So, since I only have class 3.5 days a week and I haven't been gallivanting off to exotic destinations every weekend, I've had a bit of free time on my hands. So, I decided to participate in the volunteer program Ingles Abre Puertas (English Opens Doors). This program, created in 2004 by President Michelle Bachelet, employs foreign exchange students from English speaking countries in middle school and high school English classes throughout the country to help with pronunciation and encourage the students to speak as much English as possible in order to have a better control of the language. (Note: I had no idea beforehand, but learning English is not only a popular but enforced pasttime here. For example, in order to graduate from Universidad Catolica, you have to take either a proficiency exam in English or pass 7 levels of courses, otherwise, no diploma for you). Since today was my first day as a volunteer, I figured I'd share with you all some of my more memorable experiences.
Conveniently located only 20 minutes from my house, it is a private religious school for girls, K-12th grade although they are slowly starting to integrate male students into the program as well. The school is mostly outdoors; only the classrooms are indoors and without central heating (have I mentioned that it's STILL winter???). Each class period is 1 hour 30 minutes long with 15 minute breaks between each one. Let us compare that when I was in high school, there was a 6 minute passing period in which to change classes but here it was the English teacher and I who were passing between classes, the students staying in their home room all day. During this break time, all the teachers meet up in the equivalent of a teacher's lounge, have coffee and gossip (Mom, is this what you do between classes???).
It should also be noted that in the morning when I arrived, I entered the school without problems; it's evident that I'm not a high school student nor am I Chilean, and although I walked by several teachers and school officials, no one asked me who I was or what I was doing there. At first I thought that this proved to be a lack of security for the students, but after mentioning this to the teacher I'm helping, she looked at me quizzically and then just shrugged it off. Apparently being checked in and out of school is not a common practice, I'm sure metal detectors are unheard of.
I visited three classes of the equivalent of Freshman, Sophomores and Seniors in high school. Each class consisted of close to 40 students, the average class size here. Although this was a bit overwhelming, nos pasamos el regio! (we had a great time!). At the beginning of each class, I was instructed to introduce myself in English and explain what I was doing here and Chile and a little bit about my background. Afterwards, the girls had a chance to ask me preguntas (questions) about myself and my culture, most of which was conducted in Spanish Here's a few of the good ones:
1) Do you play an instrument? (None of them had ever heard of the oboe haha).
2) Do you find that technology in Chile es retrasado (in essence, behind the times) compared to the US?
3) At one point, the teacher stepped out of the classroom for a minute and immediately the first words out of the girls' mouths were "Tienes pololo???" (Do you have a boyfriend? It should also be noted that I was asked this same question by the teachers earlier in the day and before I could answer they had already planned to set me up with another Abre Puertas volunteer).
4) Hay un baile nacional en los Estados Unidos? (Is there a national dance in the US? Not that I know of but if anyone has a clue, let me know in the comments please!)
5) Are there gothic people in the US?
6) Was I a good student in high school? What grades did I get?
7) What's the national anthem of the US? (After answering this question, the students yelled "Cantala!" and was joined by the rest of the class, chanting "Sing it, Sing it!". I was kind enough to grace them with my smashing version of the Star Spangled Banner, a noise that only my shower has been privy to. Several of the girls pulled out their cellphones and recorded my performance...don't be surprised when I become a Youtube sensation.)
Throughout the day, the English teacher asked me questions as well, but rather than probing me about my thoughts on Chilean fashion or food like the students, she was more interested in the nuances of the English language (she is Chilean although pretty fluent in English). For example, she asked me about the difference between "fun" and "funny" and when I told her their equivalents in Spanish (divertido and chistoso respectively) she concluded that they both have the same meaning. Perhaps the difference doesn't translate?
The school just received projectors and wireless internet for each classroom as a grant from the government so they have a lot more flexibility with classroom activities. Today, the girls wrote down the lyrics to a song, making special note of the verb usage and then repeated after me as I read each line. Today's song of choice: Copacabana by Barry Manilow, apparently the teacher's all time favorite. I will personally never tire of Barry's suave voice crooning about the adventures of Lola, the has-been showgirl. Fanilows unite!
Shout-out goes to all my WashU guys and gals! Hope you had a wonderful first day of classes yesterday, I miss you all dearly.