Life in Bogotá is new, different
Glenwood Springs Elementary School English Language Learners teacher Rita Merrigan is on a one-year Fulbright teaching exchange program in Bogota, Colombia. Merrigan has been busy. She’s traveled the region, swam with dolphins, visited historic sites and traditional celebrations, and climbed giant trees in the jungle canopy.The following are some excerpts from her communications with her colleagues at GSES while looking back on her first six months in Bogotá.I am thousands of miles away from home, and yet I have I have begun to feel at home here. I realize how much I love being a teacher, and I realize how very frustrating and satisfying that very thing is. Living in Bogotá has been very new and different for me. I miss some things in Glenwood Springs a great deal and often – my little loft apartment downtown, the pool, great restaurants – all within walking distance of the library, post office, shopping and work. Here I have a lovely apartment, walking distance from school and most of the things I need, but it’s just like 100 other apartments like it, on a very busy city street. Each has armed guards at the gates, high iron fences and iron bars on every window. Even the school is surrounded by an eight-foot wall and a doorman who keeps the gate locked at all times. These things make one feel secure and safe – that is the idea, anyway. Grocery stores have guards at every entrance and bomb-sniffing dogs in the parking lots. Security is intense everywhere you go, but they say it is working.The streets are always filled with people and traffic. Buses and cars honk, venders hawk their wares, people talk on every corner. It’s a busy place, with more than 7 million people living here. The friends I have made here are genuine and very kind, and have been extremely helpful and supportive.I have made a few friends who will go with me to enjoy a beer now and then. The Bogotá Beer Company Co. some pretty good brews, and they serve unbelievable homemade potato chips.This city also has great public transportation, with a beautiful, shiny new system of buses called the Transmilineo System, of which Colombians are very proud. It runs along the main thoroughfares all across this city, and you can get on and ride to any point for less than about 60 U.S. cents. I do miss the freedom of driving those winding mountain roads in my little Subaru and knowing that there is no fear of coming upon a roadblock that might be paramilitary. People here don’t just take the car out for a drive into the country without considering that possibility. Sometimes it may be that you just pay a bribe; sometimes the consequences are very different.As far as education, the school system is based on systems from the United States, Germany, England, France and the Catholic schools that were started here more than 300 years ago. Most of the schools are private, and many are supported by foreign countries. These schools use a variety of curriculum styles, but ours is based upon the style and calendar of the USA, with American textbooks. There are also public schools that are poorly funded, overcrowded and are said to offer a low quality of education; which is why so many private schools are thriving. Unfortunately, the poor attend the inferior institutions, part of the obvious economic strata system here. Poor people live in poor neighborhoods and attend poor schools. The wealthier attend private schools and receive a better education. The wealthiest people send their children to very expensive schools with beautiful grounds, beautiful buildings and sports and equestrian teams.
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