Sena Orientation: Week 261

Coffee preperation demonstration at Sena: Manizales, Colombia

After a week in Bogotá, I was happy to be back in Manizales and ready to start the new trimester. When I started in 2015 there was only one other new teacher, so there were never any official welcome events.

Since this was the beginning a new calendar year, there were a lot more fresh faces. So this time around, instead of getting our schedules and jumping straight into classes, everyone started off with a week-long campus orientation.

Obviously I already had my bearings, but it was nice to be part of an official welcome event. Monday kicked off with a breakfast with the department heads, followed by a tour of the English Lab. Then we walked through the campus farm and ended the morning at Cafetera, which is where they conduct agricultural research.

It is also the same department that studies coffee! We were lucky enough to receive a preparation demonstration. I’ve often heard that the method of preparation affects the flavor of the coffee, but it was never something I actually noticed until I had three cups made from the same bag of coffee. I’m not an aficionado like Barret, but even I could taste the difference.

Sena campus peacock: Manizales, Colombia

After lunch I also had the luck of finally running into the campus peacock with its beautiful feathers on display. I took a ton of photos and I also persuaded the person next to me to WhatsApp their best images as well.

I was mesmerized as it slowly rotated like a beauty pageant contestant, but what I enjoyed most was watching people squeeze behind it. The peacock was blocking the only entrance to the auditorium where Automation was holding its monthly meeting. Definitely an only-in-Colombia moment.

The breakfast-coffee-peacock trifecta meant that the first day of orientation was off to a good start. I am excited to start teaching and I also have the feeling that the next few months are going to fly right past.

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First Week at SENA: Week 226

Happy 58th birthday SENA: Manizales, Colombia

Now that I have been at teaching at my center for a few weeks, I can look back on the first week with wisdom. A few observations on teaching at SENA, a technical college in Colombia:

The cafeteria is awesome. I might almost be 30, but picking a seat in a cafeteria still dredges up old anxieties. When I was younger it was all about having the cool friends to sit with. Now that I am older, it is finding the perfect empty table.

There is only one cafeteria at school and for this reason it can be quite busy during the middle of the day. During my first week I happened to see a long queue snaking outside the cafeteria and decided I was better off finding an alternative location. Outside the school gate was a food cart that I had never tried, so I decided it was as good a time as any to give it a go.

They were selling arepas (kind of like a corn pancake), which I love, so I ordered one and rounded off my meal with a cup of salpicón (fruit cocktail). The salpicón was refreshing, but the arepa was a bit of a shock. It ended up being served with a paper-thin meat patty, covered with an inch of sauce, and sprinkled with potato chips. It was the worst thing I had ever tasted. I was not disappointed when a bug happened to land on my food and then promptly drowned in the sauce.

Since then I have gone to the cafeteria for all my meals and it never disappoints. For roughly USD $1.80 a meal comes with juice, a bowl of soup, meat, rice, salad, potato/plantain, arepa, and a small desert. And you know what? If all the tables are taken, it just means it’s a good time to practice some Spanish.

The students clean the room. The school does have janitors, but students are expected to clean the room just before class ends. They sweep the floor, tidy up, wipe down the desks, and empty the trashcans. On Wednesdays and Fridays they are also supposed to mop. All this responsibility makes me feel like I had it easy when I was a student.

Happy 58th Birthday function at SENA: Manizales, Colombia

Classroom supplies. I had been warned that there could be very few supplies available, so I was quite happy to realize that 5/6 of my classes had computers and internet in the classroom. Another thing I was warned about was the lack of classroom space. While this has been a problem for other SENA teachers, I have been lucky enough to have no classroom-availability drama. The biggest downfall- there are absolutely no books for any of my English classes.

My specific department within SENA, Automatización, also has an equipment office. This is where I go to checkout laptops and cables, pick up print jobs, and find someone to unlock my classrooms. Most importantly, this is where I learn all my palabras groseras. Those are the words you don’t say in front of your colleagues. I learned this the hard way.

Adults are just as demanding as children. A full day of teaching kindergarten was exhausting and I kind of had this idea that technical college would be easier. I quickly realized though that while the type of work is different, the quantity is identical. Kindergarteners are so easily distracted by a song, dance, a crayon, or a funny voice that if the lesson is a bit half-baked, it’s not the end of the world.

Young adults, on the other hand, don’t think twice before telling you they would like to, “go to the home.” They have so many more opinions, “emergencies”, and cell phone distractions.

I spend a lot of time thinking about my lesson plans at home and coming up with creative ways to keep their attention. The upside to the extra effort though is that my students are a ton of fun. I hope to be the kind of teacher that they enjoy working with and if, at the end of the day, they think learning English is enjoyable, then I’ve done my job.

The Circuitous Route to Colombia: Week 209

chappie-poster-teaser

“Give me my computer; I’m going to uninstall Hearthstone.”

Barret resolutely grabbed his laptop, flipped it open and then hesitated. “Damn it. I don’t know if I can do it. It’s got me by the balls.”

Hmmmmph. Barret walked out of the room. Ten seconds later he walked back in.

“I’ve got to do it!”

Hearthstone is an online card game created by Blizzard. It’s meant to be a casual counterpart to the ‘massive multiplayer online’ games like World of Warcraft, but it still sucks players in for a lot longer than they’d planned. Barret hadn’t seen a problem with that until he started researching productivity strategies. That got him into a right funk.

“God- should I do it?” He called out to me. “Potelllllllllllll?”

“I’m so unproductive.” Barret continued. “I’ve got to do it.” He forlornly poked at a few keys and sighed again. “I don’t know how to do it. Well, I’m just going to move it to the trash… Here I go.” He looked up at me. “What are you typing?”

Before I could reply, Barret interrupted. “All right. Hearthy’s gone. I didn’t even get through Blackrock Mountain.” He suddenly remembered his previous question. “What are you typing?”

“Everything you’ve been saying.”

“Oh God.” He laughed as he stood up to look over my shoulder.

The decision to delete his Hearthstone account might have come out of the blue, but there was a reason Barret was suddenly concerned with productivity. In fact, a lot of things had lined up which encouraged us to get a bit more creative- our house lease ending, my job ending, our graphic novel project, and Chappie being released.

A few years ago Barret spent some time at the studio that did the visual effects for Chappie. The movie’s release was a nice reminder that his dream job was within reach and also a sign that if we were serious about an art sabbatical, then we’d better get to it – which is why I applied to teach English at a technical college in Colombia. The plan is that while I’m working, Barret will dedicate his time to our graphic novel.

Shortly after I had my first interview we bought two tickets for Chappie and a bottle of bubbly. (That’s the great thing about movie theaters on this side of the world- bottle service comes with a free large tub of butter popcorn.)

Cheers to chasing a crazy dream and an awesome two and a half years in Sydney!

Antenna Documentary Film Festival: Week 188

Salesman film still by the Maysles Brothers

It’s nighttime at the Pheasant Valley Motor Lodge. A middle aged man with a suit and tie is using the phone when a wide-set man enters the room wearing a fedora and trench coat. The sparse room has a TV, two beds, two pictures, two lamps and two armchairs.

The middle aged man puts down the phone. His short blond hair is cow-licked and slicked back. “How’d ya do Charlie?” He asks.

This setup could play out in a million different ways, but what ensues is a discussion about Bibles. These men travel door to door selling Bibles.

Salesman film still by the Maysles Brothers

In 1968 the Maysles brothers filmed a documentary called Salesman. Not only did they pioneer the art of the documentary, but they also captured a slice of Americana that now only exists in the Criterion Collection.

The documentary begins by following a group of four men as they knock on doors during the middle of winter. The snow is banked high, a car fishtails ahead on the road, and the days are short. A searchlight scans the quiet suburban landscape for an address that might be interested in a gold embossed version of “the best seller in the world.”

From New England to the wide open streets of Miami, these men struggle with new cities and new quotas. The Gipper, The Rabbit, The Badger, and The Bull. In the morning they share breakfast and a cigarette; in the evening they share two motel rooms.

Salesman film still by the Maysles Brothers

In Chicago their fleshy, blond haired boss delivers an encouraging message. The audience sits attentively with poised cigarettes; the women are seated in the back.

Salesman film still by the Maysles Brothers

“Money is being made in the Bible business. It’s a fabulous business. It’s a good business. All I can say to people who aren’t making the money- it’s their fault.

Just keep that in mind. The money’s out there- go out and get it.

I for one am sick and tired of haggling with you people and pleading with you to get you to do what’s good for you. And what’s good for us.

If you see some missing faces here, we eliminated a few men. Not because we were mad at them. Not because we didn’t like them. Not because we didn’t need the few sales that they made. But it’s a question of the sour apple spoiling the barrel.

Salesman film still by the Maysles Brothers

Certain guys have a habit of getting a couple of beers and flying off the howl and badging people around and throwing their weight around.

I want to go on record and I want to tell you all that the next man that gets off base with me- I’m gonna tag him out. The ball game’s over. You got a job to do.”

Of all the documentaries playing at the Antenna Documetary Festival in Sydney, I chose to see Salesman because the Maysles Brothers have such an eye for quirky details.

When I think of being on the road, I think of freedom, blue skies and adventure. However, before the digital age, there were men with pot bellies and mortgages and wives that worried about how fast their husbands drove. Careers were made from the thrill and the dread of knocking on a stranger’s door.

Salesman film still by the Maysles Brothers

“Well you can see how this will be an inspiration in the home.”

The customer is quiet, her child tinkers with the piano keys. “I just couldn’t afford it now… being swamped with medical bills.” At $49.95, the Bible is an inspirational burden.

Salesman film still by the Maysles Brothers

“You won’t run into people like me all the time. You’re gonna have to work haaader.” The Rabbit and The Gipper are seated around a young woman with dark glasses and a nasal accent.

“But you men are doing fine. I like to see men out, you know, doing things on their own. Get away from companies, get away from people over you.”

The salesmen nod their heads. Yes. It’s good to be independent. It’s good to do what you please.

Salesman film still by the Maysles Brothers

About: The Antenna Documentary Film Festival

About: Salesman

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