Sunday, March 27, 2011

(dis)Orientation Week in Santiago

*I wanted to put up photos/video here, but the computer was hassling me. At some point they will be on facebook*

After traveling 24 hours on my weird flight through Canada I arrived in Santiago, Chile last Saturday morning. I stayed in a hostel with other volunteers- many were from recruiting partners that work with my program and almost everyone was a young twenty something from the US. I had never stayed in a hostel before, and it was a bit like a delux summer camp. The bathrooms were a little dirty and we had bunk beds and closets that locked. My hostel was A PARTY hostel. Many nights salsa music blared from the patio until the wee hours of the morning. Earplugs were my best friend last week.
The Atmosphere
Last week was so strange- at first I felt like I was on a reality show, meeting my hostel roommates. It was ¨Hey where are you from? Where are you going in Chile?¨ ¨Me too!¨ After everyone arrived there were about 50 volunteers, and I felt like we were back in college. Every day after orientation everyone would tour in large groups or get drinks. I don´t think I have ever done more toasts in my entire life than last week. My group has 6 people traveling to Antofagasta. 4 of us will be in the actual city, and 2 are in other small cities in the region.
Saturday I saw my friend Nico for the first time in two years and he helped me buy a cell phone, took me shopping a bit, and we had lunch with his Grandma... very nice!
Sunday I organized a group to travel to Valparaiso (Valpo), a large port city near Santiago. Right now Santiago is around 80 degrees and sunny. Since Valpo is on the ocean 1.5 hours away we thought it would also be warm and sunny, thus most of my group wore shorts and t-shirts. We got there and everyone was wearing jeans and light jackets. It was significantly colder than Santiago- something about the mountains and air system. WOW - as if there were ever a group of more obvious tourists than us!
About Valpo: its a port city known for its 43 neighborhoods on hills- kind of like Pittsburgh. They are quite steep and have ¨ascensores.¨ There are also lots of murals painted on the streets, colorful houses, and one of Pablo Neruda´s houses is there. Unfortunately nobody else in my group wanted to see Neruda´s house, except for one girl and it was too difficult at that point. I am still glad we went. Basically we just explored the city on foot and ate/drank at many restaurants... like 4. They have many many stray dogs in Chile, and Valpo seemed to have more than Santiago. One followed us for an hour, another one 20 minutes. I was told they follow you out of boredom, wanting food, or protection- if a larger group of dogs comes you will stand as a buffer! This happened to a friend of mine in the program already! Valpo had some pretty parts and I don´t think I saw enough of the city. However, a lot of it is very run down and seemed dangerous. I am glad I am not living there as a placement- the hills are extremely steep and the place had a little too much of a gypsy feel to it. I pictured Aladdin or fortune tellers appearing around the corner... it was very different than anywhere I have visited.

Each day we had orientation, so most of my week was spent in workshops centered on teaching, Chilean culture, and boring, necessary things like getting a visa. I thought they offered useful information given the time frame, but many didn´t like it. We did have nice lunches at the Ministry of Education and a great coffee break each day by the pool. I will say the program has quite high expectations for only training volunteers to be teachers in one week, and I am really glad I already have teaching experience. REALLY GLAD. There are three types of schools in Chile- public, semi-private, and private. Public schools are free and are terrible. They are the equivalent of tough inner city schools, from what I have gathered. The students do not go on to the university or have any motivation to learn English- they work in mines or go to technical schools. Semi-private seems equivalent to suburban schools. The government pays part and the families pay the rest of tuition. Many students go on to university. Private schools are like private schools in the US and offer the best education. EOD works only with public/semi private schools. I was fortunate enough to get a semi-private Catholic school! Classroom management and motivation will be much better with these students. There are still 40 kids in each class, but I only take half a class at a time. Many volunteers have public schools in the Chilean version of the ghetto, and I heard these schools are extremely difficult to work in.
Santiago is a huge city and I saw two of the main attractions- Santa Lucia hill, which has a beautiful fountain, and San Cristobal hill. Both are huge hills that offer great views of the city. At San Cristobol we decided to walk down and it took way longer than the guidepost said. We ended up reaching a road and it was dark outside... we did not know which way to go. Some bikers found us and asked us (in Spanish) why we were walking there, its dangerous now and there are thieves, etc. Thank god they helped us find the way out down the road!
There was a murder on my street in Santiago! It is very rare, but something happened about a war veteran shooting and killing 2 policeman, and eventually they tracked him down to my street and shot him dead. I have pictures of the bullet holes. When I got back from orientation the street was all blocked off. Yeah, it was a little crazy.
Random observations
1. Chileans like french fries. A lot. One restaurant had over 15 varieties of them.
2. PDAs, or groping your partner and making out in the grass... even in front of the government palace... is completely acceptable.
3. Bathrooms don´t have purse hooks, which annoys me. However, there are two buttons to flush a toilet- one releases more water if you need it. So its a green concept.
4. I knew this already, but hazing exists in Chile in the universities. Freshmen are called mechons, and there is a mechoneo initiation. One day after class in the first few days the upperclassmen come into the classrooms and take the freshmens´ phones and shoes. Then they really mess with them... they throw food, vinager, eggs, marker, whatever on the poor things and they have to beg for money in the streets to get their shoes back. Sometimes they cut their clothes and even their hair. I disagree with hazing and got into a heated conversation about some Americans over this. Anyway I gave some girls money and have a picture of them.
The entire orientation week I spent completely exhausted. I really mean this- towards the end of the week I started experiencing dizzy spells. That has never happened to me before, but it was a mixture of being very sleep deprived, meeting 50 new people, new food, Spanish, new country, etc. That is why I called this post disorientation. Little things like working with a foreign currency can make you feel like a child. I didn´t have a concept of how much pesos were really worth the first day until I spent too many!

Thursday night I boarded a bus for Antofagasta, and 19 hours later I met my host family. I´ll leave Antofagasta as a cliffhanger for next time... ;)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

My Version of Backpacking Across Europe

Its hard to believe how fast time is flying. It felt like yesterday I was leaving for Chile in two months...suddenly its two weeks! On March 19th I will be arriving to Santiago, Chile for one week of orientation. After orientation, I will travel to my placement. My region is Region II: Antofagasta. It is not my first choice, I was hoping for a more green and fertile area... I like my trees. The landscape in northern Chile is barren and dry, but there are some cool places to see. I could be in the desert or by the ocean... fingers crossed its the ocean! My first week in the Chilean school I am observing my co-teacher, then I take over my English classes the next week.
Amongst the millions of errands to complete before I leave, I wanted to make my first post about my thoughts before I left for Chile.

Why I'm Going
Goals: I chose to embark on this program to grow and better myself- professionally and personally. Professionally, I will improve my Spanish skills and gain teaching experience. I will be teaching EFL (English as a foreign language), and by the end of my time I will know if I'd rather teach that or Spanish back in the states. Personally, I want to become more self-sufficient and learn more about myself.

This is starting to sound like an English essay. Lets be real: Those are legit reasons, but I'm also living it up while I still can! This is my version of backpacking across Europe. God, fate, what have you, has absolutely led me to this program. No matter what happens I am not regretting the decision to go, because it would have haunted me forever. I have dreamed since college graduation of teaching English abroad, and this decision has never felt more right.

Drawbacks: Summer Comes Once a Year...
Besides the financial aspect and missing family/friends, I will skip a summer. Oh that Southern hemisphere...seasons are opposite. I am going from:

 Ohio Winter> Chilean Fall> Chilean Winter> return to Ohio Fall> Ohio Winter.

It should be a mild winter, and if I extend my stay I'll have warm weather again. But still...45° high in July? Seriously?
(Note: I am editing this post now- I wrote this before I found out my region. My July will be 60° and sunny. I'm ok with that!)

So What Will It Be Like?
Over and over I keep imagining my Chilean classroom, new friends, and my host family. I have these worst-case scenarios and best-case all scripted out like a movie in my head.
I have heard Chilean classrooms are very different than US ones. It is a different culture, and I will be working in a low-income school. Past volunteers said classroom management is handled poles apart from American culture. One volunteer said teachers "give-up" when the class gets crazy, and students "have rights"- as in, they don't have to do homework. I've also heard Chilean schoolchildren are more affectionate, kind, and appreciative than American students. Not being in Chile, I cannot verify any claim. Schools vary tremendously in the US, and I'm sure they do in Chile. Being from a different culture, this will be one of my greatest challenges. What discipline will be effective? To what extent will I be imposing American ways on Chilean children? Will they work? Would I be overstepping my boundaries or creating a new classroom culture? Do Chilean teachers use similar instructional techniques? I'm done student teaching, and I think that bit of experience will really help me out! What about work/life balance? Being a teacher is enough work in my home country, let alone throwing a different language, family, and culture into the mix! I am going to work hard and do my best, but these are all concerns I have. I want to enjoy the experience, not burn out. Before I leave, I plan to make my classroom expectation sheet in English/Spanish and review it with my co-teacher.
Home Life:
I have lived with a host family in Spain, but it was different. I lived in an apartment and my host mother came over twice a day to cook/clean for everyone renting it out. In Chile I will be living with a family and have my own room. I have done a lot of research on their culture, but obviously there will be surprises. I have visions in my head: the Chilean nuclear family, one with a dog, an older couple, etc. In my "best case" scenario I live in a huge house with a personal maid. Worst case: I live in a shack. My bedroom wall is held up by duct tape that falls down during an earthquake. I don't think either will happen :)
Who knows... I am excited to meet them and hope it runs smoothly. That would be amazing to have a second "family" abroad.
Personal Life/Randoms:
Will I be in a big city? Rural village? Find friends or be lonely? Speak Spanish without frustration? Keep up my exercise? What about all the stray dogs I hear run around? And the diet with tons of bread, meat, and potatoes....carbicide in Chile? And time for traveling: I want to visit Torres del Paine, and more than anything else... San Pedro de Atacama. Its world-renowned for star gazing- you can see the Milky Way at night!
Returning to the States:
Will my Spanish be as strong as I hope? How will I be different as a person? Will I want to come home? If I can afford it and I am enjoying my time, I plan to stay longer. Also, what if I meet someone, or get a job, or...who knows?

And last but not least...there is always adjusting to new culture and homesickness. It just takes time and patience. More than expectations, I have questions and an open-mind. I think this is the best approach. A lot of this is scary, but only because its new. When I arrive in Santiago I am meeting my friend Nico who lives there and he is showing me around the city. I am excited for that weekend before orientation to spend some time touring with him, and for the whole experience. I'm also nervous, scared, overwhelmed, blessed, proud, anxious, happy, etc.

I'm going to try and update this blog frequently, so check back often. But not until after March 19th... because my next post will be from Chile. We'll see what the future brings.