Sunday, May 7, 2017

Puerto Montt, the National Census, and Networking

It's the first full weekend of May, and I'm writing this from a bed and breakfast in Puerto Montt.

I've been down in the south of Chile for the past few days.  The IATEFL Conference was in Puerto Montt this year, and the theme of the conference was meeting the needs of Special Educational Needs (SEN) students.  There were 2 plenary speakers/presenters that really stood out to me: Sally Farley from the University of Kent and Phil Dexter from the British Council UK.  They both have a vast amount of knowledge and expertise in the areas of inclusive education, and they were both very engaging speakers.

There were much fewer people at the conference that I knew this year, and I found myself not in much of a mood to get to know people or socialize.  Having a conference that starts at 8:45 in the morning and goes until 6:30 in the evening on a Saturday makes for a long day, so I'm telling myself that it's not realistic to be "on" during that entire time, especially as an introvert.  Despite that, it was nice seeing what is happening with inclusive education and to see that I'm already doing things that are considered inclusive practices.

Knowing that the conference was going to be an all-day affair, I booked my trip to Puerto Montt giving myself the day before as well as the day after the conference to relax.  Walking through the streets on Friday afternoon was a nice reminder of how much more tranquil southern Chile is compared to Santiago. It's greener and things move more slowly here.  People know each other, and you don't have smog constantly overhead when you look to the mountains.

The experience of traveling here has been so nice.  I stayed at a hospedaje, which is like a bed and breakfast.  The family is warm and welcoming, but they let me go about my business.  I have my own bedroom and share a bathroom, but I haven't actually met any of the other guests.  I got a nice lunch at a restaurant called El Fogoto de Don Pepe, a well-known steakhouse in the area.  I'm not usually one for sopaipillas, but when I saw how fluffy they were I knew I had to try them.  The waitress wasn't lying when she told me that they are the best in Chile.  Granted I'm not a sopaipilla expert, but I wish they were open today to enjoy them again.

That same evening I took the bus to Puerto Varas and got to meet up with a former student.  Natalie was a part of the CORFO class I taught in 2012, and we hadn't seen each other since then.  We ate at a German restaurant and caught up about what has been happening in our lives over the past 5 years, and it was so great reconnecting.

Besides this trip, another "big" event that happened in Chile was the national census on April 19th.  It was a Wednesday, and with the exception of businesses run by their owners everything was supposed to be closed.  At least one person of each household was expected to stay home in order to answer questions when the census takers arrived, and families all over Chile spent the day at home waiting for their doorbell to ring.  Those with children baked cookies or prepared a small meal for them as a sign of their appreciation for the civic duty they were doing.  Chileans shared their stories of the visit from census takers as well as those who were census takers, and it was interesting reading my Facebook news feed to see what everyone's experience was like.  

As for me, I had a Skype call in the morning and then a class to teach in the area around lunchtime.  I spent the morning doing some light cleaning and preparation for classes.  I felt nervous as I headed out to my class, as I saw a census taker sitting in the lobby.  After a relaxed class and chocolate cake that came straight out of the oven from my student, I made my way back home.

I walked into my building at about 2:45, and now there were 4 census takers sitting in the lobby.  I thought I had missed them, and I started to get anxious.
"Perdona, soy del dpto 2103.  ¿Ya pasaron?"  (Excuse me, I'm from apartment 2103.  Have you already visited my apartment?)
No, por nada!  Alguien debe estar en tu piso ahora." (Not at all!  Someone should be on your floor now.)

I breathed a sigh of relief and made my way up to my apartment.  The census taker was knocking on my neighbor's door as I got out of the elevator.  About 10 minutes later, he rang my doorbell.  He was about 18 years old, friendly, but down to business.  A few times I had to ask him to repeat a word that I wasn't sure that I had understood correctly, but he was patient.  It was over in about 10 minutes, and I got my new sticker.

While I wouldn't have gotten in trouble for not being home when they knocked on my door, it would have been a pain to have needed to go to the municipality in person to answer the questions or try to figure out an online form as a foreigner.

As a part of my commitment to maintaining connections as a way to stay happy, I went to the business networking alliance's monthly meeting last week.  It was at a microbrewery in Bellavista, which is the type of place I probably wouldn't go to on my own.  There was a mix of friendly and new faces, and catching up with others while meeting some new people was a really nice experience.  Given that I had had classes earlier in the day and my introverted batteries that drain quite easily, I headed out after a few hours.

The weather is changing as fall sets in, but summer has been teasing us from time to time with a day getting up to 80 or so every once in a while.  While I don't like winter, I am happy to have a change of season as a reminder to myself that just as we experience seasons of the year we also go through different seasons in our life.

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