The literal translation means “coexistence”. At our school, it means a field trip to a location nearby, where you do team building and self-esteem activities. On Thursday was my class’s convivencia and beforehand, I really had no idea what to expect. As it was our first field trip, the kids were excited beyond belief. Plus, it was a casual day which meant no uniforms for them!

We arrived at a finca about 20 minutes south of town and led the students to a pavilion to meet their leaders. I found out later that convivencia is common all across Colombia, and the leaders of our group travel around doing this for different schools. Unfortunately, many public schools do not have the funds to do it, but at our private school, parents pay a “convivencia fee” along with their regular tuition that month.

Throughout the morning, students participated in some team building activities like this ball game below.

Then they talked about Hopes and Dreams, including what they wanted to be in the future and how that profession is beneficial. They paired up and traced each other’s profiles before coloring and decorating it like their future professional self.

There was a giant soccer field, playground, and some animals there, so we spent our snack time and recess exploring that area. It was SO great just observing the animals and talking about them with many of the students, rather than all the pressure you have in a school setting. I even have some great videos of the turkey gobbling at them to go away! haha

Enter more games, activities, discussions, etc…..then came my favorite part and the whole reason I wanted to write a post! Students were given a blindfold. Soothing music was put on, the leader was talking them through the growth of them, as if they were a seed. Students relaxed down onto the ground, felt their heart as their seed center, stretched and grew, and so on. I felt as if I was at the end of my yoga sessions doing the Savasana! They were mostly calmed down over 10 minutes of this…of course, being first graders, some were curious and kept trying to take off their blindfolds! haha.

Then we were told to choose about half the class that we felt were sufficiently calmed. Those students went around to the still-blindfolded kids, gave them hugs, said thank you for different things, apologized for others, and in general, had kind exchanges with the others. I LOVED seeing the reactions on everyone’s faces and the hugs. Then they switched places. Several kids began crying. Once they all took blindfolds off and some kids saw the others crying, of course they began to as well. Seeing this made ME cry! The students went around and did lots of hugging, then they all started coming over to my assistant and I. I cried more and the kids noticed. We talked about how it was out of happiness, instead of sadness.

We had finished up most of the activities by that point in the day, so it was lunchtime and extra long play time! The students were LOVING the merry-go-rounds, and I got 19 of them going fast on one of them. I explained to the Colombian leaders how they are now illegal in the states. Shortly after, one of my kiddos fell off a different piece of equipment (a climbing arc thing) and split open her lip. Whoops. Then another boy fell while trying to spin the merry go round. Whoops again. But as I tell them…they’re tough! They’ll be just fine. Kids spring back so easily most of the time.

While not necessarily educational in the traditional sense, this field trip was one of the best I’ve ever been on. It was like counseling for a group of kids! They do it again in the spring, but also with parents. Very neat. Today during our Morning Meeting at school, we talked about what we had learned yesterday…they seemed to have absorbed most of it! Of course, some students were fighting within minutes, but hey, they’re kids…right?


If you’re unfamiliar with the word in the title, it’s a diminutive for “gorda” which means “fat” in Spanish. The Colombians LOVE their additions of -ito or -cito or -on or any other modifier. A lot of times I think I don’t understand, but then I realize it’s because a modifier was added to it!

Anyways. You’re probably wondering why my blog post is titled Fat. Well, let’s put it this way…Colombians are blunt. Not in a bad way. Rather, I quite like it in certain settings. I’ve been told I’m blunt and too honest as well, so I guess I’m in good company. But when it comes to certain words, there are things you don’t say to other people in the states. Especially to a woman. Turns out that’s simply our cultural norm. We decide to use words like “plump”, “chunky”, “big-boned”, or “heavyset” to describe a bigger body, but never [GASP!] the “f-word”.

Let me explain. A few funny situations have happened in the past couple weeks:
1. I was having a conversation with a Colombian teacher at school about our holidays. I joked about how I ate so much food over the vacation because I missed the variety back home (and it was Christmas time…I mean, come on). His response? “Si…te veo más gorda” while gesturing toward his face. (“Yes, I see you have gotten fatter”.) I was in initial shock, but we laughed it off as I tried to explain that even if it IS true, you shouldn’t say that to a lady!

2. I was having a conversation with one of the workers in our complex the other day. He made a comment about “la gordita” (“the fat one”) referring to a lady nearby. I think my jaw dropped, but luckily I had my previous experience to remember that it’s not offensive here! It’s just how they describe someone so you know to whom they are referring.

3. Lastly, tonight my friend, her Colombian boyfriend, and I were chatting. I was making a smoothie for dinner (bananas, blueberries, blackberries, plain yogurt, fiber mix, spinach, and water…nom). He was very curious, and perhaps a bit weirded out, by this mixture. I mentioned I’m trying to stay fit, as I had just come from the gym, too. His response? “Ahh si, estabas más gorda cuando llegaste de los EEUU.” (“Yes, you were fatter when you arrived from the USA.”) Again, jaw drop. My friend and I were both laughing and trying to explain how rude that is to us. Being Colombian, he had no idea how that came across to me because again, it’s not a big deal here to use that word.

Learning to laugh at these situations and misunderstandings are all part of the fun and challenges that come along with living in a new country. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Even if I’m “gordita” from all my American food and drinks while I was home. 🙂

Pan de Azucar

I’m not sure if I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors. I get eaten alive by mosquitos every time, I get sunburnt, and I’m terrified of everything that flies at me. I love camping, but more than a couple days and I’m done. Of course, I’m not sure where my intense desire to do Machu Picchu and the Ciudad Perdida 5-day hikes come in then. Perhaps it all started when my mom and step-dad took us on a camping trip to Canada when I was a kid. Looking at these pictures, though, maybe not…

Sometimes though, after inhaling pollution on the streets every day, you get a hankering for a visit with nature. Luckily, some other teachers knew of a place just outside the city where you could get some fresh air. There is a little neighborhood area called Pan de Azucar (yes, that means “Sugar Bread”) that you can walk to from Parque San Pío, which is in Bucaramanga.

Saturday morning, 4 of us took off. It was only about an hour up, although with constant picture-taking, it took us a bit longer. Instead of telling you all about it, I’ll just show you. My highlight was picking the cacao pods off the cacoa trees. I had no idea they grew like that…you have to pick the deep red ones, break them open against something hard, and then you pick out these little white nubs that you suck on. Inside are purple beans, which is what they dry and ferment to turn into  cocoa. Unfortunately none of the ones we found were very juicy at this time, but now I’ll know what to look for next time!


It was really nice to get out of the city and into some peace and quiet for awhile! Afterward, we headed to a wonderful vegetarian restaurant with delicious, cheap food and a health foods store connected to it. I stocked up on some quinoa, coca tea, and a fiber mix. Glad that I’m starting to find things I’ve missed since being in the states. As I get to know this area more, the more it really feels like my home!

A Few Thoughts On Being Home

As I sit in the Panama airport for my 7-hour layover on my return to Colombia (better than the 10 hour layover on the way), I can’t help but reflect a bit on my time at home. It’s peculiar, really, because being home for 3 weeks was enough to almost make me forget about my life and job in Colombia. It was like I never left in July. But as soon as I began the return journey, which always includes people watching and sleeping in airports, it was like that part of me turned back on.

It was great seeing all my friends and family, not having to think so much to communicate, eating all the foods I missed and then some, and having my car to drive around! Thank you to everyone who opened time in their schedules to catch up with me. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Below is a list of some thoughts that crossed my mind in no particular order during my 3-week vacation. I wish I had written everything down because then it would be more complete, not my sporadic remembrances, but hindsight is 20/20.

  • The taxi driving me to a friend’s place in Chicago…. “We leave so much space in front of us when we drive!”
  • “My toes are cold.”
  • “Ohhh yay, shopping in peace without a salesperson attacking you.”
  • “We Americans speak SO loud.”
  • “My toes are freezing.”
  • “Why do we all dress so sloppy when we go about our errands?” (Note: I am entirely guilty of this as well, even in Colombia when I go out and about in my workout capris and tanks. It’s far more comfortable, I understand! Going to Wal-Mart just caused me to notice that our culture does it as a whole.)
  • “Oh my god, my own space, my own car, to go wherever I want whenever I want. The freedom!” (Just a result of living where public transport becomes your only form of transportation.)
  • “So much stuff in our houses, our grocery stores, just everywhere.”
  • “I think my toes are going to fall off.”

As it always is when you move to another culture, you find that you miss certain parts of your own culture, while discovering that parts of your new culture really make a lot of sense if you stop to think. Being home was great, but vacations are always a bit haphazard and I’m ready to get back to my regular routine.

Okay, and the warm weather. 🙂

The Secret Lives in Casa 45

Just a glimpse into the secret lives of creepy crawlies in Casa 45. And I didn’t think it could get much worse than the giant, speedy centipedes in my last apartment. Also, excuse the poor photo quality…many times I’m too afraid to get close and my phone camera zoom is only so good.

Sugar ants…(eating the homemade poison that finally got rid of them)


Giant fanged ants…


Alive cockroaches…


Dead cockroaches…


Alive cockroaches playing dead…


Maggots…in the microwave, cabinet, rice, and popcorn…


Tiny moths…


Giant moths the size of your hand…




Whatever this is…


Alive geckos…


Dead geckos…




And an assortment of miscellaneous insects…

So you might ask…am I braver for it? To say yes might be a lie.