If I were to describe my 2014 so far, in one word, it would be challenging.

I’d even go as far as to say that it’s my most challenging year yet. I feel this blog post may be somewhat therapeutic for me.

Back in March of this year, I moved to Medellín, Colombia. My Colombian fiancée had found herself an interesting job, and we thought it would be nice to have a change of scene.

It’s lovely; in fact, Medellín was named World City of Innovation last year. It’s colourful, friendly, and the food is good. People like to laugh, dance, and have fun, all the time. You should have seen this place during the World Cup – parties and fireworks and mariachis; I’ve never felt so excited about losing to Italy.

It’s now September and, being from the UK, I’m used to the leaves changing colours and blustery autumn days. I like how the seasons mark time and bring a new perspective on the world. So for me it’s odd to be living in a country where the weather always is the same and, quite frankly, perfect all-year-round.

Medellín is known as the City of Eternal Spring— and this means I have nothing to talk about with strangers. “Nice day for this time of year…” doesn’t cut it in a conversation in Colombia. I really have to find a new kind of small talk.

Colombians are outright optimistic; you may have heard that they were named the happiest people in the world back in 2012—and I’m not sure that much has changed in the last two years. As an Englishman, this presents me with a multitude of problems.
All this positivity and happiness is a difficult proposition for me, because I do rather like complaining – and there’s not much to complain about at all. I could whinge that I get stared at a bit by strangers, or that shop assistants tie knots in my shopping bags, or that people just don’t understand queuing here—but no, these aren’t real problems at all.

Luckily though, I do have some more tangible challenges for this year, and these are genuinely exciting for me. I’ll start with what is probably the biggest challenge of my life.

After a year of planning, impenetrable Catalan bureaucracy, and some intense (and sometimes heated) meetings with three of my colleagues, I co-founded a services sharing cooperative for teachers and translators in Barcelona.

We spent a year putting everything in order, making sure we were tax-registered, legal, had agreed on our cooperative statutes, among other things. Thankfully we have been able to share responsibilities, and spread the load, with each person taking on the jobs they felt they were most suited to. It’s been tough, but now it’s going to be ever tougher.
I’d estimate, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating here, that the cooperative takes up exactly 100% of my waking life – look, even now, when I’m blogging for the British Council, I’m thinking about it.

What makes us different? How do we attract new clients? How do we make sure we’re offering a good service? How can we improve? Is the website good enough? What did my student just say?

These are questions I’ve always tried to ask myself, in whatever job I’m doing – but as we’re just starting out, these are all quite pertinent to and will impact upon our success as a business.

I am currently juggling – or attempting to juggle – teaching, materials writing, managing social media for our cooperative, and finally project managing the development of our website. Finding time to do this, and to do it to a standard I’m happy with, is my biggest concern. I’m making ample use of Google calendars to help me schedule my life. I’m even thinking about factoring in my tea-making.
Now we’re about to launch the website and start advertising our services to customers. It’s a relief and a worry at the same time. I just wish I could predict the future.

In terms of teaching, I’d say it’s more of a pleasure than a challenge this year. I’m happy with my classes and my students are enthusiastic, punctual, and fun to be with. After spending nearly two years as an editor, it’s nice to be back in the classroom.

I’m working 100% freelance at the moment. I think that when I first arrived I would have been happier working through an academy. However, after several interviews offering me classes where I would be teaching using the latest method of language acquisition, I was put off.

I prefer a certain level of autonomy in the classroom, and I don’t put any faith in places offering quick-fix English solutions. As we all know, it takes hard work and dedication to learn a language – not a gimmicky sales pitch. Also, most of the work that academies were offering started at 6am. I hadn’t realised that that was an actual time. I’ll say no more.
So now I’m giving classes to local businesses on my own account. This gives me less security, but more control—I have no manager to answer to, though I do of course have clients, and I want to meet their needs.

To help me do so, this year I want to make sure my classes follow a set of principles:

I want to bring the students’ personal interests into the teaching. I want to keep my classes feeling like they are made for my students – and not just another boring class on conditionals

Where I can, I want to use authentic material. In my experience, students tend to get more out of real-life texts; they can be up-to-the-minute news, focused on their business or industry, fun or even quirky. The key, in my opinion, is to select videos, readings, and listening activities that will interest the students, will challenge but not overwhelm, and will motivate them. If the task is graded to the students’ ability, they will realise that although dealing with a real-life English texts is difficult, they can do it – and that often feels like a big achievement.

I don’t feel my previous business classes have focused enough on the industry that I’m teaching in. This year I’ve spent more time following their companies on Twitter, downloading articles and industry-relevant videos to use in the class. The students have responded well to this, especially when the article has been about company news they weren’t yet aware of. My challenge is to keep it focused, and remain aware and on top of my students’ needs.

My next challenge is how to summarise this blog post. It’s been a fascinating year so far, and I’m looking forward to the rest of it. 2015 is looming, and I can see that there will be lots of excitement and surprises – and I don’t think I’d have it any other way.

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