First and foremost, I really enjoyed the opportunity to teach English in southern Chile and I am not sure who learned more- the students or me! In my humble opinion, it was a difficult but overall a positive experience for the students and the teachers involved at the high school. Although the beginning was a little rocky as there was little support or training offered by the school. Instead there was a week of general orientation with all of the volunteers in Santiago ran by the Ministry of Education, but actual hands on training was limited.
Once I arrived to my designated school in the south it was more of observing a few classes with the three different English teachers and off I was on my own the next week teaching classes! Needless, to say as a person with no previous teaching experience,it was overwhelming at first but gradually it got better. It did take time to get used to the large classes – ranging in-between 30 and 45 students. Later on I learned that the school was a typical public school in Chile faced with the lack of necessary resources, infrastructure, and under paid teachers and staff. The students that generally attend the public schools in Chile come from humble and poor families who struggle to make ends met. In fact, generally speaking students who attend public schools i Chile do not have the same opportunities as private educated students.
A benefit of the program was the host family accommodation. It was here where I learned about Chilean food, family, cultural values, and hospitality. Living with a host family was an authentic way to immerse myself in the culture and although I had studied abroad before in Latin America, working and studying are completely different. By working here I was exposed to another culture and learned a great deal about the social and economical differences within Chile. The program increased my empathy for other cultures, raised my awareness of problems faced in Chile and other Latin American countries regarding education. I was located in a safe and quaint small town of approximately 15,000 nearby Puerto Montt. The local community was very welcoming. In fact, many locals could not believe I was teaching English at the public school as it has a bad reputation but after all it is the only non-fee paying high school available in the town.
Although it was not an easy experience, it was a one which pushed me to think outside of the box and definitely outside of my comfort zone. If I did not all over again, I would have had more patience with myself and with the students. I wish I would have taught the students about different cultures within English speaking countries and not only the English language itself.
On that same thread, I wish the English Open Door’s Program had informed me before what age group I would be working with so I could bring extra materials in English from the United States. Unfortunately, there were not adequate school supplies but we made do with what we had and I truly do not think the lack of supplies hindered the students learning. Looking back, I wish they would have also given me some recommendations about laminating photographs of my hometown and family and other areas of interests to motivate the students to learn English. Honestly, my students had some discipline problems and lacked general respect to teachers, which is common to see here in Chile. However, both the teacher and the student learned a lot during this process. Last but not least the program was only the beginning of my teaching career in Chile. That was four years ago and I am still here teaching English and pursuing my confirmed passion in the area of international education.