Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Trip Back to Home Sweet Home and Thoughts on Consumerism and the Holidays

So I arrived home on Tuesday morning, December 18th.

My last time home was the month of February, so about 9 and a half months ago.  It wasn't as long as a time as least year (about a year to the day).  There's a strange paradox in that it seems like it was a long time (especially during the Chilean winters and random days feeling homesick), but at the same time it seems like such a short time ago when I was last home.

My flights home were pretty uneventful.  The airport in Santiago was busy on Monday night, but I had checked in online and only had to drop off my one checked bag.  Recently airlines have moved to charging for a second checked bag for flights to and from South America, and if my dad hadn't told me about it I would have shown up with two luggage pieces and 70 dollars poorer.

There were swarms of people at the entrance for the international police, and I had to wade through Chileans waving, taking pictures, giving hugs, and calling out farewells as people walked through the gate for their international flights.  International police took longer than I expected, but I still got through with plenty of time.

Using online checkin I was able to get myself into the middle seat with two empty seats on each side for both flights.  I was able to sleep on the overnight flight to Miami and was surprised with both dinner and breakfast.

This was my first time in the Miami airport, and it is HUGE.  I took a monorail after getting through customs and immigration and then found a breakfast place near my gate.  I had about an hour until boarding, so I got a breakfast plate and some juice.  The total with tax and mandatory 15% tip?  Over 17 dollars.  Note to self: Next time check the cost of an orange juice before just buying it.  (It was 5 bucks).

After walking down to my gate with my luggage, I found out the gate had been moved.  Back up 2 escalators and another monorail ride later, I arrived at my gate.  I was anxious to get home and had a hard time sleeping on the flight, but after about 2 and a half hours I arrived.

We touched down about half an hour before we were scheduled to arrive.  I got my bags and tried calling my dad from a kind stranger's cell phone, but he didn't answer.  So I went out to the curb to see if he was driving around but no luck.  Another phone call from another kind stranger's phone, and it turns out he was waiting up at the passenger exit.

The ride home included stops to get a pizza steak at the mall food court where my dad and I used to work as well as a stop to get some Philly pretzels.

So now I'm home, and it's a good feeling.  I've been enjoying time with family and the food and places that are familiar to me: Texas Roadhouse, Panera Bread, Starbucks, and Barnes and Noble to name a few.

I've found myself with a good amount of free time here.  I'm not working, and mostly everyone I know is working.  At the same time I'm also sharing a car with my dad.  In this free time I've come to a couple conclusions:

1. I have too many things at home that I'm not using.
2. I don't really need or want that many things when I go shopping here.

I'm sure that I've written about this before, but it's so easy to accumulate things thinking that you'll use them one day.  Combine this with low prices of clothing and almost everything at Target and Walmart and you have a recipe for consumerism and accumulation of lots of unnecessary stuff.

I have to admit that I am particularly guilty of this in the realm of teaching materials.  The textbooks and materials you receive as a teacher in the States often leave a lot to be desired, and so it's common to buy more books and materials to give your students the best experience possible.  I ended up doing this not only for one subject area, but for three: kindergarten, Spanish, and German.

Most of those materials are collecting dust when they could be used by teachers here in the area.  So I've made it a goal to clear out my teaching materials that I'm not using and either donate or provide them as an indefinite loan until I need them again.  (In case that I ever return to the States to teach)

Coming back to the States always affords the perfect opportunity to go shopping.  As I said before, prices are cheap and you can get really good value for your money compared to Chile.  Walking around Walmart and Target, however, was a strange experience for me.  I didn't really find much that I wanted or even needed.  The only exceptions were travel size toiletries, a folding up laundry basket, and a few other odds and ends.  I'm sure that other things will pop up between now and the time I return to Chile, but I find that I'm happy without feeling the need to buy "stuff".

This accumulation of "stuff" also carries over to teaching.  I remember learning early on in my teaching career that the sign of a real language teacher is that he can teach without the use of a textbook.  The teacher I worked with during student teaching didn't know what levels of Spanish he'd be teaching until the first day of school let alone have textbooks, and it was really interesting seeing how he managed to teach despite those challenges.  I carried this over to my teaching, as I was in the same situation teaching Spanish for my first year at a charter school.

When I am out shopping I find myself feeling that perhaps I am relying too much on materials to do the teaching.  Is this Wallace and Gromit video necessary?  Do I really need another game?  What about this puzzle?

After giving it some thought, I realize that my teaching is based on effective second language acquisition strategies.  The materials that I have been seeking out are mostly for enrichment for kids classes that I teach; I find that kids don't want to have more school when I visit them, so we do minimal work for school and make learning fun and activity-based in an English-speaking atmosphere.

At the same time, I have gone a bit overboard with buying books and materials and not using them all.  So in addition to clearing out materials I'm not using at home, another goal is to stop accumulating and maximize the use of the materials I already have for classes back in Chile.

It's hard to believe that Christmas is only 3 days away.  I'm very fortunate to be home for Christmas this year and to have the opportunity to spend the holidays and most of January visiting family and friends.

To all of my readers I hope you have a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Belated Happy Hanukkah, and that you have an equally wonderful holiday season.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Finishing up the year and a trip to Puerto Varas and Bariloche

The past three weeks have gone by very quickly, and in less than 15 hours I'll be on a flight back home for the holidays.

Thanks to Britt's advice I can now use photobucket to store my pictures and then put them up on here.  I'm in the process of uploading them there and will then transfer them for this post and my previous post.

So, what has been happening down here since my last post?

I've finished up my classes.  It's always a bittersweet feeling because I really enjoy teaching and look forward to classes with my students, but I also look forward to having some time off.  I feel very fortunate that the kids I work with are so well-behaved and want to learn.  To finish up our classes we baked chocolate chip and sugar cookies, and the families have told me that they want to continue with classes for next year.

My adult classes ended well also.  I'll continue with my private classes and will have to see what students I will have next year at Grants.  Between my schedule and the students' very full work schedules it's not always easy to find times to continue with the same teacher, and part of me feels like continuing with the same students can leave you too comfortable and less willing to try out new things and continue to challenge the student.  We'll see how it all works out.

My boss throws a Christmas party at the end of each year, and this was actually the first year I have been able to go.  It was in a park, and the weather was beautiful.  It was a catered event with plenty of delicious Peruvian food, meat, and drinks.

There were also some games: a water balloon toss, a 3 legged race, a puppet show in which we were put into groups, and a Secret Santa.  It was truly a great time and I wish I had been able to go to the parties the past two years.

This picture gives you no idea how huge those pots were.
I can't believe this was my first time having aji de gallina!
After a year in Taiwan Tim is back in Santiago!
Our prize for coming in second on the 3 legged race!
The clue that we unwrapped that told us our puppet show groups

After walking with a coworker and waiting for buses and taxis for about 45 minutes, we finally got one to take us to the metro.  I was home for about an hour and a half before I then headed out for the bus station.

Where to this time you ask?  Puerto Varas and Bariloche!

I was in Puerto Varas back in September with Dana, but it's such a nice town that I wanted to spend a day there before traveling across the border to Argentina.  The overnight bus was as comfortable as could be expected, and I was able to sleep fine.  I got in around 10:30 in the morning and dropped my things at the hostel.  Breakfast was already over at the hostel, so I went into town and got some hot chocolate and an apple crepe at the same place I ate at last time.

After enjoying the meal and free wifi I decided to walk along the coast a bit.  The weather was cool but sunny, and I found a nice place along the coast with a beautiful view.  There were a few fishermen out on the rocks, and I decided to sit down and write in my journal.  It was so quiet and peaceful, and it reminded me of times when I did the same thing in Spain and Venice Beach.

I only had the day but still wanted to do something with it, so I decided to check out the tourist information office.  I came across a brochure for ziplining, so I gave them a call.  Surprisingly they told me that they could  organize a tour for any time I wanted that day, so we arranged it for 4 that afternoon.

After heading back to the hostel to shower and change clothes I met the company near the tourist office, and we headed to Cerro Phillipi.  It's the main mountain/hill in the area, and it's absolutely beautiful.  After a short training on how to use the ropes and gloves we were off!  The tour guides were gracious enough to take pictures along the way.

View while ziplining

The ziplining altogether was about an hour, and the thrill and views were worth it.  Afterwards I walked back into town, got some dinner, and relaxed at the hostel.

Sunday morning I got an early breakfast at the hostel and left for the bus station bright and early.  The ride to Bariloche was supposed to get me in at 1:00, but after the border crossing it was closer to 1:30.  Bariloche is a small town in Argentina that is well-known as a ski resort in winter, but its chocolates and moutanins are famous year round.  Upon arriving I decided drop my bags and wander around to get a feel for the area.  Most of the food was overpriced in restaurants, and I could see that the warnings of it being a tourist town were very true.  There were also a ton of chocolate places.  I visited a few of them to get a sense of the prices.

Based on the weather forecast I decided that the next day I'd be best off doing some mountain biking.  There was a promotion of 2 for the price of 1 for bike rentals, and the hostel employee suggested trying to find someone else to go with me.  I didn't have any luck that night, but in the morning I did.

I was up early for breakfast and got a shower to avoid having to wait, and I was down in the common area checking my email on my Ipod.  I heard a woman talking about blogging and traveling at the breakfast table, and she mentioned wanting to do a tour that day but not knowing what to do.  I asked her about the bike tour, and she said "Sure!  I'll be ready in 20 minutes!"  I was surprised at her spontaneity but also happy to have someone to bike with for the day.

After getting a bus card and putting money on it we took the bus out to the bike rental office.  We got our bikes, and they outlined the suggested route.  We could see that it was a good distance (about 26 km round trip) and that it was also very hilly, but we were told that there was no shame in getting off our bikes to walk when necessary.

The ride was so beautiful and relaxing.  We had views of the mountains, lakes, and lots of flowers.  We went at our own pace and talked along the way, and it was so interesting talking with another traveler.  She had been traveling for 2 years and was in the last 3 days of her trip, and I can only imagine the stories and experiences she has had over that span of time.  Including stopping for a lunch break the trip was about 4 hours, and we were content to go back and relax at the hostel for the evening.

The next day the weather wasn't supposed to be as nice (cloudly, cool, and rain starting in the afternoon), so I booked a tour to see Cerro Tronador and the Black Glacier.  We would spend most of the time in a van with minimal walking, so I figured it would be a good way to spend the day given the weather.

Unfortunately the tour didn't live up to my expectations.  The view along the rivers and some of the waterfalls were cool, but the tour guide spoke with no pauses and didn't stop to ask us any questions.  When walking through areas she didn't speak loudly and she began talking once she arrived at a stopping point.  Some of us only reached that stopping point as she finished talking and was ready to move on to the next area.  There was also a misunderstanding about lunch.  Our hostel told us that we could bring our own lunch to eat since it's very expensive there, but then the tour guide insisted that it's illegal to bring your own food into the park and told us that we would have to pay for a picnic table and sit in the rain or we could get a table at the restaurant and order some additional food there.  When we tried to explain to her what the hostel told us she was really rude and told us we were wrong and that she was expecting us to eat in the restaurant.  A couple and I just stayed in the van and ate there, hoping the tour would be over soon.

Our enthusiasm to see the Black Glacier had long dissipated by that point, and it started raining heavily.  I snapped a few pictures and headed back to the van, and from there it was about a 3 hour trip back to town.

I was cold and wet, and the rain had become steady.  After having had hostel breakfasts for 2 mornings and sandwiches for lunch for the past 2 days I decided to get a nice dinner.  I found a restaurant that looked nice and had a nice menu.  Albeit pricey, I wanted a good meal and settled on some cream of tomato soup and veal with potatoes.  I splurged on some chocolate mousse for dessert too, and it was a nice way to end a less than perfect day.

Wednesday the weather forecast called for rain and cold weather all day, and I was content to just make it a lazy day.  I wandered around town, drank hot chocolate, wrote some postcards, and got lunch at the same restaurant.  I went for the cream of tomato soup again but settled for some pasta as the main dish and skipped dessert.  I also bought some chocolates to bring back with me.

Later in the day I also met another really interesting person at the hostel.  Would you believe it if I told you there was a person who grew up not having electricity at home until he was 20?  This guy grew up on a huge ranch with his family, and they lived off the land.  He lived in the Malibu area doing that until he was 20.  He decided that college wasn't right for him and took classes to become a guide for rock climbing, and he was traveling around Argentina to climb some of the mountains.  He's planning on taking 2 months to climb one near Bariloche, meaning he'll be climbing it or living on it for both Christmas and New Years.  Talk about an interesting way to spend the holidays.

Thursday morning I got an early breakfast and was then on a bus back to Puerto Varas.  We got held up at the border due to a problem with the bus in front of us as well as some people on our bus bringing illegal products (mostly wood things) into Chile, so instead of arriving at 1:00 we got in at 2:30.  It ended up working out fine, as I was able to get lunch at the same restaurant with wifi.  I hung out there for the entire time and then got a colectivo to the other bus station for the overnight trip back to Santiago.

The bus ride back was also uneventful and as comfortable as could be expected.  We got in at 5:50 in the morning, and luckily the metro was running.  It was a great feeling to be back home.

My last few days here have been busy with cleaning, packing, buying gifts, some pool time, and catching up with friends. Some are heading back to the States, and others are moving on to Asia or England.  I have met some amazing people this year, and I'm going to miss having them in my life here in Santiago.

Now I'm off to pack, clean, and enjoy my last warm summer day until February!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Vña, Lady Gaga, Social Gatherings, and Thanksgiving

The two weeks since my last update seem to be a big blur of teaching and social events.

Last weekend I took a day trip with a few friends to Viña del Mar.  The forecast said it was only going to be 70 and overcast, but it turned out to be almost 80 and sunny.  We tried to go to the Italian restaurant that I went to on my last visit, but they said that the entire restaurant was reserved from 12:30 til 2 with tour groups and to come back after then.  It was about 12:15 then and we were hungry, so we decided to find another place.  As we walked along the coast the restaurants cost more than what we wanted to pay, but we took some pictures along the way.  Back in town we settled on a place with a good menú.  The food was halfway decent but due to the slow service it took us over an hour and a half to eat despite the place being almost empty.  Afterwards we explored some more and sat in a park and just talked before grabbing a bus home.  It was a nice getaway from Santiago for the day.

A big event here in Chile was the Lady Gaga concert on November 20th.  People apparently waited in line for hours to get tickets, and it was a sold out concert.  Seeing that my apartment is so close to Estadio Nacional and I can open my windows to hear the concerts there I decided to have a party.  I got snacks and a cake, and then people brought their own drinks.  We ordered Papa Johns and anxiously awaited the concert.  It was supposed to start at 8, but the opening acts only started at 8:45 or so.  Lady Gaga only started well after 10, but we were able to hear her loud and clear.  Unfortunately most of us had to work early the next morning, so almost everyone left by 11:30.

Classes are winding down for the year here.  Kids are getting spring fever and are ready for their summer vacation, and adults are also looking forward to the summer weather.  I´ve had a few classes decide to end their classes for the year earlier than I was expecting, and the result has been less lukas coming in but more free time.  I´ve never seen myself as a very socially adept person, so I´ve been making the effort to get out and meet people.  This has included showing a new friend around to some of the restaurants I like to eat at as well as making some new friends that I met at the English Day event earlier this month.  Just yesterday I was at a farewell barbecue for two English teachers that I met a little over a year and a half ago, and I was also invited to a Thanksgiving Dinner.  I usually find myself preferring to be by myself rather than being social, but I am glad that I´ve gotten out and spent time with people.

And then of course there was Thanksgiving.  It isn´t a holiday here, but Chileans know about it.  I had work until 9 at night and it seems like people didn´t do anything to celebrate on Thanksgiving Day for the same reason, but I decided to go out to get some dinner with a friend.  I introduced him to Golfo di Napoli, the Italian restaurant near my apartment.  It was a nice meal and a good way to end the day.  

Even though it was celebrated a few days late, I was invited to a Thanksgiving Dinner on Saturday.  There was good food (turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, pumpkin pie, and more), good company, and it was a good time.  Although I didn´t know the majority of the people there very well, it was nice spending time with people and sharing a meal together.  The host took pictures but I haven´t gotten a copy of them yet.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I realize that I have a lot to be thankful for: good health, family, friends, steady work, students that value my time and want to learn, a modern and comfortable apartment, and a comfortable lifestyle are among them.  I could keep on writing but I think you get the idea.  It´s so easy to get caught up in what´s wrong with our lives or things that are honestly so trivial in the grand scheme of things, but I´ve found that I´ve become much happier expressing gratitude for what I have and what is going right not only on Thanksgiving but every day.  I´ve found that I get less stressed out and can handle situations more calmly than before, and I can let go of the things that aren´t worth my time or energy and can focus on what does matter to me.

I hope that everyone reading this also had a Happy Thanksgiving and also has just as much if not more to be thankful for.