June Solstice

Today is the winter solstice, the longest night of the year in the southern hemisphere. In few days is also the Mapuche new year.

The Mapuche are the indigenous people of Southern Chile and Argentina, who  fought off the Spanish and Germans for hundreds of years. They keep their traditions and culture alive in modern Chile, and living here in the Los Rios region has brought me closer to their community. The New Year, or We-tripantu, is their biggest celebration. It’s a time of new beginnings. A new season.

Today, my friend Maribel gave me this new year’s gift. A fellow teacher at her school hand-made it from a small orange. It still smells like citrus. Tomorrow I’m traveling with her and some friends to the region above us where most of the country’s Mapuche people live. Until Sunday!

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.

Winter begins

Everyone warned me about the winter here. With no central heating anywhere, I was told to pack like I was going to Antarctica. This morning was pretty cold in the school…

Class with my 8th graders this morning @ 8am. We’re stocked up on blankets.

But even though it’s cold, the last few days have been gorgeous and sunny. I usually walk past the local market (“feria”) after classes, down on the Calle-Calle River. Here are some photos from this freezing cold morning…

It’s just like Pier 39 in SF.

Valdivia’s waterfront.

Pancakes & Puerto Varas

It’s been a while since the last update. All is well in the Southern Hemisphere. A few weeks ago, major culture shock hit, my language-learning plateaued, and now I’m just re-adjusting to this new phase of life in Chile. (Next post all about that coming later this week!)

The days are freezing, or “helado”, as Chileans describe it, which literally means,” ice-cream.” It’s weird seeing bare trees and short days in June. I feel like I should be getting ready for Thanksgiving.

These past few weekends I’ve been going to Puerto Varas, a lakeside town about three hours south of Valdivia in Northern Patagonia. It’s right on Lake Llanquihue, one of Chile’s largest lakes.

Last weekend I stayed with Elise and her host family in Osorno, another town south of Valdivia. We went out with her Chilean friends, and then cooked her family a North American brunch the next day. Pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, and avocados filled my life on Sunday.

Elise’s host daughter Dani invited some friends over to take part in our massive gringo brunch. It was epic.

The Chileans were amused.

getting fancy.

A masterpiece.

Post-North American breakfast with Elise’s host family.

Elise and her host sister, Dani.

Lake Llanquihue with volcano Osorno.

Puerto Varas

Puerto Varas. Couldn’t see the three volcanos in the distance today…

English Debates

I’m so proud of my students!!!

Our team just ranked second in the first round of Chile’s high school debate tournament! If they pass the next round, we’ll go to the nationals in Viña del Mar.

One of our duties as teachers in this program is to form and guide a team of 6 students. We helped coach them after class, preparing both sides of the argument, “Organ donation should be compulsory.” All teams had to research both sides, because nobody knew which side they’d be arguing, or what school they’d be going against, until the day of the tournament.

I saw my students’ faces drop this morning when they found out they were debating with last year’s champions: Instituto Salesiano. (It was like we were the Oakland A’s about to go up against the NY Yankees.)  My students were already nervous as it was: the ominous microphone, a debate in their second language, and now this.

Right before they went on, I told them: do not worry about making language mistakes…just speak with passion. And they did it!!!

With their participation certificates before we found out they ranked 2nd. (Matius was so nervous before going on, but he nailed the closing speech!!)

About to go up against last year’s winning school. Our team is on the right.

First speaker…rocked it!

The team

Woot!! Inmaculada Concepción

Arte de la calle

Chile is a land of wilderness. Living here has brought me closer to the elements, the weather, and to the calmness of nature. I’m constantly amazed by the beauty of its quiet cities and mountains, but I also want to turn the spotlight  to its human-made streets. The art in the alleyways. Santiago and Valparaíso are known for their elaborate murals, but I’ve found a lot of beauty in the streets of Southern Chile as well.

Here’s a look at Valdivia and Puerto Varas…


This one was created during last year’s student protests. “The anger of the city”- Valdivia



Puerto Varas

Dali-inspired? Valdivia.



Poster announcing the a student march for May 16. -Valdivia.


30 days later…

I’m one month into teaching.

All I have to say is hats off to middle school teachers. Teaching adolescents has been a demanding, but rewarding experience.

Every morning at 8am, I need to gather the energy to lead a class of teenagers. Not just teach them English…(that’s the easy part)…but make them engaged. Unlike teaching ESL to kids, teenagers are a tough crowd. Getting them to speak in a second language feels impossible on some days. Shyness, insecurity in front of their peers, drama, 17-year-old boys who couldn’t be bothered- all kinds of issues, personalities, and family backgrounds come into my classroom every day. My mind is constantly adapting to these various attention spans, attitudes, and English skills.

In Chile, I go through plan A, B, C, D, E, ( and F ) every day. It’s almost guaranteed that the first two plans are not going to go how they’re played out in my mind. Nope. Actually, when stuff does go exactly as planned,  I start to feel skeptical- like the fates are messing with me. (This is Chile, isn’t it!?)

IV medios (seniors)

Classes have overall been going well. My students are pretty behaved compared to other schools. (My friend ended up kicking out his entire class a few weeks ago because they wouldn’t listen to him.)

As the weeks go on, I’ve learned that altering my lessons slightly for each group is the key to a smooth class. One particular class of 4 medios loves learning about world news, so I always try and bring in a video or current event  to start the day. Last week I showed them the video of Obama’s speech saying gay couples should be allowed to marry. For the rest of the class, they worked on their dialogues for a video we’re making about Chile.  The Red Hot Chili Peppers played in the background. (There are two boys in this class who rarely speak, but they knew every word to “Californication”, and sang along perfectly.)

After the bell rang, I was erasing the whiteboard and amidst the shuffle of students leaving, I heard one girl call me. “Meees….” I turned around and she smiled, “Your classes are fun.” You have no idea how much that sentence made my day. After a long week, it felt all worth it just to hear that.

And another sweet surprise: Last week,  in my III medio class, one of my student’s asked me out of nowhere, “Meees….Do you know Berkeley?” Berkeley!? It was the last city I was expecting my students to ask me about. Apparently, she read a book by Isabelle Allende, and the characters were in Berkeley. Now she wants to go visit. That’s where I was living and working before moving to Chile. Some of my family still lives there, and it will always be my home. Hearing my student ask me about it made me smile.

I have so many stories to tell from my classes, but that post will be for another day. Right now it’s Friday, and I’m heading to Northern Patagonia in a few hours. Next up: volcanos and lakeside towns.

My III medios. Host sister’s in the middle!

My II medio student wrote a biography of himself. Dreams include: marrying Megan Fox and having many kids.