Saturday, December 27, 2014

Thanksgiving and Summer Weather

So it's almost the end of the year.  The year is once again flying by.

So, what was Thanksgiving like here?

I was able to arrange my evening classes I would have had on Thanksgiving Day for other days of the week, and I went to a nice dinner at The Black Rock Pub.  I had never been there before, as I went to California Cantina last year.  I wanted to try something different, and it was great.  I met a solo traveler there named Kimberly who decided to travel the world.  We talked about our experiences traveling and living outside of the States, and it was a really nice conversation.

The food was AMAZING.  Turkey, ham, roast beef, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, and more.  It was set up as an all you can eat meal, and so I took full advantage of that.  The chef even came out and asked everyone how the meal was, and I got to chat with her before leaving.  Her English was perfect, and I was surprised to learn that she's Chilean.

The Saturday of Thanksgiving was another celebration.  One of my friends Allison graciously offered to host at her apartment.  She prepared about 6 or 7 dishes, and it was a US/Chilean celebration.  The US element was the typical food from home, and the Chilean element was grilling meat.  My contribution was StoveTop stuffing that I brought back from my visit home in August and my mom's recipe of mac and cheese.

Allison had reserved the grilling area, but it was overcast and cold  In the end we celebrated in one of the multi-purpose rooms.  Everyone brought something to contribute, and we were almost equally divided between Chileans and Gringos (with the exception of Allison's Peruvian boyfriend).  

There was plenty of food and drink, and I really enjoyed chatting with my friends and making new ones.  I arrived at about 2 and stayed until about 8, but when I left the celebration was still going strong.  Apparently afterwards everyone started grilling meat too.

These two celebrations really made me realize how fortunate I am.  Even though I'm away from family and my friends from the States, I still have opportunities to celebrate my holiday.  This year I've met some wonderful new friends and started a new challenge with my job at SII.  Work has been relatively stable, and despite the desire to lose weight I am still in good physical and mental health.

It's the end of December, but it certainly doesn't feel like it to me.  The weather is hot, and up until still very busy with work.  Classes at my work ended the first week of December, but after that there were final exams to give, final reports to write, makeup tests to give, and programming and preparation for the following year.

I'll update about the holidays in my next post.

Wishing everyone a very belated Happy Thanksgiving and less belated Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Walking to Work: An Unexpected Adventure

I've been walking to work for about a month and a half now.

I walk through a variety of neighborhoods and get to see some nice sights along the way, so I decided to turn it into a blog post.  More precisely, two Thursday nights ago I made the decision that I'd take pictures of my commute to work, but I had no idea what was going to happen in Santiago that following morning.

That morning I left my apartment around 7:15.  I carry the typical teacher essentials in my backpack: emergency materials in case I can't print or copy what I need for classes at the office, extra white board markers, hand sanitizer, aspirin, blank paper for lessons where we create spontaneous stories, and my tablet for individual classes.  I also had my lunch, sunblock, clip on sunglasses, bottled water, and a small luggage lock so that no one can get into my backpack to steal my tablet while I'm walking.

To give you an idea of the route here's a map:

The stars indicate the starting and ending point.  I start in the lower right corner and walk towards the upper left corner.
My journey starts at my apartment building, which is near the intersection of Irarrazaval with Antonio Varas.  I have a bus stop in front of my building, so it can be tempting to sleep in and catch the bus.  I've been pretty good about resisting on my walking days of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday despite the temptation.

As I walk out of my apartment building I put on my headphones and choose the music for the day.  I usually listen to Linkin Park's Living Things or Paul Oakenfold's Great Wall.  Both albums have songs with a steady beat that makes for good walking music.

 For the first leg of the trip, I walk down my street Irarrazaval a few blocks until I get to Manuel Montt.  Unimarc is a grocery store here, and this particular one was constructed about a year ago.  It's a bit small but has pretty much anything I need, so I go there often.

Then I walk up Manuel Monnt until I get to the next main street, Sucre.  Manuel Monnt isn't the prettiest of streets, and it's not very well maintained.  Turning onto Sucre, however, is a big change.  It's lined with trees and doesn't get much traffic compared to other streets here.  

I then arrive at a nice park at the intersection with Miguel Claro.  It was about 7:30 when my phone rang.  It was my boss, and she told me that there was a fire in the La Moneda subway station and that lines 1, 2, and 5 of the metro weren't running.  On top of that, a lot of buses weren't running either.  She knew that I walk to work some days, and I told her that I was already on my way to work and that I didn't anticipate any problems getting to work for my 9:00 class.  Just to be sure, she told me to call her if she needed me to cancel my class.

Here's the park I pass by:

Then another surprise happened.  As I was walking on Miguel Claro, a dog came out of its house and started barking and growling at me.

It was only a few feet in front of me.  I froze and wondered how the dog got out.  I stood there trying to figure out what to do for a few seconds, and then I took a few steps back.  I crossed the street and continued on my way.  It was then that I noticed that the owners had opened their gate to drive out of the driveway.  I was lucky that I wasn't a few steps ahead of where I was; otherwise I could have had another dog bite situation here.

After that, I made my way down the street Rengo.  It's another calm tree-lined street.  After about 5 or 6 blocks I get to the intersection of Salvador, one of the main streets that runs north to south.  There's a pedestrian crossing, and cars are supposed to stop for pedestrians.  I emphasize supposed to.

I usually leave around 6:50 or 7:00 in the morning, so by the time I arrive there it's about 7:20 or 7:30.  It was now about 7:45, and traffic was considerably heavier than usual.  If you don't step out in front of cars they won't stop for you as a pedestrian.  Situations like these have helped me develop nerves of steel and become more assertive.

I walk down Rengo until the street ends, and then I walk up Gibraldi.  This is unfortuantely another street that isn't really well maintained.  It's a shame because just one or two streets away is Avenida Italia, an artsy and interesting area with some cool restaurants, bars, and boutiques.  

Then walking north I get to Santa Isabel.  At this particular intersection I can then walk a block west and then about 3 blocks north on Condell to get to Marin.  Condell and Marin are other tree-lined streets, but they get a good amount of traffic as people avoid the busier main streets.  There's a nice mural that I enjoy seeing as I walk by each morning:

Walking down Marin, I eventually get to Vicuña Mckenna.  This is one of the main streets that runs north to south in Santiago, and the metro line 5 (that was out of service that day) is a vital connection between people that live in the southern part of the city and the downtown area to the north.  By this time I have listened to the entire Living Things Linkin Park album, and I then put on their album titled A Thousand Suns.  

Crossing Vicuña Mckenna I continue on Marin for about 3 more blocks until I get to Portugal.  By that time it was about 8:10 or so, and there was considerably more foot traffic.  

Walking up Portugal you have to be careful when you get to the intersection with Curico.  There are bike lanes and plenty of people that take advantage of them.  If you're not careful a biker could take you out!

A bit further up I see something that breaks my heart every time I pass by.  There is a line of homeless people that live in front of the public hospital.  Some of them sleep on pieces of cardboard with a blanket.  Others of them have actual mattresses and a comforter, and some of them share their "bed" with another person.  I didn't think taking pictures of their living conditions would be very dignified, but here is the sign for the public hospital to give you an idea of it:

For those of you that remember reading a post I made about a beggar last year, it really affected me.  You can reread that post by clicking here.  Seeing people living in such conditions breaks my heart.  I can't imagine what people like that have gone through in their life.  Their broken dreams that they never got to achieve, fighting for survival each day, and depending on the kindness of strangers to make it from one day to the next.

The first time or two that I walked by it really tugged at my heart strings, and it made me think what I could do to help them.  I made a resolution to take the money that I would have spent on a bus fare that day and to leave it for one of them on their mattress while they were asleep.  I try to put it under a blanket or in a place where it won´t be noticed by anyone walking by.  It might only be 600 pesos, but for them that could be a meal or two and the difference between going hungry one day to the next.  Each time I walk by I get a sobering dose of reality about how fortunate I am and to appreciate everything that I have in life.

After that, I walk up Diagonal Paraguay, which connects to Alameda.  Alameda, also know as Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins, is the main street that runs east to west from Providencia, through downtown, and going all the way out to Estacion Central.  When I got there, I encountered absolute chaos.

Subway line 1 runs along Alameda and is a lifeline for the majority of Santiguinos.  It extends further and stretches to Las Condes.  There are buses that will also run this same route, but given the street traffic they are often much slower.

That morning, however, those buses or taking a taxi were the only option people had to get to work.  There were mobs of people waiting at the bus stops.  It wouldn't surprise me to find out that people were injured with the pushing and shoving and fighting to get on buses.  I didn't get too close to any mobs, but here's a picture of confused people trying to figure out how to get to work:

To get to work, I walk down Alameda about 4 blocks.  The foot traffic was considerably heavier than normal, and it was about 8:30 by that time.  I saw something that aught my attention, and I couldn't help not taking a picture:

Yes, that is an underwear company advertising their new fast food line of underwear.

Then I can cut through Nueva York, a street that makes me feel like I've stepped into a time machine.  The cobblestone streets and stone buildings are such a contrast to other parts of Santiago.  

I then walk west on Moneda and pass the presidential palace and plaza.  I'm rewarded with the following view:

I work in the building on the left.
Selfie in front of my work
I arrived at work at 8:40 that morning, and I was actually the first one into the office.  The other teachers didn't make it in for their first class, and I only had one student out of 3 regular attendees in my class.  One of my coworkers walked from the Los Leones subway station to work, which is 9 metro stations away.  Walking that probably took her over an hour.  

Unless people drove to work, people arrived an hour to two hours late.  Given the situation to get home, government workers were allowed to leave work at 2:00.  My boss cancelled 2:30 classes, and since I didn't have a 1:15 class that day I left at 1:00.

I'm glad I left when I did.  I was able to get a bus that connected to another bus to get home.  The usual 25 minute trip ended up being about an hour, and it was about 85 degrees. Walking home would have been a grueling ordeal.

The metro only got up and running again the following day.

So, what caused the whole fiasco in the first place?

I haven't been able to find any news sources with facts in writing, but someone told me that 600 workers that maintained the electrical wiring of the subway stations had been laid off.  Rather than keeping those jobs as public ones with benefits, they have been outsourcing the work to a private company.  The lack of maintenance resulted in the fire that caused the meltdown.

300,000 people were affected by the failure of the metro.  The president of the metro as well as a few others have resigned, and they have been replaced.

Of course there were some interesting memes that came out of the situation:

Translation: The bus is coming!!!!!!!!
Translation: All 30,245 of us passengers in the
bus are fine.
Jokes aside, I was very fortunate in the situation.  I don't have kids to pick up from school and didn't have any classes that were out of the way.  I can't imagine the frustration that other people went through on what should have been a typical Friday for them.

This highlights one of the political struggles that is currently going on in Chile: the rise of private businesses and fall of public jobs.  I´m not one to follow politics too much, but I think that people are getting angry here and are not shy to express how they feel.  

It's an adventure being in Chile when things like this happen.  I feel like this is something that no one will ever forget, and I feel like I'm living a part of history.

That's all for now.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Social Events, Halloween, Teaching, and a Neighbor

It's the second week of November, and spring has arrived.

The warmer weather has made it easier to get out of the house and exercise, which has in turn helped me to feel more upbeat and social.  Or perhaps making social plans has made me feel more upbeat and helped me to enjoy the warmer weather.  In any case, it's a good feeling.

There have been a good amount of people that I hadn't seen in a while, and I had also met some interesting people over the past few months.  So I decided to have a party at my place.  I provided snacks, and everyone brought their drinks.  There ended up being about 13 of us inside my one bedroom apartment, but we all had a great time.  Looking back at the people that came made me realize how interesting of a group of friends that I have.  At the end of the night I was getting tired, and I think a few people picked up on it.  People left in small groups, and on their way out they took out the trash and empty bottles and beer cans.  It was a very pleasant surprise, and it made me realize how lucky I am to have met such good friends.

I also met some new friends that are fellow Settlers of Catan fans.  They had played it a few times before and were rusty on the rules, so the first game we played was like a refresher.  Seeing how competitive they got during the second game was really entertaining.  I'm glad I met them, and then I was invited to one of their birthday parties the following weekend.  There I met some more really interesting people as well as some fellow Magic players.

And then there was Halloween.  

Maybe it's just me, but I feel like Halloween is like an unwritten competition to have an amazing costume.  Ever since I was a little kid I never felt like my costumes were good enough, and I remember being made fun of in high school for having a sucky costume.  Ever since then I've almost always decided to opt out of the competitive nature of the holiday and enjoy it how I want to celebrate it.

Here in Chile October 31st is a national holiday, and I really enjoyed having the day off.  I caught up with a friend over coffee, and then I filled my craving for American food by getting lunch at Johnny Rocket's.  While I don't enjoy dressing up in a costume, seeing the costumes of the waiters and waitresses there was cool.  They even danced to Michael Jackson's Thriller when I was there.

In other news, I'm famous!

Well, that's probably a bit of an exaggeration.  Why do I say that?

They opened the application process for people at my job to apply for English classes for next year, and they took pictures of me in class to use on the website.  It was pretty cool opening up the email and seeing my picture with some of my students.  

Last but not least, I had an unexpected encounter with one of my neighbors.  

In order to give you the proper background, we actually need to go back in them a little over 2 years ago.  I was teaching a class in my apartment, and my doorbell rang. It was one of my neighbors that was interested in English classes.  

After I finished the class I visited her.  I told her about my background, evaluated her level, and we agreed on a price for classes and schedule.  We confirmed the class, and despite her living two doors away she didn't show up to the first class.

When I contacted her about it, she explained that she was too busy for classes, and she refused to pay me.  

Needless to say, I wasn't happy.  In fact, I felt really angry every time I walked by her apartment to take out my trash or put away the recycling.  

So now we go back to a few weeks ago.  I woke up to a strange sound in the hallway.  it was as if an animal was chewing on a plastic bottle in the hallway, and it lasted for about 20 minutes.  Strange things had happened in my apartment building before, so I got dressed and opened up my front door cautiously.

What did I find?

One of my neighbors was using a plastic bottle that he had flattened out, and he was trying to use it to open the front door to his apartment.  His key wasn't working, and his family that lives on the other side of Santiago didn't pick up the phone so that he could get his spare key.  (It was 3 in the morning early on a Sunday).  

I recognized him as the husband of the woman who had never paid me for the classes.  We had seen each other coming and going and had been in the elevator a few times over the past few years, and once or twice I was him walking with his daughter who was a few years old at the time.  Despite him having nothing to do with his wife's behavior, each time I saw him I felt a surge of anger come up.  I simply masked it and smiled despite how I was feeling.

I asked him what happened, and he explained the situation to me.  I asked if he wanted me to help him call a locksmith or if he wanted to come in for something to eat or drink, and he told me about being able to get the key from his family in the morning.  I then asked if he wanted to crash on my couch for the night.  He seemed a bit hesitant to accept at first, but I insisted it wouldn't be a problem.  So inside he came, and to sleep he went.

We both woke up around 8 or so, and I offered him some breakfast.  He just wanted some water, and we chatted while I had a bowl of cereal.  I asked if his wife was away for the weekend since he wasn't able to get into the apartment, and he told me that they had separated.

At that time, it completely changed my perspective.  Imagining what he had gone through and not knowing what contact (if any) he had with his daughter really made me realize how inconsequential the lost English class was.  

I apologized and didn't bring up how I knew about his wife.  After we chatted a bit about our jobs, I told him that since we were both living on our own that perhaps we could have a meal or drinks together from time to time.  He seemed appreciative of the gesture, and after thanking me he went on his way to visit his family and get the spare key to his apartment.

I find myself continuing to branch out.  I'm connecting with people and developing more authentic friendships, and I'm learning to let go of the past and move on.  It's a good feeling, and I hope I can keep the momentum going through the rest of the year and beyond.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Back to the Blogging World

After a long hiatus I'm back!

Looking back, I can hardly believe how quickly time has gone by.  My last post was from when I was back in Jersey.

So, what has happened in the past two and a half months?

First, the time at home and the trip back.

I enjoyed the rest of my visit to the States.  I got to experience a bit of luxury that I don't normally get to indulge in when my brother invited me into his hot tub when I visited him in North Carolina.  I ate the delicious food that I missed and caught up with friends and family that I hadn't seen since my last visit.  I also stocked up on the things I like that I can't get in Chile (certain types of tea, castile soap, skin care products, etc) as well as things that are more affordable back in the States (dental floss, mouthwash, deodorant, etc).

My bags were actually underweight going back, so that was a nice surprise.  One thing that made the trip back a bit difficult was an 8 hour layover in Miami.  The merger between American Airlines and US Airways has resulted in some pretty inconvenient layovers, and this was one of them.  One of my students was going to be in Miami and we tried to make plans to meet up, but it didn't work out.  I could have tried to leave the airport and enjoy the beach for 3 or 4 hours, but the prospects of leaving my bags, paying for a shuttle or figuring out the public transportation system, and then being sure to get back in time was a bit overwhelming for me.

So I dropped my bags off at luggage storage, got a bite to eat, browsed the shops, and got some exercise walking around.  There's actually a good amount to see and do in the airport there, although the food is expensive.

My dad had a voucher to access their VIP lounge, and so after about 4 hours of walking around the airport I picked up my bags from luggage storage (they closed at 8 or so) and decided to check it out.


It was AMAZING inside.  After checking in, I got into an elevator and went up to the third floor.  There was a reception desk, luggage storage area, business center with computers and printers, coffee area, bar with a lounge, designated quiet areas, rooms for kids to play, free snacks, and showers.

I walked around and was in awe that such places existed inside an airport.  It turns out they provided complimentary soft drinks as well as some house wines and beers.  I put the complimentary wine to good use (leaving a tip for the servers with each glass of course!).  

I also got to take a shower.  It was like a hotel bathroom inside, with towels and soap and shampoo.  After having been on one flight already and at the airport for 6 hours the shower was very relaxing and a nice way to end the time in the VIP lounge and long layover.

And the best part?  When I checked in they gave me back the voucher and told me that I could use it again for my next visit!

Second, getting back.

While I always enjoy my trip back to the States, I am always glad to get back to my life in Chile.  I came back to winter, but having had two weeks of summer made it bearable.

I picked up where I left off at work, and the big difference was coming back to the new office.  I really enjoyed seeing everyone again, and I think that's a sign that you enjoy your job.

The dieciocho holiday (Chile's national holiday, which is actually celebrated for about a week) came and went, and I had a great time.  This year it fell on a Thursday, and I had off work Wednesday through Friday.  I went to a barbecue on Wednesday, and the food and company was really nice.  For the actual dieciochomI was invited to celebrate with some friends' family in Melipilla. I really enjoyed getting to know them, and the weather was sunny and warm.  Friday and Saturday I went to a few fondas in Santiago, and Sunday I took it easy and some friends came over for Settlers of Catan and wine.

And then I woke up sick on Monday morning.

I was careful to eat and drink in moderation during the holiday, but apparently that wasn't good enough.  Most of the holiday was warm and sunny, but that Monday morning was cold and overcast, and the entire week ended up being that way.  It took me over two weeks to get over it, but I'm glad to be recovered.

Another newsworthy event is that I have officially joined the 21st century and have a fully functioning smartphone!  One of my friends came down and very graciously agreed to have it mailed to her from Amazon and to bring it down to me (along with some Kit Kats).  My old phone would randomly stop charging, and the battery would only last 3 or 4 hours even at full charge.  After replacing the battery things didn't get any better, and at one point it just completely stopped charging.

After taking the phone to a Samsung store here, they helped me install the chip.  I was super excited and wanted to start Whatsapping and calling people.

Then I realized that I had lost ALL my contacts.

I thought I had saved them on my chip, but it turns out I saved it on the internal memory of my old phone.  So I started recollecting all my contacts.

It's so convenient being able to read emails and see messages on the go, and I'm so grateful to be connected to people.

Some other great things have happened recently.

Since the weather has warmed up I started walking to work three days a week.  It takes me about an hour and fifteen minutes, and one of my students who lives near me told me it's a 7 kilometer (or about 4.5 mile) walk.  In the morning it's nice and cool, and I enjoy listening to music and just letting my mind wander.  Each weekend I'm also walking.  Last weekend I walked to a friend's apartment about 45 minutes away, and today I walked to Denny's (about an hour and 20 minutes).

I've also become more spontaneous.  A few friends invited me over to their apartment the same day, and we had a great time catching up over wine and snacks.  There was a Ricky Martin concert at the Estadio Nacional on Friday night, and I invited a few friends that live in the area over a few hours before it started.  We opened the windows and were able to hear it while we chatted over some wine and snacks.

I've also become much better about developing authentic friendships.  I feel like I'm connecting better with people with whom I have things in common, and I'm much better in tune with people that I want to spend time with and that treat me with respect.  I used to feel like I didn't have enough friends and that I had to take whatever friends I could find, but now I'm learning to let go of friendships that aren't working out rather than trying to force them to work.  I feel like I'm becoming more secure and confident, and it's a great feeling.

I've also run into people from my past that haven't exactly treated me well.  I was bitter for a long time for various reasons and let a lot of negativity dwell inside me, but having seen them and knowing that I have surpassed their expectations is a good feeling. (People seem to think that I was only going to stay in Chile for a year or two). It also gave me the closure I needed to let go of all the negativity and be grateful for the good that came out of difficult situations.

I hope everyone reading this up in the Northern Hemisphere is enjoying the fall.  For everyone else, happy spring!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Well Deserved Break

So I'm visiting my brother and sister in law in North Carolina as I type this.

The last 2 weeks went by quickly.  I was busy with my usual teaching load of classes for the week, but on top of that I had midyear reports to complete, some students that requested help looking over things outside of class, and an impending move of our office.

Things kept changing as to both when and where we were moving.  Everything was supposed to get moved on Friday after work, but things changed and so they moved up in the middle of the morning when I was in class. 

That normally wouldn't have been a problem, but my computer then wasn't hooked up for me to work on the midyear reports I had to finish for the next 3 hours.

Luckily my boss was understanding and told me to get done what I could and I could take care of the rest when I get back.  

In addition to that, I taught Tuesday and Thursday nights until 10 for a new class and until 8 on Wednesday.  

I didn't get my place as clean as I wanted to before I left, and there were 4 reports I didn't get complete before I leave.  Even though my boss told me it was ok I still feel bad not having finished something before going on vacation.

The trip back to the States was typical: waiting in line to drop off my luggage and go through security, the requisite airport snack before getting on the flight, the sleeping and listening to music to pass the time on the flight, and the luck of having an empty seat next to me from Santiago to Miami.

There are a few things that catch me off guard every time I travel.  The first one is talking with other passengers on the flight.  A woman two seats away from me point to the Chips Ahoy that were included with my meal and asked me "Do you want?"  I responded in English, then in Spanish, and then gave her a confused look.  From her accent I wasn't sure where she was from and what language to speak.  She thanked me for the cookies, and we went back to listening to music.  

Another thing that is throwing me for a loop is hearing everyone around me speaking English.. I've had a 4 hour layover here before getting my flight to Philadelphia, and each time I hear people speaking English my ears perk and then I remember that I'm back in the States.  When trying to get past people in the food court I unconsciously say "Permiso" instead of "Excuse me". 

I've been home for a week now, so I´m halfway through my visit.  What are my feelings and impressions on the trip so far?

  • The food from home has been great.  I only get to eat particular foods when I'm home, so having that for two weeks is a nice treat.
  • Spending time with family and friends has been great too.  Just sitting around watching TV or playing card games while we catch up a bit is a nice way to relax, and the conversation is always light while we enjoy each other's company.  And of course it's great catching up with friends over a meal too.
  • I love movie theater popcorn.  In Chile they only make kettle corn, so having the real stuff was a nice treat.
  • Going to the food store is an experience.  I was amazed walking down the aisles of Shoprite and seeing so many varieties of cheese, and even though it's only August they had PUMPKIN PIE.  I got one to take home an enjoy.
  • Similarly, going to Target and Walmart is also an experience.  Seeing so much stuff available left me just wandering around the store looking at everything.  
  • Things here are organized and they work.  When I went to the bank it was open at 4 PM (they close at 2 PM in Chile), and I received a thank you and a pleasant attitude from the woman who helped me.  I was in and out in three minutes.
  • People here are polite.  If anyone comes within 2 feet of your personal space, they will say "Excuse me" as they pass by.  In Chile people will brush up against you or even knock into you without saying anything.
That's all for now.  Hopefully the second half of my visit will be as nice as my first.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Teaching Conference and Meeting An Idol

The second half of July had one big highlight for me: the IATEFL Chile conference in Santiago.

For those who are not familiar with the acronym, IATEFL stands for the International Conference for the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language.  Every year they have a conference with workshops, speakers, vendors, and teachers from all over Chile and sometimes from other parts of Latin America.  The plenary speakers could come from all over the world, and it's always exciting to meet and hear from experts in English language teaching.

The conference was Friday the 18th and Saturday the 19th, and due to my work schedule I had to teach my Friday morning class.  Luckily my boss was able to give me the rest of Friday off.  I missed the opening ceremony and first plenary speaker, but I still got to attend most of Friday.

As with each conference I go to, there was an interesting mix of presentations.  A few were really useful, some were ok, and unfortunately some were not really that great.  Despite that, it was good seeing professional contacts that I hadn't seen since similar events last year.

There were three presentations that really stuck out to me.

The first one was by Gustavo Gonzalez.  He presented about small ways to incorporate technology into the classroom.  He showed some websites and tools we can use that we can prepare and use in class that don´t require an internet connection, and he gave really good examples of what he´s done in a variety of ways.  He was really enthusiastic, and it seemed like it rubbed off on everyone who attended.

Another one was by Paul Seligson.  His big thing is about being sure that we are teaching to the needs of our students (Spanish speakers as opposed to any other language) and to not feel boxed in or restricted by textbooks that dumb down what students are capable of understanding and communicating.  He also encourages teachers to use comparative strategies between English and Spanish to help students think about similarities and differences between the languages and help their learning.  His sociocultural approach really struck a chord with me, as I also like to draw upon what my students know to build a foundation for their learning.

I got to chat with him a bit after his presentation, and he was gracious enough to pose for a picture with me.

The last speaker was Stephen Krashen.  Yes, THE STEPHEN KRASHEN.

For those readers who aren't familiar with him, Stephen Krashen has been (in my opinion) the most influential researcher and contributor to language teaching and second language acquisition from the 20th century until now.  He has written over 450 scholarly articles about effective language learning and has traveled all over the world to speak to and inspire teachers.

I remember learning about his theories of comprehensible input, the affective filter, and the silent period (just to name a few) as an undergraduate at Occidental, and they formed the basis of my learning for effective language teaching.

He captivated me for two hours.  He's a real storyteller and used dramatic pauses, real life stories related to his research and that of others, and anecdotes about his family.  He came across as really down to earth, and after his presentation he made himself available to talk to people, sign autographs, and take pictures.

Seeing that I went to college in Los Angeles and he was an education professor at USC, you'd think that I would have had the chance to meet him.  That didn't happen during my 8 years in California, but it happened here in Santiago.

I was nervous as I approached him.  I shook his hand and thanked him for the presentation and told him about my undergraduate experience learning about languages and how much he has influenced my teaching career.  I then got a picture with him:

Meeting Stephen Krashen was something that was on my professional bucket list, and it was a really amazing experience to have met him.

The conference gave me a lot to think about in regards to my teaching style, how I and my students use Spanish in the classroom, and finding small ways to incorporate technology into my teaching.  I'm glad I went and I'm already looking forward to the next conference (TESOL Chile) in October.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Escaping the City

A few weekends ago I took my annual winter weekend trip to Viña del Mar.

This time I decided to find a place to stay in a different way.  I searched on, and after some searching I contacted a potential host.  She told me that the guest room in her apartment was available, and so I booked it for $30 a night.

The location was really nice.  It was a block from the beach, and the view from the balcony was amazing.  Aysa is from Russia and is living with her Chilean boyfriend, and they have a cat that is a bit on the crazy side.  I got to know them the night I arrived and over breakfast the following two mornings, and it was interesting hearing what they were doing with their lives.  She works as a translator, and he works with software development and translation.

It was cold at night, but the weather warmed up during the day.  I took the chance to walk along the beach, around the city, and eat some delicious food while writing in my blog and reflecting on what has happened in the first half of 2014.

So, what has happened in this first half of the year?

Professionaly, I started my new job teaching at the Chilean IRS.  The students are motivated, my classes almost never cancel, and my boss is great.  I'm developing teaching materials and my methods, and I'm growing professionally.  In order to pay back my student loans and save for the future I still need to teach some private classes in the evenings, but at least I have a steady paycheck.

Socially, I have ventured out and left my comfort zone a bit.  I've made some new friends and have made the effort to spend time with the friends that invite me out.  Sometimes I have gotten lazy and decided just to stay in and be lazy, and I'm finding the balance between social time and time to myself.

Despite the successes, I still struggle with the culture.  I've invited some friends out to do things or over to my apartment, and my invitations have been ignored from time to time.  Sometimes I'm told that they don't know what they are doing on that particular day yet, and it leaves me with the impression that they are waiting to see if something better comes along and that I'm only one of multiple available options to them.  Other times people make plans with me, we confirm them the day before, but they still cancel at the last minute without explanation or even apologizing.

I know that people in Chile think differently, and I also know that I tend to take things personally.  I also know that I'm very much the type that plans things in advance, while things here are more spontaneous.  Despite that, not responding to invitations and flaking at the last minute without explanation is downright rude.

Knowing all of this, the challenge for me is to figure out how much time and energy I invest into a friendship, how much I give people the benefit of the doubt, and at what point I decide to focus my energy elsewhere and not worry about them anymore.

On a more positive note, I have started some new, healthier habits.  Green cleaning is easy, and I much prefer the natural scents than those of harsh chemicals.  I've been cooking at home more, and doing so is helping me to eat healthier and save money to spend in other ways.

I'm still struggling with exercising, but I'm working to stay patient with myself and find ways to get exercise into my daily routine.

Change is also another thing that came up during my visit to Viña.  How so?

One of the things I was looking forward to was eating at Lime Fresh, a Mexican restaurant that I visited my last few times in Viña.  To my dismay, it has gone out of business.

I was disappointed and was left hungry and trying to figure out where to eat.  There was the TGI Friday's that I had eaten at before, but it was something familiar and also quite pricey for my budget.  I decided to check out some of the small restaurants and cafes in the area, and I settled on one a few blocks from where I was staying.  I got a nice meal with lentils, bread, a drink, spaghetti and meatballs, and a dessert for about $8.  

Stepping outside of my comfort zone (and being open to the idea of change) saved me some money and also showed me a new place that I can eat at the next time I'm back in town.

The situation was a nice reminder that change can be good and that I shouldn't fear it and avoid it as much as I have in the past.

To end this blog post, I leave you with some pictures of the weekend:

breakfast of bread, fresh fruit, juice, tea, and an omlette
Maya the crazy cat
Hot chocolate and a cinnamon roll, some nice comfort food
lentils with bread and butter to start the meal
spaghetti with meatballs
The view from the balcony of where I stayed

Another view from the balcony