Volunteering in Chile – Summer 2019

11,000km across vast ocean and land lies Santiago de Chile. My home for the duration of the summer.

Santiago is a sprawling city. A mixed bag of culture, architecture and nature. Within it you can find small colourful streets with Spanish colonial architecture, yet not far away giant skyscrapers full of offices and shops. But above all, the most striking part of this city is what surrounds it. The giant overlooking Andes Mountains border the city, making Santiago one of the most spectacular cities I have ever visited.

From June 10th – September 4th I was offered the amazing opportunity of teaching English in a Montessori school in Santiago. Montessori schools offer a distinct form of teaching, very different to anything I had ever experienced before in a school environment. The Montessori method focuses on the individual progress of the children much more than normal schools. A large part of the children’s timetable is made up of what is called a “salon class.” In this class there are usually 4 teachers present meaning the children can choose what to learn, be it English, science, language, mathematics, etc. In these classes the groups were very small so the children benefited from very close student-teacher interaction.

The Montessori school in which I volunteered was situated in the most stunning location – right in the foothills of the great Andes mountain range of Chile. My commute every day to school was a long, but inspiring one. Below is a picture of the patio inside the school, with the backdrop of the Andes in the background:

The school was small, but taught a vast contrast of ages. From pre-kinder 4 year olds to 11th grade 18 year olds. My job focused on the older kids, from 7th grade to 11th grade but with the occasional geography lesson taught in English to 4th graders.

Within learning a language, speaking and listening is potentially the most important and most useful skill. I was able to provide this opportunity for the kids, having as many casual conversations with them as possible. Throughout the 3 months the kids gained confidence and by the end they were all very happy to speak to me in English, be it in the classroom, in the corridor or outside in the patio.

Within the school I made many friends with the other teachers, who introduced me to a lot of Chilean culture-mainly the “asados.” The direct translation of this to English is a “Barbecue.” They consisted of a large meeting between family and friends, with lots of food and LOTS of beer and wine. I had the pleasure of going to many of these, with various different families and friends, meeting many people and having a lot of fun. Half way through my time in Chile, being in the southern hemisphere the kids had their winter holidays. I took advantage of this time off to go and visit Peru with a few friends. Below are a few of the highlights from the trip:

Highlights of Peru include seeing a volcano erupt, the beautiful cities of Arequipa and Cusco, Colca Canyon with its giant condors and the incredible Salkantay trek to Macchu Picchu.

I also had the chance to travel around Chile, within the country it is very easy to reach the North, South, East and West, each direction bringing something completely different and equally breath-taking. Below are some photos of my travels in the Chile:

Highlights include the port town of Valparaiso, and the many volcanoes in the “lake district” of Chile.

Upon returning to school, classes continued as normal and I was even able to apply some of my university degrees knowledge in carrying out an experiment on gravity with the kids. The majority of the children had a very good knowledge of English, one of the clear reasons were new technological advancements bringing the availability of watching YouTube, Netflix etc. as well as listening to music in English. From this we got the idea of learning songs in class by singing along with lyrics on a screen. It helped greatly as with music it was a lot easier for the kids to remember the pronunciations of many English words.

Before I knew it, September arrived and it was time for me to go home. There were many a sad goodbye, and my students even made a small Scottish or Chilean flag with a few words on the back as goodbye gifts:

All in all, this summer has been an unforgettable experience with countless memories, I made many friends, learnt a lot of Spanish, gained a lot of confidence in teaching and speaking in front of people and saw some of the most amazing things I have ever seen while travelling. I want to thank the University of Edinburgh and The Go Abroad Fund for helping make this happen. I hope to return again one day, and hope many other people will have experiences similar to mine.

Categories: Central and South America & the Caribbean, Chile, Go Abroad Fund

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