Editor's Note: Fountain Valley School of Colorado alumnus Benny Cole ’15 spent this semester as a teaching assistant at Colegio Anglo Colombiano in Bogotá, Colombia. The opportunity developed through Fountain Valley School’s affiliation with Round Square, a worldwide network of more than 150 schools in 40 countries promoting global engagement. English Faculty and Director of Global Education Dr. Susan Carrese P '12 '15 is the Round Square sponsor at FVS.
Cole is the second FVS student to teach at the school; Chris Peel '14 paved the way during the 2014-15 school year. Megan Rash '14 also completed a Round Square gap year teaching internship at Ballarat Grammar in Wendouree, Australia.
Cole will start college at Western Washington University in January, where he plans to double major in Spanish and French with a minor in linguistics.
In this article, Cole discusses how he secured his gap-year teaching position and what his daily life is like in Colombia.
About three quarters of the way through my junior year at Fountain Valley School of Colorado, I knew I wanted to do something before I went to college. I knew I wanted to be globally engaged and make a difference, but I was unaware really of what I could do.
One of my friends, Chris Peel ’14, had chosen to take a gap year teaching at a Round Square school before going to college, and hearing this pointed me in that direction. From there, I began to meet with Dr. [Susan] Carrese, the Round Square representative for FVS, about sending introduction letters to possible schools, filling out applications and setting up interviews.
I first began researching which schools I would be interested in applying to for a position as a gap-year assistant about halfway through November of my senior year. I introduced myself via email to the Round Square representative for Colegio Anglo Colombiano in Bogotá, and from there I applied formally. I interviewed with her via Skype and was notified during Interim that I had been accepted to the position. I was given five options from which to choose, and one of the other “gappies” chose to be a second-grade teaching assistant before I could, so I chose physical education. The other options were drama, art and design technology.
A Typical Day in BogotáMy average day consists of me waking up at 7 a.m., but due to the rotating schedule I can get up as late as 9 on some days. Because I am working with the P.E. Department, I go to the P.E. office at least an hour before the first class I am helping with. I usually have four or five classes a day, with the exception of one day per rotation where I only have three.
I am working with two spectacular teachers. Jaime is the third and fourth grade P.E. teacher, and his lessons focus on hand-eye coordination. Mauricio is the first and second grade PE teacher, and his lessons focus on foot-eye coordination. My job is to essentially help whichever teacher I am assigned to for that rotation with whatever may be asked of me. During classes, I supervise smaller groups (usually 6-12 kids) or help demonstrate activities or games the class will be doing.
Because the school is bilingual, I teach mostly in English, with exceptions for certain kids, mostly in first or second grade. While I have FVS to thank for my being able to speak Spanish (Mr. Eberhart and Ms. Schmidt ‘06, especially), this experience has helped me immensely as I am increasing my vocabulary practically every day.
Apart from talking to some of the kids in Spanish, I am pretty much the de facto translator for the group of gappies because I am the only one who speaks Spanish comfortably. I take lessons from one of the teachers to make sure I continue to improve my understanding of the language, and I make a habit to speak it as often as I can.
One interesting thing that was pointed out to me is that I speak Spanish with almost a Caribbean accent. The people on the coast of Colombia speak very similar Spanish to those who live in the Dominican Republic. During Interim at FVS my junior year, I was lucky enough to go to the DR for 10 days and teach in Spanish. In addition to this being a large part of why I chose to take a gap year in the first place, it also apparently left a lasting effect on my accent that was only augmented by my time on the coast of Colombia during the break in the middle of October.
I am leaving Colombia with a renewed sense of self, a deeper understanding of what I want for my future, and an increased knowledge of cultural differences. This experience allowed me to take a step back and look upon myself and my life through a new-found lens. Itis one of overwhelming gratitude for this opportunity, as well as the sense of "otherness" that comes with being a stranger somewhere.
I have learned how to live independently, using my boarding situation at FVS as a stepping stone, and in a manner that shows the time management skills I learned at FVS. I have been given the opportunity to work with students again, which only furthers my desire to continue my work in community service and my aspirations to make a career in education and coaching. I will carry and treasure my experiences here for the rest of my life and hope to use them to my advantage in the future.
I would like to thank everyone who helped give me this opportunity—Round Square, Fountain Valley School, Dr. Carrese, my Spanish teachers, my parents, and FVS trustee Jim Webster P '14, who funded FVS's Round Square membership.