Scottish Charity Number: SCO36069

9th February 2011

A Tough Beginning by Timothy Buchan

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To say my gap year started smoothly couldnt be any further from reality. To explain everything that has happened to me over the past few months I have to start at the beginning.

Arriving in Chile everything was new and exciting. New sights, noises and disgusting city smells. Also the biting cold, none of us were prepared for that. We spent the first night in a hostel to rest and shower after nineteen hours worth of flying. The second day we were being shipped out to our families however before we left my partner and I were told that our family had some problems in the past and that we would probably only be staying there for about a month. We didnt think much of it at the time but for me this was just the beginning of a list of things that were going to occur in the first few months of my year.

At first our family seemed very welcoming and the house was very different. It had plants hanging form the roof, our bedroom was more outdoors than indoors and there was a rather large spark when you turned on the bathroom light. But it was liveable and with a Chilean Mum that cooked very good Chilean food we felt quite comfortable.

The next day we started school. Ill talk about teaching later on, I want to stick to whats been going on for now. During our initial briefing with the director of our school we were told that were going to be moving in with her at the end of the week. We had no control over the situation and when the family found out things became awkward in the home. The family became quite intimidating with their questions and they constantly invaded our personal space when we were wanting some time on our own. One of the main problems that happened with the past volunteers and returned with us is that the daughter in the family was still at our school as a pupil. This created a lot of issues but the toughest of these was one night we were offered drugs by the family and their friends friends being other pupils of ours. I was made to feel very uncomfortable when I rejected their offer however my partner thought other wise.

This was one of the first things that arose with my partner and there was a lot more to come! He told me on the first night that he had problems with depression and self harming when he was younger and that I was the second person that he had ever told. In a situation like that theres not much you can say without being a Psychologist except,

Im there if you need me man

We awkwardly moved out of one house into the next, The second house was a very modern and expensive apartment in the rich end of town with a balcony view over the whole of Santiago and out towards the mountains. We lived with a single 48 year old woman who had lived on her own for the past 28 years.

The second night in the new house my partner came though into my room. His wrists were covered in blood and he was crying. From then I knew the situation was slightly out of my capabilities. He decided to tell his family, the director of the school and Project Trust. For the next week there were trips to Psychologists, Psychiatrists and lots of sleepless nights and trips back home to look after him. At the beginning of the third week he was on a plane home for good. That same week Chile celebrated 200 years of independence and my host (the director of my school) went to visit her mum in the South. So here I was, third week in, partner less, alone at home and in a massive new city.

I stayed in that house on my own for about three months. My Spanish improved dramatically as it was either speak in Spanish or dont speak at all. My host and I got on very well however it became apparent to me and the teachers at my school that she was getting on a bit too well with me. The other volunteers in Santiago noticed this as well and became quite concerned about me as they noticed that their families didnt speak, touch and look at them the same way.

This wasnt the only issue with my host. Project Trust decided they were going to send me a new partner within a month. I was quite excited about having someone to speak English too and to share my year with but my host didnt see this. When she found out he was coming her personality changed instantly and she became very possessive and intimidating towards me. I told Project Trust that I was feeling uncomfortable and that evening I had moved in with Project Trusts representative in Chile.

The representative is an ex-volunteer who has started a life for herself here in Chile. I lived with her for a week. Having screaming children jumping all over you and eating cereal for breakfast (I know it doesnt sound that extreme but having cereal for the first time in 3 months was rather exciting) reminded me a lot of home.

After the week there (this is up until the 8th of December) my new partner arrived and we moved into our new temporary home a hostel.

Project Trust, my partner and I decided that starting at a new school with a new family after travelling would be for the best. However travelling finishes in March so until then I have no permanent home.

So this is the Drama up until now. I have only written down the main events but Ive also had to go through the usual stolen money, iPod and strange illnesses the most recent of which is an unusual facial one. My year so far has been quite eventful but it has been described the best by my Dad,

Its all an experience son

Being the youngest of six in my family means I am an uncle 3 times. I thought from that experience that teaching young children would be a night mare. I thought wrong. Theres something quite special about having thirty, four year olds running up to you giving you hugs and kisses on the cheek screaming Tio Teem! (Uncle Tim they call us Uncle in the school). The teaching itself isnt that difficult but I do feel as if I have been slightly mislead. I thought I was coming out here to be a teacher in a classroom but in reality Im more of an assistant. At times it can be quite frustrating not being able to organise the classroom and the teaching the way I would have liked to have had but I still really enjoy it.

The school itself is a very unique school. It is in the roughest part of Santiago in an area called La Legua. It is the drugs and arms trafficking capital of Chile with around 33% of my pupils parents working in the trafficking trade. A large majority of the pupils live in three meter wide houses with a bathroom, bedroom and kitchen/living room with an average of around 6 people living in one house.

At times the children have quite bad behavioural problems but in general they are just like kids back home. It can be quite scary when a kid acts in a certain way because I realise that they are just like pupils in my school back home.

I was asked the other day by a couple of the volunteers,How are you managing to cope?  To which I replied I dont know really

I guess Ive just kept on reminding myself that theres no point dwelling on the bad/strange aspects of my year out because its exactly that – a year out, from everything normal. Being in these situations has allowed me to questions my morals and beliefs and to build up some rather strong coping skills. It has made me realise as well how important it is to have family and friends around you. When theres no one to get a hug from or to have a moan it can be quite lonely and frustrating at times.

The next few months are going to go by very quickly. With the whole of South America as my oyster and the personal travelling bank account the size of a pea Ive decided to stick to Chile. Also I have the mind set that I am in Chile for a year to see Chile and to learn about the country and I feel this is quite a unique opportunity to be in.

Another issue that might occur in the next little while is the relationship I have with my partner. We have a lot in common and we laugh constantly however we are very different types of people. Some of his actions and views have already clashed with mines but I look at it from the point of view that it is an opportunity to try and understand a type of person who at home I would normal ignore.

I hope you wish me all the luck for the next few months because as you can see its been quite eventful.

Until then,


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