More Reflections on Teaching English Abroad

I can’t believe how fast three months have flown by. I’m just starting to get my feet and feel at home in this new country. Last week, all of the teachers in my region had a meeting with our regional representative here in Valdivia. We talked about our experiences so far, and gave some feedback. I had one “ah ha” moment during this day. As follows…

My seniors

“How is everyone,” the regional rep asked us, looking around the table. “Andrea,” he smiled, “You look so happy. That is good.” I had an ear infection and was drenched from the rainstorm I’d just walked through to get here. But I was smiling, and didn’t even realize it. And then I understood why. I had a cup of warm tea in front of me. I was inside a cozy room. I was surrounded by other familiar faces. Sincere appreciation of these little details is something I’ve noticed myself doing more and more here.

Here are a few of them: Falling asleep to the sound of rain on a tin roof.  Hot wine, or, “Navegado” on a cold night. Warming up next to a wood burning stove. The smell of the mountains. A conversation with someone selling sopaipillas. More simplicity, but also, more chaos. That’s Chile.

This English Opens Doors Program is a lottery, and everyone’s situation is unique. Some people were placed in Santiago, and they’re living it up with other foreigners in an international city. Others are in rural communities with populations barely above 3,000 people. Some of us teach at high-risk public schools, while others teach at semi-private “colegios”, with better resources and quality of education.

I read this quote somewhere yesterday, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” I couldn’t think of a better way to say it. But out of all of the personal transformations these last few months, it’s my student’s who’ve taught me the most. They teach me empathy, humor, and patience. They teach me about people, and how to understand moods and adapt.

One of my favorite groups. IV Medio B

It’s not easy. I have one class of 17-year-old boys who are extremely difficult on purpose. Their attitudes really suck, and teaching them in 45-minute blocks is always grueling. They clearly don’t want to be there, and getting them to do anything is a pain. But I try to act with empathy. Lately I’ve been sitting with them in the desks instead of standing up in front of the room when we start class. I think coming down to their level has caught them off guard, and so far it’s helped change the mood a bit.

III Medio B Class

However, what happened last week redeemed all of the stressful teaching moments. It was Wednesday, and I was having an off-day. I tired, and didn’t feel like leading class at all. It was the toughest day I’ve had at school so far. Even though I was still smiling and trying to get the energy together, one of my senior classes picked up on my mood.  When they left the class, I saw this on the board… It made my week.

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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.