Hometown: Bellingham, WA
Volunteer Service: VS1 (March-July 2011)
City: Linares, Chile
Chile is such a large country that it’s really impossible to define. It has just about every type of climate and landscape you can imagine. But, if I had to choose one representative city of Chile, it’d be little ‘ol Linares! While not a tiny place, with around 100,000 inhabitants, Linarenses consider it a pueblo chico, and it certainly has certain corresponding aspects. The streets were often invaded by a herd of Huasos (Chilean cowboys) or a horse-drawn wagon might snarl traffic on the city’s main thoroughfare. However, Linares is not a blast from the past. The extravagant gleam of its Lider (Chile’s version of Wal-mart) is unmistakable from Linares’ lone freeway exit. And the weather is equally diverse, with scorching summer afternoons and freezing winter mornings. Although I was not able to visit much of Chile, I feel like I know the country just as well as anyone.
Probably the most shocking experience of my time in Chile was the rock star status bestowed upon me at school. From minute one, I was greeted with enthusiasm by the students. As our relationship progressed, they began to greet me, “hello T-shirt!” It took a few repetitions before I realized that this “T-shirt” was actually “Teacher,” and that teacher was me!
At the Instituto Comercial there were students as young as 14 and as old as 20, all within 9th-12th grade. Getting to know them and seeing them learn was by far the most memorable part of my volunteer service. Playing a Pan-American hybrid of basketball and fútbol in afterschool “basketball” club, reenacting Star Wars Episode 2 in the school patio, and singing Blink 182 songs are some of my favorite school-time memories. When I return to the Comercial to visit, I can’t wait to see their faces and to greet them with as much excitement and adoration as they always greeted me!
When I first arrived to Linares I was excited to meet my new Chilean family! I wonder how many kids they’ll have? Will they live with their grandparents? What kinds of pets will there be? Well, none of these existed in my house, instead it was just me and María Elena, or my “Host Lady”, as I called her. At first I was disappointed not to be with a larger family; however, as we got to know each other we shared more and more. I will forever be grateful for the knowledge and insight she shared at the dinner table, and the serene presence she provided even when everything else was frustrating. To put it simply, María Elena (Host Lady) had my back.
Baby is in fact “Baby fútbol,” the Chilean term for fútbol played on smaller-than-normal field. Baby was by far my #1 source of physical motion, and preferred after school activity during my time in Linares. Sometimes the boys and I would get together 3 or 4 times a week after work for a little baby action and tercer tiempo, or overtime. Tercer tiempo is essentially a time for men to bond and indulge in refreshments and barbecued meat.
I love Chilean food, especially street food. During my time in Linares, I ate more completos than anyone should eat of any of one thing in their life. I also discovered my love for empanadas and sopaipillas, especially sopaipillas pasadas. María Elena made sopiapillas pasadas on rainy days and I must say that they were never anything short of heavenly.
The people of Chile are without a doubt the reason I chose to stay in Chile after my volunteer service. I’ve never met a more welcoming group in my life. Even as an outsider, it never took long to feel accepted as another son, brother or colleague. Many of the professors from my school invited me to their houses on weekends or for an ice cream or coffee after work. I even made some friends my own age with which I played soccer, had asados (barbecues) and just hung out.