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!

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