This program was a wonderful experience! I was placed in the Los Lagos region of Chile, which is in the South and what I listed as my first preference on the application. My host family was wonderful. They were some of the most kind people I've ever met and very welcoming.
The teachers I worked with were nice and the school I was placed at had great kids. It's a unique, challenging and fun experience overall. It won't all be easy and there will be times where you feel a little lost or lonely, but if you keep working at it and expect the unexpected, you will have a good experience.
Orientation: As someone without a teaching background, the program had very useful examples of teaching techniques and gave us a day to plan a lesson. I definitely used the ideas from orientation in my day to day teaching.
Be prepared to jump right into the program at orientation. This isn't a study abroad program, it's a job with the benefit of being in Chile and experiencing a whole new way of living. I think the program tries to make that clear at orientation. As with most orientations, there is a lot of administrative talk that repeats what you will read in the informational packets you must read before coming to Chile. I can definitely see why it's necessary for the program to repeat key points, to make sure everyone is on the same page.
You won't find out your exact location until right before you leave, on the last day of orientation. This is not a joke, you really won't know until right before you leave. It will be noon on the day you are supposed to leave and you will still need to find out where you are going. If you go in expecting this, you will be okay. In the online materials for the program, they state that you will find out your placement during orientation in Santiago, what they really mean is you should expect to find out your placement almost right before placing you on a bus or plane to go to your placement, at the end of orientation.
Packing: It was extremely hard to pack for this given the uncertainty of locations. When in doubt, bring layers. I found that Chile has a ton of re-sale shops with American style clothing so don't worry too much about it and leave a little cash aside to buy clothes appropriate to the location when you arrive. There are a few clothing items I definitely would have brought with me if I knew my exact location but I figured it out.
One key to remember is that Chile does not have central heating, it will be cold if you are in a southern region. It's completely normal, and expected, to wear a winter jacket indoors during the school day. If you preference a southern region, bring a comfortable winter jacket and rain coat to wear all the time.
Cell Phones: I think the program requires you to get a cell phone before you go to your placement. BUT, this did not work out well for me since my phone barely worked in the city I ended up in. Much like the USA, Chile has a few different major phone carriers and their service varies greatly depending on location. If possible, wait to buy a phone until you get to your placement or just get the cheapest one possible with the least minutes you can to start.
Program Staff: I loved my regional coordinators. They were really amazing and helpful. I think they really cared about what they do and want to make sure the volunteers are doing well. Definitely reach out right away if you have any questions or problems. If you have a major issue and can't get help from your regional coordinator, reach out to the Santiago staff because they want to help too. The key is not to let any problems fester too long before reaching out for help. I knew of some people who left the program early and it seemed like a lot of it had to do with host family issues. It is definitely important that you have a decent host family and safe/livable place to stay. You can't expect any perfection from your experience, but, reach out to staff if you have any issues, they might be able to make your situation better.
Host family: My host family was really sweet and amazing. My host mom made wonderful food and I bought a few things to eat I personally liked on my own each week. Be prepared to eat lots of bread, butter, and potatoes and supplement your own food if you have picky preferences.
I felt really lucky because my host family had a beautiful house, with an ocean view, in a nice neighborhood, with wifi, cable and a dryer! At the same time, like almost all Chilean houses, the only heating was through the fire place/stove thing and it was very cold at night and when it stormed the fire would go out. I learned to sleep with 5 thick blankets and my coat on when I needed to.
I ate lunch with my host family every day since it was a short walk from school. They only spoke Spanish and living with them was the main way I improved my Spanish during my time there. It took a lot of adjusting to get used to the Chilean accent and trying to communicate all the time in Spanish. My host family was very understanding with my bad American accent and tried really well to include me in their lives.
School: I was placed in a semi-private school and my students were very nice and fun to see every day.
Most of the kids weren't super interested in English but I think they thought I was kind of entertaining as the strange foreign girl who tries to make them play games and speak in English. My 5th grade class was a challenge because they were literally jumping around the whole time and trying to hit each other with various objects. I tried to integrate really active English games to use the energy they had but I couldn't quite figure out how best to work with that one group.
I had the opportunity to coach the English Debate team for competitions and I made a great connection with those students. While one of the keys to enjoying this program is being "open minded" and "flexible", it's also important to hold on to the qualities that work for you. In the case of coaching the debate team, I really had to push (in a polite, professional way) to get time to work with my debate team. The kids had "free" periods when theoretically they could work on the English Debate, but, the school and students put a big priority on events and other activities and would usually assume the kids didn't need much time to prepare for the debate. I ended up working out times for my debate team to practice and we went on to win the regional competition. My kids had a great time and loved the debates and my school was very happy, after we started winning. I guess knowing the difference between being "flexible" and a push-over is important in this, as in any, experience.