Mi Casa es su Casa: Life in ‘La Ciudad Del Sol’
Oye & bienvenidos estimadas lectores! Back again with more on my thrills and frills in Chile up to this point. This post will hopefully serve as an in-depth overview on my new change of scenery; i.e. my new city, new place of residence & host family, and new place of employment.
First off, my new city, Quilpue: to be quite frank, it is one of the neatest little places I’ve seen in a while. Located in the heart of the Valparaiso region, it’s only a quick twenty minute romp to Vina Del Mar and Valparaiso, two pretty cool and quirky cities located on Chile’s central coast. The nicknames and slogans that accompany the city without doubt accurately depict the city’s livability and highlight its most redeeming qualities: nicknamed ‘La Ciudad del Sol’, the microclimate which this city enjoys is full of sun and warm weather for about three quarters of the year. For all of my Seattleites currently suffering through the bout of schizophrenic weather patterns engulfing the area, here’s a dagger: there has not been one drop of rain since I arrived here three weeks ago. I could definitely get used to this! Also referred to as a “Ciudad para Vivir”, the city is just that: devoid of churches, monuments, as well as other similar hubs of tourist activity, it has a certain charm and simplicity which renders it ideal for a gringo who wants to speak Spanish and conduct his tourism elsewhere! The Valpo region which encompasses Quilpue is in the center of Chile which, for all of those who weren’t aware, possesses five regions and spans all the way from Southern Peru down 9348 km to a small territory in Antarctica. Thus, being conveniently located next to the sprawling transportation hub of Santiago as well as equal distance between the arid, desert-filled North and temperate, mountainous south, it is absolutely ideal for travelling purposes!
Now, onto the folks: I am currently staying in the house of a set of “empty-nesters”, Jacqueline and Guillermo; however, they prefer their gringo names “Jackie” and “Billie”. To put it bluntly, I could not have dreamt up a better pair of host parents! Since day one, they have made me feel right at home, taking me to back-to-back-to-back “onces”, “asados”, and other Chilean family functions (side note: ‘once’ in Chile is a wonderful little ritual wherein immediate family members, sometimes accompanied by cousins, aunts, and uncles, take tea or coffee and dine on little snacks in lieu of eating dinner. As Chileans make lunch their primary meal of the day, the evening meal may seem underemphasized; but on the contrary, it is not in the least bit forgotten. The underlying objective of once is to enjoy the company of family and recount the day’s events. The other event, an ‘asado’, is basically the Chilean whack at the good ol’ family BBQ, fully equipped with copious amounts of carne, vino, and buena onda, typically taking place in the “campo”. Now back to our story). Of the two parents, I spend the majority of my time with Jackie, who also happens to be a 2nd grade teacher at the school where I volunteer. She is a riot: she is one of the most energetic, wacky, and lively beings I’ve ever encountered. She is full of laughter, loves to crack jokes, and is also a big fan of doing everything in good humor and not taking life too seriously. Even more, she is very caring and motherly, and treats me accordingly. Billie, on the other hand, is superrrrrr tranquilo. A large, wooly fellow who reminds me quite a bit of the old man neighbor of the beastly dog in Sandlot, is the director of La Escuela de Bellas Artes; by way of a sizable grant from the Ministry of Education, along with some good old fashioned fiscal prudence and donation-smoozing, the school has managed to maintain its policy of offering a genuinely “free education” to those students who have the desire, but not the finances to attend a school focusing on instrumentation and performing arts. In any case, these two treat me like their Chilean son (they already have two sons who have left the house, hence the term “empty-nesters”). Aside from accommodating me in just about every way imaginable, they also act as my de facto language coaches; correcting my grammar, teaching me Chilean slang and idiomatic expressions (of which there are countless), as well as giving me the lowdown on places to visit during my time here. Additionally, as my Spanish has finally reached a level where expressing my opinion on a relatively complex topic is no longer completely impossible, I’ve been able to converse with my host parents about some major issues facing Chile as a country. Regional politics, the nascent growth of Chile’s economy, and resource extraction in the Chilean Patagonia have all made their way into our “once” discussions. So, for all of those still harboring any doubt, my Jackson School ties are still intact and will never be severed!
Finally, my school: Colegio Montesol! My school can be described as a somewhat groovy, alternative, Montessori-style school servicing grades K-12. In terms of government classification, it is technically a colegio particular subvencionado, which means that it is receives both public and private funds; typically, just as in the United States and most other countries in the developed world, these schools along with particulares (completely private) which enjoy alternative sources of funding benefit immensely, and in turn, function much better than their municipal (public) counterparts (on a side note: as many of you may have heard, education in Chile has become an extremely controversial topic, demonstrated by the waves of protest and social unrest plaguing the country as of last summer. The source of disagreement lies in the way that educational institutions in the country are funded. I will touch more on this in the upcoming post!). As a result, the curriculum at my school is very conducive to fostering creativity and inspiring life-long learning among its students: starting in basico (1-5 grades), kids try their hand at classes in philosophy, music, computer skills, studio art, along with the more traditional literature, biology, math, and of course, ENGLISH!! I am teaching 7 classes in total, one class each from 6* basico to 4* medio (which corresponds precisely to 6th through 12th grade). As I have been assigned the “advanced” half of each of the aforementioned classes, my teaching experience thus far has been quite pleasurable and devoid of any real stress. Yet, after less than a week of teaching on my own, I can already say that my respect for teachers has gone up considerably. Classroom management sounds much easier than it actually is. At any rate, my students are awesome! I think all of them really enjoy having some mate-sipping, blonde-hair having, outdoor fleece-wearing, pseudo Spanish-speaking gringo around to spice things up. Aside from the students, my fellow “profe’s”, or “tias” and “tios” are absolutely great. They took me in as one of their own from the get-go: notable events so far have included daily lunches in the teacher’s room, a beginning of the year convivencia with beers and mayonnaise-egg bread (don’t ask), as well as a surprise serenade of our female colleagues to celebrate “El Dia de Mujer”. All in all, the first three weeks have been nothing short of new and interesting, with hopefully much, much more on the horizon to experience!
Post to come include: my initial thoughts on the coastal gem that is Valparaiso city, coverage of a recent trip to a national park & brewery, Chilean Cultural Observations- Installment No. 2, Chilenismo’s of the week, as well as a brief overview of the economic situation in Chile as seen from Las Noticias Chilenas (nerdy I know, but just can’t help myself!).