Rachel and Dylan Drake, Greenheart Travelers teaching English in Colombia, recently held an event in their Colombian city called the “Valledupar English Immersion Day”. The successful event was funded by a Greenheart Alumni Service grant, as well as thousands of dollars in donations from around the world.
For the past eight months I have really enjoyed the experience I have had in Colombia. I loved teaching the students about the English language and sharing my culture with them. In all of my classes, it was evident that English was more than just a class for some of my students. They practiced English outside of the classroom by watching movies, listening to music and reading articles. It was a hobby and a passion.
The Ministry of Education runs week-long “English Immersion” camps yearly. Schools in the Colombia Bilingue program are able to participate; however, our city was not given the opportunity because it was Valledupar’s first year in the program. But, I still wanted my students to have their own ‘Immersion Day’.
I was able to apply for the Greenheart Alumni Service Grant, and thanks to Greenheart Travel, we would be able to fund this event. So, I teamed up with my husband, who is also a teacher in Valledupar, and we started the first ever “Valledupar English Immersion Day”. We decided that this would be a day where the students could practice their English, and learn more about English-speaking cultures all over the world.
The idea started small with only two or three schools participating, but we quickly realized that the more schools we got involved, the better the event would be. Before we knew it, we received support from our regional coordinator and all of the fellows in Valledupar, and all twelve schools in the program were able to participate.
The more the event grew, the more money we needed to be able to provide a free event for the students. We created a GoFundMe page and immediately received support from our friends and families back home, both through donations and sharing our event on social media. We quickly raised nearly $2,000 between the grant and the donations, and were able to fully fund the event, which included activities, games, food, t-shirts, and an unforgettable cultural experience.
My husband and I had a blast planning the ‘Immersion Day’. With the help of the other English teaching fellows doing their own parts and planning their own activities, we were able to focus on the logistics of the event. We also looked for help from our mentors and co-teachers to coordinate planning this big of an event in a Spanish-speaking country, where neither of us were fluent in Spanish.
The ‘Valledupar English Immersion Day’ was on Saturday, October 29, 2016. It was an all-day event from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm at I.E. CASD Simon Bolivar, one of the public schools in the program. One hundred and twenty students from twelve different schools were invited. More than 120 students applied; however, students were selected based on the quality of a short composition, their grades and their level of motivation to learn English.
Each of the fifteen fellows plus our regional coordinator held an activity on the day of the event. The fellows are from all over the world including: The United States, Jamaica, Slovakia, South Africa, Wales, Nigeria, and England, which allowed us to have a wide variety of cultural representation.
There were ten activities for the students to choose from:
The students got to pick five of these activities for the day.
The first ever ‘Valledupar English Immersion Day’ was a huge success! Many of the students even asked if there would be another event next year. One hundred and two students attended the event. It was the perfect opportunity to have fun, make new friends, practice English and learn more about English speaking cultures.
As the day came to an end, I could not have been happier with the results of the hard work that the fellows and the students put in. The best part of the day for me was seeing the students shine. Everyday in a class of 40-50 students, only a small percentage of them are excited to improve their English. My main goal for this event was to give those motivated students the chance to not be held back and to be the best they could be. I was so proud of all the students. Their commitment, motivation and enthusiasm was inspirational.
Even though the students can attend the Ministry’s ‘Immersion Day’, having a local event was very personal, and gave more students the opportunity to participate. I have had countless experiences during my nine-months here in Valledupar, Colombia. Most have been good, some have been bad, but each one of them taught me something new.
That being said, The ‘English Immersion Day’ will be my most memorable moment. I also believe it will be the most memorable moment for many of the students with the fellows as well. As my contract is coming to an end in only a few weeks, I am so grateful that I will get to leave with this memory, and I am even happier that I had the chance to make an impact on those students’ lives.