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The school has an alternative document to help new teachers: THE SURVIVAL GUIDE

CONTENT

  1. GENERAL QUESTIONS
  2. COLOMBIA CONSULATES
  3. STARTING OUT IN ARMENIA
  4. DAS (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad)
  5. STARTING OUT AT THE SCHOOL
  6. BACKGROUND
  7. FIRST WEEKS
  8. TEACHER HOURS
  9. APARTMENTS AND NECESSITIES
  10. IMPORTANT PLACES TO KNOW
  11. NEIGHBORHOODS
  12. BILLS
  13. COMMUNICATING WITH HOME (general/y for US/Canada)
  14. TRAVEL
  15. TEACHERS’ DUTIES
  16. SCHOOL EVENTS
  17. LIFE OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL
  18. OVERCOMING ISOLATION
  19. SOME MUST DOS
  20. IMPORTANT LINKS

GENERAL QUESTIONS

1. Basic qualifications.

Teachers working at GI must hold a valid teaching certificate from one of the fifty states or, in the case of Canada or other country of origin, from the appropriate agency in that country. These has been waived, however, when interviews, recommendations, or both indicate an unusually strong though inexperienced candidate.

2. Length of stay

At the beginning and end of which we provide plane tickets and baggage allowance to point of origin. The contract is, at the convenience of both parties, renewable. There are a series of bonuses for renewal of contract, including annual round trip plane fare to point of origin.

3. Language of instruction

It is an English language school, beginning with English as a Second Language in the pre-school and early elementary school. Virtually all other academic classes are taught in English. By upper elementary school, the students are all academically bilingual. There are some of the graduates attend universities in the United States where they matriculate as any North American would, with none of the special requirements of the average foreign student.

COLOMBIA CONSULATES

You’ll find a list of Consulates around the world, making click in this link

You’ll find a list of Consulates in the USA, making click in this link

STARTING OUT IN ARMENIA

Welcome to Armenia. If you have any questions regarding living arrangements, necessities, doctors appointments, anything, the school is a wonderful reference and more than willing to help. These are the people to turn to first:

  • Administration: visas, DAS, flight information and booking, apartments and repairs, general questions concerning living and travel ( Esta dirección electrónica esta protegida contra spambots. Es necesario activar Javascript para visualizarla and Esta dirección electrónica esta protegida contra spambots. Es necesario activar Javascript para visualizarla )
  • Accounting: bonus transfers, payment advances, cell phones, internet and cable, bill payments via debit cards. ( Esta dirección electrónica esta protegida contra spambots. Es necesario activar Javascript para visualizarla or Esta dirección electrónica esta protegida contra spambots. Es necesario activar Javascript para visualizarla )
  • Director´s secretary: doctors appointments, bill payments with cash, and helping to direct questions to the right people.
DAS (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad)

When you first arrive, you will need to visit DAS. DAS is the Colombian agency in charge of issuing work permits and identification cards for foreigners working in Colombia. Your Colombian identification card is called your “cédula” and can be carried with you in place of a passport. Prior to going to DAS, you will need to go to have your photograph taken and your blood drawn and tested. The school will assign someone to take you through this process.

DAS is located in Centro and is often very busy. Be prepared to wait in line. While you are there, you will have your fingerprints taken and answer questions from one of the officials (with the help of a school translator).

Be aware of the expiration dates on your cédula and your work permit in your passport. They may expire before you leave the country, and if this is the case, notify the school and they will take you to DAS to renew your permit for an additional 30 days. If you miss this process and your work permit expires before you leave, you may run into trouble when trying to leave the country and you may have to pay an additional fee. If you plan to travel out of the country, tell the school the time and place, and the administration will notify DAS for you.

APARTMENTS AND NECESSITIES

The school will choose an apartment for you and have it ready by the time you arrive. Most leases last for six months, giving you the option to explore other apartment buildings if you choose to move after that time: The school generally chooses apartments on the north side of Armenia, placing you within walking distance of the mall, grocery stores, and the bank. These are all located along the city’s major avenue, “La Catorce” (the Fourteen), also called “Avenida Bolívar.” When in doubt, if you are walking uphill, you are usually heading north.

The cost of rent for your apartment is usually close to your monthly housing allowance. If you choose to room with someone at the school or find a cheaper apartment, you could save money on housing as you receive any money left over from your housing allowance in cash.

IMPORTANT PLACES TO KNOW

Portal del Quindío: Portal is a shopping center in northern Armenia, which includes clothing stores, a movie theatre, a food court, and a large grocery store called SAO (much like a Target), which will have all of your basic needs including some foreign foods (not many), light bulbs, batteries, lamps, and dishes.

Centro: For most of what you’re looking for, downtown has a variety of stores that can offer items for more detailed searches (inexpensive clothing, picture framing, furniture building, computer specialty stores, hardware stores, etc.). Be aware that not all stores have set prices and you will be targeted for higher prices as you are a foreigner.

BanColombia: This is the bank where you will be given a savings account and a debit card to access that account, and to where your bi-monthly payments will be directly deposited. There are three main locations (going from south to north): downtown in Centro, another across from Parque de la Vida on the west side of La Catorce, and another directly south of Portal del Quindío on the east side of La Catorce.

Bolo Club: You are automatically given a membership to this family club, which contains a bowling alley and bar, a swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts, billiards and poker tables, soccer fields, a spa, and a gym (you must pay extra to be a member of the gym and to receive training in tennis).

Olímpica: This grocery store is located directly north of Hotel Estelar, the largest hotel in Armenia on the east side of La Catorce.

CristalAnother grocery store located directly north of Centro on the east side of La Catorce.

Parque de la Vida: This is a large, beautiful gated park on the east side of La Catorce, and it costs around $400 pesos to enter. It is located in the northern portion of the city directly south of Hotel Estelar and on its northeastern edge there is a restaurant called Café Quindío.

Parque Fundadores: This park is farther south than Parque de la Vida on the east side of La Catorce. It has several benches, a small, man-made stream, a tiny waterfall, and two small monuments.

NEIGHBORHOODS

Most of the foreign teachers will be placed within or around the following major neighborhoods:

Laureles: the area across from Portal del Quindío on the west side of La Catorce along the northern portion of this main avenue

Castellana: a wealthier area of houses directly south of the hospital and usually identified by a restaurant, La Fogata, on its western edge

Professionales: on the west side of La Catorce across from the Parque Fundadores and Parque de la Vida and close to the Bolo Club farther south

Fundadores: on the east side of La Catorce behind the Parque Fundadores near the large clinic in Armenia

GENERAL SERVICES

Cleaning/Cooking Services: Most teachers and students at the school have an “empleada” (maid) to help with cooking, cleaning, and hand-washing cloths. Empleadas generally ask for an amount of money for one day. The school can offer recommendations. If you prefer to wash clothes yourself, you can also rent washing machine overnight. Call 7472756 for a “lavadora” (washing machine). Some teachers prefer this option to hand-washing clothes because it causes less damage to the clothes and the spin-cycle leaves the clothes much dryer than wringing them out by hand.

BILLS

The cost of facilities varies depending your “strata.” Lower-income neighborhoods are estrato 1 or 2. Most teachers live in areas that are strata 5 or 6, meaning the tax on these bills is higher.

Utilities:
  • Water
  • Gas
  • Land line to your apartment telephone
  • Electricity

NOTE: The local companies will shut off your facilities rather quickly if you do not pay on time; the fastest to go is electricity. Another hint: If you have an electric water heater, you can save money by turning your water heater off during the day or overnight. If you have a gas stove or a gas-powered water heater, you may need to buy a “pipa” or a tank of gas about once a month.

Extras: Ask the school for any additional services you would like and they can guide you through the process.

  • Celular phone: monthly plans are available through the school and the cost is taken directly out of your check.
  • Internet: Armenia has broadband through some companies such as UNE (formally EPM)[1]. You can get a cable/Internet combo for around U$70/month. If you decide to cancel your service before your one-year contract ends, you must pay a significant fee as a penalty.
  • Cable: includes several English speaking channels, including Fox, Universal Channel, Warner Channel, Cinemax, and others. Regular television without cable has about 7 channels, each entirely in Spanish.
Payment

All of your bills will be delivered to your apartment complex and often slipped underneath your door. You can pay all bills at the school in one of two ways:

  • Administration: The first option is to pay with your BanColombia card at the administration office by machine.
  • Messenger(Luis Eduardo Torres): The second option is to bring cash to the school and send it with the messenger, who leaves the school twice daily at 8:00am and 1:00pm. To send it with the messenger, leave your bill and cash with the director’s secretary. She will give you any change left over from your bill. Keep all receipts of your bills as sometimes you may get charged twice for the same month.

Paying while on vacation: If you decide to travel over Christmas or summer vacations, the school will have one of two options for paying your bills while away. Check with the school before you leave

Option 1: If the messenger is at the school during your vacation, he can pick up the bills at your apartment (tell your portero/doorman to hold them upfront) and the school will take the cost from your paycheck.

Option 2: If the messenger is not available over vacation, the bills can be delivered to the school and you will need to leave behind enough money to pay for them while you’re gone. Ask administration to help you transfer your bills to the school.

COMMUNICATING WITH HOME (generally for US/Canada)

Mail: Snail-mail in Colombia is generally very expensive and often unreliable. Do not have your friends/family mail you anything terribly important via regular US-Colombian mail because it can easily get lost or stolen. Mailing to the United States is very expensive (the base cost for one letter is around US $15). If you have the option, send any mail back with someone who is visiting the US/Canada.

If you expect to regularly send or receive items from the US, one option is Ultrabox. Ultrabox is a service that provides reliable delivery of packages from the US to Colombia. For a fee of US $25/year a subscriber gets a “suite” (mailbox) address in Miami to which packages are sent. Then, for a fee of US $4.50/lb. (plus any relevant import duties—books are duty-free, and gifts are taxed at the reported value at time of shipping. Check their web sitehttp://www.ultrabox.com/, packages are delivered to your Colombian address within a few days. The service appears to be much cheaper than international couriers like DHL. At times, packages were delayed in the Miami office, although they did eventually arrive.

Talking via computer: If you have the Internet at your home, cheaper options for long distance communication include Internet programs such as Skvpe, which allows you to talk from computer to computer over the Internet for free. You can download this program for free fromhttp://www.skvpe.com/ or search for similar programs. Skype also offers the option of purchasing a phone number with a local United States area code for around US $40/year. Your friends and family can call this number from a regular telephone and speak to you though the computer (or leave voice messages) at the same cost as a local phone call.

Phone: If you prefer to talk over the phone or do not have the Internet, a regular phone call from your apartment line will cost a little over US $2/minute. You can dial 190 on your phone and ask for a “llamada internacional” (international call). You then give the operator your area code and phone number. A slightly cheaper option is to visit an Internet café that has phone booths for international calls.

Pingo is another option. It works much like a calling card and can be purchased by credit card at http://www.pingo.com/ US$20 will purchase around two hours of calls to the US/Canada, and even longer if you have your friends or family call you from the US/Canada using your account). Pingo has a list of rates for calls from other countries on their website.

STARTING OUT AT THE SCHOOL

Welcome to Gimnasio Inglés. Below is information that will help you to become more acquainted with the school.

BACKGROUND

For a description of the school, the school’s mission and principles, information about SACS accreditation, and members of the Board of Directors, see the New Teacher’s Handbook, or the Elementary and Secondary Teachers Handbook.

If you have a suggestion or concern, be sure to follow the proper chain of command. The first person to start with would be your Department Head([2]), but they are often not prepared or authorized to help you, in which case the next step would be your principal or coordinator. Next is the director, Jaime Urazán, and after Mr. Urazán is the Board of Directors, though it is extremely rare that you will interact with people at this last stage.

FIRST WEEKS

Most foreign teachers arrive two or three weeks in advance of the first day of school and are required to go to school to prepare during this time. You will spend a few hours each day in meetings for cultural orientation, staff orientation, school orientation, and procedures. Use the rest of your time to prepare your curriculum and classroom, as well as become acquainted with available materials, your coworkers and the extensive support staff around you.

Do not be overwhelmed when looking at your class lists. At first, all of their names will appear incredibly similar, and most have two first names and two last names. For example, if a student’s name is Juan Carlos Ramírez Botero, he may be called “Carlos”. Ramírez is his father’s last name and Botero is his mother’s last name. You may also learn some of the students’ nicknames.

Students call most Colombian teachers by their first names. Most foreign teachers choose to be recognized by their last names, and a few students may ask why. You do not have to allow students to use your first name, but do not be insulted or surprised if they have the desire to do so.

TEACHER HOURS

Classes begin at 7:30am every day.
Classes end at 3:05pm Monday through Thursday, and 1:45 on Fridays.
Teachers must be at school during the following times:

  • Monday: (Reinforcement): 7:15 — 4:00pm
  • Tuesday (twice per month): 7:15am — 3:15pm
  • Tuesday (twice per month for Department Meetings): 7:15am — 4:45pm
  • Wednesday 7:15am — 4:45pm
  • Thursday: 7:15am — 3:15pm
  • Friday: 7:15am — 3:00pm

Arrival: The teachers’ bus arrives at school at 7:00am everyday. If you miss the school bus and arrive in a taxi, it will cost about $8.000 pesos.

Departure: The buses depart in the afternoons as listed above. Everyday there is a bus for administration that leaves at 4:45pm. You may take this bus if you need to stay after school.

Absences: There is no set number of absences allowed to any teacher. The school trusts that if you are absent it is for good reason. If you are absent for more than one day, the school may require you to bring a doctor’s note (Incapacidad). For the first few weeks in Colombia, you may experience some gastrointestinal distress as you adjust to the food and water.

If you are going to be absent, inform your principal or coordinator immediately. Have lesson plans and your daily schedule readily available for your substitute (the principal will find a substitute for you).

When a teacher is absent, the school does not have a permanent substitute. Therefore, you or your fellow coworkers will be asked to cover classes, which can often lead to confusion and disorganization as different teachers, both Spanish and English speakers, take over throughout your day. Write or have translated your substitute plans in Spanish just in case, and make them simple and clear. The rule of thumb is to assign work that must be completed within the hour so the students have something to work on and turn it at the end of class. Be aware that absence without good reason can be frustrating for your coworkers as they will have to cover for you and will be discount from your paycheck.

TRAVEL

School Buses: You will be transported to and from Gimnasio Inglés on school buses. These buses arrive at the school around at 7:00am and leave at the end of the school day in the afternoon (see teacher hours below). School buses often leave a few minutes late in the afternoons. School buses will also be available for teachers for various school-sponsored events such as visits to farms or events at the school over a weekend.

Public Buses: Buses are widely available and generally very cheap. A ride up or down La Catorce is around $800 pesos, a trip to Circasia around $1.200 pesos, and a trip to Salento around $3.000 pesos. Buses are also available to cities outside of Quindio, for example Bogotá (which is about an eight hour trip for $30.000 pesos). It is not advisable to use buses on overnight trips for safety reasons. Use very small change—bills of $10.000 pesos or less. You can catch buses going to other cities from “El Terminal,” the main bus terminal, located in south of Centro.

Taxis: Local travel is generally done by taxi or bus. You can call for a cab at anytime (746- 2222). Listen for the number of the taxi given to you by the operator, and when the taxi arrives, check the number on the side to make sure it is yours. The base cost of a taxi ride is $3.500 pesos during the day or $4.500 pesos after 8:00pm, Sundays, or holidays. Most of the important locations mentioned in the previous section are within this price distance from apartments in the north. A typical cab ride to the airport, El Eden, is around $23.000 pesos. Be careful of taxi drivers charging more to foreigners and make sure the meter or “taxímetro” is reset at the start of your trip. Tipping is not customary or expected. Taxi drivers prefer small change and will often not accept a bill of $50.000 pesos, and sometimes even a $20.000 bill.

Air Travel: Flight costs will vary depending on the travel season. For example, if you plan to travel during Semana Santa, the week of Easter break, make your flight plans at least four months in advance as spaces fill up very quickly and prices skyrocket. Flights are easy to arrange at a number of travel agencies. The school can provide you with some suggestions.

Anytime you leave Colombia after 60 days of entering, you will be required to pay the exit fee of about $58 dollars. Have this ready in cash at the airport as paying by credit can be more difficult.

TEACHERS’ DUTIES
  • Cafeteria Duty: Teachers must supervise students who have been assigned a cafeteria duty during their lunch hour once a week.
  • Tienda/Kiosk Duty: Teachers must supervise recess and lunch in areas around the tienda and kiosk to ensure the safety of students and the cleanliness of the campus during their free period or lunch hour once a week (See the Elementary or Secondary Teachers Handbook for a more complete description of recess guidelines).
  • Morning Duty: Each teacher will supervise students as they exit the buses and enter the school in the mornings for one week. They will direct students, parents, or visitors to where they need to go and encourage students to arrive in class on time.
  • Detention Duty: Four or five afternoons throughout the school year, teachers will be assigned to sit with students in after-school detention, making sure the students do not talk to one another or listen to music on their headphones.

SCHOOL EVENTS

Colombians consider outside events an important part of learning. You will find students skipping class to rehearse, prepare for and attend another event, go to a sporting event, or hear presentations from visiting institutions.

  • Flag Raising Ceremonies: These usually take place once a month. They are gatherings in the cafeteria for the purpose of communicating messages of responsibility, leadership, etc. and present students with various awards. Homeroom teachers will be responsible for organizing one flag raising ceremony during the year.
  • House Meetings: There are four houses green, orange, white and blue. You will be assigned to help a specific house prepare for various events throughout the year. House meetings are usually announced last-minute. They take up one entire class period and are usually scheduled for the end of the day.
  • Convivencias (Retreats): For one day during the year, each class will go to a finca (farm) for an entire day and work on improving group dynamics and teamwork.
  • Model United Nations (MUN): Some students in middle and high school will miss at least two days of class to attend the Model United Nations at neighboring schools. Students preparing to attend the Model UN may also miss class in order to prepare.
  • Leaders’ Forum (Foro de Líderes): students will invite other high schools to listen to and present lectures about various topics for two days.
  • Binational Games (Middle and High School): Once a year for an entire week, several students will be gone to attend Binational Games, a large sporting event involving several SACS (US accredited bilingual schools) throughout Colombia. So many of your students may be gone that two classes are often combined for the week (A and B together). Sports often come before academics, so a few of your students may miss class on a regular basis throughout the year to attend tournaments.
  • Science Fair: This fair will last for two days and students will set up science projects in the elementary rooms (for primary students), or in the middle school corridor, volleyball courts, and the kiosk (for middle and high). You may be asked to judge or supervise these projects.
  • English Day: Each year, one entire school day is dedicated to promoting the use of English. Activities will include a flag raising ceremonies and different games throughout the day. You will supervise one or more of these activities.
  • Cultural Week (Semana Cultural): For an entire week during second term, students will participate in Cultural Week. They will be divided into different activities according to their houses. Activities include singing, painting, a treasure hunt, an obstacle course, and many more. You will supervise at least one activity each day.
  • Report Card Days: Four Fridays of the year at the end of the each bimester, there will be no classes so parents can pick up their child’s report card. If you are a homeroom teacher, you will be seeing parents all day long. If you are not a homeroom teacher, it is likely that very few parents will come to visit you unless their child has a problem in your subject.
  • Curriculum Days: Four days of the year (one for each term), teachers will have a curriculum day without students. Teachers will meet as a large group and with their departments. These days may include team-building activities and time for planning and collaboration.
  • Holidays: Colombia celebrates several holidays throughout the year, often religious holidays. These holidays can cut your bimester shorter, so be aware of how many days you will not have school.
  • 11 Grade Exchange Program: Depending on the number of host families available, several students iii 11 grade will go to the United States for the final term of the year for an exchange program.
  • Seniors: Seniors have additional work and different grading requirements.

LIFE OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL

While you are in Colombia to do your job, remember to enjoy the country while you are there because it is your time outside of school that can greatly define your experience. School is an obvious priority, but remembers to take in as much of the Colombia as you can. The more you enjoy yourself outside of school, the more likely you are to enjoy being at school and recalling your life in Colombia later on.

OVERCOMING ISOLATION

Armenia is a small city and at times you may feel as though there is not much to do. Especially for foreign teachers coming to Armenia alone, it helps to overcome isolation by getting to know your coworkers and finding some regular social activities that you can do with them outside of school, such as visiting the museum, shopping in Centro, bowling, tennis, or short day trips. If you want to meet people outside of school, you can also sign up for dance lessons, join a gym, hire a Spanish tutor, or teach at the local universities.

If you do not speak Spanish, the hardest part may be the language barrier. Ask the school if they can offer lessons if you are interested in learning the language. Also, there are a number of Colombians looking to learn English. Ask around and you will quickly find people who will hire you as an English tutor. For many learners, lessons may simply entail having a conversation in English at a local bar or café for an hour.

SOME MUST DOS:

If you are looking for some unique cultural or site-seeing experiences, here is brief list of local activities you can do while you are here:

The Chiva: A chiva is a wooden bus, a mini-concert hall, a dance floor, and your ticket to see some small towns around Armenia at night. In the very back of the bus sits a small band of three or so musicians. In front of these musicians are wooden benches for seating, and at the front of the bus is a tiny dance floor with a pole in the center. A chiva will play music so you can dance up front as you travel from town to town. Once the chiva arrives at a particular town, everyone will leave the bus and dance around in the town square as the band plays. After 20 minutes or so, everyone will load back on the bus and repeat the process until the next town. Usually alcohol, such as aguardiente, rum, and beer, accompanies the travelers on their journey. It is quite an experience and difficult to describe.

Salento: Salento is a small town north of Armenia, about 30 minutes by bus. It is set higher in the mountains has a beautiful view of the countryside. It is also filled with small shops with handmade crafts and fun trinkets to take home. From Salento, you can also visit the Cocora Valley, which has some of the tallest “palm” trees in the world (Wax Palm).

Calarcá and the Mariposarium: Calarcá is a small town also about 30 minutes by bus. It has a large mariposarium, or butterfly garden, and you can take a guided tour through a preserve and learn about the local plant and animal life of the region. Also, a famous Colombian chef recently rated the empanadas made by Doña Luzmila in her tiny restaurant as the best in the region.

Quimbaya and the Lantern Festival: During the first few weeks in December, the city of Quimbaya has a festival of lanterns. At night, this small town becomes illuminated by candle light lining the streets in handmade paper lanterns. It is a peaceful and stunningly beautiful sight.

Canopy: If you’re into outdoor adventures, you can visit a number of small towns outside of Armenia and go cables riding several hundred feet off the ground. You will be given safety equipment, including gloves and a helmet, then hooked up to a cable that will carry you over treetops and farmland. It’s thrilling as you glide from one cable to the next over some outstanding landscapes.

Horseback Riding: Finally, on a personal note, this is my favorite activity of Colombia. You can visit a number of farms in or around Armenia and spend a day horseback riding through breathtaking countryside. Many of your students own horses and you may be invited to join your student’s family for a day at their farm. There are also horseback riding places in towns such as Tebaida, Salento, and others, where you can rent a horse for as long as you would like at low costs.

Ask the school if they could sponsor any of these activities throughout the school year and ask your students and coworkers for other recommendations of local activities and site seeing opportunities. You can also visit a number of local travel agencies that can give you ideas and contacts in both Quindío and other regions, especially the island of San Andres and the cities of Cartagena and Bogotá.

IMPORTANT LINKS

Legal Colombia World Wide Time

Good news about Colombia


[1]Other ISP options are: ETB, Coldecon or Telecom

[2]Deparment Head are only for academic issues.