I’m here I simply feel home.”
Thank you, Peter, for your time and continued support. May you and Colombia continue to create beautiful music together.