Ciao, Santiago!

The first week of teacher training here in Santiago is done.

It’s gone by so fast, and tomorrow, everyone leaves for their placement towns, scattered across Chile’s 3,000 miles. I knew I was assigned to the Southern region before arriving in Santiago, but it wasn’t until Tuesday when I finally found out my town. I’ll be teaching in Valdivia. With about 140,000 people, it’s known for its large German community, craft breweries, and college-town feel. I’ll be teaching English at a Catholic high school.

I leave on a 12 hour bus ride from Santiago tomorrow night, where I’ll meet my host family at the bus stop. It’s been an intense and amazing week for the group here in Santiago. I’ve grown close with some great people, but some of them have placements  thousands of miles away.

Today was our last day in Santiago, and Cami, Marshall, Vanya and I headed to Chile’s Human Rights Memorial Museum, the “Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos.” This museum is one of the most moving places I’ve seen in my life. They don’t let you take photos, so everything from this place will be in my memory. The second floor is dedicated entirely to Chile’s two decades of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship. Thousands of people were killed or went missing during this time. I can write a whole blog about this time period later, since it’s something I’m learning more about.

Today was also March 29th, meaning that bars, businesses and restaurants were closing early. It was the “Day of the Young Combattants.” Every year on this day, Chile’s young people rally in the streets, in commemoration of two brothers who were killed in 1985 under Pinochet’s rule.

It was a very wide-spread caution, as Chilean locals were not making plans to go out tonight and business closed in anticipation of any riots. But since it was last night in Santiago, our group wanted to go have a goodbye drink. But right when we stepped out of the hostel, I noticed the streets had an eerie silence. Nobody was outside. We immediately decided to stay right next to the hostel at a local place we were familiar with.

Everything this week has gone so fast. I can’t believe the next step of this journey starts tomorrow.  This past week in Santiago was a safety net of English speakers, but it’s speaking Spanish from here on out. Until next week!

Santa Lucia hill in Santiago

Santiago’s metro. Unlike MUNI, this thing runs on a schedule.

EOD swag

We had orientation here, a conference retreat for the Ministry of Eduction in the hills of Santiago.

Orientation site

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Earthquakes and the first days

After exploring Santiago on my own for a few days, about a dozen other volunteers arrived on Saturday, with more to follow tomorrow. So far, we have people from the UK, Australia, California, Colorado, New York and Texas. It was so reassuring to meet everyone else. As expected, I started questioning my sanity on the plane from Toronto to Santiago. “What am I doing?” was on repeat as we pulled out from the gate. But after meeting this group this weekend, I realize that Chile is exactly where I need to be.

The only thing that was a little unnerving were the three earthquakes, or “terremotos”, I’ve felt since landing here. The first one woke everyone in my hostel room up at 4:30 am. A few days later a 7.2-er shook the Maule Region, about 150 miles south of Santiago. I’ve noticed that the earthquakes in Chile last longer, but they don’t feel as sharp as the quick jolts that rock California. A “terremoto” is also one of Chile’s national cocktails. (It would be.) It’s basically white wine served with pineapple ice-cream…like root beer float. They’re dizzying and overwhelmingly sweet.

Apart from the quakes, Spanish has been going alright. I’m picking up the language quicker than I thought, but the Chilean accent is notoriously difficult, even for people in my program who’ve studied Spanish for years. Along with weaving in dozens of slang words, Chileans drop the ‘s’ from everything. “Gracias” becomes “Gracia” and “buenos dias” turns into “bueno dia.” They also pronounce double l’s as a “j’. So “lluvia” sounds like “joo-vea” and “calle” becomes “Ki-jay.” Wierd!

But the most important Chilean word is “Cachai”. They throw it on the end of sentences as a way of saying “You know? Ya feel me?”.

Barrio Brasil

Pisco Sour. Chile’s national drink is delicious.

Artwork in Santiago for children who’ve suffered physical abuse.

Marshall and Elaine! Plaza de Armas!

Chile’s Central Market. Great place to find fresh seafood and fruit.

“The struggle continues…” More student protests likely for 2012.

Plaza de Aramas

Sea barnacle?

Team UK-Australia-USA.

Central Market

Museo Nacional de Bellas Arts

Hablo Frespganol

I’ve made it to Chile! I landed at 11am, and  right when the pilot announced, “Bienvenidos a Santiago,” that’s when it hit me.

I took three flights to get here: SFO to DC to Toronto to Santiago. (Yes.)  As much as much as I love travel, I have a huge fear of airplanes.  I always laugh at myself for it. But whenever there’s a jolt of turbulence, I’m convinced with all heart and soul that it’s really the end.

Right now I’m staying at a hostel in Barrio Brasil, a neighborhood in central Santiago with cafes, universities and small streets. It reminds me of parts of Barcelona. Since I’m a few days early, there aren’t other volunteers around yet. Being alone in a new country, with no cellphone, is one of the most exhilarating feelings.

I did find some people from Denver last night, and we went exploring Barrio Brasil’s narrow streets. We found this little place called “Good Drinks”, which has become  become a sort of home base for me. It’s owned by a Peruvian couple who plays Celia Cruz music you can hear from down the street.

We were eating empanadas, when the waiter came over and asked us something. I could only understand two words: “Donde” and “pais”. Lucky for me, “pais” sounds just like the French word for “country”,  so I knew that he asked where we were from.

I’ve been doing this a lot. If don’t know a word or verb, I’ll try it in French. Sometimes it works, other times I just get blank looks. Hablo Frespagnol.

The Denver people left for Patagonia this morning, so I went to Good Drinks to get acclimated to the city and write. The Peruvian couple has been so patient with my basic Spanish. Right now I only know  a handful of verbs in the present tense, and some basic phrases and questions.

I started learning French when I was 13, and I’m starting to realize how intricate the language learning process is. It took years of classroom learning, watching French movies, talking to locals, reading, and exposure to all kinds of French culture, to be able to really understand not just how French is spoken, but how it’s used. When to throw in a filler word, or how to ask question in the local slang is something I took for granted in French.

The Spanish learning is just beginning. Right now I’m just focusing on survival and basic communication. I can’t wait for the day when I can have an actual conversation!

FAQs about going to Chile

Why Chile?

I want to completely immerse myself in a Spanish-speaking country. I’m half Mexican, but never learned Spanish growing up. I considered heading to Mexico or Argentina, but Chile came through with a program that I liked, and it felt like the right choice.

However, leaving behind my group of friends, a job, my family, and the Bay Area was not an easy decision.

So…What am I doing?

Teaching English through government’s English Opens Doors.

The program is run by the Chilean Ministry of Education, with support from UN Development Program. The goal is to make English language learning more accessible to all of Chile’s communities.

I’ll either be in a public or semi-private school, teaching alongside a local Chilean teacher. I’ll be teaching different levels, ranging from grade 5 through high school seniors.

Where am I living? 

I’ll be living right above Puerto Montt on the map, in Regíon de Los Ríos. I’ll be living with a host family. I won’t meet them or find out the exact town or school I’m teaching in until I arrive for orientation in Santiago.

How long am I staying? 

Good question. My contract is officially up in July, but I plan on renewing this. (You can for up to a year.) My goal is to stay in Chile until I learn Spanish, however long that takes. We’ll see what happens!

More on Chile:

•President: Sebastian Piñera

•Population: 16 million (Over 2/3 live around the capital, Santiago.)

•Over 620 volcanos.