I have been teaching English in Chile for a little over a week now and am happy to report I have yet to start pulling my hair out (knock on wood). I am teaching at a school in the center of Antofagasta named Dario Salas Diaz. It is a school for children from low income homes that are learning challenged. I am teaching first through eighth grade.
My co-teachers name is Evelyn. She is a woman in her 30’s who speaks a moderate amount of English. Evelyn is very interesting. I am excited to work with her and help her continue to improve her English. She is also helping me improve my Spanish. Each day after school we have a thirty minute Spanish/English lesson together. I am learning more and more each day and it is my hope Evelyn is too.
It is really interesting to be teaching so many different age levels and work with several different lesson plans. All of the children have a very (very) basic understanding of English so, for the most part, I can teach each grade the same subject. Once I have a subject for the lesson, I must alter it for each class based on age level. My first through fourth grade classes have been doing a whole lot of singing thus far and they seem to really enjoy it. I must say that Chileans have some very cute kids! I can’t help but smile when I see the children sing in their Spanish accents with their pipsqueak voices!
Education here is very different from the United States. Initially it is something very hard to get used to. The order that is in most U.S. classrooms does not exist here. Children have more freedom in the classroom. If you want to learn here, you must have the initiative to apply yourself to the lessons. The children who do not are penalized through their grades, but are generally not spoken to. Many of the children need a lot of help getting motivated. Evelyn and I must often walk around the room and motivate each student individually to do their work when given an assignment. This is something that I hope will change during the four months that I am here.
A really positive thing is that all of the students are very excited that I am here! When I walk into the school each day I am greeted with many hello’s and hugs. Children often try and sneak into my classroom when it is not their time for class. The classes are anywhere from 25-35 children, so we try and catch any extra bodies that make/sneak their way into a desk. The children want to speak to me, so for this reason they are motivated to learn. It is really exciting that just being present in the school encourages students to study English! I know that it is important to separate oneself from being seen as a friend, and have the children see me as an instructor. However I think, having a close connection in this circumstance, is something that is very important. When I am not teaching English, I am always having a lot of fun talking and playing with my students. My first grade boys now have a secret handshake I taught them that they great me with when they walk in the classroom. We practice counting by doing thumb wars. And I must say that I think the elementary school students are the only ones who can understand me when I speak Spanish!
My students have been really great! Like I said, it is an adjustment to learn and understand the Culture of a Chilean classroom. As I continue to adjust to it, I hope to work with it to make my classroom the most positive learning environment possible. My kids are a big challenge (like all children), but I am excited!
Life in general in Antofagasta is getting more and more normal each day. There are always new things to learn, but I am really enjoying learning! Today I was asked if it was nice here? That is a difficult question to answer. I am thrilled to be getting to know this culture, and I find beauty in a place that honestly can easily be a little depressing. Although I would never recommend a vacation to Antofagasta, I am so happy that I have the opportunity to live here for four months. The people who live here in no way have easy lives. However there is never any complaining and they know no other way.
Life is so different from home, but the more I understand the culture and explore my temporary home, the more I begin to enjoy it. Slowly the garbage and stray animals fade away, and I can begin to notice the culture, boldly painted houses and views of the coast that peeks through some streets. Having a garage in the living room is almost starting to make sense and, when the weather changes from chilly to warm, I will be pretty happy about the absence of windows so the house warms up!
This week a lot of exciting things have happened. This morning I attended a Cuawka competition with a co-volunteer that I met during the week. Matt’s (the co-volunteer) host brother was performing in the competition. Cuawka is Chile’s traditional dance. It was really awesome witnessing it! The dance is in some ways like salsa however there is little touching. It is very fun and VERY flirtatious. I loved the students’ facial expressions! The dance generally always initiates with the male approaching the female and taking her by the arm. From there a clap to keep the beat begins. Then the dancers pull out handkerchiefs and twirl them through the air as they move their hips and feet to the music. I really enjoyed getting to see this today!
Another really interesting thing that happened this week was the rainstorm. I know everyone that looks at my facebook status has been wondering about this! In Antofagasta it almost NEVER rains. And when I say NEVER I mean NEVER. The last rainstorm was ten years ago. During this time the people were not prepared for rain. Antofagasta is a town at the edge of the desert. It starts at the coast and goes uphill until eventually the hill becomes what I can only describe as several giant sand mountains. Sand mountains that are not used to rain don’t stay in place when the rain comes. Ten years ago, 100 people died in a devastating mud slide after a quick 45 minute rainstorm. My host parents had mud filling half of their first floor home. Luckily, since that time, a sort of levee system has been built to hold the mud in place on the hills if it should ever rain again. It is dangerous to have homes built so closely to the desert mountains, but unfortunately many poor families do not have an option. Because of this, there are many homes in threatening areas in Antofagasta.
Besides the danger of mudslides, buildings here are just not built to withstand the rain. Roofs are flat, and many homes are open to the elements. As I stated before, my home has no roof over half of it!
So, on Wednesday around 11:00 a.m., I was teaching a class when suddenly the pitter patter of rain began to fall. The majority of my students had never experienced rain before. What could that noise even be?! They were amazed by what was happening! They ran to the window to look outside. It was exciting to witness the kids checking this out! About five minutes after the rain began, school and work was called off for the day. Some children played and ran around in the rain. Others were beside themselves and had no idea what to do to avoid getting wet! It may seem silly that school was called off, but rain was dripping from the ceiling in some parts of the school after just 15 minutes. I got a ride home from the religion teacher, and made my way to see the damages. When I arrived at home, my host father was home making a roof out of what had been the outside wall of the upstairs a half an hour prior. He removed the metal from this section, and secured it into the part of the home without a roof. In my bedroom black droplets of water began falling from my ceiling, and half of my floor was quickly covered with large puddles. The rain is very dirty both from the desert sand and the mining residue that are in the air.
The rain kept up for about two hours, then slowly went away. Nothing in the home was damaged which was great! We did a lot of mopping and had a lot of buckets catching the rain in the areas that were wet.
Our host family informed us that, after a rain here, the humidity causes the temperatures to drop significantly. It would soon be close to 0 degrees Fahrenheit! I had been pretty cold since I got here, so I was not excited about this news…and the temperature did drop quickly. As my roof in my room slowly dripped the last bits of water I lay on the coach in a blanket and tried my best to keep warm. My host mom and dad cracked up over this, and patted my head and said, “Aww Wa wa,” This is the Chilean word for baby. We are getting close quickly, and my host parents are such nice and wonderful people. My host mom brought me a “Guetero” which is a hot water bottle that they use on cold nights to warm the bed. I was thrilled. I skipped the entire – put it in my bed and wait for the bed to heat up part. Instead I stuck it right in my sweatshirt and spent the rest of the night like that. It warmed me up right away and soon I was removing one of the many layers I was wearing.
Thursday again classes were canceled. Although we were very lucky and the sand stayed on the mountains, many of the schools had significant water damage that had to be cleaned up for the day. It was a beautiful day outside. (Many homes were very cold because of the cool night temperatures and the water). I set out around 11:00 a.m. for a run along the coast. As I ran out of the house I got about four blocks down and turned my head towards the ocean. Suddenly I saw mountains peeking out about a mile beyond the water’s edge. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had been here for over a week, and this was the first time it had been a clear enough day to see this! Antofagasta is actually an inlet. Like I said, I am learning new things everyday. Ha ha.
I headed North on the coast as the sun beat down on me and enjoyed the big temperature increase. The North is the poorest part of the city. Along the coast, in an attempt to beautify this section, a boardwalk extends for miles. It is a bit run down but still rather nice.
At the beginning of my run, I stumbled upon a small fishing port. As I approached it, the fishermen were throwing fish scraps into the water. HUGE Pelicans swooped over my head and made their way for the water. Sea lions popped their heads out of the water. It was really awesome.
Next to the fishing pier, I found a very colorful market with many different stalls where merchants sold produce, fish and other food. I looked in and saw the sun beating through colorful ceiling tarps. The small market seemed to glow.
A distance later, I found a small beach. It was stunning! Rocks circled the beach and, in the middle, there was a small opening where water flowed through. The waves crashed onto the rocks and white spray flew through the air. It was a rather warm day and I had yet to feel the water so I ran down to the shore, pulled off my shoes (only after soaking one of them first – oops) and waded up to my knees in the water. It was rather cold but enjoyable all the same! After going in the water, I walked on the rocks for a bit. The spray of the waves came inches from me, but I managed to stay dry. The view was breathtaking and I couldn’t help but feel God’s presence. God is so good to us! It’s moments like this that I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the amazing world that he has created.
I ran for about 45 more minutes down the coast. I was too blown away by the views and discoveries to turn around. It was rather amazing as I ran North. If I looked left, I saw the most stunning view of the ocean. Turning my head right, I saw the many shack-like homes that ran up the hills and faded into the sand mountain. In just one turn of the head, there was such contrast in my surroundings. Wild!
When I arrived home after about three and a half hours of exploring, I found my host family just sitting down for lunch. We tried a dish that was very similar to shepherd’s pie. Instead of corn it had eggs and olives. On the top of the shepherd’s pie-like dish the family sprinkled sugar. Chileans love sugar! Every meal is accompanied by either coke, tea or another sugary beverage, if we don’t get enough in the actual meal. Vegetables are often at a minimum in most homes in the North. It is a running joke here that there are only two flavors salt and sugar. So far I have been understanding why this is a “joke.”
Well that’s all for now. Internet connection is limited here but I hope to get some videos and more pictures up asap (fingers crossed.) Thanks for all the continuing support. You guys are the best!