Americans avoid Columbia for good reason. A virtual civil war has been waged for nearly 40 years. Crime and violence rates are among the highest in the world. And then there is the “drug problem.” Why would anyone consider coming here to teach English?

“I came because a friend who was working in Cali liked it and recommended it to me,” says Glenn Yates, a teacher now in his second year at a bilingual school. Tired of Canada’s frigid winters, he fled to a land of year-round warm weather and an even warmer welcome.

Colin Jacobs, tired of gloomy days and drizzle, found a way to teach English in Cali from his native England over 20 years ago and hasn’t left since. “I don’t think he can ever live in London again,” he says. “After adjusting to the near-perfect weather, food, and laid-back lifestyle here, I don’t really want to go back. I’m spoiled for life.”

I also. Hundreds of varieties of flowers perfume the air, even in winter. The pantries abound with exotic fruits such as Guava and Carambolo. The one-year growing season allows papayas to reach nearly the size of watermelons; mangoes can weigh up to two pounds each. Colombia’s strong black coffee, considered the richest in the world, is served everywhere.

But it’s sure?

There are problems, yes, but not of “run-scream-to-the-mountains” intensity. Most conflicts occur in the field. While this can make intercity travel risky at times, residents within major cities like Bogotá, Cali, and Medellín feel little impact and live fairly normally. Adjusting to power failures, phone or water outages, and rainy season flooding is more of a nuisance than life-threatening. The larger cities are reasonably well policed ​​and generally safe, if you’re careful.

drugs? Most of the illicit production is for export, so with the exception of drug factions at war in the coca-growing areas, there is not much daily impact. During major holidays, the government intensifies military patrols of major highways and tourist areas to ensure protection and safer travel for vacationers.

Quality of life

Cali, with two million inhabitants, is known as the “world capital of salsa”, rivaling Cuba. The two largest malls are home to multiplex complexes showing first-run American movies in English with Spanish subtitles. English publications are readily available in bookstores and newsstands. Material in English can be borrowed free of charge at the Universidad Santiago de Cali and for an annual fee of $3 at the Centro Cultural Colombo Americano. The Municipal Theater, the Tertulia Arts Complex, and the Jorge Isaacs Theater offer regular productions in Spanish. Ethnic restaurants specializing in Latin American and Mediterranean cuisine continuously tempt Cali’s palettes. Christmas celebrations take place throughout the year. Check them out online at [http://www.holiday] festival.com/colombia.html. You will never get bored in Cali.

Jobs

Native English teachers are in short supply here. Salaries reflect high demand. Most teaching positions require the applicant to be a native English speaker and have a college degree. A teaching certificate and some experience are a definite plus. Work is available at bilingual schools, language institutes, and universities. Sending out a dozen resumes in English should generate half that number of interviews, culminating in several job offers on the spot.

You don’t speak Spanish? Interviews are usually in English, but as a working resident, you may want to learn more than tourist Spanish. The Santiago de Cali University and the Pontifical Javeriana University have Spanish programs for foreigners. Berlitz (www.berlitz.com) has offices in Cali with Spanish classes. A private tutor is quite easy to get.

“It hasn’t been a problem finding someone to help me when I need something done in Spanish,” said Glen Yates, who, with his limited Spanish, has found Colombians to be very friendly and sociable.

So don’t effortlessly worry about news reports. Call, write or email schools and colleges to get an idea of ​​their needs and requirements. Take a look at the websites. Gather your diplomas, certificates, and letters of reference. Don’t forget to collect materials like maps, postcards, flyers, magazines, and souvenirs from your hometown. These will be invaluable for your conversations with students.

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