Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Beat Goes On

This past weekend was of normal length. Colombia is now entering a bit of a dry spell for my newly beloved puentes or three-day weekends, but I don´t need to worry to much as they will be back with a vengance starting in mid-October. Nevertheless, I decided to set off into the mountains in search of a slightly cooler climate after spending Friday night rocking out to a concert here on campus with my foreign language major buds pictured below. The two other language assistants and I along with three of our Mexican friends studying abroad here in Cali spent the weekend at the recreational facility of the university, complete with mountain views, a pool, a fresh and clean river, and of course, nightly dancing. The whole time I was thinking to myself, ¨Why doesn´t Northwestern have something like this?¨ Aside from the sunburn, I have no complaints. My lungs, perhaps more than any other part of me, especially appreciated the trip to breathe in some fresh air. On our return to the city, I could immediately feel the air quality plummet, welcoming me back to my newly adopted home.

In terms of work, things are generally positive. I have now set into my schedule here at the university, running an English conversation club Tuesday through Friday, helping out professors Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and teaching kids from nearby disadvantaged areas on Thursdays. My favorite of these duties thus far has been my conversation club. At the moment, we´re keeping the topics light, focusing on the always deep and profound Michael Jackson and an American city perhaps best known for its intellectual prowess, Las Vegas. As my friend Josh recently wrote me after expressing exagerated excitment over the release of the next Twilight film, please note the sarcasm. My students here are enjoying speaking English and starting to be a bit less timid, but we´ve still got a way to go. One difficulty thus far has been the great variance of ability within one club session, but I´m experimenting with some ways to make sure everyone gets something out of the two hours. A good sign is that the numbers of students coming each day are growing, meaning word is getting around that conversation club is a bit more fun than your regular English class. In conversation club, you get to have a stab at dancing the moonwalk and listen to American top 40 pop as well as discuss slightly more serious topics such as American and Colombian politics. Beats conjugating verbs any day of the week. Also positively, I have finally been able to make a solid contact in terms of volunteering and hope to be starting in the next week or so with a program that tutors kids recently rescued off the streets of downtown Cali. The search for such a position has been one of several lessons of patience and perseverance I have had so far here in Colombia. I am looking forward to starting this second aspect of my oficial purpose here.

In addition to these focuses on teaching and volunteering, I have been reading quite a bit. With college officially over, I get to make my own classes, reading what I want to read and pursuing topics as far as I wish to pursue them. I´ve broken up my more academic readings into three grouping which I hope to keep going throughout the semester . Colombian history, the writings of Gabriel Garcia Márquez, and Contemporary Latin American issues, leaving that final one quite interdisciplinary. After sitting in on a couple of official classes here at the university, I decided to hold off on those until January and take one semester to explore the previous topics on my own without any other academic stresses (at least on the student side of things). As I finish books, I will try to write up some thoughts and post them on here. Call me a nerd, but this all gets me very excited about life-long learning after university.

I have also had time this week to continue exploring a bit of the city, visiting Granada, the ritziest neighborhood of Cali I have yet to visit, as well as the famed Cali zoo. The streets of Granada are lined with art galleries, fancy restaurants and cafés and not so fancy discotecas, pulling all this off without, to me at least, seeming too pretentious. The zoo was indeed more than I had expected. Colombia contains the greatest diversity of both birds and butterflies of any nation in the world as well as great biodiversity in fish and amphibians which the zoo presents very well. Marveling at these creatures in environments that were nicely un-zoo-like was a lovely way to spend the afternoon with a group similar to the one that spend the weekend at the cabañas. Cali continues to offer plenty to explore, but I can feel myself itching to branch out and visit another city. I am currently starting to plan a weekend getaway to Popoyán and trying to find some travel companions to come along. As they say here in Colombia, a big hug to everyone! Hope to hear about events going on in your lives. I have really enjoyed the updates I have received from many of you so far. Seeing an email from someone back home always puts a smile on my face!

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