OPINION: Culture Shock – A Different Perspective

culture shock
A character of Barranquilla's Carnaval, culturally inappropriate almost everywhere else. Photo Credit: www.black-face.com/

A typical day in Barranquilla usually involves noise – a lot of it. I myself come from a town of around 12,000 people in a quaint little place called Estevan, Saskatchewan. It’s in Canada. It’s a place where people hardly ever use the horns on their vehicles, a place where everyone (well, almost everyone) obeys traffic laws, a place that doesn’t have moto-taxis, or hardly any motorcycles in general. The quietness and calmness of my native streets is sometimes in my thoughts as I make my daily journey to and from a public high school called Distrital De Las Nieves (in barrio Las Nieves).

I’m an English teacher there (more or less). I accepted a position volunteering for The Ministry of Education here in Colombia. The program the Ministry has funded is called Colombia Bilingue. Perhaps you have heard of it, and perhaps you have not. Just click here if you feel the need to know more, but basically what it equates to is about 600 gringos wandering around the fabulous country of Colombia, teaching English and learning Spanish (and experiencing everything in-between).

I’m one of those gringos, and I would like to share with you some difficulties I have had adjusting to the teaching culture here in the hopes that others benefit.

1) The touchy-feely atmosphere. I mean, Canada is a fairly liberal place (at least I thought it was), but if I kissed one of my students on the cheek there, I would probably get handcuffed and taken to jail. Also, one of the female teachers squeezes my nipples through my shirt in the staff room almost every day. I’m cool with it, but it seems unprofessional.

2) The brutal honesty. My students tell me if they think my shirt is ugly or if I need a haircut. Thanks for keeping me looking my best, kids… I actually had a student come up to the front of class and grab the hair on the back of my neck while I was in the middle of teaching a lesson. Apparently, even if you are in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Barranquilla, you still need to dress to impress.

3) The drama. I accidentally called a student a female dog in Spanish. The students were teaching me bad words and I did not know what it meant. Anyway, she came to up the front of the class screaming at me in words that I didn’t understand at all. I legitimately thought she was going to try and kill me; the look in her eyes was terrifying. Then the students taught me how to say, “I love you” in Spanish and I said that to her. She instantly calmed right down and blushed. Like what just happened?

Oh, ay Colombia; it’s a different world.