Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Third Time's a Charm

Here we are again, or here I am again, back in Antofagasta for a third year. This year I will be working at the same school, teaching language arts to middle schoolers (6th-8th) and a high school English workshop. After I published the last post in September I didn't do anything too exciting until the school year ended in December. In December, after nearly two years away, I finally visited Ohio. Keep in mind I had no intention to stay in Chile past one year, so it was quite an experience visiting after that length of time! I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was wonderful because I felt like the relationships with my family and friends had stayed the same. I took pictures of the most mundane things I miss from the states... my house, snow, Chipotle burritos, Cold Stone ice cream, my room, etc.
My visit was short-lived, and a month ago I flew back to Santiago.

Santiago and the Near- Death Experience

Felipe and I spent three days in Santiago visiting his family, and we also went to Chile's (only?) amusement park: Fantasilandia. Word of warning, one of my greatest fears happened there. The very first ride we went on was a (small) rollercoaster, with car seat belts as what keeps you inside the car. Well, thank god the rollercoaster was small because on the way up the hill the seatbelt fell off of me! I mean, completely fell apart and we tied it into a knot before it went down the hill. Felipe held onto it as I cursed the park and forecasted my impending doom. After I got off the ride in one piece we complained to the ride attendant who informed us "the seat belts are cheap and break all the time." How reassuring- this happens on a regular basis! The two people in the front part of the car were kids. What if they had been in my place instead?

Parade we saw in Santiago. They were fighting for the Mapuche people (I think...)

Mocking the police. 

After three days in Santiago we flew to a place I had wanted to visit for years:


Patagonia is a region shared between Chile and Argentina known as "the end of the world." It's the land closest to Antartica, and you can find the southernmost cities of the world there. We flew to Punta Arenas and took an organized tour for a week.

Patagonia, especially Punta Arenas/Puerto Natales, is extremely windy in summer. "Summer" is about 60°F/15°C with winds up to 60Mph/100Km. It's pretty intense! They even have ropes in the city center to hold onto- no joke! There are forests in certain parts, but a lot of what they have is called "pampa" and it is basically a grassland landscape for miles and miles. Despite that, there are some magical places between the two cities- my favorites included penguins, glaciers, and Torres del Paine. 

Strange lagoon view from the plane

Best thing ever: an island full of thousands of penguins! You weren't supposed to touch them because they could attack you.

During breeding season the island can get up to 160,000 of the little guys.

Punta Arenas overview with Felipe and I

Notice how the hood is tied super tight around my face? The wind kept blowing dust into my face. These were the ropes you could hold onto when the wind blew hard.

The cemetery with the cool bushes

A cave nearby Torres del Paine we toured

Torres del Paine, at last!

Chunks of the iceberg floating in Lago Grey

"Chilling out"

El Calafate, Argentina 

El Calafate is a city about 6 hours north of Puerto Natales. Argentina is my favorite country to visit in South America, and I always get the buena onda over there. Not so much in this city. It is extremely touristy and OVERPRICED. For example, in Bariloche (scroll down), you could find the exchange rate between 5:1- 7:1 (Argentina pesos:USD). In El Calafate, it was impossible to find it above 5, and restaurants, excursions, etc, were super pricey. The people were buena onda, but I found it ridiculous how much everything costed. Anyway, people go there to visit Perrito Moreno, a huge glacier several kilometers long. It was worth the price.

Main bulk of Perrito Moreno

Chunks fall into the water and make a thunderous noise

We trekked on top of the glacier

The guide showed us this view and told us each to look over very slowly and carefully

... and this was why!

It reminds me of a fairytale castle.

We visited a "glaciar bar" made out of ice. It was inside a museum and you were only allowed to stay for 20 minutes.

There is another place nearby called "El Chalten"; it is considered the trekking capitol of Argentina and it is free to hike in. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to make it over there. Onto my new favorite city in Argentina:


To get from El Calafate to Bariloche, we took a 29 hour bus ride. It wasn't as horrible as I thought it would be, but I wouldn't have minded flying if I had the money!

Since I now live in the driest desert of the world, it is wonderful to see greenery of any sort. And Bariloche has lots of it- forests and lakes everywhere you go. The city is known for chocolate, beer, fondue, and the beautiful landscapes. Perfect, right? Everything here is reasonably priced, and Felipe and I even won a huge discount on a hotel if we go back within the next year. The only thing I didn't enjoy about this place was the "Colonia Suiza." Apparently Swiss settlers have historic homes there. The homes were nothing special, and they had turned the place into a giant tourist trap. Ironically enough we met Swiss people who told us it was lame, but I guess we had to see for ourselves (sigh).

Everything else was magical. Unlike Antofagasta, which smells like industrial waste and dog poop with a touch of sea algae, this place smells like chocolate and vanilla. (Alright- that is a bit exaggerated, but it was still much better!) We did a lot in the 5 days we were here- hiking, eating chocolate, El Bolsón (a nearby town), Cerro Campanario, the stupid "Swiss" colony, eating chocolate, a chocolate museum, Isla Victoria/Bosque de Arrayanes, and we ate chocolate. I would come back here in a heartbeat.

View from Cerro Campanario. This is a fraction of the view and my camera doesn't really capture it correctly- especially the seemingly washed out mountains. This view was voted one of the top 10 best views on the planet by National Geographic. From this picture it doesn't look like it, but in person it's true!

At The Chocolate Museum they had displays of animals made from chocolate. This is a condor, typical from the Andes. 

Bosque de Arrayanes - Forest of Arrayanes. This tree grows in different places, but the only forest of them in the world is on this island. 

Isla Victoria. The trees are planted this way to compete for sunlight. The sunlight doesn't reach the bottom layers as much, so branches don't grow out, and when they cut it down the wood is nicer to build with. 

What I found most shocking about Bariloche is that all the pine trees are FROM NORTH AMERICA. Not a single one is native to S. America. Granted, there are lot of trees that appear to be "pine" to the average person but aren't. Still, the pine trees grew like wildfire when they were planted, and now they are trying to slowly get rid of them. Crazy.

We decided to stay an extra day in Bariloche, which meant we had to take several buses in a row back to Antofagasta. Here is the crazy bus schedule we took:

Monday morning, 6:30am-12:30pm, Bariloche, Argentina- Osorno, Chile
Monday night, 10:45pm-9:30am, Osorno- Santiago
Tuesday night, 9pm- 3:30pm- Santiago- Antofagasta

Here are some interesting pictures from the bus rides and stops along the way:
This is not sand- it's volcanic ash from 2011 between Osorno and Bariloche.

Stopover in Osorno and the ugliest (yet still cool) church I have ever seen in my life. 

The inside wasn't bad.

I love this picture.

The stray dog that just wanted a little love.

And after nearly 18 hours on the bus... the famous "mano del desierto" that lets you know Antofagasta is near.

By the end of the bus rides my ankles were super swollen and I was so relieved to get off that bus. That night in Antofagasta was the city's anniversary celebration, so I was treated to a great fireworks display and a concert by DJ Mendez. Then some weon stole my phone at the concert and I was almost attacked by a dog coming home. 

All is well now- I bought a new phone and have one more day of vacation until the teachers start school. Tomorrow I am going to do a little bit of work for the language institute where I work part-time. By "work", they are paying me to have a conversational class with the CEO of S. America's Caterpillar over a paid lunch. If only every day of work paid me to have free lunch! After that it's off to the beach for the official end of summer vacation.

I did a lot of work for the school over break, but I also got to travel a lot. Patagonia has been a dream of mine ever since I saw a picture of Torres del Paine, and I am so glad I got to see it.

Here are the rest of my Patagonia pictures: Patagonia = Penguinos, Parrillas, y Paisajes Preciosos

This was probably the most productive summer I've ever had, and I am (almost) ready to go back to school. The rest of my travel wish is as follows:

Must- sees
1. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
2. Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls
3. Carnival in Rio
4. Floating islands of Lake Titicaca in Peru/Bolivia

We'll see how much my budget and time allow for.

It's a Small World After All

One last interesting random thing about my trip is that I realized how small the Chilean world really is.

Two examples:
- On our day tour of Torres del Paine, we were sitting next to a lady whose grandchildren live in Antofagasta. Turns out her granddaughter will be in my class this year.
- We chatted up the hostel owner in Punta Arenas, not thinking we'd have a connection to him. Turns out he is from the same city Felipe's dad is from (Vallenar), and they went to school together. Not only that, but the hostel owner's father married a cousin of Felipe's father.
I also met a guy in El Calafate from Cleveland (Aurora) who had taken buses and trains (no flying) from Chicago to Ushuaia- the southernmost city on earth.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Year Two

It's Been a While
It's been a while since I have updated my blog. A long, long while: over half a year and there is good reason for it... I have been busy as a first year teacher! Here's what happened where I left off:

Summer in February
February was a very interesting and fun month in Antofagasta. The city has a Latin American culture festival with traditional dances from all different countries in South and Central America. Actually, they have free shows every single weekend, including: rock concerts, beauty pageants, dirt and motor bike shows, etc. They also have the city's anniversary on February 14th, which they celebrate with an elaborate fireworks display.

Pageant Photos:

"The Golden Years"

Pageant Photos: The university competition 

The best firework ever...

March Madness
March is the start of the school year in Chile, and it ends in December. The school year had just started, and no more than one day in had a teacher hurt his leg. I did subbing for two weeks until the teacher came back, but four weeks later he left, rather abruptly, on a Wednesday afternoon in April. The school immediately hired me and by Friday morning I was a full-time teacher. 

I won't lie. There were six weeks left in the trimester and it was very challenging suddenly being thrown in full-time during the middle of the trimester. Some of his classes didn't even know he had left when I walked in, and those six weeks were some of the busiest I've ever spent in my life.

We had a two week break in June, and I had plans to go on vacation. That never happened due to a visa issue and the amount of work I had to do. Before the teacher left, he met with me for one hour to pass me the books, and basically told me his English lesson plans and curriculum weren't working and to re-do his plans for the year. That is what I did almost the entire break. The second trimester the school also changed my schedule, so instead of teaching his history and English classes I was moved to all English. Here is what I teach:

One block = 90 min

1 CAE workshop (Cambridge upper-level ESL class), one block a week
6A/6B ---> Three blocks a week each, plus one 45 min class each
9A/9B---->Two blocks a week each
11A------>Two blocks a week 
12th ------>One block a week (we're in TRI 3, TRI 2 had two blocks a week)

The teachers switch classes and there is a 15 minute break in between blocks. Also, kids are divided into different classes and are with the same students all day long. They are completely mixed ability- there is no separation for honor/regular/lower level, or for low-level English students who have just entered the school. But the teachers decide the classes each year, and when you have two classes of the same grade, you can kind of tell that one class seems to have an overall higher ability level or behavior difference.

This is a private school, and maybe the public schools are different. But it isn't like the US- if I'm right, any school can choose not to have a student. If you have Down's Syndrome, for example, you must go to a special school for kids with disabilities. 

Students have to apply to any school they want to attend (public, private, or semi-private). I knew someone who was rejected from a public school for having a low IQ, but wasn't accepted into the disability school because his IQ was slightly too high!

My schedule is different each day, but my day starts at 8:15am most days and some days I teach until 4:50pm. One or two nights a week the high schoolers have class until 6:30pm. I am very grateful I do not teach that last block. Any teacher reading this can imagine teaching high schoolers from 5pm- 6:30pm, after they have been in class since 8am... 

The Trimesters
June 18th- Sept 7th: Trimester Two

Sept 8th- Sept 23rd: Two week break

Sept 24th- Dec 14th (21st for teachers): Trimester Three

We are in the last part of the year! Trimester 2 was still extremely busy and I adjusted to a lot of new things. Being a first year teacher anywhere is a large job, and I have been learning by trial and error. I do like the job, and I feel like this trimester I might finally have a minute to breathe. I have learned more about my own language than I ever imagined I would. I hear mistakes that native speakers make and can tell you what a phrasal verb is.

However, I am not too proud to admit I can improve some areas. I am a young teacher, and I need some advice on issues. One problem I have had is kids not bringing their books to class. Ironically enough it isn't the 6th graders where it's a big problem: it's the high schoolers. They constantly leave their books at home or flat out lose them. Then they share and of course, start talking. Or if they don't share they will get bored and start misbehaving. It is kind of hard to keep track of who has it, who doesn't. And if I gave them detention, it would literally be all the time for this issue. I was taking away points but that didn't make much difference. I am thinking of making a chart next year of the times they don't bring the books, then assigning a punishment if they forget it X-amount of times. Any ideas??? 

A World Apart in 20 Minutes
There are a lot of differences between this school and where I volunteered. One fantastic thing about this school are the small classes- between 9-20 kids. The kids at this school (generally) have a high level of English. They are bilingual. It is easier to communicate with them and you can do so much more with the language! But they have had many gringo teachers and I am no one special to them. 

The other day in 6th grade we were reading an article about Dubai and one 12-year said, "Oh, I went on vacation there!" Plus I've talked to at least 4 students who did or will do foreign exchanges to improve their already-high English or just to have fun. One kid learned Dutch in his year abroad. I haven't mentioned that this private school is the most expensive one in the city. The monthly tuition here was the monthly salary of a teacher at my old school. Think about that for a minute.

English is so normal to them because they grew up bilingual. I am their regular teacher, not a volunteer, maybe that is why they don't try to "teach me" Spanish like the students did at CODEMA (Corazón de María).

And the staff! The staff at this school is amazing. There are many young foreign teachers, and somebody is always having a barbeque, a party, organizing a sports team, etc. Teachers here stick together and always help one another out! And we have access to resources that aren't normal in many Chilean schools. For example, at my old school you had to submit photocopies 48 hours in advance. Nobody made photocopies except for tests. All the lessons were taught by powerpoint or something else. Here we can make as many copies as we want. 

A 20 minute drive away is Corazón de María: middle-low to middle class families, had 40 kids to a class, and the other staff members didn't take much interest in me. But to the children at my old school, I was a celebrity. I was someone who might have known Justin Bieber. And even still, that school had created a special culture and the students (generally) treated their teachers with a sort of respect I hadn't seen at most schools (including in the states). Yes, they talked in class. Yes, they acted like kids. But they seemed grateful you were there and would tell me they loved me and even kissed my cheek all the time. Most of those kids couldn't speak English. Most of our conversations were in Spanish and they seemed intent on helping me learn more, like we were exchanging languages. When I visited the school during my vacation one little girl even cried and wouldn't leave my side.

But back to my school...

Special Events
We have had a few special events at this school, including International Day and Fiestas Patrias. Some of the costumes were incredible, and we even had a teacher dance with our fabulous staff. 

AIS had an anniversary like CODEMA did, a week where the kids celebrate and play games. 

This is from the lower school anniversary, and the kids had a fashion show made of recycled materials. Some got help from their parents and their costumes looked practically professional.

Can you guess which girl received a little extra help from her parents?

And now for the celebration of Fiestas Patrias in school, Chile's celebration of independence:

Teachers' dance:

The school's empanada lunch for us:

And a teacher asado (barbeque):

Salta, Argentina
This September break I finally took my post-poned Argentina trip. I went with my boyfriend and several friends. Argentina might be my favorite country in South America: the meat (world renowned steak), wine, landscapes, and culture. Me enamoré de ese país. The prices are cheaper than Chile and they have all the same kind of things. We went horseback riding and had an asado with cowboys, ate steak a million times, and visited all the incredible landscapes Salta has to offer. One day we took a tour to a village called Cachi. It started as a subtropical forest, then changed to desert with cacti within 10 minutes of driving, then mountain highlands with pure shrubs, then back to a desert with a huge cacti reserve and gorgeous rock formations. The best part of the trip was seeing my friend Paola. She was an exchange student in Ohio and I hadn't seen her for about 4 years.

A lot of pictures were taken on the bus, and some are from tours.

Purmamarca (taken from the bus window- not bad, right?):

Beautiful church in Salta:

Eva, Paola, performer at the restaurant, Felipe, me:

Felipe and I on the Cafayate tour:

Llama love:

Playing with cool rock formations:

Don't worry, I am not that crazy. It is just an illusion!

There were wildfires on the hills! 4 people died

The forest we started out in:

Then a beautiful desert...

Now we are in the mountains, altiplano. Notice the cloud layer in the background. 

Nothing but shrubs at this point. Apparently condors fly here, but I didn't see any.

Group shot:

15 minutes later, a new landscape:

This is the same road the Incas took, and now it's a regular paved road:

Inside the cactus reserve:

Colores y colores:

Inside the town of Cachi:

To see all of Salta and the surrounding areas, click here.

Hasta luego
Well my friends, that is a summary of the last 8 months. Thanks for reading all of this!
I don't know when I will update again, because I have to plan, plan, plan for the upcoming weeks. My contract ends in December and I am considering two paths:

Option One
If the school offers me another year and if I accept, I will be here for another year, but will visit home for the holidays in December.

Option Two
If I finish my contract in December and do not renew it, then I won't go home for the holidays. Instead, I'll spend them planning an epic South American trip for January. I'm tossing around the idea of backpacking for a month-ish, then return to Antofagasta for two or three weeks to lay on the beach, pack up, and say chaoito...

This entire Chilean adventure started out as a 5-month commitment then turned into something ridiculously longer than anticipated. I still haven't visited home, but I suppose that's what happens when you buy a one-way ticket. ;)

I am torn as to what to do, and it involves lots of personal reasons. I found myself in this same situation a year ago and it worked out pretty darn well. The days are sort of going by routinely. Chile doesn't feel at all exotic or exciting. I have been here for over a year, and it feels as mundane as Ohio did, which now looks pretty exotic with Starbucks and green forests. 
Buena onda

I am going to leave you with a present. This is for anyone who teaches Spanish- in my opinion, it's super bacán (or bakan, as everyone here spells it):