Our World Our Way

Traveling the World in Our Way and On Our Own Terms

Chile🇨🇱: The Tale of Two Cities

La Ligua and Papudo, Chile (Valaparíso Region) March 19-June 29, 2018 Authors: Jetta & Vanessa Washington   The interview below that you are about to read, is an interview Vanessa did with the English Opens Doors Program (EODP) early into her volunteer teaching in Chile. A small update has been added since that time, but her overall experience is unchanged.   EODP: Where are you from, and what were you doing before applying to the EODP? Why did you choose the EODP, and what were you looking to get out of this experience?VANESSA: I am originally from Hampton, Virginia. In 2017 my spouse and I decided to sell all of our belongings and leave the states to travel the world. We arrived in South America on August 10th.  The main goal we have is to immerse ourselves in the various cultures to truly learn what life is like around the globe.While searching for volunteer opportunities, we stumbled upon EODP and it sounded so amazing. The total immersion in the community is exactly what we wanted. And the fact that there is no charge for volunteers was the catalyst that pushed me to apply. I didn’t think I would be accepted because, although I had been a corporate trainer for 12 years, I had never had any formal teaching experience.  Thankfully, I did not let that stop me from applying to the program. My goal for my time here is to give as much of my knowledge to these children as I can, and learn from them in the process. EODP:Please describe your experience with the EODP’s orientation.VANESSA: My orientation was really great. I never felt like we were being bombarded with info that was useless. The sessions were all so informative and very interesting. I feel that NVC thoroughly prepared me for my volunteer service. EODP:Could you tell us a bit about your placement community (the place itself)?VANESSA: My placement community is La Ligua, Chile. It is a quaint little town but it’s not too small at the same time. The people here seem very friendly and I feel completely safe. I walk to school each morning before the sun rises and I’ve never felt unsafe at all.  There are grocery stores, pharmacies, cell phone stores, restaurants as well as a shopping area all within walking distance of my home. My spouse and I joined EODP together so we are living independently. With the help of Jeremy, we found a wonderful apartment that is close to everything. My school is only a 25 minute walk from my home which is great for me!  I get a great workout in everyday just by going  to school!

You see as many stray horses as you see stray cats here in La Ligua! This one belonged to one of the students in my school.  He was lost and thanks to my @Instagram post, they found him and brought him home!

Although my experience as a whole has been very good, there were some things that gave me pause.  What a lot of people don’t know is that there are a lot of Haitian immigrants in Chile.  Unfortunately these immigrants are not welcomed by all Chileans.  Here in La Ligua, it is out of the ordinary to see African Americans. So, when they see us, we are often greeting with “Bonjour” rather than “Hola”.  They assume we are Haitians and treat us as such. I’ve been followed around stores, and given some pretty dirty looks, much the same as I have been in the states.  Oddly enough, the Haitian women look at me with sheer hate and disgust. It’s quite unnerving. On the bright side, the police here don’t make me nervous like the police in the states do.EODP:Please tell us about your school community, and your experience in it so far.VANESSA:The community is very quiet. Whenever I walk through the main square I can guarantee that I see a few of my kids as well as the other teachers or admins. Everything is within walking distance of my home.  On the weekends I like to visit Papudo Beach which is only a 30 minute bus ride!  I absolutely love how convenient everything is. EODP:Specifically, please talk to us about your reception with the students that you are working with, including challenges and rewarding aspects.VANESSA:To say that I had a warm welcome is a HUGE understatement. They had a “Grand Opening” for my English class that was initiated by the mayor of La Ligua and included many of the teachers and representatives for the Ministry of Education.

“Grand Opening” of the English class.
Vanessa and her English teachers, Angelica, Hector, M. Loreto and Manuel Ruiz(Head Teacher

Everyone; students, teachers, administrators and even the campus pups have been overwhelmingly kind to me. The staff, including all my teachers, have been so helpful and made me feel like one of the family from the start.  The students greet me with hugs and kisses each day. I get such a kick out of hearing “Hello Miss” from all over the campus, not just from my students, but all the students.The students are so much fun to work with. Granted, there are some who are a bit challenging, but I’ve learned how to reign them in when they get too rowdy. It also helps that the well behaved students help to keep the others in order.  To see the excitement on their faces when they come to my class is what give me so much joy! EODP:What else can you tell us about your experience volunteering with the EODP thus far that you feel is relevant, and worth sharing with current and future volunteers?VANESSA:My experience with EODP is what I hope for all current and future volunteers.  I have a beautiful and huge classroom. Everyone has been so helpful and supportive. My head teachers are all so kind and willing to do whatever it takes to make things run smoothly for me. Even though this is hard work, it is so rewarding. The kids are really learning and that’s what it’s all about. I feel so blessed to have had this opportunity. I have so much fun with these kids. I love my school and the kids make me smile everyday.  I was tagged in the pictures below directly from the Liceo Pulmahue Facebook page. 


– – – – – – – – – – – – – –   This story continues now with Jetta. The same questions that the English Opens Doors Program (EODP) asked of Vanessa, Jetta now answers, giving insight into both the volunteer teaching experience at her school and life in Chile.   EODP: Where are you from, and what were you doing before applying to the EODP? Why did you choose the EODP, and what were you looking to get out of this experience?JETTA: I am from Miami, Florida, but I have also lived in Atlanta and in Virginia. Before applying to volunteer with the EODP, I worked as a Digital Software Trainer. I believe it is important to connect with people in meaningful ways, especially when your backgrounds differ. Helping others to learn a new language can aid in breaking down barriers and give a cultural exchange that is needed in today’s world. Plus, I wanted to teach young people my language in exchange for learning theirs. Many volunteer programs in South America ask its volunteers to pay to serve. The English Opens Doors Program does not. This helped in my wanting to volunteer here. EODP:Please describe your experience with the EODP’s orientation.JETTA: Orientation with the EODP was excellent. The program’s model is an efficient, resourceful and well ran system. I loved the way the information was presented; from the role reversal of having the volunteers to sit in a class as ESL students to having volunteers do a tag team teach lesson before being placed in their teaching region. There was no ‘data dumping’ or overload of information. We were allowed to absorb the materials and later apply it in our group gatherings. This approach proved to be effective in my opinion. 

Volunteer English Teachers of Chile through the EODP, March 2018

EODP:Could you tell us a bit about your placement community (the place itself)?JETTA: I live in the commune of La Ligua among about 30,000 residents. La Ligua is famous for its sweet pastries known as “Dulce de La Ligua”. My school, however, is located in Papudo, which is in the Petorca Province of the Valparaíso region of Chile. With around 5,000 residents, Papudo is a 30 minute bus ride southwest of La Ligua and is situated on the Pacific coast. The place is known for its beach and fresh seafood. 

A beautiful view outside of Jetta’s classroom at Liceo Papudo
The Pacific ocean is steps away from the Liceo

I am happy with my living situation in La Ligua. The EODP was instrumental in helping my wife and I to find suitable accommodations. Outside of being followed around by staff/security in stores entered, being flipped off while trying to hail a taxi and the ‘not so friendly’ stares from some residents, living here hasn’t been massively threatening when I think about Donald Trump’s America in 2018. That doesn’t, however, mean that I’m okay with the tone of some Chileans and their attitudes towards foreigners, immigrants and people like me.

I commute on a public bus back and forth from La Ligua to Papudo everyday. The commute is an unpleasant one and can be both frightening and frustrating. For instance, the bus driver once told me that I could not sit in a vacant seat. He said nothing to the passenger who sat in that same seat after telling me no. Buses are often over crowded, maneuvering on and off is a serious task and many of the conductors drive recklessly and have even passed by me without stopping. 

Passengers on daily morning commute before the over crowding
An overview photo of our condo grounds

EODP:Please tell us about your school community, and your experience in it so far.JETTA:Papudo has about 5,000 residents, so it is a very small beach town. The school, Liceo Papudo, is interesting. My experience there had highs and lows. Too many lows and not enough highs unfortunately.The school was not equipped to have a volunteer teacher and honestly they weren’t fully supportive of what I was there to do. I remember my first day being introduced to some of the teachers on campus and how excited I was. During those introductions I was asked by another teacher how long I planned to be at the school. I responded by saying that I would be open to volunteer teaching for multiple semesters. In my peripheral, however, I could see the administrator who made the introductions, shaking their head “no” to the person who asked the question (not realizing that I could see them). It was clear to me that I was perhaps not in the best of places for my volunteer teaching.I often felt undermined. Having been scolded, ignored and treated with so much disrespect from my head teacher, I often asked, “Why am I here?”. The EODP program, however, is learning how to better support the volunteer after placement is complete and how to address the issues volunteers face when they are put in these type of environments. In my case, the EODP supported me by working as a mediator and conduit, trying to resolve and heal a broken situation. For a small time it helped, but that scarlet letter was on my chest as I returned to my school for the remainder of the semester.In addition to the EODP, I received a tremendous amount of kindness from the head English teachers at my wife’s school. I am forever grateful for both Manuel and Angelica of Liceo Pulmahue in La Ligua for helping me through some difficult situations. 

Vanessa’s head English Teacher, Manuel. Thank you Manuel for your thoughtful and kind nature.

EODP:Specifically, please talk to us about your reception with the students that you are working with, including challenges and rewarding aspects. JETTA:The day I was to begin teaching was the day that students learned about the death of another student. My volunteer teaching was postponed as a result. Building rapport with them was a challenge. Below are some photos from a memorial held in honor of the deceased student, Matías.

In spite of the late start, I garnered a bit of curiosity when asked to sing at the memorial. Here is a brief recording of the singing.

The Medio Cuatro group (my special needs students) were always excited to learn!

Each Friday, there was morning breakfast for the staff at the school. I attended a few times, but stopped after being scolded by my head teacher in front of everyone.Shortly after the singing, I was able to teach the students. We began to build rapport and it continued throughout the end of the semester. With some students, however, that connection never developed or was broken. Perhaps it was because of the complicated relationships with my head teacher or the many classroom interruptions and cancellations.I was received well by the students, especially my special needs and first grade B class. In the USA, first graders qualify as 9th grade high schoolers. They were the youngest, but they were the most engaged and well behaved group overall. With my special needs students, I found them to be exceptionally bright. They often surprised me with how much they could learn and I always got good energy from them. I also had individual students of other grade levels that were a joy teach too and in spite of the difficulties with my head teacher, some staff members at my school showed kindness throughout my time at Liceo Papudo.  

Ice cream for lunch with my 1B, Group 1 students

Learning a new language is not easy to do. There are light bulb moments as well as moments of frustration. The key is being determined to learn, persevering and not giving up. One rewarding experience about teaching at Liceo Papudo was seeing the light in the eye of a student when they grasped a teaching point. I often shook it up with our secret handshake as a motivating tool whenever a student participated. This was the kind of feedback that helped them to engage more. It helped to establish an electric, organic and contagious learning environment. There are not too many things like the feeling it gives both the student and the teacher when those a-ha moments occur. 

Ice cream for lunch with my 1B, Group 1 students

EODP:What else can you tell us about your experience volunteering with the EODP thus far that you feel is relevant, and worth sharing with current and future volunteers?JETTA:I would tell future volunteers that not everyone will appreciate or value what you do. The very school that you are prepared to support, may not  support you in return. You may be viewed as a threat – especially if you’re bringing in new or fresh ideas and the kids are responding. You may be excluded and treated without a faction of consideration. As soon as you are aware of those things, address them (and even then, your concerns may still get ignored). Keep addressing them anyway and let the EODP know about it as well. Your courage in speaking up will most likely cause a strain in your relationship with the school. You may endure workplace bullying, emotional and physical hardship as a result. But hopefully the EODP will not send another volunteer to the school until that kind of element and behavior is appropriately addressed and corrected. Hopefully the EODP will make sure that you are placed in a school where that will value what you’ve signed up to do. In that same strain, I would also tell future volunteers to learn as much about Chile in advance of agreeing to spend 4 to 8 months there. Chile is one of the most exclusionary countries in all of South America. As a non-feminine, queer African-American woman, I dealt with a lot of discrimination. If you fall within any of those demographics and come here, be prepared.

For current volunteers, I would tell them to keep up the great work and continue to make an impact in lives of young people through teaching. Language learning is one step towards improving the world we all live in.

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