Chile: Week 1!

So, I have just finished my fourth day in Chile!  I am doing a program called Open Doors, or Abre Puertas in Spanish.  Native speakers (and a few near-native speakers) are placed in public schools around the country to teach English. It is run by the government of Chile’s Ministry of Education, and is quite similar to the EPiK program in Korea and the JET program in Japan.   It is different than those two programs because it is much smaller: there are only 220 teachers in the program this year, compared to thousands in Korea and Japan.  The Open Doors program only places teachers in schools that have been identified as “vulnerable,” so the schools are some of the most disadvantaged in the country.  EPiK and JET, on the other hand, place teachers in all public schools across the country, including schools where students are well-off.

I decided to do the Open Doors program for several reasons.  The biggest factor was that the program was in Chile, a country that speaks Spanish.  I wanted to improve my Spanish, for both my personal and professional goals.  I had learned about Chile in Spanish class in high school because my high school teacher had lived in Chile for a year.  I wanted to learn about Chile for myself.  The Open Doors program sounded perfect because it provided a home stay, something that most teaching programs do not provide, and would allow me to work with disadvantaged kids.  Many programs in Asia put teachers into private English academies, which serve wealthier students whose parents can afford it.  I firmly believe that my time would be best spent teaching kids who don’t have the opportunities to go to private English programs or go to bilingual schools.  With these reasons in mind, I applied to Open Doors Chile.  I found out that I was accepted on June 9th, but that was the day that I had appendicitis and was rushed to the hospital, so the news about Chile was pushed to the back burner for a while.

I arrived in Chile on the morning of August 16th.  As soon as I got to the hostel, I found a huge group of other new teachers.  They said they were going on a walk, so I decided to join them.  We ended up walking about 30 minutes to a mountain (actually a hill) called San Cristóbal Hill.  Nine of us bought a ticket for a bus to get to the top of the mountain, because it looked like quite a long walk.  The summit was absolutely stunning, with views of the Andes at the eastern side of Santiago and a panorama of the entire city.  At the top of the mountain was a huge statue of the Virgin Mary. We walked around the statue and tried to take some pictures, but the lighting was horrible because it was midday.  After we spent some time on the top of the summit, we left the crowds of people and started on our long walk down the mountain.  It took about an hour and a half because we took the road, which was also used for cars and bikers, instead of the trail.  The trail would have been a lot faster, but a tourist guide who worked for the city told us that there were thieves on the trail so it wouldn’t be safe. We decided it would be better to be tired than to have thieves attack us (that’s the way the guide made it sound!).  Once we were back in the city, the nine of us found a restaurant and sat outside and ate pizza and empanadas.  It was beautiful outside and wonderful to finally eat (it was 4pm by then!).  After eating, we split up and five of us went to the Museo de Bellas Arts (Museum of Fine Arts).  It was a huge and impressive looking building. We went to see a special exhibition with artistic photography by David Lachapelle.  The photography was interesting, to see the least.  It contained lots of naked famous people in unrealistic situations, or Jesus in common situations with people (The Jesus is My Homeboy photography collection).  It was probably the weirdest photography that I had ever seen.

There are 57 new teachers in the program.  The breakdown of countries is as follows:

48: United States

2: The UK

2: India

1: Russia

1: Poland

1: Ukraine

1: New Zealand

1: Australia

We are all staying a hostel/hostel.  It’s a mix between the two.  We are sharing bathrooms and staying in large rooms with many people, like a hostel.  The lounge is informal and a good place to hang out with people.  It’s similar to a hotel in that somebody makes our beds and someone works all night at the front desk.  The program is providing us 3 meals a day at the hostel’s dining hall/restaurant.  Everyone is really nice.  I can sit down at any table at a meal and always feel welcome.

This week is all about orientation.  On the first day, we learned bout the program and our expectations.  We heard from three speakers throughout the day who work in the Ministry of Education, who told us about different aspects of the program and the Korean education system.  We learned that Chile is going through reforms now.  It is slowly getting rid of the partially-funded private school system. Over 50% of students in Chile attend one of these schools, in which the government pays part and the parents pay part.  The Ministry of Education wants to get rid of the system because some of these schools are making a profit, some of the schools aren’t good and can’t be regulated, and they want the municipal schools to get better.  This change, along with some other changes I believe, caused the teachers in Chile to go on a 2 month strike this year.  The speaker warned us that there might be tension in our schools that has nothing to do with us.

On the second day we learned about teaching. We participated in a sample 45 minute English lesson from one of our orientation leaders and then discussed the different elements of what made it a good lesson.  We learned the parts of a lesson and how to create a lesson. We practiced making a sample lesson with a partner on a given topic.  We learned that we should always have a clear objective for the students that is obtainable and ensures student success.  If you plan the objective before you make the activities, the lesson will be better.  The orientation leaders recommended that we should have a class warm-up activity (like a review from last week) and a closing “Exit-ticket” of something that students need to say in order to leave.  It was extremely helpful.

On the third day (Wednesday) we learned about classroom management.  We will all be working in municipal schools, and not only that, but the municipal schools that have been identified by their provinces as needing the most help.  There are lots of behavior problems in the schools, with kids talking in class, playing with their phones, or just not paying attention.  We order to help with this problem, we learned that we should have lots of positive reinforcement, give clear instructions, have no “dead time” (in which students are doing nothing while the teacher prepares), and make things easy so the students don’t check-out.  We brainstormed different classroom management techniques, like having class competitions and personal competitions and giving out stars or raffle tickets to students and to whole classes.  We spent 30 minutes working with a partner to develop something that might work for us.  It was quite difficult and my partner and I kept on having doubts about which system would work (should classes compete with each other? how do they get points? Can one bad student cause the whole class to not get a point? What if some classes only see you once a week rather than twice a week? etc).

Earlier in the day, we did a really fun activity.  We divided into two groups and took a class either all in Hindi or all in Portuguese.  Our teacher taught us basic Hindi for the colors and clothes and how to ask “What am I wearing?” “What are you wearing?” “What is she wearing?” and answer with “I am/You are/She is wearing ___ (color) ____ (item of clothing).  The teacher had lots of visual aids around the room and kept up the definitions of the words (with pictures or the clothing and the colors, not the English words!) so we could always refer back to it when we were trying to form sentences.  From this activity, we learned that we need to speak very slowly and not say any unnecessary words.  I realized that high fives are great, even with adults, as everyone in my class got excited when we had a chance to high five the teacher.  It was really cool to see that we could master basic words in a foreign language without any English translations.

This evening, ten of us ventured out to the Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral, an arts center in Santiago, to see a free music concert.  We heard a woodwind quintet play a piece of Schoenberg. New vocabulary word: bassoon is “fagot” in Spanish.  While I wouldn’t say that the piece was especially melodic, it was fun going out and hearing classical music in Chile.  On the way to the concert, we stopped by a little cafe called Gira Sol (which means sunflower in Spanish). The owner, Sol, told us all about the empanadas and the ingredients in each of them in a patiently kind voice.  She explained that she doesn’t know English but she always speaks slowly to foreigners, because she knows that the Chilean accent is so difficult!  It was really nice to meet someone who was so understanding.  We stopped by her shop after the concert and I bought a huge alfajor for everyone to try.  An alfajor is two cookies sealed together with dulce de leche (called manjar in Chile).  It’s very popular in Argentina, where I studied abroad, so I was familiar with it.  Since it’s only our first week here, the rest of our group had never tried it before!  I bought a huge alfajor for everyone to try. We all told Sol we would come back tomorrow for more.

All in all, I’m having a great first week in Chile.  The orientation in suburb, the orientation leaders are helpful and kind, and my fellow English teachers are friendly and in general really cool people.  I’m excited for the rest of orientation!


Daegu Bodypainting Festival Turns Nearly Nude Models into Exquisite Works of Art

I’m going to this on Saturday!

Life Outside of Texas

Daegu Bodypainting Festival | LifeOutsideOfTexas.comEvery year artists from all over the world gather in Daegu, South Korea to compete in the Daegu International Bodypainting Festival. The entire festival is so fascinating because you can watch the models’ bare skin transform into gorgeously painted canvases in a matter of hours.

The festival is broken up into two categories: Bodypainting and Fantasy Make-up. In the bodypainting competition, the models are nearly naked; most only wear underwear and tape over their breasts. The artists are given six hours to complete their masterpiece. The participants are judged on technique, originality and overall completion.

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#SaveFulbright: America Can’t Afford to Cut the Fulbright Program

The Obama Administration is planning on cutting the Fulbright Program. Here’s why this is a bad decision — and what we can do to stop it — written by fellow Korea Fulbright ETA Jon Rice.

The Rice Papers

For some of the Korean students I teach, I am the first American they have ever met in person, let alone interacted with on a regular basis. From  convincing my students that some Americans indeed do like spicy food to larger discussions about diversity and equality, I’ve been able to engage in ways that offer a critical and complex view of the world around us. I’ve learned a lot about Korea and Korean culture and have been able to share my knowledge with friends, family, and acquaintances back in the USA thanks to Fulbright.

The Fulbright Program is one of the best opportunities that America has to improve its relationship with the rest of the world. Instead of being bogged down in high-level diplomatic talks and lofty statements by politicians, Fulbrighters work to make a direct person-to-person impact. While there are other educational exchange programs that exist, Fulbright’s rich history…

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Classroom Complaints

I played the Sister Act review game with two classes today, the first grade highest level kids and the first grade second highest level kids.  I don’t know what happened, but it worked really well with the first class but not with the second.  I had prepared a game that asked them comprehension questions on the movie Sister Act, which the kids watched over the past 3 weeks.  The first class did really well.  Even if they didn’t know all the answers, they were paying attentin and participating in the game.  The second class was complete chaos.  It might have been too hard for them, either with the words (the first class, which is a higher level, didn’t know what the word punish meant) or maybe they knew the words individually but not the meaning of the whole question.  I want to give the kids the benefit of the doubt and say that the whole thing was too difficult for them.  But the fact that they were so noisy that I had to shout to be heard (by shouting, I mean talking extremely loudly) made me kind of upset.  There was general chaos in the room.  Kids said they were thirsty, kids were using the white boards to draw random things (including a picture of me), and kids were just talking.  This happened in the first class too, but at least they were playing the game.  I’m disappointed with how it went because it was a GAME.  Games are supposed to be fun.  Games are supposed to be what gets kids actually participating in English.  If they can’t even play a game without getting crazy, what am I supposed to do with them?  Is a movie the only thing that will get them to be quiet?  Should I have promised a prize at the end for the team that wins?  In both classes there was no co-teacher to help with translation (and classroom management), so hopefully in later classes this week there will be more participation. 

Does anyone have any ideas for how I can control the class and increase participation?


So how is teaching going?  Well,  I have a wide range of students.   Some of the students are great at English and can hold a conversation (one student told me that she read Harry Potter is fourth grade!), most of the students know a little bit of English, and maybe 1/6 students can barely read.  This is middle school.   Middle schools in Gyeongju (and possibly most of Korea) are not divided by level, which means that kids from wealthy families who can afford to send their kids to hagwon (private after school academies) go to school with kids from poor families who may have never been to a hagwon in their lives (though there are kids in my low level classes who do go to hagwon).  The difference in exposure to English at a young age translates to big differences in abilities in my classes.  My classes are divided by level – four levels for the 7th graders and 3 levels for the 8th graders (so all the 8th grade classes are over 30 kids, while the 7th grade classes range from 15 students to 26 students).

The classes also vary in behavior.  Some of the classes are wonderful – well behaved and diligent – while a couple classes are so disrespectful – nonstop talking and generally ignoring the activity.  The bad classes got me very upset in the beginning.  I actually screamed at a class during my first month.  Why didn’t the kids do the activity?  Throughout the semester however, I’ve become better at not getting upset.  I don’t like being angry, so I changed my mindset so that I don’t get angry.  Instead of becoming angry when their piece of paper is empty, I walk up to them, give them a marker if they don’t have a writing utensil (because they leave their pen in their classroom), take off the cap, and stick it in their hand.  I sarcastically explain “This is a pen.  You use it to WRITE” which gets them giggling.  I’ve also tried engaging the students who aren’t doing the work in other ways.  One girl was looking through an elementary school yearbook during the individual work time.  Instead of grabbing the yearbook and telling her to work, I asked her questions about the pictures and engaged her in conversation.  I act interested in what the kids are doing when they’re not working.  I laugh playfully at their complete lack of interest and make silly faces of disbelief at their empty papers, which makes the kids laugh.  I say the word for write in Korean in the command form, so they definitely know what I’m asking the to do.  I guess I just want the kids to like me if they’re not going to work anyway.  Their grades are based only on tests, so it doesn’t matter to their grades if they do the work or not (though their grades directly correlate with their diligence in my class…).  I think of the kids as silly teenagers instead of bad students.  They’re the rowdy kids in the movie Grease.  The behavior of the kids in Grease is funny, so my students’ lack of interest is funny too.

Last week I started teaching an after school class every day.  This is a cool experience because I finally have the chance to see students every day, instead of once a week.  My plan is to get the kids to actually speak English, instead of just listen to the Korean English teachers translate blocks of sentences at them (which is what seems to be going on in the English classes that they don’t have with me).  I’m going to be teaching American history through watching the movie Forrest Gump.  At first I thought that every day I would show 20 minutes of the movie and then discuss what we just watched, but not I realize I need to have more focused questions and activities.   So far we’ve watched up until Forrest goes to college and starts playing football.   Today I am planning on having a debate about whether college athletes at big state universities (like University of Alabama, where Forrest goes) should be paid or not (since they work really hard and make a ton of money for their universities).  The problem with the class is that the kids range from the highest to the lowest in their levels of English.   One girl was even accepted into a foreign language high school!  About half the class is able to write and understand me, while the other half doesn’t understand anything (or so it seems) and can’t write anything.  I’m not sure how to deal with this.  So far I’ve tried to aim the class towards the middle: I speak very slowly and say things a couple times, and then have one of the high level kids translate to the other kids (though they seem shy with translating).  A big challenge is that the kids don’t want to have a discussion.  Even the really high level kids seem shy in speaking in front of the class.  Yesterday I had them do some writing, and today I’m going to get them into groups for pro and con so they can talk to a smaller group of students.

Suneung Test: Learning About the Holocaust?

The suneung is the college entrance exam that students need to take in order to enter a South Korean university.  The high school students take a practice version of the test every month.  A couple weeks ago I asked one of the high school English teachers if I could have a copy of the practice test.  The English section consists of a listening section and a reading section.  The reading section is a bit like the SAT and the ACT, albeit for students whose first language is not English: the students read passages and need to choose the correct word, analyze the passages for meaning, and put paragraphs in order.  I wasn’t able to do most of the questions because the directions are in Korean, but I understood the point of the questions.  The most (insert adjective here) passage I read was about the Holocaust.  There were three questions attached to the passages, one of which was to put the paragraphs in order.  I’m not sure what the other two were asking.  Here is the passage, in correct paragraph order:


Greeting people you pass, particularly on a regular basis, with a warm “Hello” or “Good morning” establishes a human connection between those who otherwise might have no link at all.  Here is a story of a rabbi who lived in Danzig in the 1930s.  Each morning he used to take a stroll, and he would greet every man, woman, and child with a  warm smile and a cordial “Good morning.”  Over the years, the rabbi became acquainted with many of his fellow townspeople, and would always greet them by their proper title and name.

In the fields near town, there was a farmer whom he would pass.  “Good morning, Mr. Muller,” he would greet him.  “Good morning, Mr. Rabbi,” the man would respond.  When World War II broke out, the rabbi’s walks stopped, while Mr. Muller left his fields and joined the SS, the Nazi special police force.  After losing his family at the Treblinka death camp, the rabbi himself was sent to Auschwitz.  One day a selection occurred during which all the Jewish inmates had to pass in front of a Nazi officer, who signaled some people to go to the left, to the gas chambers, and others to the right, to a life of slave labor.

By this time the rabbi, who had long suffered from starvation and disease, already looked like a ‘walking skeleton.’  As the line moved forward, the voice directing people to the right and to the left started to sound familiar.  Soon the rabbi could see the face of a man who was sending people to life or death.  As he stood in front of the officer, he heard himself saying “Good morning, Mr. Muller.”  “Good morning, Mr. Rabbi!” the man responded.  “What are you doing here?”

Saying nothing, the rabbi smiled faintly; seconds later, Mr. Muller lifted his baton and signaled the rabbi to go to the right, to life.  A day later he was transferred to a safer camp, and survived the war.  He would say in his gentle voice, “This is the power of a good-morning greeting.  A man must always greet his fellow man.”


— So many feeling about this article.  First, is this the first exposure that these kids have to the Holocaust?  Do they know what a rabbi is?  Do they know what Treblinka and Auschwitz are?  What the term “Death camp” means?  While high schools in South Korea vary tremendously, I know that World History is an optional class at the high school in which my middle school is attached.  Most students just take Korean History.  For South Korea, WWII was mostly about Japan’s harsh treatment of Korea.  Korean males were forced to work for Japan, both in factories and the army, and Korean woman were forced to be sex slaves for the Japanese soldiers.  Are the students learning about the atrocities committed in Europe?

— Since the Nazi swastika is all over the place here, as it is a Buddhist symbol and is thus painted on many temples, I’m guessing that the symbol doesn’t bring to mind anything other than Buddhism.  Do the students know that it has a different meaning for many people in the world?

— The point of this article is not to educate students about the Holocaust, but to explain that a greeting could save your life.  Apparently if people are friendly and say hello to people, they can survive a death camp.  Is the Suneung teaching the students to be friendlier?

— Why the hell would Mr. Muller ask the rabbi “What are you doing here?”  It’s kind of obvious.  But no where in the article does it mention that a rabbi is a Jewish person.  So the students reading this passage, the question might be legitimate.  Why would this nice guy named Mr. Rabbi suddenly be at a death camp?  I think I should survey my survey and ask them if they know what a rabbi is.

Bonding with a teacher

Today I spent time with one of the teachers at my school.  She’s not an English teacher but I’d say she’s the best English speaker at the school besides the vice-principal, who lived in America for many years.  Anyway, she called me while I was on the bus coming home from school and wanted to know if I wanted to get dinner with her.  “umm, duh!” I thought, but I managed to say a polite “Oh yes, that would be wonderful!”  Five minutes after the phone call, she just happened to see me walking home from the bus (I had decided to skip my bus stop and get off with my students, which meant I was walking in an area no where near my house).  She picked me up in her car and we went to her apartment, a beautiful new complex in the middle of nowhere (meaning at least a half mile walk to anywhere).

I met her 14-year-old son with just a quick glance in my direction: he was studying by the computer with headphones on, and clearly didn’t want to be disturbed.  He actually yelled at his mom to be quiet a couple times.  I thought we would maybe talk at dinner but he ate in his room.  Apparently he’s really shy.  He lived in New Zealand for a year and a half (with a homestay family) so being bad at English isn’t the problem, I don’t think.  Maybe I’m just a scary person.

The teacher and I had a great conversation during dinner.   Her son’s math book was on the table and I got stuck on a difficult problem.  We had to solve for x, but I’m pretty sure there was no solution to the problem.  If 8th graders are doing problems like these, it’s no wonder that Korea has the smartest kids in the world in math.  The teacher told me that some people are trying to make math easier for students.  She explained that the math level is too difficult for students.  I’m not sure how this is bad.  It seems that kids can accomplish whatever they are taught.  Math is the U.S. isn’t as hard compared to math in Korea, but students still struggle with algebra.  I think that there’s too much pressure on kids to be good at math.  In the U.S. you can still be smart even if you’re not good at math, trying to make math easier, math is too difficult in korea, she was bad at math in school so she couldn’t go to a renowned college, and she couldn’t work in business, even though she thinks she would have been good at business.

After dinner we left to go drop her son off at Hagwan.  Apparently he goes there to get someone else to make him study English vocabulary.  I couldn’t tell if the teacher at the Hagwan actually taught him or not.  We then drove downtown and looked around for a tea place, but it ended up being closed, so we went to one of downtown’s many coffee shops.  We got jujube tea (a jujube is apparently a Chinese date).  I spent a while on the dictionary trying to figure out how to translate the word date into Korean (since all the definitions that pop up have to do with other meanings of the word).  We talked about a lot of things.  It was really great to be able to have a conversation with one of my co-workers after feeling disconnected from my fellow teachers because of the language barrier.