National Volunteer Center

National Volunteer Center

English Opens Doors Program


Name: Aly Cadice
Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri
Volunteer Service: VS3 Extending Volunteer (March-July 2019)

My placement: “Puerto querido”

I volunteered for two semesters in Puerto Montt, the capital city of Chile’s Los Lagos Region, and spent 12 months in a paradise of crystal-clear lakes and snow-capped volcanoes. It rained constantly, but whenever there was a break with sunshine, I had a volcano view from my classroom window and a quick $3 bus ride to the nearest national park. The South of Chile is enchanting, and walking home in the rain and heating up a hot water bottle before bed was a small price to pay for living in a port city with a view of the Andes mountains and two epic volcanoes on the skyline. The culture in the South is distinct as well, as I spent evenings with my host family around the wood stove sipping mate and sharing about our day. The pace is slower than metropolitan Santiago, and I loved the tranquility of the South and waking up to the sound of rain on my window.

My afternoon run view.

Working in my school: Meeees no se vaya

I worked in a primary school, teaching students from 5th through 8th grades. Even though my service is over and I’m back stateside, I think of my students everyday. I loved working with middle school students because their enthusiasm and energy was contagious, and they always accepted an invitation for a dance battle, an English club pajama party, or to end class with an Adele karaoke session. Getting to know my colleagues was also a highlight of my experience, as they brought me into their social circle and made Puerto Montt feel like home. After a year with my students, my last few weeks were filled with gifts and notes and hugs with a chorus of “Meeees no se vaya” (Miss, don’t go) in the background. Unsurprisingly, this transformed me from an English teacher into a leaky, blubbering water fountain of tears. Teaching comes with inherent frustrations—no one is freed from misbehaving students, classroom interruptions, or failed lessons—but it is not thankless work. Affirmation from students and the bond you build with them makes every late night of planning or long day of being on your feet more than worth it.

Taken after our school’s Spelling Bee

Family life: From Strangers to Family

One of the coolest takeaways from my time in Chile is having family in another corner of the world. I was immediately taken in (and overfed) by my wonderful host family. My host mom Anahi worked at the same school that I did, my host dad Roberto was an Inspector at another school in the city, Maca my host sister is a Medical Technology student, and my 12 year old host sister Fran’s favorite hobby was reminding me I can’t roll my Rs. Rounding out my Chilean family was my host brother who studied at a nearby university,, and a rotating slew of grandparents, cousins and family friends. Together, they filled my free time with bouts of laughter and occasional confusion as I tried to follow their rapid-fire Spanish. For volunteers, building relationships with host families is very special, as the relationship evolves from strangers to family in a matter of months.

My host sister and I with Volcano Osorno in the background.

Chilean culture:

I came to Chile right after graduating from university, and as a student my schedule was always full between class, work, and seeing friends. Adjusting to a more relaxed schedule in a country where, unlike the United States, “busy culture” is not the norm, was difficult and at times felt isolating. That being said, after a few weeks I began adjusting to (and even enjoying) my free time after coming home from school each day and recharging on the weekend.

Enjoying a long weekend with fellow volunteers in Cajon de Maipo.

My favorite part of Chilean culture is asados, barbeques where meat is the main attraction and the party usually starts in the mid afternoon and ends after everyone’s exhausted after dancing cueca into the wee hours of the morning.

Hanging out with my colleagues over the weekend.

Why extend your volunteer service?

I originally thought I would be staying in Chile for just one semester, but decided to stay a full year. The work volunteers do in the classroom is very different than what Chilean education typically looks like—the class sizes are smaller, there is a big emphasis on games and activities instead of textbook exercises, and my zany American teaching style differed greatly than those of my more formal Chilean colleagues. Once my students had fully adjusted to my class and I started seeing real improvements in their English, my first semester was coming to a close. Staying for another semester in the same school allowed me to build on the foundation we established the semester before, and being present in the school community for a longer time allowed me to grow closer with my students, colleagues, and host family. I think there’s a real advantage in extending, especially for volunteers who (like me) came into EODP with little or no classroom experience

My 5th and 6th graders at English Club!

Anything else?

The best part about being an English teacher was that I wasn’t really an English teacher. Sure, I taught students new vocabulary and sentence structures, but I was also a nurse when freeze tag got too intense, a mediator when students turned my worksheets into spitballs, and a cheerleader when one of the more timid students volunteered to participate. I was a celebrity in my school (there is a 99% chance that your students will insist you have a celebrity lookalike who, in reality, looks nothing like you, in my case Shakira). I was a coach when explaining how to pronounce a “th” sound and a disciplinarian when my students decided to run in the hallway. I was a complete idiot when it came to navigating Puerto Montt public transportation, a crazy aunt when trying to motivate my students to play hangman because it was going to be “soooooo fun,” and an explorer that spent occasional weekends hiking in the Andes. I was a walking talking Spanish to English dictionary and, most importantly, living breathing proof that listening exercises and textbook grammar drills serve a greater, real-life purpose. EODP volunteers sign up to teach English, but they end up doing so much more. That, in my opinion, is the challenge as well as the magic of being a volunteer.

Learning about technology with my 8th grade students.