Scottish Charity Number: SCO36069
 

3rd February 2011

Earning My Teachers Apron by Anna Seymour

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I have now been living in Santiago, the capital city of Chile for just over ten weeks and a lot has happened! I am volunteering full time as an English teacher in Colegio San Luis Beltran which is charity aided school in Pudahuel. (arrangement made through the Scottish charity Project Trust) I have a constant Scottish companion who I luckily get along as we are together twenty four hours a day living with a Chilean family whose home is always full of people (generally 6-9 everyday)! We are definitely getting a taste of the culture!

Life in Chile is different from the UK in a number ways, despite Chile being one of the most developed countries in South America its wealth and relative prosperity is far from distributed evenly. The area we live in – Pudahuel is predominantly deprived and poor. It has definitely been an insight adapting to a less developed and more poverty stricken lifestyle, for example I was quite ill my first week here because when we arrived it was winter and the houses dont have any central heating, in addition the window next to my bed is broken and despite two sheets, three extra blankets and a duvet our room was permanently freezing cold! Other clues to the relative deprivation are lack of cars, a lot of graffiti, vandalism, robbery, burglary and muggings. Also there is no excess and waste people have enough but not spare of stuff like food and clothes. So different to what Im used to.

Each morning on our walk to school we pass by homeless people, drunken tramps and several beggars wondering aimlessly. Recently a school close to ours has been guarded with police everyday as there have been problems with riots; it is also not uncommon in rough areas such as mine for gangs of young people to deal in weapons. Im also aware of prostitution and drugs. I know these things happen in the UK but they have never been in my back yard!!! I n a school I visited two weeks ago the English classrooms windows had bullet holes in them which really brought home the harsh reality of living amongst gang culture. (This must impact on the childrens education but they are all very enthusiastic)

Generally I love teaching; I find that Chilean children are rather crazy and hyperactive so I have had a few issues with discipline but with every new day I feel more confident and assertive (especially now I have the much coveted teachers apron- a real symbol of authority!) I am frequently reminded of how lucky we really are in England just today, one boy in my class explained to me he couldnt tell me what colour the other bedrooms in his house were as there was only one small bedroom in his home which he shared with his mum. Dad and two brothers! (there is a different perception of what overcrowding means I guess its all relative!)

This journey so far has taught me a lot about living in a different culture and respect for that culture, its heritage and traditions. Chilean people are very caring, really lovely and welcoming but certainly not afraid to show their emotions. There is no stiff upper lip ethos here if one person is having a bad day EVERYBODY knows about it. In addition it seems to me that any illness is wildly over exaggerated and from what I have gathered it is generally attributed to getting out of bed on a cold morning or not eating enough lemons. However, again health issues are very topical (including full intimate details) the weather is not the focus of small talk (like in the UK)

Making History it was with great excitement and joy that we witnessed the rescue of the Chilean miners. Many children crowded around the one TV in the English department and as each miner surfaced a great wave of joy, chanting, clapping and exuberance reverberated around the room with infectious adrenalin! A day I will never forget and great achievement of engineering and modern technology which has really put Chile on the world map. This good news story really demonstrated the success of international collaboration and the benefits of new research and technology (and a lot of faith).

Although I miss my mum, friends, family and decent chocolate lots I am having a whale of a time and my Spanish has never been better! Unfortunately the same cannot be said for my hay fever which despite assurances it would disappear seems to have thrived in the bipolar climate which Chile entertains. I love the teaching and unexpectedly enjoy the fun classes with the younger children. We have been preparing the older teenagers for exam and that has been challenging and very hard work but hopefully they will have got the grades they need to progress their education.

As well as exploring the city and trips to the seaside I am becoming more involved in the local community I have joined a gospel choir and myself and Chloe (my Project Trust partner) have started an English Club on Sunday afternoons so that local people can practice their English and learn about English culture they are all very keen students!

Plans for Christmas include the possibility of volunteering at an orphanage in Santiago for HIV infected children not finalised yet but it sounds like a place where I would like to help out. New year brings our long (10 weeks summer holidays and exciting travel plans to visit the south of the country)

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