Category Archives: #teachenglish


One month in Medellin convinced me that I needed to pick one neighborhood in the big city to live and spend most of my time. Medellin felt much bigger than I anticipated, and all the people and traffic and noise made it difficult at times to enjoy the city. Also, my efforts to establish a community English program did not materialize. Meanwhile, I had the good fortune of being offered the opportunity to visit Marinilla, a town that is about 1.5 hours from Medellin by bus.

I liked Marinilla instantly. It is a town that is filled with generations of hard-working and friendly campesinos, or country folk, who take pride in their community. People move away, but inevitably come back. Most of the people in Marinilla are Catholic, and the town is fairly conservative … however, there is a thriving artistic community that also gives the town a progressive feel. It is about the same size as our town of Prescott, so it is big enough to have some conveniences that I enjoy without being too big.

So it was that as I walked in Marinilla that first day, I kept saying to myself that I could live here. I returned about 3 days later to explore more fully that idea, and on that second day I meandered into the courtyard that houses the local library, the Office of Tourism and Culture, and what is called the Casa de Cultura (i.e. House of Culture). As I stood in the courtyard, I said out loud “I think I’m going to be teaching English here.” Call it a mystical experience or whatever you want, but I just had this sense that this was the place where I would establish the English program that I had planned for Colombia. In the first office I walked into I met Francisco, who is the resident artist and whose paintings are beautiful, and I explained to him that I would like to offer free English classes to the community. His eyes got big when I said that, and the next thing I know he is introducing me to the Director of Tourism and Culture, and the next thing I know is that we have about 60 adult students who have expressed interest in starting English classes next week. I’ve also met the city’s Educational Director as well as the newly elected Mayor of Marinilla, and I have people stopping me in the streets to ask me if I am that English teacher that they’ve heard about, or to tell me about when they tried to learn English, or to tell me about someone they know who is learning English, etc.

I don’t want to speak too soon, but it looks like this little English project that God put on my heart might be a success. And when Francisco expressed concern about the program growing bigger than he or I imagined or could possibly handle, I contacted a few online expat groups to seek volunteer English teachers, and it looks like there are 4 people who are going to commute here from Medellin to help out. I sure hope they show up. You’ll hear more about this English project in future blog posts, but before I end for today I would like to tell you the amazing story of how I found my apartment here in Marinilla.

In contrast to Medellin where there are for-rent signs everywhere, I have never seen one for-rent sign in all of Marinilla. Everywhere I went for a week or more, people would tell me how difficult it is to find an apartment for rent in Marinilla. As a result, I contemplated looking for an apartment in the nearby town of Rionegro which is a much bigger town … however, I did not feel at peace inside about that. So, the night before I would make the 1.5 hour trek from Medellin to the Marinilla/Rionegro region yet again, it became clear to me that since I would be teaching English in Marinilla, I wanted to live in Marinilla … even if it meant living in a hotel. So I abandoned my plan to go to Rionegro that day, and went to Marinilla instead.

When I landed in Marinilla I decided to try a different approach, and this time I went to the other side of town away from where most of the apartments are located. I had not walked very far from the bus stop, and I was standing in front of one large apartment building looking up at it when some guy walked by, but when I asked him if he knew about available apartments, he said that he did not live in Marinilla … but nonetheless, he pointed to a little tienda a block away and said that they seem to know a lot about the town. So I went to the tienda, and when I asked the owner if she knew of available apartments, she flat out said “no.” However, at that very moment she was giving change to a customer who looked at me and said, “Are you looking for an apartment?”

This is where it gets amazing. So Jose walked me to his apartment which is 2 blocks from the central park, took me inside and showed me his studio apartment … he just happened to be moving out that day, and all his stuff was packed and in the middle of the kitchen. So then he asked me if I needed anything to furnish the place, and I said of course because I have nothing. So he told me he would sell me his stove and gas canister as well as his bed, and he told me the price and I of course said “Okay!”. However, at that point we had not even spoken to the landlord … so he asked me if I knew someone local who could vouch for me, because if not I would be out of luck since all business in town is done by connections. So I told him no, but that the AirBnB lady in Medellin where I am staying would vouch for me. So Jose told me not to worry because he would vouch for me, and he cautioned me not to tell the landlord that we just met on the street 20 minutes ago. So then he had to run some errands, and he told me to meet him in the park at a specific time. When he returned he said that the landlord was now home and that I needed to be prepared to pay both him 420,000 pesos for the bed and stove, and to pay the landlord the first month’s rent in CASH. He also said that we needed to hurry because the landlord was waiting for us. At that point the thought flashed across my mental screen that me, the naive gringo, was about to give away about $230 USD in cash to perfect strangers. So Jose walked with me to the ATM, and I had to make two 600,000 peso credit card cash advances (since there is a per transaction limit), and then we stopped at a tienda to ask for blank receipts that both Jose and the landlord could use to give me a receipt for my payment, and then we walked back to the apartment with my wallet bulging with pesos. We met the landlord, and Jose explained that I was a friend … Carlos the landlord looked like a very successful and wealthy 40 something old guy, and seemed like a real nice person. Carlos handwrote a receipt for me and I gave him 350,000 pesos in cash, then Jose handed me the keys in front of the landlord. I told Carlos how much I appreciate the opportunity to live there, and that I hoped he would study English with me (to which he smiled and replied, “We’ll see), and then Jose and I walked up to the apartment. I paid Jose 420,000 pesos in cash, and then he left to go get his friend who has a car. Twenty minutes later Jose returned with his friend in a little beat-up Toyota or something, and I helped him load his stuff in the car and he was gone. I had left Medellin at 7:30 in the morning, and by 2:00 PM I was alone in my empty apartment two blocks from central park AND ON THE SAME STREET AS THE LIBRARY WHERE I WILL BE TEACHING ENGLISH!!!!! And get this — the monthly rent is 350,000 pesos … about $105 USD. Simply amazing … and I feel truly blessed by all of it.

English Teacher hits the pavement in Medellin

Perhaps “madness” is too strong a word to describe my first 10 days in Medellin, but it sure has been action-packed. I was getting nowhere via email and the internet in my search for a position teaching English, and so I decided to just show up. (In Latin America, business is done face-to-face). As a result, I had some pretty cool experiences but still no job offers.

I first went to a nearby smaller university, and the security guard escorted me right to the head of the English department. I was asked to email copies of my passport both to HR and to him, but days later I have heard nothing. Nonetheless, at the time I was thinking, “That first connection was easy – today is going to be my day.” Then I went to a prestigious and very large Catholic university in the center of Medellin, and Security would not let me on the grounds without my passport (the copy I usually carry would not do here as in other countries). Not even Mary Mother Anselm could have got me through that iron gate. So, I went all the way back home to get my passport, and when I returned they did a thorough passport review, took my photo, and entered all this information into their computer. After I passed through the iron gate, I was on this large campus for only a few minutes before asking directions to the language department from a man who was wearing a university shirt (perhaps housekeeping staff), and he looked up and called to another man who was walking by to see if that man knew, and that passerby just happened to be an English teacher in the language department. Then while we were walking, the English teacher told me that he got his degree at Northern Arizona University, and he promptly escorted me through the locked door at the language department directly to the Head of the language department. Wow! After a good interview, I was told that the soonest they could use me is in March, but that I would need a work visa to teach there. I sent a follow-up email to thank him for his time, but I have heard nothing since.

On to EAFIT, not only the largest university in Medellin, but the most prestigious and best paying English teaching position to be had in this town. I had contacted them several times since last June, sent several application materials to them, and sent a direct message via LinkedIn to the department Head. (I know that he viewed my LinkedIn profile because LinkedIn tells you who views your profile). As has happened to me many times in this city, people standing at bus stops helped me find the correct busses, and on the bus that would take me to EAFIT, the person who was sitting beside me made sure that I got off at the right stop. With passport in hand, I was able to get through Security, and the language center just happened to be 10 steps past Security. (We’re talking a campus the size of The Ohio State University). I tugged at the locked door that leads to Administration, and immediately someone buzzed me into the offices without asking who I was. Within 5 minutes I was sitting in front of the Administrator who I had corresponded with several times over the last 6 months. She told me that the soonest they would need me is one year from now.

Since that experience I have heard back from other universities in town who all tell me the same thing – without a work visa, I have little or no chance of teaching English at a university here. A work visa would cost around $500 (including attorney fees), would take about 6 weeks to obtain (provided that the mountain of required documents were all submitted exactly as required the first time), and the process should be started at a consulate office outside the country. The woman in whose house I am staying is an attorney, and one day she offered to give me a ride to various locales because she had business to do … and while she was doing her lawyer thing, I was able to visit different neighborhoods. We started in the morning and finished late at night, and we traipsed all over the metropolitan area and beyond as she followed up on cases that needed this jot fixed or that tittle signed, and she told me that this is the norm in Colombia … if documents are not exactly correct, you have to return to stand in line to wait to fix them, and then you might have to go the next office, and the next office, and perhaps pay fees at each office along the way, and of course everything has to be done face-to-face, and by the time you get your approval weeks or months later you are a little bit numb, surprised, and relieved. (She told me that her new law cases are scheduled to be first heard over a year from now). Of course, I don’t have to believe that all processes are difficult and take a long time here, but that is what almost everyone says.

Believe it or not, there is one local university that does not seem scared by my tourist visa, and a friend of my landlord hooked me up with an interview with the Director of the English program. Once again, my passport got me through Security, and my interview with La Directora went very well. She told me that in the off-chance that they get a surge in enrollment (made less likely by the fact that for the first time in history they are requiring each student to pay a full year of tuition before starting classes this term), they could possibly offer me a few classes to teach in February. Since I am the eternal optimist, I am believing that this will come through.

So I turned my attention to the many private language schools in town, and the reputable ones have told me a similar story – they won’t even look at me without an existing work visa and long-term commitment (and of course a work visa requires a sponsoring organization). Moreover, I have read in expat forums about the many disreputable language schools in town that send you all over town for appointments with people who don’t show up, and that even if they do give you clients, somehow they forget to pay their instructors. Again, I choose what I will believe.

As I write this article, I am sitting in the main local office of SENA, the Colombian Government’s Social Service Agency that (among many other programs) operates the much ballyhooed bilingual country-wide initiative that is supposed to make all Colombian students bilingual in the not too distant future, quite a task since the rate of English language proficiency in Colombia is one of the lowest in all of Central and South America. I’ve been sitting for over an hour together with several others who all seem to be waiting to see people who don’t show up, and so I thought that this would be a good time to turn a lemon into lemonade and write this blog article. But now that I am about to finish this post, I don’t know how much longer that I want to wait in this hot and humid office sweating with all the others waiting to see someone who doesn’t show up. In all honesty, I did not have an appointment here today, but rather than try to move this process along via email and internet, I thought that I might just show up in order to expedite the process … and so I wait.

After waiting over 1.5 hours, someone did show up to tell me to search the Spanish language SENA government website on a nearby computer to get a job code, and that once I submitted a job code and my passport information, someone might show up to meet with me. Instead of spending the rest of the afternoon in that office waiting for someone to show up, I thanked them for the information and walked out.

I never say never … but while plan A and plan B (and C, and D, and ???) are in process, I am already strategizing on next steps. Stay tuned.

Also posted in #EFL, #ESL, #teachESL, #TEFL, #TESOL

Medellin and Me

My journey to Medellin has been intense, fun, frustrating, wild, emotional, interesting, and adventurous (and many more adjectives).

When we got in the car to go to the shuttle in Prescott, I was excited, nervous and sad all at once. Sheri and I will be apart for 4-1/2 months, by far the longest stretch since we met in 1998. I was dabbing tears in my eyes as the shuttle driver made his way to Prescott Valley to drop off his coworker. At that point I switched to the front seat, and fortunately the shuttle driver dude was quite chatty, otherwise I might have been tearing-up all the way to Phoenix.

At the airport I was a little nervous about whether my checked bag would come in under 40 lbs. and avoid the Spirit Airlines hefty surcharge, but I was grateful to have a very nice (and chatty) ticket agent who even allowed me to stuff more things in my checked bag. As I awaited for my 1:48 AM departure, I thought more than a few times that this was way past my bedtime.

When the plane landed in Dallas, I got up from my seat and was struck by how ethnically diverse we passengers were … Latinos, Asians, African-Americans, Europeans, Texans (who seem to stand out), Indians, a Muslim women in hajib, other folks, and some fellow gringo mutts. This is the USA that I love.

The flights from Texas to Florida and then from Florida to Medellin were uneventful if not a blur, and I arrived at about 2:00 PM. I was hoping that I could convince the customs agent to give me a 6 month tourist stay, but alas I got the normal 3 month pass, which means that in March I get to wait in one of those wonderful Latin American lines to get my visa extended. (Yesterday I waited in line for 15 minutes at the grocery store to buy a bottle of water). Its all part of the fun.

I let myself get frustrated at the airport while waiting for the shuttle bus that would take us on the 45 minute drive from the airport to downtown Medellin. Almost all of the people I meet in Latin America are nice, which is true of everyone I meet everywhere for that matter; but occasionally you’ll meet service agents who think that rich gringos should not push themselves to the front of the line or even be in the line. So when I got to the shuttle bus there appeared to be plenty of room for big me and my big bag, however the driver was unwilling to pack me and my bag, so I stood at the curb and watched for at least 10 minutes while at least 4 other people (and their bags) got on that shuttle. After waiting a long time for the next shuttle to arrive, a new crowd of people surged to the luggage compartment in the back of the bus, and I was in danger of missing that shuttle were it not for a travel agent who saw me get bumped off the last shuttle.

It is also true that some Latin America entrepreneurs see dollar signs when they see a gringo, so if possible it is helpful to know the approximate price before you make a purchase. My host here in Medellin told me that the taxi from downtown to her house should only be 15,000 pesos (which is about $5 USD), but the bag helper and taxi driver told me that I would have to pay what the meter showed upon arrival. So I told the taxi driver what my host said, and on the way I watched as the meter gathered speed … ca-ching, ca-ching, ca-thing … we were at 40,000 Colombian pesos and not even home yet! So I again told the taxi driver that my host said that the fare should only be 15,000 pesos, and that – oh by the way – my host just happens to be an attorney, and thus when we arrived I gave him a 20,000 note and waited for change … and he gave me 5,000 in change.

Yesterday was a wild ride. I’m not sure how many people live here – 2 million, maybe 3 million people – but as you can imagine, this is one big, fast-moving, lots of people, sights, sounds, and smells kind of place. Just a little different than Prescott, Arizona. So I launched myself onto the public transport system, and took a bus from the suburbs to the heart of the city. They let me off at the metro, which is every bit as nice as the metro subway system in Washington, DC. Then I took the metro out and away from the city to a lower income area, then exited the metro train and got on a metro cable car which took us high up the mountain to the fringes of the city. You’ll just have to Google “Medellin Metro Cable” to learn more about it, but what happened is that visionary city leaders years ago worked to dramatically reduce the crime rate in this city by tying all the neighborhoods together. The poorer areas had been isolated, so the city invested millions in infrastructure to build not only the metro system, but also libraries, parks, schools, and other services. One of the promises made and kept by the city was regular trash pickup throughout the city, which obviously was well received especially in the poorer areas that had been regularly neglected in the past. One of the most remarkable comments I read before coming here was made by the former mayor of Medellin, one of the key people who spearheaded the transformation of this city … he said (and I paraphrase), “We must build our most beautiful and expensive buildings in our poorest neighborhoods.” How many people in power think like that anymore? That’s a beautiful thing … and the city has been rewarded for this visionary consciousness through less crime, more civic pride, a booming tourist industry, and much more. The city still has plenty of issues, just like any big city in the good old USA, but many positive changes are complete and still in process.

Back to my wild ride … so after riding the metro cable to the top of the mountain, I watched as thunderstorms moved into the valley and city below. It was pretty awesome to watch lightning bolts flash across the sky, but then it started to rain so people made their way back to the metro cable. However, due to the lightening and rain, the city shut down the system for the night and hundreds of us were stuck up on the mountain in the neighborhood of Santo Domingo. So I took a city bus down the mountain, which was quite the harrowing, wild ride, on wet slippery twisting streets … I was actually sitting in the front seat beside the bus driver, and he was calmly flying down the mountain, singing along to the music, avoiding all the motorcycles, pedestrians, cars, bicycles, taxis, animals, and whatnot that seem to dart from every direction in Latin America while at the same time avoiding collisions … I figured if the bus driver could be calm, then so could I … and I made it back home safely at about 8:00 PM.

I’m not sure what today holds, but I will soon find out as I wander out into the city … Medellin and me.

Also posted in #Spanish

Teach English in Medellín Colombia

English is becoming essential all over the world. Moreover, someone who learns to speak English has better job prospects, earns more money, and enjoys a higher quality of life regardless of background or social status. However, often the opportunity to learn English is only available to those with higher incomes.

In January 2016, I plan to establish an English program in one of the lower income areas of Medellín, Colombia. Once I find a location, I will announce classes and volunteer to teach English for up to 4 months. Donations will be used to buy books and materials for the students.

If you would like to donate to this good cause, go to my page at

Thank you!


Also posted in #EFL, #empowerment, #ESL, #teachESL, #TEFL

30 Ways to be an Excellent ESL/EFL Teacher

  1. Do preliminary testing if possible in order to group students by language level.
  2. Identify your students’ language goals and vocabulary requirements.
  3. Choose your textbooks and resources carefully.
  4. Bring enthusiasm for learning English to the classroom.
  5. Establish your authority in the classroom from the beginning.
  6. Learn your students’ names, and take an active interest in getting to know each student.
  7. Always be culturally sensitive and aware, and show appreciation for the students’ native language.
  8. Don’t be bound by the textbook, rather use supplemental materials as needed.
  9. Prepare a lesson plan for each class, but be flexible and change focus in class as needed.
  10. Explain what you are teaching, and explain why the topic/activity is helpful.
  11. Make your instructions short and clear for each activity.
  12. Speak clearly and with sufficient volume … speak slower as needed, but not too slow.
  13. Don’t talk too much – limit Teacher Talk Time (TTT) to about 50%, depending on the activity.
  14. Respect both “slow” and “fast” learners, and teach to their language level while motivating each student to reach higher.
  15. Don’t try to force change on a student – allow them to be who they are, to use their own learning style.
  16. Motivate your students with variety … turn some activities into games or competition.
  17. Don’t overcorrect.
  18. Allow time for spontaneous communication.
  19. Be an encourager, and use humor to liven up the class.
  20. Stay calm, and don’t exceed their own desire to learn … practice engaged detachment.
  21. Be attentive to each student, and don’t show favoritism toward specific students.
  22. Circulate among all the students.
  23. Be fair and realistic in testing … and give each student honest assessments of their progress.
  24. Develop the 4 language skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing … teach these skills in equal measure if possible.
  25. Become a grammar expert, and develop their grammatical abilities in each of the 4 language skills.
  26. A large vocabulary never hurt any language student … the more words they know, the better.
  27. Be reflective on how well a class went, on how well a term went … prepare future changes as necessary.
  28. Keep it light, and be willing to laugh at yourself.
  29. Be dedicated to always improving as a teacher.
  30. Trust that you are an excellent and dedicated ESL/EFL teacher … and trust that the Universe is working through you.
Also posted in #EFL, #ESL, #teachESL, #TEFL, #TESOL