Nick Cheadle US teacher in Colombia

Nick Cheadle
English Teaching Assistant to Colombia 
Home Institution: Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois
Host Institution: Santiago University of Cali
Dates of Grant: 2009-2010

With each passing month I spend as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Cali, Colombia, I believe more and more in the importance of Fulbright’s mission of mutual understanding and think that the program, at least from my limited point of view as an individual grantee, is definitely fulfilling its mission. I believe this goal is generally met through a summation of many small interactions.

Nick (second row, right) and his students in conversation clubOne such interaction occurred in my classroom at La Universidad Santiago de Cali this past February. I focused my class on Black History Month in the United States and, among other activities, had my conversation club listen to Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddamn.” The song, as I had hoped, helped my students realize the intensity of the civil rights movement. As my Colombian students began to understand better the history of race relations in the United States, I also learned Colombians’ opinions concerning race in their own country. During my undergraduate studies, I read a book on the myth of racial harmony that exists here in Colombia and the quite different reality. My students, without my prodding, both relayed the myth and the differing reality. Through a set of questions concerning race relations in the United States (for instance, racism still exists even though Barack Obama is the President) my students gained a greater understanding of the reality of race in the U.S.  Cali, Colombia’s third largest city, has incredible diversity and an increasingly large Afro-Colombian population.  Hearing my students discuss race relations in Cali combined with my own experiences as an American living here furthered my understanding of Colombia.

Nick (center) volunteering with the women of LILA MujerMy classroom experiences have been augmented by my work with LILA Mujer, a non-profit organization focused on aiding women with HIV/AIDS in Agua Blanca, an Afro-Colombian neighborhood of Cali.  While helping Yaneth - the organization’s founder - with public relations and fundraising, I have also been privileged to get a glimpse into issues facing the women with whom she works and the incredible community that she and many others have created in their barrio (neighborhood).  Yaneth is part of a community that is fighting for increasing visibility and rights while celebrating the rich culture they and their ancestors have brought with them from the other side of Colombia’s western mountains.  Being with her provides me with an entirely new perspective on Afro-Colombian culture in action. At the same time, I have helped her understand that the United States is much more than what she has perceived it to be.
Although the interactions that form mutual understanding are not always so formal or academic, they occur nearly every day in some form. Colombians and other foreigners I know here in Cali consistently remark that their views of Americans and of the United States have become more nuanced since meeting me. There is no question that I have a much deeper and increasingly nuanced view of the complex Colombian psyche and the Colombian reality thanks to my daily interactions with its amazing people.  Mutual understanding, as Senator Fulbright said, is an “avenue of hope” and a goal I will continue to work hard to promote.

Posted via web from Galoperiscol´s stuff

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