Hometown: Denver, Colorado
Volunteer Service: VS4 (July-November 2011)
Abbey with her host mom
I live in Copiapo, Chile with my host family who consists of my host mom, Marcela and her daughter, Karina who is 19 years old. I also live with Marcela’s sister, Lisa, and Lisa’s daughter, Victoria, who is 7 years old. The women in my household are very hard workers, as they just started their own business in March, and are very good role models for their daughters. In addition to their own business, Marcela also teaches history at the same school as me. Our household is full of love and laughter and I enjoy sitting around eating once with my family while recounting the day’s events and poking fun at one another.
My host sister loves to go dancing, and most weekends I will accompany her out. On holiday weekends, we head to the beach, as do a lot of Copiapinos who have beach houses, and relax in my family’s house. I enjoy getting away for a few days and enjoying the silence of the beach, where there’s no television, so we pass our time by walking on the beach, reading, or playing cards together.
I teach 5-8th graders at a public school in Copiapo. My students come from a disadvantaged background and their reality is very different from that of most Chileans. It’s amazing the obstacles my students have overcome, and they come to school nonetheless to learn and create a better future for themselves. They’re all so adorable and I love walking into school where they always greet me with a big smile shouting “Hello Miss Abbey” from all parts of the school. I was welcomed with open arms by all my fellow teachers in my school and quickly felt like I was a part of their community and felt comfortable in my surroundings. I have an amazing relationship with my host teacher, Maria Angelica, and sometimes get together with her on the weekends for various activities. She’s been an incredible resource in the classroom and has helped me navigate the Chilean school system. She’s also been a great friend to me and I’m definitely going to miss her when I return to the United States!
After school, I usually go for a run to decompress after a long school day which is always a unique experience, punctuated by catcalls and bewildered stares. After my run, I’ll usually do some work in my house, or meet a friend for coffee in the center. I am also part of a basketball team so we’ll usually have practice at least one night a week.
My diet in Chile is a lot different from how I eat at home and that’s definitely been an adjustment. I don’t eat red meat, and my host family eats a lot of meat. Chileans tend to eat a big lunch, and instead of eating dinner, they have “once” in evening, which consists of bread, jam, and ceylon tea. My host mother makes her own marmalade which is delicious, and we’ve had a wide variety of flavors!
Chileans are big on their sweets, and have every pastry possible filled with manjar. Manjar is a sweet spread similar to caramel that you can pair with just about anything and it is delicious! Be careful though because it’s addicting!
The biggest struggle I’ve encountered so far has been within the school system itself. I really enjoy my relationship with my head teacher and my students, but have found myself frustrated with the inconsistency of the schedule.
In our classroom, Maria Angelica and I start out teaching together for the first forty-five minutes of every class, and then we split the clase in two, ten students staying with me to further their English skills, and the rest of the class leaving with Maria Angelica to work in a separate room for forty-five minutes. My students are great, there are definitely some major discipline problems at my school, but so far they’ve been quite respectful and for the most part willing to work hard, despite their low level of English comprehension. We’ve been trying to incorporate as much English as possible without disengaging the students.
It’s been a lot of fun, but certainly a challenge, as I leave some classes feeling like I haven’t had any effect while other times I can’t help but leave class with a big smile on my face, excited to tell Maria Angelica how my lesson was. I’m still figuring out if this is what I’ve been called to do for the long-term but I’m without a doubt enjoying the small impact I’m making with these students, and the feeling that I have a purpose once again.
As with most travels to a new country, one definitely has to keep an open mind and be flexible in order to have a positive experience here. I came to Chile as someone who always likes to have my days planned and try to cram as many activities into one, and I’ve had to teach myself to slow down and to allow myself to throw aside my planner and see where the day takes me. If you able to go with the flow and sit back and enjoy the ride, you’ll have some unforgettable experiences and make some amazing friends!