Thursday, April 7, 2011

Three Months In

My school, Nueva Esperanza.
When I first arrived in Colombia just over three months ago, I had no idea what to expect. My mind was a maelstrom of hopes and apprehensions, but my desire to make a difference ultimately outweighed my fear of the unknown. Thus, I threw caution to the wind and willingly walked the plank off the ship of conventionality.

Now a quarter of the way through my service, I can clearly see that this leap of faith is being rewarded—I have grown, and continue to grow in ways I cannot even begin to fully comprehend.

When I look back on my first day out in Cota—the small pueblo where I had WorldTeach orientation—I laugh at how nervous I was walking the streets and how utterly incapable I was of something as simple as ordering a beer in Spanish. Today, I can comfortably navigate Bogotá’s chaotic streets and hold my own in a Spanish conversation.

Teaching; a tough gig.
If there’s one thing I have learned during my time here, it’s that there’s a big difference between traveling abroad and living abroad. Whereas when you travel abroad, everything is new and exciting from constantly being on the move, when you live abroad, the excitement is replaced by the monotony of routine. Nevertheless, I am happy and proud to be living abroad in Bogotá because it is allowing me to get to know Colombia on a more intimate level than most foreigners ever will.

Although I knew it wouldn’t be easy fighting on the front lines in the battle against poverty, I am learning just how truly herculean a task it is. It’s not like in the movies where the idealistic young teacher is able to easily inspire their class of underachievers into embracing education—more often than not I leave school feeling beaten and battered.

But then there are those rare “aha” moments when everything seems to click and a student actually seems to have learned something.

Dogs make me happy.
Living abroad can also be difficult for the simple fact that it’s lonely. Constantly feeling like an outsider and not being able to articulate everything you would like to communicate can make you feel isolated. Facebook makes it impossible not to see everything I am missing out on at home with my friends and family—there are days when I wish I could teleport back to California, if only for a few hours—at least to say hi to my dog and let him know I’m still alive.

When I find myself missing home, I try to remember why I am here—to give disadvantaged children a shot at a better life and to challenge myself to become a better person. I didn’t choose this path because it was easy, but because it was headed in the direction that I wanted to go.

When my morale reaches its nadir, it helps to remember this poem by William Ernest Henley:


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.


  1. Hang in there Mike. There are those of us who will be traveling a similar path in the not so distant future and are embolden by your journey.


  2. Lionel,

    Thank you for your support. Will you be traveling somewhere in the near future?


  3. When you miss home, just remember that home misses you too!

    But we're very proud of you dude =)

  4. Thanks, Marcus. It's going to be a long year, but I know I will come out better for it.