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):

Monday, January 16, 2012

2012: The End of the... Beginning

Goodbye 2011, the best year of my life...

As you might know, EOD has ended and most of the volunteers left in December, ready to begin the next chapter of their lives.

Most. Every so often a volunteer just isn´t ready to leave, and here I am, typing this from Antofagasta as the year has changed to 2012. Every year on NYE I wonder where I will be a year from then. Last year I imagined I would be in Ohio, having just come back from Chile and celebrating with friends and family. I never thought I would still be here!

In November I had a lot of anxiety about whether to stay or go and where life was taking me. I spent a lot of time thinking about it, as staying here was the riskier choice. But I decided to stay for several reasons, including getting more teaching experience, learning more Spanish, enjoying summer here, and spending time with people I have come to form deep relationships with.

I don´t know how long I will remain in Chile. I will probably accept a job as an elementary school teacher at a bilingual school and return home in December. More on that a different time. For now I am still figuring out my plans/job situation in Chile. This summer I am working at a language institute teaching English.

So what has happened since November? Lots...
1. School ended
This was bittersweet. I miss the kids, but by the end of the year I was ready to move on. There was less work to do and I was not teaching very much because the students had tests and projects.

2. Trip to the south
EOD had closing ceremonies and we all went to Santiago to receive our diplomas and bid farewell. Once the ceremonies ended, I travelled to Mendoza, Argentina and then to southern Chile: Pucón, Puerto Varas, and Chiloé before returning to Santiago and finally Antofagasta.

Mendoza, Argentina
I went with another volunteer friend- Laura- to Mendoza, Argentina. Mendoza is a lovely city that is tree-lined on every single street. I just adored it immensely and I wish more cities looked like that. I have been to many cities, and Mendoza might be one of my favorite. Argentina is different than Chile- the Spanish is better (sorry Chilenos), it is more sing-songy/Italian-like and they use "vos" as the tú form. I only visited Mendoza so I cannot speak for all of Argentina, but Mendoza was clean and didn´t have as many stray dogs as Chilean cities have. It is famous for its beef (best I ever had) and Mendoza has many excellent wineries. Laura and I spent one afternoon taking a bikes and wines tour- where you rent bikes and visit local wineries. That was a very... happy... afternoon. We also visited hot springs and had a fabulous buffet lunch, mud treatment, and just a wonderful day. The last thing we did was walk around a gorgeous park called San Martin. After Mendoza Laura left to go to Cordoba and I travelled by myself to southern Chile...

Laura on the rocks near the hot springs

Parque San Martin

The crazy road between Mendoza and Santiago

After living in the world´s driest desert, visiting a place carpeted in green with trees, lakes, volcanoes, and waterfalls was pure magic. Pucón is the adventure capital of southern Chile, and there are lots of outdoor activities to do, including rafting, canyoning, canopy, horse back riding, hiking, skydiving, etc. Anything you can think of is there. The first day I was there almost all the tours were booked, so I went on a free city tour and planned my trip out. The next day I signed up to go do canopy (zip-lining) and canyoning as a package deal. Canyoning is going through a canyon river with white water rapids using just your body. Basically you float through the rapids and jump off waterfalls, rapel down cliffs, etc. I was super stoked to do both activities, until the tour company lied to me. As I was about to leave for the canopy tour they told me I was the only one signed up for canyoning and they would cancel if nobody else signed up. Nobody else did, and instead of apologizing, they just smiled and asked if I wanted to go a different day. No, I just wanted my money back.

Overview of Pucón. The haziness is not normal cloudiness- it´s ash from a volcano 6 hours away

People keep peacocks as pets here!

Wooden flowers- not a single one is real

Climbing Volcán Villarica
Ahh such a terrifying, awesome experience. We left at 7am to climb this snow-capped, active volcano. The guides warned us we might not make it up the top if we didn´t take the ski left, so took it we did (the ones that didn´t did not make it to the crater... how terrible). It was exhausting climbing a volcano and every time I looked sideways I felt dizzy. The quality of the company was OK for the price, but it wasn´t very personal and it was hard to keep climbing at times. One girl left the volcano after the first break! However after a straight incline for 3-4 hours we reached the top. Totally worth it. Beautiful, dangerous, rewarding, and unique. I peered into the crater and could smell the sulfur and hear the bubbling magma. During summer you can even see it sometimes, but not when we went. We were up there for about 40 minutes and then started sliding down the volcano.

I had a childhood fantasy about sledding ridiculously fast and forever down a huge mountain. It seemed to be a popular activity with most tourists, but it was the scariest part of the experience for me. You start going fast and it is hard to stop. They give you an ICE PICK to brake. A couple of times I lost control and flipped around with the ice pick. Uh yeah, not the epitome of safety. Regardless, I still recommend this as a fantastic adventure for the brave at heart.

After my volcano day, my legs were surprisingly not sore at all. But my arms, from the damn ice pick, were sore for days, even my wrists! I saw some pretty waterfalls in a forest, then headed to Puerto Varas.

The volcano

View from the top

Next to the crater

Sliding down with an ice pick 

30 second video of Volcán Villarrica

Puerto Varas
Puerto Varas is a city known for German influences, roses, and the beautiful scenery. The city has a bay with a volcano on the other side. In Puerto Varas I saw waterfalls, rainforests (not tropical ones), went to Frutillar for a morning, and finally went canyoning. I almost canceled canyoning, but I am so glad I did not. It was tied with the volcano in terms of pure awesomeness. Expensive of course, but one of the best things I have ever done in my life. I have videos, but they are on a disk somewhere. I jumped off of cliffs and rapelled down a waterfall. The craziest thing was I jumped 14-15 meters off a cliff next to a waterfall with another girl. It was the highest jump offered, and the tour company said we were the only girls to ever have done it!

Saltos de Petrohué

Lago Todos los Santos


Isla de Chiloé
I was told Chiloé is a place you either love or hate. I turned out to be a lover. Chiloé is an island off the southern coast of Chile that has its own culture. It has been plagued with earthquakes and tsunamis, and somewhere along the way developed lots of mythology. The most popular myth is ¨El Trauco,¨ an ugly dwarf that lives in the woods and impregnates women who encounter him. Luckily I met no such creature! However, I did meet a professional photographer on my bus who took photos for me using his camera my first day there.

Chiloé is famous for wooden churches and palafitos, wooden houses held up by sticks (palos are sticks in Spanish) in the water. Unfortunately I did not see too many churches because of lack of time, but I did see the wooden cathedral, the palafitos, and a penguin colony. I visited Chiloé National Park, but that ended up not being the greatest idea. It was so complicated to get there and took forever. It ended up being a waste of time, but I did visit the beach there and it was probably the best beach I have ever seen. I wish I had more time in Chiloé, and would definitely go back. It was one of the few places in Chile that has not been (completely) invaded by US culture. The myths didn´t even feel like myths, they felt real. The wooden houses, rolling hillsides, and locals made the entire island actually FEEL like a fairytale. I could have sworn I would see Pinocchio around every corner.

Palafitos Uno

Palafitos 2

Inside the all-wood cathedral

Curanto, the famous dish from Chiloé


Mythology everywhere

Rolling countryside

Before returning to Antofagasta, I made a short trip to Santiago to rest between buses, visit friends, and buy some things. Overall it was a great trip, minus some bumps along the way. It was also the first time I had travelled by myself, which proved to be more rewarding than scary.

Drive back to Antofa...

Por fin! I finally get a picture of the hand in the desert.

To see all pictures from Santiago/Mendoza/Pucón/Puerto Varas/Chiloé, click here- Santiago and Mendoza and here- South 2.

3. Christmas and NYE
Wow! First Christmas away from my family, let alone in a foreign country. I can never feel too much ¨Christmas spirit¨ until I see snow. This year the only snow I saw was fake and came in a spray can. It was 70 degrees and sunny, but a Christmas I will never forget. The little boy I tutor invited me to spend Christmas eve with his family, and on Christmas I had lunch with Felipe´s family and watched the latest Twilight movie. There were some Christmas events in the city, like a free concert a few weeks before Christmas. NYE was really neat... we spent it on the beach watching fireworks!

4. Coquimbo English Summer Camp
I am officially done with English Opens Doors, but last week I did one week of summer camp for them in Coquimbo. Coquimbo is a city right next to my beloved La Serena. I met great people and enjoyed the change of scenery (yay trees) for one week. Not going to lie, there were some problems, such as a potential case of food poisoning the last day, but I am still glad I went. It is always nice to make new friends and refresh yourself with a trip. The theme of camp was ¨Go Green, Rock On!¨ I have always wanted to be part of a flash mob, and now I can say I have! We went to the main plaza and threw a plastic bottle on the ground. When someone picked it up, the entire camp appeared out of the woodwork and ran after this guy congratulating him. It was hilarious, because he was eating ice cream and completely chill about it... he didn´t even realize 50 kids were behind him screaming and applauding.

Plaza de Armas in Coquimbo

The kids, post-flash mob

Two sweet girls

The giant cross in Coquimbo

View from the cross

The only mosque I have seen in Chile

5. Chilean Wedding
Saturday night after returning from camp I went to a wedding with Felipe. It was similar to a wedding in the states, but more simple and relaxed. There was still a reception with all of the traditions we have in the states, but nothing super elaborate. Chileans don´t have bridesmaids and wedding showers or all of these expenses. But it was fun- during the dancing they were spraying silly string, foam, confetti was everywhere, and we each got glowsticks.

Summer in Winter
I know in the states everyone is suffering through winter, but here it is hot and sunny every single day. There is no rain, just summer summer summer. You might think I am crazy but... I am sick of it. I would pay money to see rain and have leaves changing or snow falling or something besides sunny days all the time. That being said, I am enjoying the eternal sunshine of this desert city, and you can go swimming at night at the beach.

Readjusting to Chile, Again.
It has been so strange being back because all the volunteers are gone and so is my time with EOD. Now I am more accepting the reality of the Chilean lifestyle and all enchantment is gone. That is not to say I am not enjoying my time here, but I am so past culture shock and the extreme highs and lows of living in a new country. I have almost completed one year here, and life is stable.

It was odd to me in Coquimbo when I met new EOD volunteers who had only been in the country for a week. They were so excited to be there and doe-eyed about everything.

¨Oh my god- a completo! What is that? I have to try one!¨

¨Look at these different colored houses!¨

¨What a cute stray dog! Oh my god it´s following us!¨

¨...What does ¨weon¨ mean?¨

I remember being like that. I videotaped eating the first completo I tried and the reactions of my friends. I took a picture with the first stray dog I saw. I couldn´t stop staring at the colored houses for a solid month when I got here. Yeah, I know.

Now its just... eh, been there, done that. I have decided to stay in Chile for a while longer, but one day I will definitely return to the US. One reason is because I am really grateful for the salaries and opportunities I have there. I interviewed for real-life Chilean teaching jobs (not EOD´s volunteer job), and I learned the average salary was $10000-$12000 a year after taxes. That is for a full-time job with the same amount of work as the US. The job I might take pays a lot more, but it is because I am a native speaker of English and it is a private school.

Anyway to be here without EOD makes the city feel like a different place. As all of the volunteers are gone so is the rah-rah of arriving in a new country. I am trying to find real work here and coming to terms with my decision to stay. It has been stressful, but I will be fine after I find stable work again. This ¨summer in winter¨ should be a lot of fun, and next month we are celebrating Antofagasta´s anniversary (the 14th- Valentine´s Day!) and Felipe´s birthday (the 15th). There definitely won´t be any trips in my upcoming future, but if everything works out at the school I should have a steady cash flow once the school year starts in March.

Saludos a 2012, el fin del comienzo.