What a welcome to Bogota! The amazing and generous and talented teacher and “in country consultant” , Yanilis Romero was the first person we saw when we came out of customs. Right away it felt like we were meeting a friend. She even brought along her cousin and aunt to welcome us, giving everyone was given a version of a sombrero vuetliao, a traditional Colombian hat and a handwoven friendship bracelet.
From this moment onwards, she has done everything possible to make us feel special and taken care of. This included arranging for a three course meal for us for when we arrived at the hotel–(complete with our first taste of the incredible Colombian fruit juices–more on those tomorrow.) By the time we finished our dinner and made it back to our rooms it was nearly 1:00am. There I found that she had left yet another surprise, some delicious alfajores (Dolche de leche cookie sandwiches). Sweet dreams were assured!
The next day (today) Yanilis gave us an excellent presentation about Colombian history and culture. Her talk was detailed and nuanced. Throughout the 20th century Colombia has gone through many struggles to achieve political and economic stability. In recent years the situation here has greatly improved– and these improvements have led to job growth as well as an important peace treaty between the Colombian government and the FARC rebel groups. But as Yanilis pointed out, it will take time to tell how much of a difference that these talks will make in the lives of ordinary Colombians. Yanilis is a 10th grade English teacher and it was clear from her presentation that she is passionate about her students and very invested in their futures. She teaches at a public school, (versus private) where many of her students come from disadvantaged and underserved populations.
Later in the day our entire group went to the American Embassy for a security briefing (more on that later in the week) and an introduction to the English Language programs that the US State Department promotes in Colombia. Yanilis came along and took the opportunity to directly advocate for her students, encouraging the State Department to be sure to consider students like hers, who come from disadvantaged backgrounds when they are making selections for their highly competitive study abroad and scholarship programs. I know I will be getting the chance to see many incredible sights here, but it is already clear that the highlight of this experience will be meeting passionate and dedicated educators like Yanilis!
QUESTION FOR KIDS: After only one day in Colombia, I already feel that I have met a friend. How can you tell when you have met a friend?