I have now been back in the States for two weeks. I really can't believe it has been two weeks. These last 14 days have flown by. I have already visited Washington D.C. to see my friends down there and now it is time to settle in with my family, get some holiday shopping done, and get ready for Christmas and New Years.
Being back from Colombia hasn't been "difficult"...yet. I expected more of a reverse culture shock than I have yet to experience. I experience more reverse culture shock when I visited New Jersey back in June. To be truthful, I think a big part of me feels like I am still just visiting the States and that I will be going back to Colombia soon. I know that is not true, but I struggle to remember that I am staying here for a while. Being here feels real and fake all at the same time, it is hard to explain.
It is hard to accept that my time in Colombia is over, that I won't be going back to Colegio El Minuto de Dios and teaching my students any more. I won't be able to give my 2nd, 3rd or 4th graders hugs anymore or see the daily progress they make. But today it really sunk in a little bit more. The field director of our program just sent out placement e-mails to the new volunteers. This means that someone, somewhere else in the world, is now incredibly lucky to have just been assigned the best placement in Colombia. Maybe I am biased, but I really think it is true.
One of the things that has been on my mind a lot lately is "impact". Have I made an impact on my students? my school? Have they made an impact on me? After having some time to think about this past year and reflect on all that has transpired, I feel like I can finally answer these questions.
Going into this experience I tried to have "no expectations". This was probably one of the best pieces of advice I received, it really helped make this experience everything that it was. My goal was to make some kind of positive change. I was realistic about it. I did not think I was going to change the world, change my entire school, or have my students walking out the door fluent by the end of the year. I just wanted to make positive change. Looking back on the experience, I know I accomplished that goal.
I have some students who drastically improved their behavior, some who made giant leaps in their academics, others who became excited about class, and some who by the end of the year were finally able to respond to "How are you?" Progress is progress and I stand by that. This last year my students won some very small battles on a daily basis and some big ones. I taught them a lot, but they taught me even more.
Leaving my school was hard. It was really sad. I promised myself that I wouldn't be emotional about it at all. I gave my students some special notes, reminded them of the things I taught them all year - not the English lessons I taught, but the life lessons I tried to pass on to them. Reminded them to continue working hard and to believe in themselves. Saying these things was hard, knowing that I might not ever see any of them again. But it got even harder when they cried. Especially when the ones who have made such big progress began to cry and ask me to stay. Leaving just was not easy. The good news is that I know there will be another volunteer there next year to continue the work I began and we are doing good work.
I fell in love with these students and they made me fall in love with teaching. The next chapter of my life is a bit grey. Yesterday I had an interview with the New York City Teaching Fellows program, and if that works out I will begin teaching in a high needs public school in New York City. I should know in about 4-6 weeks if I have been accepted. Until then, I will enjoy the holidays with my family and loved ones.