Thursday, March 22, 2007

Volunteer Mania!

I think it might be useful at this point to back up and describe exactly what it is I am doing here. The Chilean Ministry of Education is working to improve the English competency of Chilean students and teachers, as they believe it is essential to the economic development of Chile. The Ministry of Education, along with the UN, is working with many private agencies in the US to recruit and sponsor volunteers from English speaking countries to help improve speaking and listening skills in the Chilean schools. The program is called English Opens Doors, and it is in its third year of operation. We are the largest group of volunteers to arrive thus far, and we will be distributed throughout 9 of Chile`s 14 regions.

Thus far we have been very warmly welcomed by the members of the ministry, the UN, and school teachers and officials. Yesterday I visited my first Chilean school, an all-girls Catholic technical high school. I don´t think anything really could have prepared me for the reception we received there. The girls went absolutely hysterical for the American and Australian men, following them and screaming and snapping pictures. Some were more bashful and got their friends to take pictures for them. It was truly a surreal experience. I spoke with a 16 year old named Priscilla, whose favorite television show is Lost (apparently it is huge in Santiago) and who loves Orlando Bloom and Leonardo DiCaprio. They all love to sing American music, and seem to have absolutely no fear of singing in front of a big crowd.

Today I visited an all -boys school, and the reaction was much the same, this time for the ladies. After we entered the building, a riot slowly started to brew and boys were sneaking out of classes into the hallways. I even heard a few marriage proposals.

So my impressions of Chile have been very interesting and, er, exciting thus far. I think it will be important to emphasize in my classes that my presence here is as much for me to learn about Chile as it is for them to learn about the US. Although I would be lying if I said I didn´t enjoy the celebrity treatment!

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