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College of Education > News and Publications > News: Oct.-Dec. 2012 > Recent Alumna Volunteers as a Teacher in Colombia

Recent Alumna Volunteers as a Teacher in Colombia

Brittney Diesel, recent College of Education Alumna, works as a volunteer kindergarten teacher in Bogota, Colombia

Brittany Diesel with her studentsA cool breeze sweeps the early morning streets high in the Andes Mountains. The sun is just barely up, but Brittney Diesel is already on her way to work. When she gets there she’ll be surrounded by little arms and little faces, each waiting in line to give her kisses and hugs. “Miss Diesel, you crazy!” they call out. But, she’s not crazy; she’s a kindergarten teacher at El Camino Academy in Bogota, Colombia.

El Camino Academy was founded in 1980 to provide a US-style education to the children of foreign missionaries. Now they teach students from Colombia as well in what is known as a “third culture” school, not wholly American or Colombian, but a mix of the two. “We want our students to be bilingual to prepare them for the world,” Brittney says. “Most of our students speak Spanish at home and everywhere else outside of school, which is why we teach them in English at school.”

This year, Brittney is the lead teacher in her classroom. “I’m creating my own classroom – curriculum, routines, procedures, little things that define the vibe in my classroom,” she says. It is hard work, and Brittney frequently puts in 12 hours or more a day, but she admits it’s worth it. “I know that I am growing so much as a person and a teacher because of it.”

Brittney is doing all this work for free. Teachers at El Camino Academy are unpaid volunteers, missionaries covering their own living expenses which the school estimates to be between 800 and 1300 dollars a month.

This was not an easy choice for Brittney. “I have loans that I have already started paying back,” she explains, “but for my life, I have decided that I am never going to let money stop me from doing what God wants me to do.”

At first, Brittney felt uncomfortable about fundraising, but a friend convinced her to try. She wrote her friends, family, and members of the State College community, and in less than two months she was able to raise the money. For Brittney, it was the right decision. “My students are full of energy,” she says. They are brave. They “try to speak English every day.” Brittney, who is working to learn Spanish, understands their struggle. “My students help me translate what I’m teaching and speaking into Spanish to help them learn.”

This is not the first time she has worked with Spanish-speaking students. Brittney chose to participate in the urban teaching experience offered by the college of education. “My experience in Philadelphia working with bilingual and ESL students gave me a taste of what I am experiencing here in Colombia.” She recalls. (Brittney is featured in a video about urban education experiences.)

She is especially grateful to her professors who taught by example, demonstrating how to build relationships and create a classroom community. “I had a few professors who took the time to get to know me personally, and because of that I learned so much more.” She does her best to apply this in her own classroom. “One of the challenges I face is time. There is always more you can do with your students, and there is that feeling that there is never enough time.” Brittney says. Still, she tries to make the extra effort to give all her students the one-on-one attention they need.

Brittney enjoys the culture and language in Colombia. She loves eating ajiaco soup and snacking on arepa con queso. Most of all she loves the sense of community around the school. “It’s a beautiful mix of ages and personalities. The one thing that brings us all together is that we are all crazy enough to leave our comfortable lives and to move to another country for a bigger purpose. We like to share ideas and support each other in our teaching.” Because of this community, she says, “Colombia feels like home.”

-- by Chris Whitehead (October 2012)