Three months before I had left my hometown of Sacramento on a greyhound bus bound for Tijuana.
I had hitched through Baja California, taken a ferry across the Sea of Cortez, and taken trains through the Copper Canyon in Mexico. The next several months had seen me take an uncountable number of buses through the heart of Mexico and down towards the Guatemalan border. Next I spent two weeks in nearly every Central American country.
Upon arrival in Panama I was informed that the Darien Gap was a complete no go zone, and that I would have to get a flight down to Colombia. I took a short flight from Panama City to Bogota.
After three months of adventure I was tired of being a tourist and nearly out of money. It was time to look for work in Colombia’s capital, where I didn’t know a single person.
When I arrived in Bogota I started hunting for a teaching job. I jumped online and started googling English schools in the city and preparing an updated resume to be able to go door to door offering my teaching services to local language academies.
Off I went each day, visiting a handful of language schools, showing up as a stranger in search for a job.
While many were kind, I got rejected a dozen times over the first couple of days. I had been here before. With some persistence I figured that things would pan out. On day five I walked up to a small language school where a couple of Colombian English teachers greeted me. I was welcomed in by their boss, who told me that they were looking for a native speaker to teach business English class to executives who refused anything but native speakers.
The next day I went back to give a demo class. Apparently I had done well as I was called into the office and handed the resources I would need to teach the following week at 5:30 a.m. in Eco Petrol’s skyscraper in downtown Bogota. I had been wearing the same five faded t-shirts for the past three months. I had covered thousands of miles and had taken too many buses to count.
Now it was 5:15 a.m. and instead of waking up in an eight person room in a hostel, and an early morning bus, here I was dressed in slacks and a brand new collared shirt getting screened so I could head up to the 35th floor to teach a couple of the managers of the wealthiest company in Colombia. Things had definitely changed in the last week!
I was a bit nervous. I had taught conversational night classes to a group 15-20 adults in Guadalajara Mexico, but this would be different. I was a native speaker with some experience from California in a country with not that many foreigners living in it. I had been asked to teach some of the big guns at Eco Petrol, the biggest company in Colombia. At 5:30 I was greeted by my enthusiastic pupils who were eager to get the new guy…I was off and running.
They say you learn by doing, and in my teaching job in Eco Petrol this was definitely the case. Over the next few weeks I learned to work with some of the most motivated professionals in Bogota. Often my lesson plans would go out the window due to the desire of the clients to discuss certain topics which they found interesting.
My daily schedule featured a 4:30 am run through the streets of Bogota followed by an intense three hour English class. After my classes I would make my way over to Habitat for Humanity to work as their website translator.
In the evenings I would go to soccer matches, hang out with my three Colombian roommates, or sometimes go out for some music and dancing. Yes, the backpacker lifestyle had been quickly transformed into a lifestyle plugged into the Colombian culture. Colombia was starting to feel like home.