Saturday, July 28, 2012

Starbucks, La Vega, and the IATEFL Conference

This past few months I've been spending a good amount of time at Starbucks.    Those of you that know me well understand this, but those of you that don't might be puzzled since I don't drink coffee.

So if I don't drink coffee why have I been spending so much time there?  Well, there are a few reasons.  The first reason is that I have a private class that meets at a Starbucks two mornings a week.  At first I was a bit apprehensive to have class there since it would require me to buy something during class, but it has actually worked out nicely.  I arrive when they open right at 7:30, and that way I miss most of the rush hour traffic.  The class only starts at 8:30, but it's a nice time to sit and read, write in my journal, or do some lesson planning.  The free wireless is also very convenient, and the fact that you can sit in a comfortable couch, sip on tea, and do work for a few hours is something very relaxing and appealing.

At the same time, there are some things I don't like about Starbucks.  If there are alternatives I usually prefer to support smaller and family-owned businesses or independent coffee shops, but here in Chile those options that have free wireless are rather limited.  Another thing is that I don't care for is the crowds at peak times.  I used to go to a Starbucks to kill an hour of time before an evening class, but I spent 10 minutes in line waiting to order, up to 10 minutes waiting for my drink, and then sometimes it was so crowded I couldn't even find a seat.  Last but not least, Starbucks employees are not treated well here in Chile at all.  I remember seeing a report in the news that they are paid something like $3 or $4 an hour, and there have been multiple reports of employees being forced to work through their legally required breaks.  It came down to a faceoff between Starbucks and the union, and I believe they ruled in favor of the union.

I've also noticed some rather disturbing behavior at Starbucks.  It's fairly common that employees go through the store and clear the tables of any empty drinks and plates.  In a situation like that it appears to me that etiquette would dictate that you thank or at least acknowledge the person that is taking care of this for you, but I've noticed quite often that people don't even acknowledge the person that is essentially cleaning up for them.

On another occasion I saw a man actually throw his napkins onto the floor, and then he started reading his newspaper.  The employee then had to bend down and pick up his napkins off the floor while he read his paper.

These sitautions affect me personally for a few reasons.  First off, I really believe that all people deserve to be able to earn a living wage and that they are entitled to breaks from their work.  I also believe that if a company has a contract or legalities that they need to honor them and shouldn't cut corners to earn more money at the expense of its employees.  Situations like these also reinforce the stratification that is evident in Chile: those with money are very distinct from those without it.

The most fundamental issue at hand, however, is respect and treating others with dignity.  The people that are making my tea and making their rounds to pick up empty cups and plates are people just like me and you.  They have hopes, dreams, ambitions, fears, and insecurities like everyone else.  The idea that people don't acknowledge these people or haven't given thought to their actions is something that I'm very sensitive to, perhaps too much so.

Whenever I'm at Starbucks I am reminded of these inequalities, and the stratification bothers me a bit.

On the other side of the spectrum is La Vega.  I've been going there sporadically during my time in Chile, and I'd buy some things here and there.  I don't know why it took me so long to realize it, but it dawned on me that I can stock up on food there and freeze it until I need it.  So during my last trip I got 12 pork chops (3 bags of 4 in each bag) and 2 bags of chicken (a little less than a kilo per bag), and what I'm not using now is in my freezer.  That way I maximize my savings.  I also found some household products I needed for cheaper than what I'd pay at the grocery store.  I like going there to support the people that are directly working with the produce and products that they sell.  The only challenge is the distance from my apartment, so I try to go less often but stock up on what I need.

One a different note, last weekend I attended the International Association for the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) Conference in Santiago.  Based on my experience there two years ago I knew that it wasn't going to be like the conferences I had been to in the States before, and it proved to  be a mixed bag.  Some presenters were very well organized and articulate, presenting effective teaching strategies and ways to adapt and use materials to engage learners.  Penny Ur and Herbert Puchta were amazing, and I feel fortunate to have heard them speak.  Other people presented research papers or were trying to sell products in their session, and since there were no descriptions or abstracts you had no way of knowing beforehand.  A lot of presentations were geared towards teaching children or university students in a classroom setting, so people like me had a challenging time finding workshops that were geared towards our needs.

There's another teaching conference coming up at the end of August/beginning of September sponsored by Teaching of English as a Second or Other Language (TESOL) Chile.  I actually submitted a proposal to present some teaching strategies, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed.  If accepted it will be my first time presenting at an international conference, so if you can please keep your fingers crossed for me too!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Visiting a Winery, New Opportunities, and the Power of a Picture

This last weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to visit a vineyard here.

How did this opportunity come about?  A former student of mine contacted me asking for help checking his grammar and writing in English for a paper, and then his mother asked for some classes to prepare for an international business visitor.  In order to get to know the visitor (I translated and did a presentation in meetings later in the week) and thank me for the classes they invited me to go with them on a tour of the Concha y Toro vineyard on the outskirts of Santiago.

When it comes to wine, Concha y Toro is a very well-known name in Chile as well as other parts of the world.  The name translates to shell and bull, but the name comes from the last names of the owners.  It´s the second largest winery in the world, with only one in France being bigger.

The tour was in English and showed the areas where grapes were harvested, the home that was now being occupied as an administrative office, and the cellar where they store the wine in the barrels until it ages.  The cellar is called the casillero del diablo, or cellar of the devil.  Inside it was cold and they had a mini show with the devil telling the history of the winery.

Chile is also home to camanere, which is a specific type of grape or wine that isn´t found in any other part of the world.  It was discovered by accident, and its name is supposed to be the color of the last of the wine that is left at the bottom of your wine glass.

After the tour and some wine tasting along the way, we had a delicious lunch.  We had appetizers of fish and empanadas, lasagna, chocolate mousse for dessert, and of course some wine to go along with it.

Unfortunately I didn´t think to bring my camera, but my former student Rodrigo agreed to take some pictures along the way for me:

Inside the winery.  Wish I could take a few of these home with me.

In the field.  Even though there weren´t any grapes and it looks cold it was about 70 degrees and sunny.

The infamous camenere grapes

The owner´s old house/current administration building

A view of the vineyard
Later in the week I worked with the same family during some meetings.  I helped translate between the visitor from the UK and the Chileans there, and I also presented a Powerpoint presentation in English that I helped them write.  Another day I helped translate and also got to attend a conference and see the stand where the family had their business set up.  It was an interesting change from my usual work routine and satisfying knowing that I helped bridge the communication gap between different countries and cultures.

Talking about different countries and cultures brings me to this photo:

This photo is from my exchange year in Germany, and it was roughly taken in October of 2000 in either Weimar, Dresden, or Berlin.  I posted it on Facebook about a year and a half ago, but only until recently was I able to start to reconnect with the people in the picture.

Of the 16 people in the picture, we represent Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Poland, Estonia, Peru, and the United States.  One of the girls from Mexico is from the same town and knows a girl that was an exchange student in my school in New Jersey during my senior year of high school, and one of the guys lives in Mendoza, Argentina (which I visited twice during my first year in Santiago).

At the time of posting the picture I was only in contact with one or two of the people in the picture, but as of today I have gotten back in contact with about half of them.  We've discussed what's we're doing with our lives and how much we value our time in Germany and miss it, and the photo has almost 70 comments about our times and trying to reconnect with others from our exchange year.  We've even discussed making plans to visit each other.

I feel so grateful and fortunate not only to have had these experiences but also to be able to reconnect with people.

Looking through my CD case, I found the CD with photos from Germany that I got digitized a few years ago.  Time to upload some more pictures to share the memories.

Have a Happy 4th back in the States everyone!