My Solo Trip to Comuna 13, Colombia

Leesa in Medellin in 2015A solo trip to Comuna 13, solo travel in general, is not only a way of traveling — it’s a mindset. In an earlier article, I spoke about What I Know Now after solo traveling. Since my first international flight abroad to Medellin in 2015, my mindset has evolved and grown. It’s taken me almost two years to write about this trip back to Medellin since my initial summer abroad where I studied and did an internship. I made friends, worked really hard to complete the research I needed for my master’s degree, and went home to graduate. Although I did get a chance to travel and explore (some) while I was there, the majority of my summer was spent working and completing class assignments.

Fast forward to November 2019 — I fly back to Medellin after living a year abroad in Madrid and working in the US. It’s my first return since that initial summer solo trip. I worked a lot when I got back to the US. I traveled back to Medellin that November because I missed being abroad. As I was no longer employed, and I wanted to explore. My soul was on the rebound and needed a good awakening, and it got it. Solo travel to Comuna 13 — and the locals I met on this trip made me feel even more empowered to connect with the world around me. 

My Solo Trip to Comuna 13

Here are three examples from my previous What I Know Now coupled with my solo trip to Comuna 13.  I merely scratched the surface on my trip to Comuna 13 and highly recommend anyone traveling to Medellin, Colombia to visit this bright and colorful neighborhood. It’s also on the rebound. I look forward to going back and exploring more because there is so much to see. It’s best to hear the history straight from a local rather than from me. However, I can touch on preparation and getting there (pre-COVID) from the perspective of someone who lived there. 

Backstory on Comuna 13: I lived in Medellin to study and work, so I have locals who were able to give me guidance and referrals on which companies to use. I had not been back to Medellin since the summer of 2015 when I had been working and completing an internship. Comuna 13 was around but it was not an area that I knew about at the time. In the fall of 2019, I was in Medellin, looking at perhaps moving back for a teaching role. A friend told me to check it out amongst other places. Here are three of five things from the WIKN I mentioned above that I used specifically while on my trip to Comuna 13:

Be Flexible

While traveling, it’s important to remember things are going to change. Embrace it and enjoy it. I hadn’t been back to Medellin and I could feel the growth. My first international solo trip abroad was to Colombia, and I wound up living there! It was terrifying and thrilling at the same time. It felt scary and unsettling because I was leaving my comfort zone and heading to someone else’s. Keeping a go-with-the-flow mindset and knowing that things are going to get mixed up will alleviate stress and anxiety while traveling. Embrace the mix-up and enjoy the ride. 

Say what? Enjoy the ride? I can’t say more about transport to and from locations, especially those that you know are going to be hard to find. When it was time for me to get to Comuna 13, I wanted to try something new. Uber had recently launched in the country and I am a fan of this app. I could write an article about my Uber encounters — this is how much I enjoy using it. So, instead of taking the metro to the location where I would find my Zippy Tour 13 guide, I took an Uber.

This Uber ride is a post within itself. I smile thinking about the driver/attorney who began her first day of driving the day I stepped into her car. She was no longer practicing law and I happened to be her first client! I was so glad I ordered the Uber early — let’s just say that. She and I made it to the San Javier metro stop and I had one minute to find the blue umbrella for the Zippy Tour. I ran quickly across the street and checked in. I made it!

Plan But Don’t Over-Plan (Go With the Flow)

I usually tend to over-plan — I am the traveler who has an itinerary with a backup in case that one does not work out. However, for this trip, since it was more of a business trip, I used my go with the flow mentality when planning. My day was full and the extracurricular activities weren’t at the top of my list for this trip. I didn’t plan on which ones I would do while visiting Colombia and this turned out to be one of the best decisions I made.

I went to the university to find out about the job, met some friends, and they made several recommendations about where to go. This method has proved to be a great one. Over-planning can sometimes backfire. When on a trip, the plan might not work out and you spend time thinking about that disappointment rather than living in the moment. Enjoy the moment!

Make New Friends

When I arrived, I was placed in one of the three groups. Each group for Zippy Tours is led by a local who knows the area. My guide, Stiven, was born in Comuna 13. He talked to us about the community, the graffiti walls, plus the escalators that you can find online everywhere. The escalators remind me of a reference to the stairway to heaven song. You see art and brightness in this community and then escalators… It’s interesting. 

What you can’t find online or anywhere else are the lives of the locals who live there. Stiven spoke to us about his childhood and growing up with invisible lines that he could not cross. Crossing these lines was forbidden. His story should be told by him but it did affect me, because how could it not? 

Stiven was born in 1998 and grew up during Medellin’s dangerous and violent period. This is a tour that should be seen and heard from him. However, having connected with the locals before doing this tour, made me appreciate Stiven’s courage and childhood all the more. We all have a story. Even so, some have invisible lines drawn from trauma from a young age and turn that into a blessing and awakening for others.

For me, Stiven’s life and landscape not only touched my heart but encouraged me to come home and look into programs in the US for higher education Ed.D degrees in social disparity and conflict. I ended up applying for a degree (which unfortunately turned out to be the wrong fit). In hindsight, lines get blurred and I might look into this field once again. Stiven’s story still remains in my mind and heart. 

Leesa taking a selfie overlooking the vista of Comuna 13

Wrap Up

Solo travel to Comuna 13 opened my mind and heart to a population that was negatively impacted way beyond their control. My experience and interaction with this community positively transformed and shaped my views about Medellin even more. Had I not been flexible, able to jump in an Uber ride to get there, and use a local guide (now friend), this experience might have been different — maybe even boring (oh!). I encourage travelers from around the world to embrace solo travel at least once in their lifetime. Women should see this as a strength and embrace the world around them. You might just meet your next best friend that can transform your life. 

Stay tuned for more articles on Medellin, Colombia. 

Ciao for now. 

Lamon Chapman Talks Travel Restrictions

Lamon Chapman standing on a balcony above the city.Lamon Chapman has been busy this year despite the various travel restrictions around the world. He has released three songs, created an app, flown to Mexico for a month, and is now residing in Connecticut until the restrictions in Medellin lift. Lamon plans to head home to Medellin to complete his next musical project with Explosión Negra, the band whose 2016 Levántate album earned him a Latin GRAMMY nomination.

He filled us in about his current situation and the curfew in Medellin. He’s flown back and forth a couple of times after his 90-day stay in a finca last March. Here’s Lamon’s current status update, with his insight on navigating travel restrictions.

How easy is it to travel within Colombia at the moment?”

Travel within Colombia did revert to normal in March. The only requirement was the use of a face mask throughout the country. Then Semana Santana came around and the authorities brought in a modified curfew. Holy Week involves religious parades and after this week, hospitals began to fill capacity. The influx in cases and hospitalizations resulted in the current curfew that is in place. At the moment, people have to stay at home from Thursdays at 8 pm until Mondays at 5 am. These travel restrictions may not apply to other areas outside the city where there could be fewer COVID cases, though. There are smaller pueblos and villages that haven’t seen high numbers of cases but for the most part, the entire country has been affected.

A Colombian finca, which Lamon stayed at during the travel restrictions in Colombia.

Are there any travel restrictions in place regarding international flights?”

International requirements vary depending on the destination, although you are only able to enter the airport if you have a ticket for a flight. Some countries like the United States require a negative COVID PCR or Antigen test before departure. Mexico, on the other hand, does not require a test. Colombia Border Control specifies that all passengers complete an online questionnaire about their exposure to COVID. 

How safe did you feel traveling within Colombia?”

I feel very safe and have no major concerns as most Colombians follow the protocol and wear a mask. Of course, there are some individuals who fail to comply but they are very much the minority. The health regulations aren’t so loose as they are in the US. Stores take your temperature before entering and always provide hand sanitizer. Colombia is a smaller country though, so it might be easier to manage 50 million inhabitants rather than the US’s 328 million population. 

What about flying to the US?”

Airport staff checks your temperature before you board a plane. Generally, airlines do a pretty good job of minimizing the spread of COVID. I always use a facemask and shield when traveling which provides an extra layer of protection. 

When I flew back to Miami, everybody on the plane felt tenser. Someone coughed and heads swiveled around to identify the culprit. Paranoia was high. 

Can you describe what has changed regarding work and play?”

More businesses have reopened over the last few months. Most employees who were working from home have returned to work in the office and restaurants and bars are operating at “limited” capacities. The majority of these establishments require you to enter with a mask on but once you are inside and seated, the policy is a bit more relaxed.

What long-term effect will the pandemic have on Colombia? This is a country that loves to party. Is the party over?  

I’m not an expert on the subject matter, but in the long term, we will see an economic effect. We’ve seen many businesses close. There is a stimulus check in the US but not in Colombia. Citizens are not receiving government assistance. You will see vaccination tourism where people who have not gotten the vaccine fly to the US to receive the shot and then return home. 

Medellin from the sky during travel restrictions.

What one piece of advice would you give regarding COVID-era travel restrictions?”

I’d say to make sure you know and meet the requirements of the country you are flying to. Every country has different entry requirements with respect to COVID. Do your research to see what you need and what type of test is required because there are different ones you will need to take. Wear a mask but prepare to become stuck in a country that you visit. 

The cafeteria of the airport in Colombia under travel restrictions.

What are your upcoming travel plans? How are you planning for it?” 

We are heading to Disney World in a couple of weeks’ time. I had planned to fly back to Colombia from Florida. However, since things are uncertain with the lockdown, I will remain in the States until further notice. 

What resources do you recommend for travel safety guidelines before travel?”

 

 

If flying into the USA, check with the Department of State for travel restriction guidelines. When flying into a different country, look at their local government’s website. You don’t want a wasted journey, after all. Be sure to join Leesa Truesdell and Lamon Chapman at our next Facebook Live, on Saturday, May 29, 2021.

by Leesa Truesdell

Six Awesome Places to Teach English Abroad

What are your interests? What do you want to do in the future?  Have you made a five-year plan for your professional goals? People probably ask that a lot, and it’s okay if you don’t know yet. A great way to find out what you want to do is to travel. Traveling while you teach English abroad is both an exciting and terrifying adventure, but it certainly does open up new horizons and opportunities for just about everything.  Even in the pandemic, with all its troubles and uncertainties, the world is still full of possibilities. Most of the destinations that you would love to visit would still love to have you. Education and life will continue! 

Here are six awesome places to teach English abroad

The first three on the list have always been popular destinations for English teachers abroad, and they pay well. Plus, they provide living accommodations and travel reimbursements. In addition, teachers are respected and appreciated. They look for different levels of experience from teachers but don’t worry if you are new to this career.

China

Schools in China require teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and some experience in teaching English. If this is you, there are many opportunities for English teachers abroad, and there are a lot of exciting things to learn about. Complete immersion into language and culture makes it even more awesome. English teachers abroad in China are able to work with all age levels (from kindergarten to university) and in public or private institutions. There are many placement cities, too, including Shanghai, Beijing, and Shenzhen. On average, the monthly salary is between 6,000-16,000 CNY ($900-$2,400 USD). Since most programs offer furnished, rent-free apartments or an accommodation allowance, English teachers abroad are able to save a lot of money. 

City street lit up at night, Shanghai, China. A potential nighttime view while on an adventure to teach English abroad
City street lit up at night, Shanghai, China.

Japan

Japan has all climates. There are mountains, icefields, beaches, and rainforests here. It’s an exciting destination for English teachers abroad who want to travel and become immersed. Big cities like Tokyo and Osaka are available for placement, as well as smaller towns like Shiojiri. In Japan, English teachers work alongside the Japanese classroom teacher, and they are immersed in the community. Japan is an awesome location for English teachers abroad because of the adventure. The pay is great, averaging 215,000-280,000 JPY ($2,075-$2,750 USD) per month. Nonetheless, the cost of living here can be high.

South Korea

Here also, teachers can be immersed in a comfortable, exciting culture, and in a well-developed, modern economy. English teachers abroad have the opportunity to work in public schools and private language institutions throughout the entire country. The South Korean government does require, however, that teachers complete a criminal background check. The benefits of teaching in South Korea are fantastic. Teachers receive furnished, rent-free living accommodations, medical coverage, paid holidays, plus bonuses. Paige Miller highlights why South Korea is an amazing country for English teachers abroad in her interview with Dreams Abroad.

South Korea is a great place to teach English abroad, especially for city skyline views.

Thailand

Thailand is a gorgeous location. English teachers abroad love the beaches and the many ocean sports. For most, Thailand is an awesome location because it is so unlike anything else. Teachers can find themselves working in kindergarten all the way up to high school. Compared to other countries, however, the pay is very low. English teachers abroad make about 25,000-40,000 THB per month. That equates to roughly $800-$1,300 USD. With that being said, the cost of living in Thailand is very low. Check out Leesa Truesdell’s interview with Beth Young to get a first-hand look at what life is like for an English teacher abroad in Thailand.

Students holding a bicycle in Thailand

Spain

Spain has a very exciting culture with great food and wine, wonderful weather, and a rich history. English teachers abroad are able to work all over the country; from its beautiful coastal cities to its picturesque towns in the heart of the nation. Spain is a little more strict than others for those wishing to teach English abroad. Teachers must have a bachelor’s degree and be under the age of 36. The average monthly pay is between 350-1,000 EUR ($430-$1,220 USD). However, English teachers abroad in Spain are able to live with a host family. Alex Warhall offers an excellent summary of what life is like as an English teacher abroad in Spain. From here, travel easily around Europe and find everything you are looking for. 

A classroom full of students in Spain. Spain is a popular destination to teach English abroad

Colombia

This country is also a Spanish-speaking location. It offers a relaxed atmosphere and a great history, along with beaches, great coffee, and sunshine. Most positions are available in private schools throughout Colombia’s major cities, although public schools and the vocational SENA National Training Service also have positions. English teachers abroad make about 15,000-30,000 COP ($4.5-$9 USD) an hour for roughly 20-40 hours of instruction a week. Assistance is also available for finding suitable housing, but only if you’ve landed a job with an international high school. In his interview with Leesa Truesdell, Lamon Chapman describes his experience teaching English at a university in Medellin. 

A photo of a school in Colombia

There are many great locations in the world to entice English teachers abroad. Choosing a place to go isn’t easy, and it depends mostly on what the traveler wishes to get from the experience and take away into the future. If you are looking for a great destination and a great living and working experience, you will find all that at any one of these locations and more. Visit We Teach for more information on teaching abroad. 

Please note: exchange rates and program benefits are subject to change.

Written by the Dreams Abroad Team

Source: Oxford Seminars

Life in Medellin, Colombia During Lockdown

In June 2020, Lamon and I were in our own separate spaces lounging a responsible six feet apart as he told me about his latest single Spotlight and finca life in Envigado, Colombia. Well, fast forward to September and Lamon has more to share. After the release of his latest single, he has been busy again working on a new track that he’s excited to promote. I also found out that not only does he have a background in teaching but he is an entrepreneur. He and his four business partners make up a company called Primeros Cinco. During lockdown, he’s been working on some promising opportunities using Medellin, Colombia as his home base. 

The last time we spoke, Lamon had me in tears with his Lamonda story. I needed a good laugh and, oh, how we laughed. I hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time. If you’ve lived abroad or speak more than one language — it’s a story you will find funny too. 

Our recent catch-up call was more about — how are you? What’s going on down there? Are you ok? Most of us are feeling the same way at this point. It’s been six months of living with cabin fever and well, we’re just not feeling like ourselves. Let’s face it, the world is fighting a pandemic and we are all trying to survive and manage. Lamon, well, he’s making music and chillin’. Find out how he is doing with the most recent update from his apartment in Medellin, Colombia: 

Where have you been living? Tell us about your living situation in Medellin, Colombia.

The last time we spoke, I was staying at a finca in Envigado. It was great during the first two months of the lockdown. Now, I’m back in my apartment in Medellin, Colombia, which has its pros and cons. During my stay at the finca, I didn’t see anyone for two months with the exception of the staff and chef. Every day, I was able to exercise outdoors and enjoy fresh air and nature. Here in Medellin, I see more people. Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of exercising outside or going on nature walks; that’s been a difficult adjustment.

A picture of Lamon wearing a mask and large headphones in Medellin, Colombia

What have you been doing to keep yourself occupied? Work? Exploring? Exercise?

I’m a strong believer that there is always opportunity in chaos. Since the start of the lockdown, I’ve focused a lot on mind development. Every day I read for 30 minutes when I wake up. Following that, I exercise. Right now, I’m committing a lot of time to flexibility and mobility workouts. I signed up for Portuguese classes via italki and released a new song called Kiz Kiz, which is available on all digital platforms.

Do you interact with friends or are you not allowed?

I speak with my friends/business partners often via Google Meet; we still have a number of businesses to manage and are working on new projects. Because we are on complete lockdown, it’s somewhat difficult to catch up with each other in person. We are allowed to go out once a week for groceries, banking, and other necessary errands, which can easily take up your entire day. Trying to visit friends on those days is difficult.

What is the COVID-19 situation like in Medellin, Colombia?

I’m always amazed as to how the situation is being handled here versus the States. For example, every two weeks we receive a notice informing us which days we are allowed to go out. The system is based on the last number of your local ID/passport. For example, if the last number of your local ID/passport is 6, officials will inform you that you can leave your home on Wednesday. 

Going to the supermarket or mall in Medellin is like checking in at the airport. When you arrive at a supermarket or mall, they first take your temperature to see if you have a fever; before you’re allowed to enter, you must disinfect your shoes and hands. Then, your ID is checked to determine if you have permission to be outside that day. If you have approval, your ID is then registered. Upon exiting, you must register once more that you are leaving the premises.

A picture of Lamon wearing a face shield and mask in Medellin, Colombia.

What has helped you stay optimistic about the situation?

With the exception of not being able to perform at night and clubs being closed, nothing has really changed. My daily routine and life have stayed the same. I work from home and have a home base. During the day, I work out and always have used exercise to stay positive. This keeps me focused and helps me stay optimistic about my life’s goals.

Do you have any news on when you can come home?

Medellin, Colombia is home (hahaha). At the moment, I don’t have any plans of traveling to the US. From what I’ve seen on the news and conversations with friends and family, it’s best to camp out here for a while. The reason being is to stay healthy. I feel safer in Medellin than I do stateside.  

Are there options to come back to the USA now? I have heard that repatriation flights can be extremely expensive from South America. Is this true?

Two months ago, humanitarian flights were expensive. However, I believe the prices have stabilized a bit. According to recent news, domestic flights will reopen in September and international flights will reopen in November. We’ll have to see what happens, but I’m in no rush to travel.

A picture of Lamon in Medellin, Colombia

How are the locals in Medellin, Colombia coping with COVID-19?

For the most part, locals are doing their best to cope with the situation and the majority are following protocol. Of course, there are certain neighborhoods that are not complying with all of the protocols, but that’s to be expected. I haven’t heard of any locals not wanting to wear face masks or protesting, which has been rather common in the US.

How has your family dealt with this situation?

My mom lives in Georgia. She tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized for three months; including three weeks in a coma. Naturally, my family had a difficult time dealing with the situation. Fortunately, she was able to pull through and is in recovery.

Lamon's mom, a coronavirus survivor.

Can you share any memorable situations? 

To help people deal with home confinement, sometimes the local police and/or local musicians have gone to different neighborhoods/apartment buildings and played music outside. Julio plays for an hour and a half. Check out the video at the end to see one of these performers. 

How has living in Medellin, Colombia changed any future plans that you might have?

The situation has presented some new business opportunities that I’ll be happy to share with you once we launch. 

Each time I speak with Lamon, I feel more and more excited to see where his journey will take him. I feel this same sense with many of our contributors. Nonetheless, with Lamon, I feel like he is about to take off. I met Lamon in 2015 and saw a man who was incredibly dedicated to working hard in his classroom. Today, I see a man with even more of a vision and a dream. Let’s see where Lamon will take us next.

By Leesa Truesdell

Teaching at a University in Medellin, Colombia

Catholic School Medellin ColombiaLeesa and Lamon met while he was teaching at a university in Medellin, Colombia in 2015 while Leesa studied Spanish over the summer. The Spanish language coordinator at the time, Juan, introduced Leesa to Lamon. Juan worked directly with Lamon and Leesa, but at different times over the course of their studies at the university in Medellin, Colombia. Leesa attended one of Lamon’s classes while he was teaching at the university and thanks Juan to this day for this great connection.

Lamon describes his Spanish studies, English language teaching, and how he started out as an expat living in Colombia.

How did you learn Spanish after you stopped working at the Catholic school?

“After I finished at the Catholic school, I applied for and was awarded the Beca Cultura scholarship at EAFIT University. Essentially, the scholarship allowed recipients to receive language classes at no monetary cost in exchange for facilitating lectures about the culture of your home country. The scholarship was a six-month commitment with the option to extend it for an additional six months. The majority of my lectures were related to popular holidays in the United States, sports, and music.”

When did you start teaching at EAFIT University? How did the opportunity arise?

“I started teaching at EAFIT University in Medellin, Colombia after I completed my six-month commitment to the scholarship program. During my lectures, the language department observed my ability to present and manage a classroom. This ultimately led to a job offer.”

What was your best memory while studying at EAFIT?

“One of my best memories at EAFIT was during a Spanish class with language learners from all over the world: China, Japan, France, and Russia, if I remember correctly. It was a great experience because not one learner spoke the native language of the others, but we could all communicate in Spanish. I remember stopping for a moment to absorb what was occurring at the moment and feeling thrilled.”

Did you use the same method of teaching at EAFIT that you used at the Catholic school? Why or why not?

Teaching at a University in Colombia“Yes, I used the same method. When I started teaching at EAFIT, I realized from the first day that the university heavily supported and preferred the incorporation of technology and group activities. For me, it provided a great sense of relief and appreciation. As mentioned previously, creative methods of teaching were not well-tolerated when I taught at the Catholic high school.”

What was an important lesson you learned from working there?

“Don’t repeat words you don’t really understand! When I taught at the high school, my students gave me the nickname of Lamonda. At the time, I didn’t really know what it meant; I just assumed it was cool and perhaps the Spanish equivalent of my name, Lamon. For the next six months and even when I started teaching at EAFIT, I often introduced myself as Lamonda, and locals would always laugh. I assumed it was because my name was different. 

During a staff meeting with about 50 other teachers, I introduced myself as Lamonda. A dead silence punctuated with a few laughs. Later that day, a co-worker asked me if I knew the origin or meaning of the word and I responded by saying it was my Colombian nickname. Right then and there, after introducing myself to an entire room of all my co-workers as Lamonda, I learned that it means a big penis. So yes… for more than six months, I walked around Colombia introducing myself as a big penis and had no idea… Lesson learned.”

How long did you work at the university in Medellin, Colombia and why did you stop?

“I worked at EAFIT for five consecutive years. After my fifth year, I wanted to have more free time and flexibility to travel to the States to spend more time with my family. Teaching at EAFIT had many perks, but it also required a certain level of commitment to the university and my students. I didn’t have the option to move freely when I desired, which became a problem for me after five years.”

What did you do for fun while you worked for the university in Medellin, Colombia?

best memory at EAFIT“Salsa. During my first two years, I didn’t enjoy or want to listen to salsa music. As I immersed myself more and more into the culture, I learned to appreciate salsa and became a pretty good dancer. When I wasn’t working, I tried to find time to dance or take lessons to learn new steps and embrace my new-found passion.”

What tips would you give to someone who wants to move to Medellin, Colombia?

“Learn the language… even at a basic level. It will open up so many opportunities to meet new people and experience the culture.”

How did you prepare for your new life in Colombia?

“Three months prior to moving to Colombia, I committed to studying for two hours Monday through Friday; one hour in the morning, and one in the early evening. My morning started off with 30 minutes of listening to and repeating Pimsleur audio lessons. After, I would read about current events out loud and write down new vocabulary. In the evening, I would review the new vocabulary and write a sentence for each new word. My evenings concluded with practicing verb conjugations. On Saturdays, I would try to do something fun like watching a movie in Spanish or attend a language exchange event posted on Meetup.”

What did you do to adapt in your first six months?

“During my first six months in Medellin, I focused on functional/survival Spanish: How to order food; How to ask for directions; How to ask for my change back from a taxi; etc. During my first six months, I didn’t see an immediate need to learn vocabulary across the board, but rather an immediate need to learn how to survive in Spanish. I often walked around with a small pocket notebook and would listen for keywords that seemed to be important.”

How about after that?

“After six months, I had a really good foundation in survival Spanish but was not yet conversational. I started thinking about topics that I wanted to practice and would talk to as many people as I could about the same topic. For example, if I took a taxi with five different drivers, I would bring up the selected topic with each driver; or, I would sit in the park and talk to locals. Hint: Colombians love to talk. 

Talk to other expats! Speak to credible sources that live or have spent a sufficient amount of time in Colombia. If you don’t have a contact, there are plenty of groups on Facebook with experienced expats. Be sure to speak to multiple sources as everyone has a different experience and perspective of Colombia. AVOID OR BE CAUTIOUS WITH MISLEADING INFORMATION!”

How much did you miss the United States?

Move With an Open Mind“One mistake that I made early on was comparing Colombia to the United States; don’t do it. You will become miserable. When you make the move, it’s important to understand that both cultures are completely different. For example, in Colombia, things move a bit slower than in the United States. Going to the bank to make a deposit may require an entire day’s commitment versus the 15 minutes in the States; or, adjusting to putting toilet paper in a garbage pail versus in the toilet. Things may require some time to adapt to. Be patient with yourself.”

Why did you leave Medellin after five consecutive years of living there?

After living five years straight in Medellin, I felt that I had completed everything that I wanted to complete. My Spanish level had increased from A1 to C1. I had experienced life in another country and I had received a Grammy Nomination. Taking all those achievements into account and wanting to spend more time with my family, I decided it was time to leave and think about the next chapter in my life.”

Wrap Up – Teaching at a University in Medellin, Colombia

Lamon and I spoke during the first weekend of May, 2020. He was speaking to me from a finca in Envigado. I said: “Lamon, what is a finca?” After I Googled “finca Medellin,” we both agreed that I need to go back to Colombia to experience a finca. I hadn’t been there long enough. In 2015, I was working on finishing a master’s and didn’t explore Colombia as Lamon has described it. 

Speaking of long enough, Lamon arrived in Medellin on February 25, 2020, and didn’t realize he would not be able to fly back to the US after his Primeros Cinco event. Lamon had planned to fly to Colombia for his quarterly event and return back to the US per his usual routine. This time, he got stuck when the Colombian government restricted all flights coming in and out of Colombia due to COVID-19. 

Lamon is not sure how much longer he will be at the finca but he knows it will be at least until June 1, 2020. He is excited to announce that on May 16, 2020, his debut single Spotlight will be released. It can be found on Apple Music, Amazon, and Spotify. Be sure to check it out and find Lamon on his social media to send him your feedback. Catch up with Lamon Chapman’s first interview.

Latin Grammy music award

Working at a Catholic School in Medellin, Colombia

Catholic School Medellin Colombia

Lamon Chapman graduated from Hamilton College in upstate New York with a degree in Economics. He originally wanted to be an investment banker. However, Lamon decided to move to Los Angeles, California to pursue his musical dreams instead. He enrolled in music classes at the Musicians Institute. Lamon played for a variety of shows and bands while living in Los Angeles. 

He aspired to learn a different language while living in Los Angeles and thought that moving to a different country would help him with his language learning. Lamon decided to move to Ecuador for two months. He traveled from Quito to Guayaquil and everywhere in between. Then, he headed back to LA. 

Lamon decided that he wanted to become more fluent in Spanish and moved to Medellin, Colombia. A close friend of his told him that Medellin was going to be the next up-and-coming place for urban music. Lamon was ready to give his musical talent a new start. However, he also wanted to have another source of income while living in Medellin. After researching, he learned that teaching English abroad could be a good way to make extra income. 

Lamon volunteered at a library assisting immigrants with their English for six months. Prior to that, he had never taught English. After he received great feedback from his peers and students, he realized he was pretty good at it. That’s when he realized he had a skill for teaching others a language and for teaching in general. Soon after, he made his move to Medellin and lived there for five consecutive years, teaching and playing music. His first job while in Colombia was at a Catholic school for six months. 

Meet Lamon Chapman: 

How did you find your job teaching at a Catholic School?

“I found my job through an old high school friend. They were born in Medellin, but completed high school in the states.”

What was the process of getting hired?

“The process was rather involved. I had to pass a reading, speaking, and listening assessment; not to measure my competencies but rather to ensure I didn’t have speaking, hearing, or vision problems. Also, I had to complete a medical exam and a test in Spanish. Funnily enough, I just sat there during the Spanish test and didn’t take it because I didn’t speak or understand Spanish at the time.”

Who made up the population of students that you taught?

Catholic school“The boys that I taught were aged thirteen through fifteen. I taught four classes with an average class size of twenty. 

In Colombia, if you are single and teach at this particular Catholic school, you can only teach the same sex. For, example, I don’t have a wife, so they only allowed me to teach boys. If I had a wife, then I could have taught both girls and boys. The same applies to single women. If they do not have a husband, they can only teach girls.”

What did you like most about teaching these students? The least?

“For me, the blessing of being an educator lies in the opportunity to change someone’s life for the better and develop positive life-long relationships. There was always a sense of pride and achievement when a student would report to me how an activity or classroom experience benefited their life outside of the classroom. Whether it was translating for their parents at the customs office or simply instilling confidence to use the language, it always felt and continues to feel good to hear those stories.

The only thing I would say that I disliked about my job was being monitored constantly by nuns and priests.” 

What did you find to be the most challenging part of teaching at a Catholic school?

“I had a hard time adjusting to Catholic culture. Things like making sure all kids had dressed according to school standards did not come naturally to me initially. I also had a difficult time receiving negative feedback about group activities from the school administrators (nuns and priests). 

Side note: I never interacted directly with the parents… the school had a specific employee assigned to ‘parent relations.’ All the negative feedback came from the nuns that monitored each class and my superior; they didn’t support my decision to facilitate group activities. Additionally, they often reprimanded me for sitting down. They didn’t allow teachers to sit down.”

What are the differences that you saw while teaching at the Catholic school in Envigado, Colombia compared to volunteering at the library in Los Angeles, California?

South Korea classroom“Prior to teaching in Medellin, I volunteered at a library in Los Angeles. I worked with immigrants who had become US citizens and needed to learn English to live and function in Los Angeles. Volunteering gave me a better understanding of what it was like to teach a second language before moving to Medellin, Colombia.

My first teaching position in Envigado, Colombia was at a Catholic school. If I had to compare the two experiences (in general), here is what the main differences were: 

  • Security: Most schools in Colombia have armed security at the entrance. In the US, and at the library in LA, the immigrants did not have security guard protection.
  • Grading: If a student fails a class, the teacher must be prepared to explain why the student failed. They must also give them an opportunity to take a make-up exam and/or additional activities to pass the course. In the USA, if you fail a course… you fail.”

Explain the motivations of the groups of students for learning a second language. Were the motivations the same? How many classes did you teach?

“I taught at a bilingual school… so students were motivated to learn English because it was a requirement. They didn’t necessarily want to and this was the mentality for many kids at the Catholic school. I taught English, geography, world history, and ethics all in English.”

How did you handle classroom management for these classes? Was it regulated by the school because it was a Catholic school?

“I tried to incorporate group activities versus individual assignments into the classroom. I also tried to incorporate the use of technology in the classroom as well. Unfortunately, school officials did NOT widely accept the use of technology. I had to stop doing group assignments and I mostly assigned individual assignments without the use of technology per the request of the school.”

What advice would you give to someone who works with people from other cultural backgrounds?

  • Learn the culture
  • Learn the language
  • Be patient with the adjustment… CULTURE SHOCK is real
  • Accept the differences… don’t fight it or allow it to disrupt your experience
  • Don’t assume that everyone will understand your culture and viewpoints

Are you still living in Medellin, Colombia, and teaching at the Catholic School?  What happens next?

“Yes, I am still living in Medellin. However, I no longer work at the Catholic School. In 2016, I was nominated for a Latin Grammy music award. Since the nomination, I’ve taken my passion for music and talents to another level. This year, four close friends and I formed an entertainment company in Medellin: PRIMEROS 5 ENTERTAINMENT. Follow us at primeroscincoent. We plan and organize entertainment events that are changing the face of entertainment throughout Colombia.” 

At La Presentation College in commune 12 La América, approximately 150 students learn about caring for life on the road.
Photo by Secretaría de Movilidad de Medellín.

Looking Beyond Catholic School

Lamon stayed at the Catholic school for six months even though the odds were against him. His students misbehaved and he couldn’t provide student-centered lessons. Not to mention, nuns constantly corrected his teaching methods and conduct. Later in the school year, Lamon realized he was the first teacher to stay longer than two weeks. The other teachers congratulated him for his success and informed him that he endured the brutal challenge of teaching and disciplining this specific class of fourteen-year-old boys that no one wanted to teach.

Stay tuned for the second part of Lamon’s teaching English as a foreign language journey in Medellin, where he talks about his career of teaching English at a university abroad.

by Leesa Truesdell

Independence Day in Medellin, Colombia

 

It was Summer 2015. I was packing for my first summer abroad where I would be doing an internship to complete my master’s degree. It was July 4th and I was traveling alone on an international flight for the first time to Medellin, Colombia. It seemed so surreal to leave the U.S. on a holiday that was so special – not only to our nation but to me as well. Since I was a child, I’ve always enjoyed the holiday. At the time, I hadn’t fully recognized the depth of what the holiday meant for the nation. However, I made my own meaning and memories each year. Many of those childhood memories are still vivid in my mind and lasting in my heart. As I get older, time spent means more to me – especially time with family and friends.

travel-tales-independence-day-medellin-colombia

Independence Day in Colombia

luis-leesa-travel-tales-independence-day-medellin-intern-colombia

I arrived in Medellin, Colombia on the Fourth of July, 2015. It was a Saturday afternoon and I was absolutely terrified. This Independence Day wasn’t going to be one that I had ever experienced. I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into. I felt extremely excited to be there.

At the same time, I also felt the bottomless questions bubbling up in my mind. They all began with “what if…” This was in part because of the rumors I had heard about the city: “It’s a drug town!” and, “You are going to get killed!” I was also scared of not letting go of myself – or having freedom. I wanted the freedom to just be. So, there I was on the Fourth of July, in another country, not knowing how to be free because I was terrified.

Success Abroad

I didn’t know how to speak the language very well (yet). Whatever I did know was being stifled because of fear. I was inhibiting my own chance at success because of fear. I took a deep breath and walked downstairs in the airport. The front desk security guard looked at me and I looked at him. We both said, “hola,” and “hello,” at the same time. He started rapping at me in Spanish so fast that I couldn’t get my mind fixated on what I wanted to ask him. I smiled and quickly said, “¡Gracias!

I was tired from my flight and started to think, what should I ask next? How do I get groceries? Where is the closest place to buy food? Where am I? Who am I? What’s my name? Suddenly things that I thought I knew how to ask for in Spanish weren’t coming to mind! All that practice with Lee, my tutor, before I left came flashing in front of me. I could see Lee! I could see him saying, ¿Donde esta la tienda?

leesa-travel-tales-independence-day-medellin-colombia-masters

Getting Grounded

No matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t say it! Why was I feeling this helpless? Not to mention, I felt completely clueless. The airport driver dropped me off in front of my building. He said I would have an event later that day… I never thought I would have felt so clueless! Evelio the receptionist and security guard, the man who wore two hats (arguably three or four) and I were just staring at one another. We were lost in translation. I looked at him and said, “hasta luego,” and waved. He looked at me and gave me a smile.

luis-leesa-travel-tales-independence-day-medellin-colombia-bbq

Luckily, later that evening there was a barbeque with a group of the interns. Here, I would meet and speak with others from around the world. I soon found out that I wasn’t the only one who felt a bit nervous. Nevertheless, I was the only intern working on her master’s and in her 30s. But, that didn’t stop me from making new friends.

On a Quest of Independence

Pause… stop. I met my soon-to-be best friend at this barbeque. This is history: an Independence Day historical moment. I not only was on a quest for independence in my own right, but I also met one of the dearest people in that process. I didn’t know it at the time, but my holiday away from home in Medellin would soon be the beginning of a very special friendship. Now, every year around the Fourth of July (or close to it), it represents a symbolic anniversary for our friendship. A day of courage, a day of personal freedom, of national freedom, and of the joining of two very different people on the journey of a lifetime. Luis and I are forever friends joined by the epic lifetime event in both our lives – a summer internship abroad in Medellin, Colombia.

luis-leesa-travel-tales-independence-day-medellin-colombia

Teaching and Learning Abroad in Spain

In the upcoming weeks, I am going to post a series of interviews titled Teach Abroad. Each week, I will introduce a new teacher and the area of Madrid where he or she will work. I will be asking each teacher a set of questions. I am starting the series with information about myself. Throughout the year, I will follow up with the teachers updating their information and experiences.

Here is My Story Teaching and Learning Abroad in Spain:

My name is Leesa Truesdell. I am from Coral Springs, Florida and recently graduated from Florida State University with a Masters in Education. I have always wanted to work assisting others to fulfill their dreams.

Why did you choose to come to Spain/Europe?

“My family is of Hispanic heritage. I have wanted to live abroad since my undergraduate studies. After getting my Masters, I realized that I wanted to come to Spain to learn more about the culture because my ancestors were from Mallorca. Generations ago, they traveled to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, which is where my grandparents were born.”

What are your goals while you are here?

“While living in Spain, I have several goals for myself. It is my intention to continue this work throughout my life. I have a professional toolkit and in my kit, I consider my tools my skills. I am always up for learning more and adopting new ideas about teaching from others. While in Spain, I would like to immerse myself in the Spanish culture to practice my Spanish conversation skills, understand more about where my family is from and, most importantly, continue to learn. I thrive on learning from others in all aspects of my life, both social and professional. The greatest skill I can work on is the art of listening; my number one priority, while I am living in Spain, is getting better at communication.”

Washington Monument selfie

Have you ever taught before? If not, what was your career field?

“Yes, I recently taught English as Second Language (ESOL) at Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University with their Continuing Education Department. Before that, I taught English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in Colombia while doing my summer internship. Before earning my Masters, I was a substitute teacher where I learned different teaching methods and classroom management. I chose to substitute over having my own classroom because I wanted to better understand how different classrooms in Florida public schools operated. I also wanted to better understand what skills each student was learning and at what age.”

What do you think teaching in Spain will be like? Where are you teaching this year?

“Since I’ve spent the past two years studying Curriculum and Instruction, it will be interesting to see how that applies in Spain, especially, when it comes to English as a foreign language. I did not know what to think when I went into public classrooms in Medellin, Colombia and after that experience, my mind is pretty much open. I learned so much from that experience; it made me better understand how to adapt to whatever situation might arise in a classroom.

I will be teaching in a suburb south of Madrid called Alcorcón. I am looking forward to teaching secondary or high school. This will be a new age for me to teach. I’ve taught adults over the age of 18 and elementary age levels. High school will be a fun challenge.”

Why did you choose to teach abroad and also, why did you choose to teach in Spain over other countries?

“I chose to teach abroad because I want to learn more about immersion for second language learners (SLLs). In Spain, I am the second language learner who is learning Spanish. When I return to the United States, I will have a better understanding of what challenges ESOL students face before and during classes. As a teacher, one of my main goals is to understand the needs of each student. I believe having experienced being an SLL myself, I can be a better teacher. I chose Spain because I wanted to learn Spanish as a second language and because Spain has importance in my family lineage. This was the best place to start my journey on how to be the best teacher I can be.”

What would you like to accomplish while you are in Spain?

“While in Spain, I would like to learn how to communicate in Spanish effectively. Speaking and listening are my priorities while I am here. I can read and write pretty well and with practice, those two communication skills can be done from anywhere. I also would like to get a better understanding of myself while living in the Spanish culture. Self-awareness and improvement are always necessary throughout life because while I am learning- I am growing. Growth requires awareness then change, which in the end requires self-improvement.”

What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?

learning abroad sun rise silhouette travel

“Madrid is a great city. Every time I go out for a walk, I am always finding something new about the city that has it’s own unique charm. My favorite part of the city is Retiro Park—it never gets old. I can walk through the park twice a day and see a plethora of sites along the way: dogs, babies, street performers, people on roller blades, kids playing in the grass during a birthday party, a couple on a first date, or my favorite thing to see—the sunset from the statue at the boat pond—best view in the city.”

What assumptions or expectations did you have before you came here? Have you found them to be accurate or inaccurate?

“Before I came, I thought I was going to have a hard time understanding what people were saying to me. My summer in Colombia definitely helped me with my language skills and getting over the initial language barrier. My first couple of days, I felt a bit rusty. After that, I felt like I could start asking for the things I needed. If I could not remember a word, I just pushed through it. In Colombia, which was my first experience living abroad, I had a harder time pushing past the barrier.”

What has been the most difficult experience since you arrived?

“The most difficult experience for me was the heat and not having air conditioning (AC) to sleep at night. I managed to get past it, and in Colombia I got used to it as well. However, Madrid feels hotter than Florida and Colombia combined. This past August was very hot. In Florida, it’s extremely humid and hot during the summer. However, we jump from AC building to AC car to AC building and so on. I managed to survive the heat and a few sleepless summer nights. It was totally worth it!”

What has been the best experience?

“The best experience so far has been meeting my friends and now, my extended family here in Madrid. We all arrived at the same time in August so it feels like we have morphed into what is now a family. It is hard to imagine that I have been here almost two months. Time is flying by.”

How do you feel about the integration of the culture so far? Are there things that you have embraced or are hoping to embrace?

“The integration into Spanish culture has not been difficult for me. Adapting to other people’s schedules was the hardest part for me. Spanish time is exactly what it means in the States, “Spanish time.” In Spain, things are more laid back, in general. People typically arrive within a 15-30 minute window of the expected time of arrival. Also, normally I am a type A personality, especially with my calendar and planning. However, the old motto “adapt or die” has served me well. There is not much consistency. Therefore, you must go with the flow and adapt to not having control of things that are affecting your life such as appointments, etc. It will happen when it happens and just go with the flow. I have embraced this new concept of go with the flow and quite frankly, it has helped me live in the moment.

The people I meet and the experiences I encounter contribute to my writing of learning abroad. I feel very fortunate to be on this journey and look forward to sharing the experiences of my friends and colleagues in the upcoming weeks. On a personal note, I would like to take a minute to thank the interviewees who have taken the time to meet with me. Also, a special thanks to my editors and photographers. I have learned so much from speaking with each of you. Stay tuned for our second connection.”

“Go with the flow” – Leesa Truesdell

Please check out part two where I describe my experiences teaching abroad in the Community of Madrid, Spain. I discuss challenges and how I manage daily tasks in the classroom!