I have missed Chile every day since we returned to the States just over two weeks ago. The country is so full of life and energy, especially in the city of Santiago. I must be pretty blessed to miss something so deeply, but to also feel so excited to be back home with my family and friends. Both places have my heart.
It has been an adjustment getting back into my normal routine at home! Though I was fortunate enough to not have to immediately return to work, adjusting to simply being at home was a challenge in itself for a day or two. The first time driving my car after over three weeks of subways, busses, airplanes, Ubers, etc. felt a little strange – I really had to think about what I was doing!
Now that I have settled in back home, I am especially missing the opportunity to freely practice my Spanish in classes at ECELA, around the city and with my host family. I arrived in Chile with a foundation in Spanish, but I must say that my Spanish improved more in those three weeks than it did after three years of Spanish classes in high school and five years of classes prior (eight years total!). I have learned that there is truly no better language practice than direct immersion. When we returned to the States, just like any other adjustment, it was certainly a tricky transition from Spanish back to English! I especially noticed this while in the Atlanta airport on our way back to Buffalo. I found myself naturally using basic Spanish words and expressions while ordering food, having a conversation, etc., even though the other person was clearly speaking English, and we were clearly not in Chile anymore. It took me a couple of days after arriving home to stop using phrases such as: “Permiso” (excuse me), “gracias” (thank you), “sí” (yes), “chau” (bye), “por favor” (please), and a few others. They were just natural responses that I continued to use subconsciously. Two weeks later, I find myself missing the challenge of full conversations in Spanish. My only worry as of now is that I will lose the progress I have made, but hopefully I will find some sort of program or class that will help me to continue to learn more of the language. Or… I’ll return to Chile. :)
Each of our experiences were further enhanced by the roles we chose to uphold during our time in Chile (Navigator, Social Butterfly, Mamá, Translator, etc.). I think we all felt a bit more at ease knowing there was someone specific that we could go to for certain questions. Although, I am sure, for example, our Translator does not miss hearing “Bryanna, how do I say…” and “What did this person just say to me?” (Jokes aside, I must note that I am proud of everyone and how far we each came with our Spanish. We all entered at different levels and the all-around growth was so evident.) Looking more closely at my role as the Social Butterfly, I loved reaching out to others studying at ECELA to help initiate connections between our group and people from various parts of the world. Throughout our three weeks, we met people from Australia, England, France, the U.S., and other countries – some of which we became great friends with.
I feel that I have returned from this experience as a stronger educator, traveler, Spanish speaker and person all around. I have undoubtedly gained a sense of empathy for what it is like to be a Language Learner in an unfamiliar environment, and I believe that because of this, I will be a better teacher for all of my future students.
Chile was unlike anything I have ever experienced. It was enriching, exciting, challenging, draining yet rejuvenating, and filled with discoveries of all kinds. This has been a life-changing experience I will forever hold on to.
I leave you all with an enormous “thank you”. Thank you for following me throughout my journey in Chile. Thank you to all who supported me at any point, in any way – our entire cohort, parents, family, professors, scholarship donors, friends… this trip would have been quite difficult without any of you. Thank you, Katie, for being an awesome roommate in Chile, a supportive friend always and an incredible person with whom I can share this journey of becoming an educator.
Wishing we had another second to stare at these beautiful mountains:
This chapter has come to a close, but stay tuned – I will be off to Italy in January!
I’m in a bit of disbelief that our time in Chile comes to an end today. The days of our first week passed fairly steadily, but the last two weeks were gone quicker than we could spell e-m-p-a-n-a-d-a-s (which have been delicious, by the way). Before leaving for the airport on the day that we traveled to Chile, I posted about a “mountain of adventure” waiting. I think it’s pretty safe to say that this trip has been packed with adventures – hiking in the Andes, visiting cities surrounding Santiago, teaching English to mostly Spanish-speaking students, finding our way around this busy city and learning more Spanish every minute! I cannot express how grateful I am to have had this truly life-changing experience that I will carry with me forever.
There was not a better way to finish off our time in Chile than a barbeque on a rooftop at Claudio’s last night, overlooking the spectacular night life of Santiago. Friends from our Buffalo State and UMayor groups came together once more to enjoy completos (which I finally tried for the first time!) and some final time with one another. It was difficult to say goodbye, but I know we’ll see them again someday!
Though this adventure has concluded, I can now look forward to traveling to Torremaggiore, Italy in January to experience an entirely new education system and culture!
One last breakfast with Katie prepared by our lovely host mom; one last walk around Providencia; one last look at the mountains. Off to the airport very soon… See you all soon!
Muchas Gracias, Chile. Te extrañaré.
While in Chile, there have been many occasions in which we have had the opportunity to meet with administrators, other educators and teacher candidates to discuss the field of education. As I have discussed in previous posts, the conversation often involves the comparison of the United States’ and Chile’s education systems. We have made some excellent connections, discoveries and observations while in these meetings, as well as observing and teaching in classrooms in Santiago.
Yesterday, our group delivered our final presentation to students and faculty at Universidad Mayor, in which we summarized student grade levels, teacher certification and education programs in the United States. We also discussed and demonstrated the use of interactive read alouds and interactive white boards – two tools we use heavily in the U.S. and have brought with us to Chile. This presentation was well-received, and it was wonderful to share information and have a discussion regarding education in the United States one final time.
Aside from the nitty-gritty details of each of these discussions, I’d like to take a step back and appreciate how extraordinary it has been as a group of future educators to be in Chile discussing education with others that share the same passions. I feel that this is a rare opportunity for many teacher candidates all over the world – to explore and first-hand experience education structures in other parts of the world while sharing their own. This has been a surreal experience, and I know that I will carry this with me for the entirety of my career.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to each and every individual in the universities and schools of Chile who have contributed to my growth and learning as an educator. I will be forever grateful for this experience.
Approaching the end of our second full weekend here in Chile means we have entered our third and final week - extremely surreal! The past few days have been well spent, including another school experience, horseback riding through the Andes Mountains, and cultural learning experience of Santiago!
On Friday, our group visited Colegio Universitario Ingles, a private school for students in Pre-K through 12th grade (In Chile, "high school" is not "9th grade, 10th, etc., it is "first year" "second year" of secondary school). We were divided into pairs, and Katie and I were placed in a 6th grade classroom for an hour. We prepared an activity ahead of time, which we were very excited to have the opportunity to implement. We used Carmen Lomas Garza's book Family Pictures to teach about family in English. We wanted to further practice students' vocabulary of mother, father, cousins, grandparents, aunt, uncle, etc. The students wrote about their families, including memories they have with different family members, which is reflective of the story (a young girl shares memories of her family through photos). To wrap up the lesson, we played a "bonus" vocabulary game with small white boards. Katie and I chose some tricky words from the text, drew a symbol for each word (e.g. constellations, laundry, etc.). We verbally reviewed these bonus vocabulary words by repeating the word aloud and asking the students to draw the corresponding symbol on their white boards. This showed us, as the teachers, that the students were able to make the connection in English and express the definition through a quick sketch.
The students were well-engaged throughout the duration of the lesson. We were unsure of how many students to expect, as we have seen nearly 40 in a single classroom, and have heard the numbers can reach up to 60 in Chile. However, this private school seemingly makes attempts to restrict the class sizes to smaller numbers. We were with 23 students in the 6th grade classroom. I thought that the students responded very well to our planned activities, and it was appropriate for their age level. Katie and I had to adapt it upon learning we'd be in 6th grade, as most of our planned activities are geared toward younger kiddos. The students spoke fantastic English! One young girl in particular recently spent a few months studying English in Ohio, which she was excited to share with us after learning we're from the United States. Overall, I was impressed with the students' enthusiasm, participation and questions! They had many questions for us at the close of the lesson, mostly related to our lives in the U.S. We spent the remainder of the time observing their math lesson. I have my very last field placement this evening at Republica de Haiti.
Saturday was our "Free Day", and everyone was welcome to spend it any way they like - rest, walk around Santiago, go shopping, plan a group activity, etc. Six of us chose to do an activity through ECELA, which sent us horseback riding through the Andes Mountains! Though there was a lot of smog in the distance while overlooking the mountains, the view was just beautiful. We rode for about an hour and a half up the mountain, where we stopped for a delicious BBQ complete with mini pork hot dogs, steak and chicken wings - REAL chicken wings - and grilled vegetables. The wings were so tasty, as they were not fried or processed. They were grilled with a special sauce and tasted great. That's definitely going to be something I miss about Chile - the minimally processed food that is consumed. Many foods are fresh or cooked in a healthier way than most foods in the States. After a couple of hours of enjoying the beautiful weather, great food and company, we made our way back down the mountain. I am so pleased with our decision to spend our free day this way! It was a relaxing, fun afternoon!
Our days have been filled with exploration of the city of Santiago and its surrounding areas, discovering all that it has to offer. On Sunday, however, we explored Santiago in more of a cultural respect to the city. We saw La Moneda Palace (the house of the President) and visited Museo Chileno de Arte, which displays pre-Columbian artworks and artifacts from Central and South America. It was interesting to see the large collection of artifacts from several different time periods in and around Chile. This was followed by a delicious lunch at Donde Agusto, a seafood restaurant in Mercado Central (the Central Market) in Santiago.
Margarita (de Universidad Mayor) volunteers to teach Spanish at Centro de Servicio Migrante, a place that offers assistance to adult Haitian refugees in the learning of the Spanish language. The classes take place every Sunday for two hours – offering various different levels. Our Buffalo State group had the opportunity to sit in on these classes as language learning students, allowing us to take a step away from our teacher mindsets. Initially, sitting in this class as the students filed in, I admit that I was moderately out of my comfort zone. The majority of the students did not speak any English – only Creole, French and Spanish. When the class began, I was able to participate in the whole-group activities they were doing to practice vocabulary. I began to get more comfortable, however still had to rely on my Spanish to communicate with anyone other than my (Buffalo State) classmates that were in the same class. Similarly, we later on divided into groups to complete some additional practice with sentence structure in the Spanish language. We, as visitors, only helped with these exercises, which I think the other students enjoyed. The language barrier during this, however, was certainly not nonexistent. If they did not understand something in Spanish, it was difficult for me to effectively explain it, as they spoke minimal English, and I do not know any Creole or French. I resorted mostly to using my Spanish as best as I could, as well as drawing pictures to get my point across.
Though I was only a student in this class, I was able to understand my place in this class from the view of an educator. My initial discomfort was a strong representation of how some students feel when walking into a new class composed of students and teachers who do not speak their language. I’ve been able to gain more of an appreciation for how refugee students feel, no matter what country they have moved to. Imagine moving to an entirely different country, going to an unfamiliar school, walking into a classroom in which you can communicate with very few or no people, and feeling like you stand out because you don’t look “the same” as the other students. It must be terrifying, and I was able to have a glimpse of this in their shoes last night. I am thankful for this experience, and I feel that it has further helped me grow as a global educator.
Later in the evening, a few of us went out with Universidad Mayor friends to the mall, where we had dinner and easily the best crepes I’ve ever had. I ordered a strawberry and Nutella crepe, and it was mouth-watering.
This week will be filled with last minute “must-see’s” in Santiago before leaving on Saturday. I cannot believe we are in our last week in Chile!
Until next time,
Portions of the last two days have been spent observing and interacting with students in two more schools: Colegio Benjamín Claro Vealasco and Colegio Diferencial Amapolas. Both are public schools, however Colegio Diferencial Amapolas is more exclusively for students with special needs, specifically physical disabilities. Colegio Benjamín Claro is a regular education school that has a focus on inclusion – including students with disabilities in the general education classrooms. We were able to share that though New York (and likely the majority of the U.S.) pushes for inclusion in the classroom, we abide by the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) that is appropriate for each child and their needs. Similarly, Colegio Benjamín’s structure allows students with special needs access to the educational curriculum. There are several types of needs accommodated within this school, including: Auditory Processing Disorder, Speech Impediments, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Autism Spectrum Disorder and Learning Disabilities. The classes range from 30 to 45 students, which is certainly much larger than we are accustomed to the in the U.S., which we have learned is a typical number in Chile.
Special Education (Educación Diferencial) majors of Universidad Mayor are often placed in Colegio Benjamín for various practicums and final practicums (which, in the U.S., we refer to as student teaching). These students have the opportunity to co-teach with the regular education classroom teacher as the Special Education teacher. They adapt the lessons, tests, instructions and materials to meet the needs of students with special needs, as well as diversify strategies. This UMayor student is the Special Education teacher, rather than solely being used as an aide or assistant. They work alongside the teacher to plan and modify materials as needed. This is certainly an adjustment for the classroom teachers, as they are not used to working in the same classroom with another teacher. From my understanding, there is even occasionally some resistance from teachers to co-teach. It seems that they are working to adapt, but it is generally a positive outcome.
Today, we visited Colegio Diferencial Amapolas, and though I wasn’t sure what to expect, I left with a certain feeling of peace and happiness. Just for some background, this is a public school in Santiago that focuses on students with physical challenges, and some with severe intellectual disabilities. It is open to the surrounding community first, and then extends to children who are of a further distance. The main goal of this school is to teach these children to become more independent in their movement, as well as enhance their communication. Colegio Diferencial Amapolas has had a struggle to obtain effective and practical materials, however have come a great distance in the past several years. There is now a sensory room (that includes a water bed, etc.), and many of the classrooms have Smart Boards – Colegio Diferencial Amapolas is one of the only public schools in Santiago with this technology. In order to receive this funding, the school had to work to prove that Smart Boards are an effective tool for students. In addition to this wonderful apparatus, there is a system to ensure all students are being cared for based on their current needs. Students’ wheelchairs each have a ribbon, whose colors represent if they are allowed to be moved or not by an adult. Red indicates no help; white, help sometimes; green, help all of the time. This, again, promotes independence. If a student can move themselves in their wheelchair, they are given the opportunity to do so. Additionally, there are several therapies available to students: Music Therapy, Speech Therapy, Kinesiology, and various workshops (such as dancing/music classes).
We each had the opportunity to observe in classrooms, and my experience was so wonderful. Dr. Schmidt and I were in a classroom that would be considered a 6:1:1 in the United States. There were six students, ranging from three to seven years old, all with multiple disabilities, under the care of one teacher and one aide. Many of them were in wheelchairs and others had special support chairs. We entered the classroom during their daily routine, in which the teacher goes through basic everyday activities (eating, brushing your teeth, etc.). She went down the line of students and handed each student a bowl one by one, in order for them to each feel and connect eating to a bowl. She included sensory materials in this routine, such as blowing bubbles and swaying ribbons across their hands and laps.
This was followed by an activity, which focused on animals and prepositions (on top of, next to, under, etc.). The energy of this teacher was incredible – fun, engaged, patient and genuinely kind-hearted in her teaching. The classroom was so bright, colorful, warm and welcoming. I could feel the happiness and positive energy radiating from each of the students – one in particular did not stop smiling! I loved to watch how naturally this activity flowed, as it was so clear that this teacher promotes a positive, patient learning environment. Working with several students with multiple disabilities cannot be an easy task, but this teacher did a beautiful job in the time I was able to observe. It is even more impressive that she was not told ahead of time we were coming, so it is safe to say that if this is a consistent environment, the students are in great hands. I enjoyed my time observing in this classroom, which was followed by a debriefing as a whole group with administration about special education between the U.S. and Chile, as well as an opportunity to ask any questions we had.
Of course our excursion in the Andes, trip to Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, time in ECELA and all other experiences have been wonderful, but I must say that I have noticed myself feeling the most genuinely warm and joyful while actually in the classrooms. Each time, I am further convinced that I have made the right decision in choosing education as my career path. There is no telling where or what setting or type of classroom I will end up in, but I am able to enjoy this wonderful process of becoming something I enjoy. I am confident in saying that there is absolutely no other career that would leave me feeling this sincerely content. It is even better that I have the opportunity to be in Chile, experiencing the field of education, specifically exceptional education, in a different setting than the United States. I feel so purely enriched.
I feel as if I blinked and our second week is already almost over! We have another field placement tomorrow at Colegio Universitario Inglés, and Katie and I will hopefully be able to implement one of our instructional activities, as we will be together in a 6th grade classroom. On Saturday, our group is going horseback riding in the Andes Mountains!
Hasta la próxima vez,