Chile La Serena, In La Serena people, were very nice. I was always offered a seat on a crowded bus. Also, people were very helpful when I asked for directions in spite of language barriers.
Volunteer in Chile La Serena Teaching Program
Full name (first and last): Arlene Rosenbaum
Where are you from (city and country): Rohnert Park, California USA
1.1.- Why did you choose to volunteer in Chile La Serena, what program(s) are you doing and why?
Why Chile: I have a friend who lived in Chile and he recommended it. Also to improve my Spanish.
What program: teaching English
Why this program: I do some tutoring and I like children.
2. What was the most surprising thing you experienced while in the program?
Program: How respectful and friendly the students at the school are.
Host Family: How open they were to make me feel welcome and included.
Country: Chile has many of the same social issues as the US: immigration, cost of education, cost of health care, industry versus environment, legalization of marijuana.
One thing that surprised me about Santiago was how many demonstrations and protests there are. It seems like I saw or heard about a demonstration several times a week, on a variety of issues.
Also, I was surprised that I could see penguins in the northern part of the country at Isla Damas.
3. What was the most difficult thing you experienced while in the program?
Program: My lack of Spanish skills made it difficult for me to interact with the students in spite of their efforts to communicate with their limited English.
Host Family: My lack of Spanish skills made it difficult to communicate with the host family in spite of their efforts with their limited English.
Country: My lack of Spanish skills made it difficult to communicate with others in spite of their efforts.
4. Any tips for future volunteers….
Clothing: La Serena was colder in autumn than I expected based on the temperature, because the humidity is always very high, something like San Francisco.
Sightseeing: There are many beautiful places to see. From Santiago, I took a day tour to the Andes with Isto E Chile – Embalse El Yeso, which was very good.
Also, from La Serena I took a tour to Isla Damas where I saw penguins, sea lions, pelicans, and cormorants. Sometimes you can also see dolphins. My host family arranged this locally, which was much cheaper than the tours available online. However, I was the only English speaker in the tour group, but the guide spoke English.
I did not get a chance to tour the Elqui Valley but that was also highly recommended by my host family.
Donations: I brought several first readers (” I can read” books) in English for the younger students. They were greatly appreciated because they are difficult to find in Chile and are expensive for them. I bought them online from Amazon.
Laundry/internet: I was able to do laundry at the host family for a small fee. The internet worked well at the host family but is limited at the school.
5. Other things volunteers should know about:
a.- City/town: La Serena seemed like a very nice small city, although rush hour traffic was quite heavy. There is a nice beachfront, although I went in April so it was not beach weather.
b.- Local People: In La Serena people were very nice. I was always offered a seat on a crowded bus. Also, people were very helpful when I asked for directions in spite of language barriers. In Santiago, like other big cities, the friendliness of the people varied quite a bit.
6. Personal Paragraph (volunteer program testimonial), detail as possible:
My volunteer experience to assist English teachers in Chile was challenging but rewarding. I assisted several different English teachers for classes ranging from 4thgrade to 12thgrade. My main function was to speak to them and read aloud so that they could hear American English spoken with an American accent (although their course book was for British English). I also corrected their grammar and spelling when necessary.
I was pleasantly surprised at how well the students were doing. The English curriculum used in the school was quite good, and the English teachers pretty fluent. (The school is a private Catholic school.)
I wish I had been able to participate more in the classroom. Although I had studied Spanish off and on over several years and took Spanish tutoring while I was volunteering, I still struggled to communicate with all but people fluent in English, such as the English teachers, my Spanish tutor, and the university-age daughter of the host family. As a result of my trip, my Spanish has improved immensely, but I am still very far from fluent.
In spite of the language problems, with the help of my hostess, I was able to navigate to and from school by myself, and I was able to generally make myself understood when necessary.
The host family and the students and teachers at the school were very friendly and welcoming. The students were very respectful.
I also very much enjoyed the 2-day tours I took: one to the Andes from Santiago and one to Isla Damas from La Serena.
7. How would you describe your:
Accommodation: The accommodation was fine. I had my own room and bathroom since there were no other volunteers at the time. The bed was comfortable. However, it was quite cold at night so I needed 3 blankets.
Meals (favorite): The vegetarian meals, which I had requested, were excellent. Senora Vilma is a wonderful cook and everything was made with fresh ingredients. My favorites were the homemade peanut butter and banana bread.
Security: I felt quite safe in La Serena walking to and from the bus and walking around downtown. I felt more cautious in Santiago, where I was warned by the hotel manager not to walk around downtown at night.
Host family: The host family was extraordinarily helpful. Senora Vilma rode the bus with me several times to make sure I knew where to get on and off. She also called to arrange a tour for me and came shopping with me for souvenirs She prepared delicious meals every day. The whole family was very friendly and interested in finding out about me, and in explaining Chilean culture to me.
8. What was your memory of this trip?
Program: I assisted several different English teachers for classes ranging from 4thgrade to 12thgrade. My main function was to speak to them and read aloud so that they could hear American English spoken with an American accent (although their course book was for British English). I also corrected their grammar and spelling when necessary. The students were all very nice and many made a particular effort to communicate with me, as I did with them. The English teachers were also quite nice and fluent in English.
Country: Chile is very similar to California in some ways: geography, climate, earthquakes. The economic system is similar – basically free market with large agriculture and viticulture sectors – but Chile seems to lack a social safety net. Chile’s culture is also somewhat different with stronger family ties in general than the average Californian.
9. How was the local ABV Coordinator, the staff and the support provided in-country? Be as detailed as possible.
Airport: Senora Vilma was right at the gate of the airport when I arrived. She also took me the airport when I left and helped me check in.
Orientation day: On the first day of school Senora Vilma accompanied me on the bus to the school and introduced me to the head English teacher, who supervised me at the school. She also met me at the school at the end of that day and accompanied me on the bus back to her house.
Daily Support: Senora Vilma was always available to help me with anything I needed, including making tour arrangements for me, coordinating with my Spanish tutor, and accompanying me to shop for souvenirs.
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