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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Meca (oh my god in Chilean) boys and girls it’s been a while. That’s right I’m back to blogging and hopefully now that the program is over and I have more free time I will be able to blog weekly if not daily. So let’s get started because we have a lot of catching up to do and this by no means will be complete or in order seeing as so much happened in the time that my blog was mia. Here goes:

Fiesta Saludable:

While for the most part my partying has been done with a beer in hand or at least some type of alcohol, it was nice to have a party without my friend liquid courage. There was dancing, virgin punch,fruit skewers, tomato sandwiches, palta (avocado) sandwiches, egg sandwiches, chicken pâté sandwiches as well as candies and singing. Overall, it made me think about highschool dances except it was free, there was food and the kids actually can dance, even the guys. No bump and grind or fist pumps here folks, it’s all about bachata,cumbia and reggaeton. While I do admit it was a bit awkward dancing with highschool kids especially when I was dancing with the girls, it made me live a part of highschool that I missed out on mainly because, lets face it folks I was born with two left feet and Canadian highschool kids can be so mean, not so much in Chile. You dance, you enjoy yourself y fin. There might also be the fact my highschool dances ended up being canceled due to one too many ‘incidents’ involving knives.

Two Trips to Punta Arenas:

The reason I am mentioning these two trips is that they are related. The first one was during Halloween, I went to meet up with the peeps from Punta Arenas to go to a Halloween party. Now, I’ve never been one for original Halloween costumes,  for three years straight I was scarecrow like really Jeff, but this time not having much time and not wanting to buy a costume I decided to make one inspiring myself from infoman, a french show that shows the world from a satirical point of view. In one episode, suggestions for Halloween costumes were given which included the BP oil spill. Therefore, being that making the costume required very little, a garbage bag and paper to make dead fish to stick onto the bag I decided to go as an oil spoil or as it is known in Spanish, derame de petroleo. The party was awesome, I had a great time, until I had one too many vodka infused gummy worms. I’m using the word infused here mainly because I don’t remember much after eating that last worm. I blacked out or as they say in Chile, apague la tele, literally turned off the tv. Long story short,I forgot my house key at the party and had to get it back, that’s why I had to make another trip to PA. I tried telling my Chilean parents that they could just make another copy of the key and I would gladly pay whatever it would cost them, but they insisted I get it back. The lesson here ladies and gentlemen is, just like how you should never drop the soap in prison, never forget your house key at a party because your Chilean family will make you go get it.

Patagonian Fishing Expedition:

If you told me I would get a chance to go fishing at the end of earth, I would have told you, you’re crazy. The thing is I did go fishing, and while I only caught one fish, wow what an experience it was. When they say go fishing, it means going to a ranch, finding a river, dropping the line and fishing. Don’t forget to drink lots of whisky to stay warm while it’s pouring buckets and the wind is gusting at 60 kms. 

My Birthday+ my best attempt at channeling my inner Martha Stewart, not quite at the Julia Childs level yet:

As you may or may not know, this is not the first time I’ve celebrated my birthday away from my family. However, it probably was a lot more memorable and vacan (awesome in chileno) than the last time. To sum up my last birthday away from my family, I was participating in the Katimavik program and I was living in Nova Scotia at the time. On that memorable day, it was raining, there was a power failure and a tree fell down. Thanks Mother Nature for being such a Debbie Downer. This time around, not so much. For one, I celebrated not one day, not two but five. During this time, I took the opportunity to cook a turkey for the first time with nothing but spices. Despite that, it did not end up like Chevy Chase’s turkey in National Lampoons. Man, was that turkey good, next time, I’m looking at trying possibly a beer turkey, deep-fried turkey or a mango turkey, take your pick. I also made ratatouille  for the first time and as well, it ended up being a hit. Finally, I made an apple crisp but with a twist, I bathe the apples in maple syrup. Que rico! Food aside, it definitely was one of my best birthdays ever which included lots of drinking as is the standard in Chile, playing truco, the most addictive card game I have ever played, poker eat your heart out, Spanish karaoke, yup it’s still as tough as saying a Spanish tongue twister and lots of laughs. I also got a chance to taste a very sweet fruit that I doubt we have in Canada but which is amazing. It’s called chirimoya and sort of tastes like a mix between an orange and a pineapple. One of the more hilarious moments was when my family tried wasabi peas. For me, they are absolutely delicious and awesome, but for Chileans they are deadly. My family all  ended up having to go to the washroom and washing their mouths with water to stop the burning. Yup, spicy is definitely not one of Chile’s strong points except for aji (banana pepper) of course. What made me laugh the most though was the fact that the kids asked me if they could take some wasabi peas to school to trick their friends into tasting them by telling them they are Canadian candies.

Patagonian Backcountry Adventure:

While overall my experience up to this point had been much more than I could have hoped for, the one thing that was missing was seeing trees and getting reacquainted with nature. That’s what happens when you live at the end of the world folks. So when, a teacher from the highschool asked me if I was interested in going on a short nature walk, I jumped on the opportunity and we were off. Just like everything here in Patagonia, I’ve discovered that when someone says we are going on a short nature walk, prepare yourself in fact for an adventure of semi-epic proportions. This short nature walk ended up being walking through sheep grazing grounds, climbing sand dunes while winds are gusting at 60 kms, rescuing a lamb from the river and discovering the panoramic side of the region. Absolutely stunning. I mean trees at last, trees at last! As well as vegetation and something resembling a forest. I’m only sad I didn’t discover this sooner. It absolutely contrasts with the  farmland surrounding the town making it that much more amazing. You are and walking and suddenly this magical landscape appears before your very eyes.

Slender and the Flag Game:

On a lighter note, this is in no way related to my experience here in Chile but I though it would still be fun to share. One thing I’ve discovered is that Chileans love to be scared, they watch scary movies like I watch sports and they are also addicted to this scary game called Slender that was created by Windows but which I’d never heard of before coming to Chile. It is in no way as scary as say Phantasmagoria for example, for those of you who are retro gamers, and from my point of view the premise doesn’t seemed to be that scary. However this might just be due to fact that I am a lot older than the kids playing it. You need to collect 9 messages before the ‘Slender Man’ catches you. The Slender Man is a faceless man in a suit. The scare factor apparently has to do with the music and the special effects related to when you lose. Having never played it I can’t tell you whether or not it is scary. One of 12th grade students is also addicted to this game that asks you to identify the flags of 204 countries. It took us a while, but on our final attempt we did it. I can now identify the flags of a lot more countries than before such as Swaziland and Burma. Next challenge, capitals.

Bushite Style Karate:

After I stopped giving karate workshops, I ended up actually taking karate classes in a style similar to  shotokan called bushite. Again though as with everything here in Chile, this was karate taken to the extreme. First class, self-defense and being shown all the pressure points on the human body. I hurt everywhere after that. Second class, more self-defense, how to defend yourself if someone is trying to rob you at knifepoint or gunpoint. Third class, katas. While the katas are almost identical, there are a few differences. Overall, it was a great experience and just like back at Douvris, I’d come home every day feeling sore but in a good way like when you push yourself to the limit and beyond. There are a few significant differences though. One being that the classes were given at the sensei’s home and the maximum class size was four. The second being that he was not teaching karate to make a living, he had a second job, which I think in some way changes the approach to teaching. When you teach karate to make a living, you also have to focus on the business side of the equation. When it’s not lucrative to teach karate, you can focus all your attention and passion on teaching. The other significant difference that I had trouble getting use to was the fact that everything was taught in Japanese. The most significant difference though was the fact that my Chilean sensei had been taught by a Japanese sensei and therefore his perspective when it came to some the techniques I had been taught was different. I’m grateful to have had that experience and he told me I am welcome to train with him anytime so that is something I will definitely consider if I ever go back to Porvenir.

Last goodbyes:

It was really tough saying goodbye especially to the kids, even though they valen callampa (not good) at learning English I’m still going to miss them. Last Friday, I was given a picture with all the students from the college, I almost burst in tears at that moment. I also discovered how important English-speaking volunteers are for the Chilean students. While at times it may seem easier trying to find a needle in the haystack than teach them English, at the end of the day, you are with them for six months and therefore a bond between you and them does grow despite the fact that the amount of English they learn might not. This was best exemplified with the third graders. Despite the fact that I had never had a class with them, they wrote me letters, gave me lots of hugs and seriously made me feel special, that somehow me  just being in the school had had a powerful effect on them. On Sunday, I attended Courtney’s going away supper which she cooked all by herself and which included two turkeys, green bean casserole, palenta stuffing, scalloped potatoes, a pear tart, a pumpkin pie with squash and nuts and banana bread. Now that’s what I call channeling your inner Julia Child. On Monday, it was my turn to have my last supper (without the apostles) but with friends and family. It was a great way to end my stay in Porvenir, a town that has touched my heart and that I will definitely go back to if I have the chance.

 Final thoughts on my experience in Porvenir and the English Opens Doors Program:

When I first arrived in Porvenir, I thought to myself, really, out of all the places in Chile, I picked  this place. This sentiment was further reinforced by the eternal presence of the cold and feeling isolated because you are living on an island with no vegetation or trees, only farmland as far as the eye can see. Furthermore, the first semester seemed to go in slow-motion and I seriously thought it would never end. The second semester, on the other hand flew right by mainly because I finally managed to create a schedule that kept me busy all through the week and also because of all the events that happened. After living in Tierra del Fuego for six months my opinion on the place has drastically changed. I feel at home here and this right as I leave. I think what makes Porvenir especially special is that despite the fact that it’s a small town with a population of about 5500 people, that on some days feels like a ghost town, and that this is in no way a tourist haven unless you really like cows and sheep and Selknam, the aboriginals who lived in the area, artifacts, I managed to have one of the greatest experiences of my life. This is mostly due to the people who live there who make the town shine as brightly as Las Vegas with their friendliness and hospitality. I’ve never been anywhere where you show up at a barbecue not knowing anyone and the first guy you meet offers you a drink telling you that from this point on he considers you his brother even if you are not Chilean and the next people you meet are the same. Therefore, this proves that as stated in a New York times article titled ‘Reclaiming Travel’: Travel is a search for meaning, not only in our own lives, but also in the lives of others. The humility required for genuine travel is exactly what is missing from its opposite extreme, tourism. I mean that’s amazing. In North America, in general we are plagued by this individual bubble syndrome coupled with the perception that time is money and I think that’s unfortunate.  We are missing opportunities to connect with total strangers and possibly becoming friends or ‘brothers’.

As for my experience in the program, despite the fact that it is difficult to measure the overall effectiveness of the program due to the fact that results may vary, I think the program has lots of potential. If nothing else, it will make you rethink teaching and also help you grow as a teacher and as a person. One of the problems that makes teaching English to Chileans difficult is the approach currently being used. Chileans are being taught English as if it were Spanish which in my opinion is a recipe for disaster. Second language learning is not the same as learning a first language. Therefore what works for learning one language does not necessarily work for learning another. The other problem is motivation. Chilean students get bored really easily and therefore you really need to shake things to keep them interested. If not, be prepared for lots of classroom management. I would not say it’s their fault though. To them all their classes seem the same which has a lot to do with the fact that teachers rely a lot on worksheets. But enough on the problems plaguing the Chilean school system and back to my experience. I think while I might not have succeeded as much as a teacher as I would have liked, I know for a fact that my desire to teach has been strengthened and this despite the fact that at times my Chilean students made me question my ability to teach. I also know that after experiencing how chaotic a classroom can be with Chilean students, I’m ready for any student that gets thrown at me, figuratively of course. Finally, I think this program also helps the students grow, maybe not linguistically in relation to the amount of English they learn, but perhaps culturally, I shared with then bits and pieces about Canada and they returned the favor by talking about Chile, and also as a person. All I know for certain, is that out of all the people I met in Porvenir, I will miss my students the most. Therefore, if I had the opportunity to go back it would be to once again see all their smiling faces. Hasta Luego Porvenir, te echaré de menos (I’ll miss you).