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.


  1. This is a fantastic blog, Sarah! I'm so excited for you!

  2. Good luck Sarah : )I'm so happy for you.

  3. Justin (your cousin)April 17, 2011 at 10:58 PM


    I showed my Spanish professor your blog and she asked me to pass along a message. She said that she thoroughly enjoyed reading what you've written. One of her favorites was how your students react to you entering the class and how much they like you.

    I hope your trip goes really well! Best of luck!

  4. Thanks Justin! If she wants to friend me on facebook she can see my photos too! my regular name (the one you are friends with) has the pictures. I have another name- Profe Sarah Wright- for the students. She can friend me on both if she likes, the one with the students is pretty cute!


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