Isabelle´s Experience with Children and Country Life
Spanish Course + Volunteer Work + Farm Stay 2011
I had great expectations for the next 5 months in a continent completely unknown to me - some of them mixed with fears. How would people be: In my language course? In my house? On the farm? At the kindergarten? - Chileans in general? How would I even find a proper Spanish language on the first day to the language school in Santiago, or communicate with my landlord?
The first week was a challenge; but also a week in which I have experienced the helpfulness, patience, friendliness and openness of the people around me more than ever before. It turned out that mainly young students from many different countries lived in my house, who came to Santiago with similar feelings and therefore knew exactly how they could help me. So I found myself on the first evening fully equipped with map, metro card, mobile phone number and mobile phone among many interesting people at my first typical Chilean “asado” in our small courtyard. I must confess that in the beginning I two other Germans lived in the house, wich was very helpful for me. Nevertheless, I quickly learned to communicate with hand and feet - if needed – and I did quite well.
Talking with hand and feet also helped me considerably during the first few weeks of my afternoon volunteer work in a kindergarten. The fact that I sometimes read stories to the children that I did not understand myself did not bother them at all. They were just curious: "Where do you come from?" "Where exactly is Germany, and what is Europe at all?" "And why does your Spanish not sound like ours?" These first approaches were followed by a few exhausting and many beautiful days, and I really got fond of the children. I specially liked that they called all caregivers "Tia" (aunt). During the 3 months I spent in Santiago and worked in the kindergarten, the children taught me Spanish along the way, while we played, painted, did handicrafts and prepared the big Christmas and farewell party. I almost learned more new words there, than during the Spanish course.
However, without the Spanish course, I would not have met so many nice young people and would not have participated in so many well-organized excursions. Thanks to the small classes and the effective but at the same time informal lessons, my Spanish quickly got better, and almost more importantly: I got to know people from all over the world. During breaks and organized activities (be it rafting, football in the park, karaoke, barbeques, wine tastings, trips to other cities on weekends, city tours, walking tours, ...) we always talked about worthwhile trips in Chile and South America – so I heard a lot of first-hand experiences.
Actually, I initially had planned to travel only between Christmas and New Year's Eve, but since I and three new friends from the language school were so impressed by the stories of some classmates, I started to plan my first trip with the girls very soon. We would go to San Pedro de Atacama - the driest place in the world. With all the tips and tricks of those who already had been there and the support of Chile Inside, planning was much easier than we had anticipated. So we spent five days in November in a completely new landscape. The many excursions we did there barely left us time to process in our minds all we saw and experienced: unique landscapes and natural wonders that can only be admired in Chile.
The journey inspired us so much that, back in Santiago, we instantly planned our next trip. This time we went to another country in South America: Peru. Although not that many language students had gone to Cusco and the Machu Picchu and the planning was more difficult because of the international flight, another currency and the distance, we got everything organized by the end of November. I always used to think that the Machu Picchu looks so unreal on all the photos that it cannot exist. Standing in front of it, admiring the ancient ruins and climbing Wayna Picchu is worth every hour on the bus. Also to learn the difference of traditions and mentalities between Peru and Chile.
After these two wonderful journeys I spent Christmas comfortably with friends in Santiago – although despite weeks of listening to Christmas Carols in the supermarket and eating Christmas cookies it was very hard to get in Christmas mood because of 30 degrees Celsius and lack of snow. Like almost half of all Chileans, I slipped into the New Year in Viña del Mar on the coast. The fireworks above the sea and the party mood on the streets were unique.
New year, new place - after three exciting months in Santiago I packed my bags, got on the bus and drove to Melipilla. In order to see not only the Capital and some tourist destinations, I had decided to spend the last two months of my stay on a farm with a Chilean family. This is where I got my Chilean accent and learned a lot about Chile, its history, its traditions, its typical food, important and the mentality of the Chileans. Although the work was of course physically exhausting, I felt very comfortable and welcome thanks to the young people working there and the nice family with whom I lived.
When I leave Chile now after five months, I can say I found many friendships around the world and my suitcase is full of gifts for family and friends, such as Manjar and a poncho from Peru. My Spanish is solid enough for everyday life and my experiences have exceeded my expectations… and I learned and an insanely good recipe for a delicious Pisco Sour.
Dear team from Chile Inside, thank you very much for the organization of this unique experience abroad!
(Isabelle´s report was translated from German, look here for the original post.)