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Race in Latin America

Life update:

  1. I have found a place to live that is semi-close to where I teach. Now I have a 45-minute commute instead of 1 hour and 45 minutes. I live with a Chilean woman and a Senegalese-French woman. And a kitten. It’s common in Latin America (and maybe all the world over?) to toss out black cats or kill them, since they’re considered bad luck. When Miry found our little guy, he was in pretty bad shape out on the street. Now he’s a happy camper and seems to thoroughly enjoy being pampered by his three moms. Which brings me to update #2. 1015894_460224607519779_9180756673306851881_o
  2. I own a cat. Or rather, a cat owns me, as it often goes. He likes to sleep on me as I’m lesson planning or reading, a quiet sort of companionship I value with other living beings. So kudos to you, tiny, photogenic little ball of fur. 12823250_460836840791889_3598935602985658_o
  3. I’ve rediscovered the magic of the “feria,” essentially an open market in which fresh fruits and veggies are brought straight from the campo to the city. I spent under $10 on my last haul, which included a couple kilos of strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries. 12032628_461844950691078_5977920025023550141_o
  4. My first week of teaching went pretty well, although many of my students have behavioral problems and lack motivation, due to a variety of factors I assume. It’s in an “economically disadvantaged” area, as we would say in the US. There are a lot of family issues and a dearth of some educational basics that I have to compensate for. Fortunately I can relate to some degree, given my own background.So I’m trying to use a super interactive methodology that’ll keep them interested. I’m not sure it’s exactly what Freire had in mind, but I try.
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    The perfect brand for when you just don’t want to beat around the bush.

    I’m finding that I enjoy teaching, but I would really prefer a dynamic like that of some of the classes I had the chance to take in college – more of an equal exchange between professor and student and less of an authoritarian atmosphere. I feel like I’m forced into that role a little bit here. It’s hard to navigate these overlapping matrices of privilege and oppression, in general, let alone in the classroom. But the very least I can do is emphasize that my classroom is a safe space and communication is paramount, more important than speaking with perfect grammar and/or pronunciation. I wholeheartedly believe in this concept of mutual learning and I learn from them every day. They teach me patience, flexibility, and help me maintain a sense of humor.

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    A rose quartz necklace a woman from Paraguay made for me. 

Despite all this learning and growing and other awesome stuff going on, I came to an impasse with my students once this week. We were going over how to describe people’s physical attributes, when one student used “the N-word,” as we would euphemistically call it in the States, to refer to another student. I was already aware that some Chileans toss around that word much more nonchalantly than in the U.S. Since Chile doesn’t have a history of Black slavery, in contrast with the U.S., racial slurs don’t seem to have as much bite here as they do elsewhere. Regardless, I tried to explain to my students that the term is incredibly offensive and that they really shouldn’t be using it, even as a sign of endearment “entre amig@s” or between friends. They just laughed.

Nothing I could say made a difference.

It was really difficult to know I had a teaching opportunity in my hands, but the soil wasn’t fecund,so to speak. I think if only I had phrased it differently, maybe I could have made an impact. So that was my first failure as a teacher. On the other hand, I wonder if the old adage that “we learn only when we’re ready to learn” is true.

Discussing this incident with my roommate, she was, naturally, appalled. However, she commented that as a Black woman in Latin America, she’s never heard any racial slurs directed at her. On the contrary, while walking with her to the feria or around town, I hear piropos (basically catcalls) shouted at her every five seconds – “que linda,” “que hermosa,” “que preciosa” (how pretty, how beautiful, how precious). She says it doesn’t bother her at all. She commented that probably Chileans’ only exposure to the infamous “N-word” is music and TV shows from the U.S. Obviously race in Latin America is a complex and nuanced topic with a ton of layers to peel back, but I definitely don’t intend to drop the issue in my classes. For any sort of multicultural education to take place, real issues have to be tackled, and I intend to make some headway.

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One more photo of Cat because I love him.

IN PRAISE OF FEAR

This is going to be a really short and inarticulate post, as I’m caught between looking for apartments, doing my teaching orientation, and dealing with a second-degree burn.

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Llegando

I arrived safe and sound to Chile – with a few blunders – and immediately went to Quilpue to visit a friend and her boyfriend. We went to a wine tasting and saw the sunset over the ocean in Valpo. Then, I decided to take a few days to enjoy on the beach in Viña before starting my new job.

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Valparaiso, mi amor
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Quilpue

Turns out that wasn’t the best decision because I got a truly impressive sunburn on my legs and feet that resulted in a nasty blister the size of a grapefruit.

Besides that, it was great.

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No filter y’all

Then, I traveled back to Santiago for orientation. It’s been fairly difficult due to my burns. It’s really hard for me to walk, so it’s difficult for me to explore the city or even get to my campus. But I’ve tried to maintain the best attitude possible. The on-site coordinator here in Santiago was kind enough to accompany me to the hospital, where a nurse from el sur de Chile did things with a knife for an hour to my feet as we talked about his experiences living in Santiago.

At the Registro Civil, where I had to register my visa, someone made an error on my card and I had to go back to correct it, which entailed a long bureaucratic process across town. I was feeling overwhelmed and upset, when I hopped into a taxi to save my swollen feet.

The driver was calmly peeling a mango with one hand and smoking with the other. Bien chileno, se dice aca. The second I opened the taxi door he handed me a mango slice and said, “Toma, mijita.” And then I realized how lucky I am to be here. That’s that good shit – taxi drivers sharing fruit with you and secondhand smoke that makes your eyes water. That’s where the meat of life is, I think. In the small moments like that.

He and I spent the rest of the drive talking Latin American politics, music, and literature. He gave me safety advice, como soy “una hijita sola en la ciudad grande.” He asked about my bandaged feet, as everyone does, and he implored me to take good care of myself, wear sunscreen, and guard my belongings well on the metro. By the time I got out of the taxi, I had gathered his entire life story and he knew mine.

Asi es vivir a lo chileno.

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Museo de la memoria

Despite this realization – that unexpected connections are the best part of traveling – I have come to terms with the fact that I am afraid. I’m afraid of the basic things like getting lost and getting robbed, but also subtler issues like how others perceive me (white neocolonialist asshole, blonde bimbo, exotic foreigner) and making the most of my time in Latin America.

Here is the conclusion I have reached: Fear is also some good shit.

That’s the shit that pushes you out of your comfort zone and into the (in)famous zone of learning and growth.

I’m not as afraid of getting lost now that I’ve gotten lost and survived. I’m not as worried about navigating public transportation here since I took the metro, the micro and a talagante to my campus. All while hobbling on my swollen grapefruit feet.

I’m not talking about a crippling fear here, but rather the type of fear that pushes me to try new things and embrace ambiguity.

Thinking about my time spent in a cubicle at a flooring company in Texas makes me so grateful that I’m in a position now to challenge myself and to grow.

There is nothing to be gained from stagnation, I’ve learned.

It’s scary to live in another country in another culture speaking another language in which you stick out like a sore thumb. It’s scary to start a job with no experience in that field whatsoever. It’s not fun to hobble around Santiago with my peg legs and to come back to a hostel where I live out of a backpack.

But it’s also so incredibly rewarding, in large part due to the challenge.

For example: I don’t know how or if I’m going to shower tonight because I can’t get of my gauze wet.

Another example: It took me 4 hours to get my Chilean cell phone yesterday since I forgot that in Latin America everything opens after 10 am at least and then the represenante wasn’t there because someone had a birthday, so I trekked across town again. And finally the dude couldn’t read the programming since it was in English and I did some (awful) on-the-spot translation. But it was an experience.

Last example: On the talagante bus thing to my campus, the bus driver invited me to sit up front and we talked for half an hour about racism and classism in Latin America. He let me know when we got to my stop and said the habitual, “Chao, mi niña, cuidese, que estes bien,” Bye, my child, take care, be well.

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Plaza de Armas

Then a very kind Chilean woman took my hand and guided me across a busy highway, through a “shortcut” to my campus. She then hugged and kissed me and called me “mi amor” before heading to work herself.

Today I had my meeting with my mentor and coordinator on site. I LOVED them and the other teacher I met. I honestly couldn’t be happier with them. In typical Chilean style, we had a brief meeting, then a smoke break for them which meant just talking on my part, then almuerzo (lunch) together. Then they insisted on driving me to the metro.

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What do Taylor Swift, Fidel Castro, and a dinosaur have in common? They all eat hot dogs. 

Ximena and Andrea were so enthusiastic and welcoming that it made me feel really comfortable even though I’m new to teaching. Ximena studied English linguistics and literature and Andrea has a teaching degree in English, so they know their stuff. Andrea loves food and cooks constantly. Ximena is a self-described “nerd” and is a Viking chief online.

I love love love the Chilean style of relationships – sharing food, taking your time to talk with someone, and helping each other out.

Also worth noting – The view from my campus is a pirate ship in a parking lot in front of some mountains. No one knows where the pirate ship came from or what it’s doing there, which I love. I will keep you all updated on the pirate ship mystery as the saga develops.

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Actual view from campus

Study Abroad vs. Teach Abroad

Just like every study abroad experience is different, as are Teach abroad experiences. Even within the same country. It depends on your host city as much as your host Teach site.

I’ll make the following comparison between two particular elements of the abroad programs.

Duoc Sites* are like host families; you're told whom you have soon before arriving but you really don't know what it will be like until you get there. There are a lot of first impressions, misunderstandings and occasional mess-ups, but co-habitation grows and tests you. Quirks become individual charm (ex: host dad's odd Malbec and soda water before each afternoon siesta; or the choral "Chau, buenas" from the teacher's lounge every time someone leaves work). And awkward moments become routine (never understanding how to use the bidet and it’s too late to ask, or wondering how to get the loads of mayonnaise off of everything they feed you; or a tardy student who knocks musically on the door and then makes a big scene upon entering). Like I said, they test you.

Each situation involves sacrifices and integrative steps from both parties. Starting is turning the glitter globe -your world, or your beliefs about the world- upside-down. Adjusting is letting gravity settle the pieces and integrating is accepting and acknowledging where the pieces ultimately fall. It is a long-term process; one that I’m happy to participate in here in Chile as well as pick-up every time I return to Mendoza for a visit.

Host families and Duoc Sites can be a defining part of the abroad experience, or they can be just a small factor of it all. They can be your friends and family, or they can be your shelter and your rent. It depends on goals and vibes. However, they do require commitment and responsibility on your part. They are not only there to give you an experience or opportunity, but you are also there to do your part. Ultimately, the journey is figuring out what “your part” will be.

*DUOC UC is a technical and professional institution (comparable to a community college) founded by the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. There are 14 sites with varying technical and professional degrees. There is one site in each Viña del Mar, Valparaíso, and Melipilla, while the rest are located in Santiago. Degrees include tourism, health, design, construction, communication and more. For more information go to http://www.duoc.cl/nosotros.

Past to Present: Experiences as a foreigner

Mendoza, Argentina: You knew me first when I was a scared homesick tongue-tied simultaneously let-it-be student. And you changed me.

Viña del Mar, Chile: You knew me first when I was an unstoppable, determined, don't-look-back, go with the flow, focused, unprepared English professor. And you changed me.

And here I am, hour 3 of the mountainous, breathtaking and nauseating traverse between Argentina and Chile. This is the conclusion of a 6-day visit home to Mendoza for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.  I feel as if I'm traveling over the curvy (hence the nausea) path between my past and my present: The four years smushed into 7-12 hours (depending on how congested customs is). It wasn't easy for me to get here, on this bus. In fact, I was supposed to return 3 days ago. But many things can happen in a short time.

This time four short years ago I was right in the middle of my study abroad semester in Mendoza, Argentina, located 7 hours from Santiago, Chile. My program of 30 or so students was composed completely of people I hadn't met before. I was eating two meals daily with a traditional, Argentinean Jewish family who spoke a language that made me question everything I'd been taught in Spanish class up until that point.

I was tucked under the wing of my program, my host family and the title “student”, as well as the financial security of my family back in the U.S. It was monumental for me to find a home and friends in another culture and language, and I left with "muchas ganas" of returning to see all I had left unseen. As my host father said upon my departure: "siempre hay que irse sin hacer todo, para tener razónes de volver:" Always leave a place without doing everything, so you have a reason to return. And so I did. I've since returned three more times, first for the wedding of my host sister and then over holiday weekends from Chile.

Now, I'm 6 months into my 10 month (or longer) stay in Viña Del Mar, Chile as a part-time English professor at a professional and technical institute, DUOC UC. Unlike the cushions of study abroad, we were tossed into our lives and jobs here in Chile. I remember blindly making my way through my first exhausting month teaching, only being able to envision one or two classes ahead while searching for a home in a city I hadn't mapped out yet. The part-time job felt like a full-time commitment. Hectic yet exhilarating! It helped that Valparaiso and the sea are beautiful at all times of day, and Spanish is like a deep tissue massage of the ears.

A seasoned one semester in, DUOC life is less imposing and pre-class pep talks to myself are less frequent. My schedule is more manageable and planning is quicker, giving me time for attention to detail and to be creative. The students seem more agreeable and motivated, but I’m not sure yet if that’s true or if it’s just perception. Like second semester in the U.S., the weather is improving and holidays and summer are approaching, giving a nice lightness to the semester. I’m very grateful to have a second semester here. I’m better able to reflect and see how I’ve changed while still actively participating in the experience, which is something I didn't get to fully experience in Argentina. 

Unlike my past, my present is in constant change. The bus continues swerving around the bends of the cliffs and the peaks become snowier, blending into the grey sky. Below, the icy river runs back toward Mendoza. But soon, after a few more turns and a few more stamps on my passport, the river will suddenly change direction, to flow down toward whatever awaits in Viña.

CIEE Teach in Chile 2015 Participant Blogger

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What A Teacher Gains

We are now well into our second semester of students, and already this round is so much easier to manage than the first. I learned so much about how to organize a class, demand respect, and about how much strength I possessed. I successfully taught my first batch of 68 students, and what is truly is amazing is how much I can personally tell they improved! And, as I’m sure many first time teachers say, I’m amazed at how much I have learned from them! I teach at DuOC, which is a technical institute associated with La Universidad Católica. It’s best compared to a community college in the States. Many of my students do not come from wealth or privilege but they posses an inspirational desire to learn! I had an incredible conversation one afternoon with one of my students who told me that because he has to work so hard to get an education, rather than feeling entitled to it, he is a better student, worker, and person than some of his peers at expensive, private schools. From Day 1 when I nervously stood in front of my class feeling like a child playing dress up, to now, this has surely been a journey.

And just what have I gained?

Improved Confidence

Imagine never having taught a class, and you are sitting in a classroom staring at 20 empty seats about to be filled by students your age at any moment. Scary, isn’t it? Those few minutes waiting for my students were terrifying, like an army of butterflies in my stomach. When my first student walked in, he gave me a strange glance because I looked so obviously different than the teachers he’s accustomed to. I smiled, said “Buenos Días! ¿Comó se llama?”, and reached out my hand. After a spurt of laughter, he leaned in and kissed my cheek, “Buenas Profe!”. Within the first minute as a teacher I had already committed my first cultural faux-paux, but that one laugh and kiss helped put my nerves at bay. As my other students walked in and greeted me with a kiss on the cheek, my first student and I shared a secret smile. Teaching over the last seven months, was a day by day learning experience. Some days it felt like pulling teeth to get any student to participate, and other days almost every hand was raised. By the end of my first semester, I was never nervous before class. Managing to make all my classes, with an average age of 23, respect me, listen to me, and even enjoy coming to class has been one of my greatest accomplishments thus far.

Patience

The best teachers you remember having were always the ones who were most patient with you. I knew that learning to be more patient would be necessary for me, as patience has not always been one of my strong suits. What surprised me is how naturally I became patient with my students. Maybe because I was only in their shoes just a short year ago, and I understand the frustrations as a student when your teacher does not make the necessary time for you, but my impatience never showed (with the exception of my Adventure Tourism students NEVER showing up on time for class). I would spend weeks enforcing the idea that in the present tense, we add “s” to the end of the verb for he, she, and it…but students would still constantly make the same mistake, “She live in an apartment. He drink beer. It sleep all day.” But rather than getting frustrated or upset at my students, I would have to take a deep breathe, smile, and come up with a new trick to teach the same material. You would be astounded at how creative us teachers have to get sometimes. To remind a class that “S” comes after he, she, and it… I split the class in groups and made them come up with a name, and adjectives for their group pet snake. All of the snakes were either he, she, or it, and always make an “sssssss” sound. So, whenever the snakes did anything, they HAD to add an “s”. The snake driveS a car. The snake eatS eggs… Maybe super corny, but hey it worked!

Appreciation

What do I mean when I say I have gained appreciation? Well, two things.

First, being with these students has further helped me appreciate everything I have had in my life. Here, a week does not pass when students are not protesting for better education, and I had the chance to go to Princeton Review’s Most Beautiful Campus in the United States. I had a perfect university experience, with professors that challenged me, and opportunities to grow as a conscientious world citizen. I graduated with no debt because my parents worked hard to provide me with the blessing of a stress-less undergraduate career. I’m from a loving family, and wonderful small town outside of New York City. I am part of a small percentage of people in this world who have been as lucky as me.

Second, this past semester my students have taught me greater appreciation for the culture I am currently living in. One day early in the semester, my intermediate classes had to do a lesson about things that were “Typically American”, so to make the lesson more relevant to them I asked them to tell me things that are “Typically Chilean”. And what did I learn? Much to their delight I google-searched “Indio Picaro” on the computer displayed on the whiteboard. If you want to know why my class erupted into laughter, google it too. They told me about Chilean cuisine, the most beautiful and famous villages, the typical dances and games, and the mysterious Chilean mythology and folklore. From that day forward, if I ever had a question or curiosity about this country, they were my first resources. They loved to be the ones teaching me something, and boy did I learn a lot from them. (One day they decided to tell me that the Chilean phrase “A lo gringo” means when you go commando… they had a big laugh at that one too).

Affection

One of the greatest testimonies that I managed my first classes well, is how much affection I received from my students at the culmination of this semester. Every class asked if I was teaching again next year, a handful of students brought me presents, one class wrote and played me a song, many students offered to be my Chilean tour guides, every student gave me hugs and kisses, and many sent me heartwarming emails. I was so touched getting an influx of love to my inbox saying “Thank you for always being happy, with a smile for me!”  ”I learned so much because you are the greatest teacher!” “Thank you for everything, this was the first time I was in an english class that I liked!” “Miss, don’t ever change the way you are because you are love personified!”. Without a doubt, the best email I received from a student didn’t say anything but he simply sent a smiley face. :)

All the affection during the last week of the semester helped remind me that all of my hardwork did not go unnoticed, and that my time in Chile is not only serving to benefit me, but also my wonderful students who are pushed even further in their english classes by being stuck with a “gringa” profe.

And now, I am excited to see how much more I will gain with my second batch of students! 

 

- Katie

1 down, 1 to go

On July 10th, my liceo had an acto (assembly) to celebrate the end of the first semester. (For those of you wondering how I remember the date so clearly, it's because I looked at the date stamp on the photos I took. Clever, I know).

 

Before I even begin, I need to state that this was the best assembly I have been to yet! It was well-organized and well-executed. It was not too long or too short. It had an appropriate mix of business protocol (awards, announcements, etc) and performances. Also, as everyone walked in, there was movie soundtrack music playing. I walked in feeling literally like a super hero. Epic!

 

The director (principal) gave a speech. Like always, he told a story from his childhood, in order to relate to the students...He is young and he is new at this leadership role, but he is a fantastic writer. I normally find his discourses enjoyable, but this one knocked all others out of the park! He spoke about finding inspiration and focusing on your values in order to make decisions and he spoke about working hard to achieve your goals. He articulated the importance of education in one's journey to success, noting that it is something one can always carry with them. I almost cried by the time he finished speaking. What impacted me more than his actual words, however, was the complete reflection and focus shared by all. As I looked around, there was not a single student poking a friend or giggling at a classmate. Literally everyone in the school was listening to what the director had to say. An entire gymnasium filled with teenagers 7th through 12th grade. That's impressive!

 

Later, awards were distributed to the top students in each curso (class) for the semester and to the most esforzado (most hard-working students). I was asked to give the esforzado award to the 7º y 8º students. They were so nervous when I handed them the award with a hug and the traditional beso. They awkwardly walked away as my host mom tried to take a picture, which I later discovered was too dark to even salvage...It was a nice feeling to be part of the ceremony in that way.

 

Among the student performances was a group of my kids playing a cover of a Victor Heredía song "Razón de vivir" (it's a beautiful song and I actually think I like their version better than the original), and one of my 1ºA girls singing "Someone Like You" by Adele. There were a few pronunciation errors, but overall she sounded great. I was overwhelmed with emotion, due to pride in my students' accomplishments over the semester and the fact that my freshman was singing in English in front of the school...I almost cried. Again.

 

That evening, we came back to the liceo to give a shortened version of the assembly for the parents. But instead of students getting awarded, the parents got awards for being involved and for participating in their version of the PTA.

 

Since I don't do a lot with the parents at the school, I took the opportunity to bond more with the music kids who were there to perform. They were so excited for me to take photos of them with their instruments. A former band-geek, myself, it was comforting to relate to them in a way outside of "everyday" school activities. I know that they enjoyed this connection as well, especially since their music teacher isn't the most progressive or educational soul... I helped them take apart the drum set and the microphones and we talked. I realized then how much I miss making music. It was such a big part of my life growing up, and it's been so long since I've played. I don't miss clarinet, however. I feel strangely disconnected from it now. I need to find another instrument. I need to be a part of a musical group again.

 

What can we gain from this post? A realization of how quickly time passes. I have been here for half of an academic year and the second half will pass even quicker (with holidays in every month). I have no time to waste. I have to make the most of what time I have. This doesn't apply solely to me. This goes for everyone, doing everything. Take pride in what you do and embrace what's around you. If you can't, something needs to be changed.

 

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(this is what a typical convivencia looks like...leave it to the kids to bring "dishes to pass")

 

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(they push all of the desks together and cover them with table cloths, like one big table to share at)

 

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(at the acto after the convivencia...students and teachers waiting for the show to begin)

 

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(there was a dance number performed by several of the liceo's finest dancing chicas)

 

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(students and the director with their awards)

 

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(Several of the teachers and I looking fancy in our assembly attire...my host mom found her niece's old dress pants in the closet and insisted that I wear them because it is necessary to wear dress pants when you present an award. Also, the two teachers on the end are notably pale. By comparison, I look like a sack of flour.)

 

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(los guitarristas antes del acto apoderado...the assembly for the parents that evening) 

 

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(didn't know him before this evening, but he is now one of my biggest fans) 

 

 

Better late than never...Happy 4th of July (from Chile)!

I've gotten extremely far behind on these posts. My apologies to anyone following...I can say in all honestly, however, that it's a good thing. This means that I have been so consumed by my life here, that I have had no time to sit here and compose a message. 

Here's some old news, just to fill you in.

 

4th of July. Chilean-style. 

 

My liceo in Chile is not as American as some of the schools where other volunteers work. As such, I was not able to have a fantastic patriotic extravaganza like I originally had hoped for. Entonces...I worked with what I had.

I wore red, white, and blue. Because there is no excuse not to wear at least one of those colors on the 4th of July. No matter where in the world you are. Also, it was a justification to wear my red pants to school (which surely breaks some sort of dress code).

I made a mini US flag, which I waved around all day in the hallways. I printed out a coloring page, filled it in using crayons, and taped it to a marker. Because I'm resourceful like that...

In my classes, I gave a powerpoint presentation about the history and traditions we practice on our Independence Day. We discussed the important things like food, music, games and fireworks. Then we compared the similarities and differences between Chile's and the United States' fiestas patrias.

(I will discuss September 18, Chile's equivalent, after I experience the actual event.)

After a while, I decided to do what I wanted. In other words, I just took pictures of students holding my make-shift American flag. They enjoyed it. And it made me happy...In the afternoon, one of my co-teachers randomly decided to create an exhibition of student projects. So instead of having class, the students set things up in the hallway outside of the English rooms and made a few signs saying "Happy 4 of July"...It was worthwhile, however, because the reaction to this display was incredible. The students loved seeing their work displayed and other teachers were able to see them get excited about participating in English!

Throughout the day, teachers and students came up to me and shook my hand, saying "¡Feliz día!" and telling me that they hoped I was enjoying "my" day. Students drew me pictures on the board and asked me to take photos of them...or appeased me by letting me take a photo after I handed them the flag sin explicación. When I returned home after school, my host mom bought pie de limón for us to enjoy during once (dinner) and we toasted to The United States with the left-ofter mango sour we had from Father's Day. When my neighbor stopped by, she also toasted to the day and they both hugged me. This is significant because my host mom is extremely proud of her country.

Although the day was fairly anti-climatic by comparison to normal American standards and I missed the traditional festivities back home, the day ended with a very warm and genuine sentiment. I was able to display my pride for the freedoms and opportunities my country represents and I felt loved and supported by the people sharing their country with me.   

 

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(Some of my 7th graders)

 

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(A couple of my freshmen girls...sporting our colors)

 

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(Hello seniors! You're not actually my students, but I'll take your photo anyway.)

 

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(I even got the chemistry teacher to participate!) 

 

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(Aren't these desordenado sophomore boys just adorable?)

 

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(Let us not forget about the juniors)

 

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(And then there was a kid eating a banana during class...no big deal)

 

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(When I told my student that "United" is before "States" he drew an arrow...works for me.)

 

Happy 4th of July from Chile!!!



 

 

It's Always Winter But Never Christmas

Having never lived in the Southern Hemisphere before, the biggest adjustment for me has been accepting the fact that in the middle of the "summer months" of June, July and August, we expats down in Chile are subject to freezing temperatures without the perks of snow and Christmas. Not cool, Chile. Not cool.

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That being said, and having lived in Indiana for several years now, I have to confess that it really doesn't get THAT cold in Santiago. Most days are in the 50's or 60's and overcast, with lows getting down into the 30's at night (tonight the low is expected to be 25 degrees Farhenheit, which is the lowest I've seen it all winter). Every now and again we'll get lucky: the sun will come out, bringing the "winter" temperature up closer to the 70's, and really quite pleasant.

So, to be honest, the outside world doesn't get too cold in Santiago, even in the winter.

...But INSIDE your apartment will be a whole different story!

Heating is not very common in Chile, and if you can get you will be paying a pretty penny. Unfortunately, Chile asn't quite latched on to the idea of well-insulated windows either. The result is that often times, your the temperature in your apartment will feel much, much, colder than the outdoors. So, on evenings like this one, with lows below freezing, I am to be found in my apartment, invariably bundled up and drinking hot tea like it's going out of style.

The Sweetest Goodbye

This morning, I returned to school feeling like I’d swallowed iron. After two stressful days of traveling, I wasn’t convinced that my (expensive) return to Chile had been worth it. The idea of facing over 300 people asking questions about my trip and surprised that I was back felt like more than I’d be able to handle. And, I had the unbearable sensation that classes would be awkward, between the fact that I really had nothing planned and I would only have final classes with a small portion of my students. Thankfully, my fears were overblown, as is usually the case.

In the first place, today was the last day of the semester for the students, Friday being designated for teacher planning. This meant that there was no “learning” to be done (grades were already turned in) and much of the morning was spent in an assembly attended by students, teachers, and parents. These things combined meant that I was able to enjoy my last day with my students to the fullest, moving from class to class taking pictures with the students, talking to them, and getting hug-attacked. As I went, the greetings I received from the staff were warm, sincere, and empathetic, and the surprise everyone showed at my presence was laced with happiness that I was there for even a short time longer. Taking a step away and returning finally gave me the ability to see just how much a part of the school I have been for a semester, and it blew me away to see how much my return meant to my students and co-workers, that even when I was struggling, even when I was questioning myself, they felt I was doing something good.

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And the assembly... an almost two-hour event involving an awards ceremony for the highest achieving and most dedicated students as well as students dancing Cueca (the Chilean National Dance) and what I believe was a dance based in traditional Mapuche culture. I think watching my students dance and get their certificates for high achievement tops the list of joys I will take away from my time here.

Since I arrived in Chile in April, experiencing cueca has been at the top of my list, and I had gone to each assembly with high hopes that my students would be dancing. Seeing my students in flouncy hoop skirts and spurs this morning sent my hopes soaring, and watching it brought a bigger smile to my face than I could have thought possible. The girls were gorgeous, the boys were strong, and the dance itself is by nature such a fun, lighthearted flirtation that laughter bubbles uncontrollably to the surface.

 
(P.S. That grey hair guy in front? That's the principal.) 

And if all that wasn’t enough, one of my 7th grade students, a contestant in the EOD public speaking competition, honored me with a speech, in English, on behalf of the student body, declaring, “you haven’t just taught us English, but how to be better people.” The principal, addressing the entire audience, spoke of how glad they were to have a volunteer from the US not just come to Chile, to Paillaco, to Escuela Proyecto Futuro, to work with these particular students, but to return after a trip to the US during a family illness, just to be with the community again. Two students from the 6th grade class presented me with flowers. I was overwhelmed to the point of tears.

At the end of the day, after organizing a few things in my classroom and the teacher’s lounge, a student from my most turbulent 5th grade class met me on my way out the door. Carrying a spray-bottle of cleaning fluid, she hugged me and walked me to the school gate. There, I gave her a squeeze, said goodbye, and sent her back to finish cleaning her classroom. As I rounded the corner and started down the next block, she and four other girls from her class came running after me, cleaning cloths and spray bottles still in hand. I doled out a round of hugs, delivered the obligatory, “Even though I might not come back again, you study your English so you can visit me in the United States” (to which they responded, “but our English class is fome (lame)”), thanked them for being my students, gave out more hugs, and at long last sent them back to finish cleaning their classroom, turning around and waving as we walked opposite ways down the block.

I had arrived home, removed my jacket and scarf, changed into my slippers, and shaken out my ponytail when the doorbell rang. My host mom opened the door and was surprised to find five 5th grade girls on the porch. Somehow, some way, they’d followed me home. There wasn’t much left to say, but they wanted to sing me a song. They chose a popular Chilean pop tune and giggled their way through part of it until a neighbor who brought a call for my host mom (literally, a phone call, on a cell phone) suggested they sing one in English. So, I was treated to one last rendition of “Zombie” by the Cranberries, the song all the students at my school learned in music class, which has been my constant soundtrack for the last three months. And then, after one last group hug, a sincere thank you to each of those girls for being my students, a confession that I needed to go eat lunch, one more round of sturdy hugs, one last thank you, and a round of besos, they were on their way one last time, smiling and waving as I beamed and waved and ever so slowly closed the door.

Sometimes we can’t know our purpose, our role, our influence until we hear it from someone else.

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