Life in Antofagasta, Chile
So much has happened since I have last written and I am very excited to share my experiences with you. Since my last blog I have been told more about the part of town in which I live. It is considered a “bad area.” Although it is not the ideal place for anyone to live, I do feel safe here. I continue learning the safest way to travel around the city, and how to stay away from problem areas. I am always checking situations to make sure I am going about them in the safest way possible. So, fear not, all is well!
My school continues to bring me a lot of joy, and continues to be a great challenge. Each day I have struggles, but I am also learning so much. And I am amazed by my students’ talents. I feel very blessed to have been put in the situation I am in.
As I stated earlier, my school consists of many children that come from “troubled homes.” I am beginning to connect with the students and teachers. I learn a lot about them and their family lives. The stories I hear never fail to amaze me, and often bring me great sadness. However I must say that I have great pride for all of my students. Each one is talented in his or her own way. As I spend time getting to know them, I always have a smile on my face and we share a lot of laughter. In a classroom of 40 students (yes, there are supposed to be 40 students in a class), about 30 show up. Their just being in school means a lot in my opinion! I want to make it worth their while!
I am here for four months. I am going to do whatever possible to help these children to learn English, but, more than anything, I want to connect with them. I want them to feel happy and loved, and associate these emotions with learning the English language. If this happens, then it is my hope they will take the initiative to continue learning the language independently once my time here in Chile is finished.
I am learning more than ever now that you can’t judge a book by its cover. I have students that act out in my class, or are very socially different. In this culture, political correctness is not a priority. Teachers often just ignore these problems or give up on these students. As I learn more about these particular students and the struggles they have been through in their homes, these behaviors are understandable. I hope I can give each and every one of my students the attention they need. I do my best to keep a kind face at all times to let them know I truly care about them. In all honesty this can be very difficult. In some cases I have students in my class for three 45 minute blocks in a row. It gets long. Students get restless, and I get tired. I feel like God has to be the one helping me through these times at some points. It is a lot to handle on some days. But overall it is really great!
Life moves much more slowly here than in America. Classes begin, and there is a lot of transition time. This is great because it gives me the opportunity to speak a lot with my students! They only have a very basic understanding of English so, for the most part, it leaves me speaking a lot of Spanglish. I don’t know Spanish well in any sense. It is a lot of fun trying to have a conversation with my students. They get excited to speak with me. I am eager to understand what they are saying as much as they are eager to help me understand. Many times there is a lot of confusion, but in the end somehow the point gets across.
Today my students asked me how I got to Chile. They continuously asked me about my car as well. I told them I had a car in America but I did not have one in Chile. They were very confused by this, and I was confused as to why. Eventually I figured out that they thought I drove from America to Chile! I finally was able to explain to them how I flew here and that America is on the other side of the world. They are very excited to learn about America. They are always asking me about my family, my home life and how far away places are from where I live. It really is a riot having these conversations. They are mostly in Spanish, and everyone involved is scratching their head trying to figure out how we can understand each other. In the end it pushes both me and my students to learn Spanish and English! Today one of my students was crying because of problems with her home life. I sat with her and spoke a little bit. She looked up at me crying and, in Spanish, said, “I don’t understand English.” I looked back at her and said, in Spanish, that I don’t understand Spanish, and gave her a very sad face. Suddenly the tears went away and we both had a big laugh. Maybe you had to be there, but these little moments with my students continue to crack me up. They are a ton of fun and I always leave school smiling!
One thing I have done to help my students practice their Spanish is make a Facebook account just for them. I have it posted in class and they are able to “friend” me. The only rule is that they can only write to me in English on it. They are all very excited about my Facebook page, and they are trying very hard to write to me in English on it. It’s pretty funny to read what they say. Here is a message that I got this evening:
hi megan hope I miss you like a lot to me if you like me too much and you are very pretty and that fried fish is delicious and I would see that this good and I do not want you to go we keep doing classes and I forgot to tell you like this? Take care of yourself
Hmm? Looks like I have a lot more work to do with my Eighth graders. Ha ha!
Right now my school is celebrating its anniversary. It is a huge event! It lasts for three weeks. On many days the last hour of school is devoted to anniversary activities. Last Wednesday was the “class mascot” competition. Each class has their own mascot that they dress up and model in front of the entire school. There was a life-sized pencil, cartoon characters, movie stars and a lot of cute animals. One of my favorites was a very cute kindergartner dressed up as a lobster. If that doesn’t make someone want to pinch a kid’s cheeks, I don’t know what does. Last Thursday was a dance competition. It was a riot to see! Some of my students, who I could never imagine dancing in my wildest dreams, were breaking out moves that were amazing! There were salsa, kuaka and regatone dances. The kids were so impressive, and the audience really got into cheering for them. Some parents came to watch the event as well. Each grade had students representing each dance. The kindergartners were adorable and very talented. As the children went up in age, they continued to display more talent. I was very impressed and very proud.
The regatone dancing was, let’s just say, interesting. I have done a lot of adapting to the culture here, but seeing children ages 5-14 dancing so intimately was still a little strange to me. By ”a little” I actually mean VERY strange. I think that if I was participating in this kind of dance, even at a high school function, my teachers would have a word with me. However here it is completely normal and encouraged!
There are a lot more anniversary events to come including singing, soccer games, and a showcase of countries around the world. One of my classes has the United States for the country that they will showcase. They have learned all about America and even know a square dance! They also made a banner about the United States that is very impressive! The children and teachers put a lot of time into making the anniversary celebration a success. It does take time from normal class work, but the excitement and tradition evident in it make me feel that this is all worthwhile!
Another interesting thing that happened during the school week was a tsunami drill. Antofagasta has a lot to worry about as far as natural disasters. We are all very aware of the huge earthquake that hit Chile last year. Here in the North, another large earthquake occurred only three months ago. Here we also have to worry about mudslides, tsunamis, and sandstorms that stop normal activity for days. And I shouldn’t forget to mention the killer spiders. Oh my! The precautions that the city has begun to take in the last ten years are very reassuring. This drill was a great example. During the drill, no one in town was allowed to drive on the streets. There were sirens, drums, helicopters, planes, and emergency respondents throughout the city. My school is in a safe zone so our emergency procedure was simply to go to the courtyard and line up. Once the students were in place, we practiced searching for missing students. There were three kids that were hidden in our school. I stayed outside with the students while other teachers searched. Whenever a plane or helicopter flew over our school, all the littler children got very excited. Many of them smiled, cheered and waved into the sky. It was very cute to see!
My co-teacher Evelyn is a Christian. She is very involved in her church. Last Sunday I had the opportunity to attend church with her. My school is primarily Catholic. One elective the students take is a Catholic religion class. Evelyn’s church is what I would call a “super church” in America. It was one of the nicest places I have been to in Antofagasta thus far. It was a wild experience. The church had a full band and spiritual dancers. The dancers were in hot pink sequence dresses and waved flags while they danced. The band was great and played all contemporary music. There was a projector at the front of the church, so I was able to sing along with all the songs in Spanish. I really enjoyed this. I even knew some of the songs in English! The church service lasted about three hours in total. I brought my bible and was able to read along with the scriptures in English as they read in Spanish. It was helpful because I was able to pick up on many Spanish words I did not know before. The church was very different from my home church but I did enjoy my experience! People were very nice and welcoming. I am excited to attend again.
So in conclusion, school continues to be a lot of fun! I am learning so much and hoping the children are as well. As I continue to grow and learn, I continue to enjoy my time here in Antofagata more and more. I am beginning to love this place and appreciate the unseen beauty in it!
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