The Day I Went Back to School

One of the first things I do upon arriving in Bogota is to research language schools. I want an intensive program so I can acclimate as quickly as possible. It would be easier if I could understand if the porteros are telling me there is a gas leak and how serious it might be… rather than asking Gray to double check.

After reading reviews and looking at locations, I settle on a language school just a 15 minute walk from home called Nueva Lengua.

Before the first day, I have to take a written placement test and an oral interview. I take the written exam at home and feel surprised – this is so easy! I’m definitely going to be in the advanced class. I imagine I won’t need to be in class for more than a few weeks.

I leave early the first day, checking Google Maps surreptitiously on my phone every few blocks for directions. Despite every Carrera and Calle being in numerical order, there still seem to be a lot of “bis”, “diagonal”, and “a, b, c” versions of the streets that make it easy to get confused, and I have already gotten lost once in this neighborhood.

I arrive at school and make my way inside the gates. Nueva Lengua is located in a nice neighborhood called Quinta Camacho. It is full of restored brick houses, with lots of shops and restaurants nearby, including a curbside bakery that sells addictive chocolate chip bread and a vegetarian restaurant where I once got a delicious three course meal for only a few dollars.


After managing to communicate to the staff that it is my first day, I make my way upstairs to the coordinators who look at my test scores and direct me to a couch for the oral interview.

Classes start at 9am, and every Monday is chaos with new students arriving, taking exams, and moving between classrooms.

I sit on a couch in a narrow hallway with students and teachers rushing by every few minutes and hearing bursts of conversations in all sorts of languages from the open classroom doors.

The interviewer glances at my written exam and starts asking me basic questions about myself, when I got here, why I chose to study in Colombia, etc.

I’m still not used to Colombian accents and the noise makes it hard to hear. Am I sweating? It feels so stuffy in here, I think as I sit next to an open window. I think this is my lowest point in speaking Spanish since I arrived in Bogota.

She asks me to tell her what I did last week. I start to answer, but she interrupts me to ask the question a different way. I’m confused and think I misunderstood her first question. I’m not even sure if I should lie for the sake of saying something easy like, “Fui al parque,” (I went to the park) rather than the much more complicated… “I spent the week taking Ubers to and from the hospital to visit my husband who was recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, oh and my daughter turned one on Sunday but it was too depressing to get a cake we couldn’t eat so we just skipped the celebration.”

I wait too long debating my answer, and finally, in English, she says to me, “I’m trying to see if you know the difference between the Preterite and the Imperfect tenses.”


I am placed in the lower intermediate class.

Definitely. Not. Advanced.

One thought on “The Day I Went Back to School

  1. I love reading about your life in Colombia. I am remembering my year in Russia as I hear about your trials. My problem when I arrived was that I had previously learned in class how to ask these useful questions, e.g. “How do I get to the drugstore,” etc. But when I spoke them, the Russians would take off answering so fast I couldn’t understand them. Good luck with your language skills. You will improve so much.


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