Passion for Education & Cultural Exchange: A Colombian Teacher’s Journey to the United States

Andrea Photo

In the radiant tapestry of life, Andrea Castano Araque’s formative years in Bogotá, Colombia, were painted with the rich hues of cultural diversity, music, and dance. From an early age, she had been an ardent enthusiast of native songs and folk dances, forging a profound connection to her heritage that would ultimately become the cornerstone of her extraordinary journey. Today, her story serves as a beacon of cross-cultural education and artistic expression, shedding light on the transformative potential of the J-1 visa program. As a devoted teacher and artist, Andrea embarked on a mission to unite cultures through education and art, championing the idea that shared experiences can intricately weave a tapestry of understanding in our increasingly interconnected world. Her story highlights the vital importance of cultural exchange in today’s landscape, offering a poignant reminder of the beauty that arises when diverse perspectives converge.
Andrea Castano Araque was born in the beautiful city of Bogotá, Colombia—a place where cultural diversity, music, and dance beckon people from all corners. Since her earliest days, Andrea has been captivated by folk dances and native melodies. She fondly recalls, “When I was dancing as a child, I felt that all the people around me were joining me in joy and stomping.” Andrea is proud of her culture and continually seeks opportunities to share it with others.
According to Andrea Castano, cultural diversity is a priceless human asset, especially in a world where the exchange of cultural experiences and perspectives holds greater importance than ever before. Her journey, from being a teacher and artist in Colombia to her sojourn in the United States, epitomizes the power of these shared experiences.

Bridging cultures through education and art

As Andrea entered high school, she made the pivotal decision to delve deeper into her passion for art and dance. Collaborating with friends, she embarked on a journey of artistic exploration, which not only bolstered her self-confidence but also paved the way for her formal education in the performing arts. That journey has resulted in a bachelor’s degree in performing arts, 25 years of experience teaching at a Spanish cultural school in her homeland, and countless cultural programs sharing her passion with diverse communities.

“I worked in cultural programs with different communities. In particular, I focused on the art of theater and danced with children, teenagers, and adults in schools, foundations, and churches.”

Using art as a powerful tool, she has built a bridge between generations and cultures and conveyed her messages to others.
Despite her deep involvement in teaching and performing in Colombia, Andrea nurtured a fervent desire to share her experiences and artistry with a global audience. This yearning led her to the United States.

Andrea Photo

Andrea’s introduction to the J-1 visa program, which facilitates temporary stays for foreigners in the United States for cultural exchange, came through friends three years ago. Once she delved into the program’s details, her interest was piqued, and she set her sights on succeeding in this endeavor, eager to share her experiences and artistry with the people and students of the United States.

After a year of improving her English language skills, Andrea received acceptance into the J-1 visa program with the sponsorship of GeoVisions, finally realizing her dream in 2020 when she arrived in the United States. With a heart full of enthusiasm, Andrea says she entered a new mission in a unique and diverse environment. “GeoVisions facilitated this amazing trip for me to come here and share art and experiences with the American people.”.

Her mission was not without its share of challenges and difficulties. As an international teacher, Andrea encountered the complexities of navigating changes in the educational system and bridging cultural gaps. But with the continuous efforts and support of colleagues and officials of her school, she overcame these challenges.
Andrea has been teaching performing arts at Frank Gozik Elementary School in Dallas, Texas, for three years now, and along the way, she has met many students. This experience has only further reinforced her belief in the profound importance of cultural exchange, and that through art, people can be brought closer together, building a bridge to communicate across cultures.
Throughout her journey in the United States, Andrea has forged connections with students, colleagues, and host families. She has eagerly shared her experiences with them, relishing these meaningful exchanges. These cross-cultural interactions have played a pivotal role in broadening her own perspective and deepening her understanding of the world.

A story of blending cultures and promoting peace through education

One particular memory stands out in Andrea’s recollection. On one occasion at her school, students had gathered for a celebration of local dances and festivals. Tensions arose when a Hispanic student clashed with an African-American student, and the situation escalated with raised voices. While others watched, not willing to insert themselves into the confrontation, Andrea stepped forward. “I unexpectedly invited them to dance. They started dancing and mingled. Gradually, the two danced well, laughed at each other, and felt happy.” Andrea seized the moment to impart a profound lesson, saying, “Dear friends, life is like a dance. Sometimes we only seem to face contradictions and differences, but if we want to harmonize and hold hands, we can simultaneously make life dance with music.”

Afterwards, these two students shook hands, and a deep friendship was formed between them from that time. They have remained loyal friends and fellow dancers ever since. “On this cross-cultural journey, I dance to the tune of diversity and empathy, to build a bridge through education, art, and communication to foster global understanding and promote peace in the hearts of the world’s students,” Andrea said.

Andrea’s journey transcended the classroom, inspiring connections between individuals from diverse backgrounds. Her experiences fueled her conviction that cultural exchange could be a powerful catalyst for communication and understanding. “Cultural exchange and education are bridges to a more balanced world of peace and coexistence,” Andrea affirmed.

Andrea Photo

A transformative experience for the school

Dr. Adriana Davis, the principal at Frank Guzik Elementary School, hailed the innovative impact of international teachers like Andrea through the J-1 visa program. Andrea’s approach to education, including outdoor classes that celebrate diversity and collaboration, enriched the school community and empowered students with unique learning experiences. And Andrea’s extensive background in art and music has led her to embrace new teaching strategies that have positively impacted the school community, providing unique learning experiences for students. “Putting classrooms outside the school is an innovative approach to education, providing students with a unique and engaging learning experience. I like this idea of Mrs. Andrea. She emphasizes the importance of experiencing diverse cultures and perspectives through the J-1 visa program.”

“Despite the challenges, the school has reaped many rewards from its commitment to the J-1 visa program,” Dr. Davis continued. She believes that by bringing in international educators, the school ensures that students benefit from experienced teachers who may need to become more familiar with the US curriculum, but can bring a variety of teaching techniques to the classroom.

Continuing the journey

Andrea participated in this program to develop her knowledge of performing arts. Her journey has now made her an international coach. She believes that by improving her teaching skills and sharing the culture of Colombia with others, she can gain new experiences and grow personally and professionally. “I learned a lot from this new experience in a different education system,” she said. This experience has led to developing a new perspective, improving strategies, and enhancing the quality of teaching at her school.
With two years remaining in her teacher exchange program, Andrea is already looking forward to bringing her knowledge and experience back to her country to teach students in public and private bilingual schools. “I will provide students with new educational programs using the international education systems IB and AVID,” she said, with the goal of equipping them with the skills to navigate a global culture and coexist harmoniously with others.

In her own words, “My experience as an international educator and supporter of cultural exchange shows that cultural exchange and education can serve as a bridge for communication and understanding between people. In a world where differences sometimes cause discord, cultural exchange leads us to a deeper understanding of each other and balances the scales of peace and coexistence. I learned from this experience that communication and exchange are the best way to build a better world, where we all come together and share our values and humanity.”
Andrea Castano’s role as an educator transcends the traditional boundaries of a classroom; she acts as a bridge builder, connecting individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds. Her journey exemplifies the transformative power of cross-cultural education, underscoring GeoVisions’ pivotal role in fostering connections between people. Through her unwavering dedication, she promotes love, collaboration, and community, inspiring a generation to embrace diversity and strive for a more harmonious world. Andrea’s fervent passion for connecting people of different cultures serves as a shining example of the boundless potential of human connection.