- Parkin Fellows
By Nicholas Lauer
As I stepped off the plane and walked across the tarmac to the La Serena airport, rain was steadily falling. Throughout my first night, the rain picked up as a heavy storm blew into the region, but to my surprise, I woke to a beautiful blue sky. Another surprise came when my host mother informed me that because of the heavy rains, a few roads had been partially flooded and school was cancelled!
This meant I was able to sightsee and explore the city on Monday and made Tuesday my first day of school. During my exploration of the city, my host mother and I walked past the school where I would begin work the next day, and I was taken aback by how big it was. I had initially thought that I would be working in a smaller school but the “Colegio de San Jose” occupied almost half a block and housed grades Pre-K through 12.
When Tuesday morning came around, I was a little nervous but also eager to begin my volunteer work. After arriving at the school, I met with the head of the English department who explained to me what I would be doing in the next couple of weeks. Since I arrived at a time when the students were preparing for their final exams, it was a little bit difficult for me to teach new material. Rather, I was able to help answer questions, lead review activities and assist students in reading, writing, and pronouncing the English language.
After my meeting, I designed a presentation to show to the students about who I am, where I come from, and what I do. In this presentation, I tried to capture the essential elements of me: my family, my school, my sports, and my city. I highlighted Pittsburgh and its great sports teams as well as Shady Side and the programs, classes, and athletic teams it has to offer.
When I walked into my first class, I received lots of quizzical looks from students who could immediately tell that I was a foreigner. When I introduced myself in Spanish, a few hushed laughs came from the class, most likely at my poor pronunciation. I began my presentation and answered many questions about my life, my school and the United States in general. Since it was rare for the students to have someone from the U.S. in their classroom, they were all eager to hear more about my life as a high school student at Shady Side Academy.
Throughout my first day, I went to three different classes, gave my presentation, and talked with students. I was impressed with how well some of the older students were able to speak English and found that the immersion style of class used by the English department seemed to work well. The students seemed genuinely interested in listening to my English and trying to emulate it. They also taught me a lot about Chilean school life and the similarities and differences to the U.S. For example, just like in the U.S., high schoolers never like to sit still and sometimes struggle to pay attention in class. Also, a seemingly universal problem was that there was too much homework for students. One difference from America was that my school had 90-minute classes with 15-minute breaks in between, and students remained in one classroom for all of their subjects. Also, unlike schools in America, Chilean schools use two “levels” as opposed to elementary, middle and high school. The lower level, grades 1-8, is 1-8 “Basica” and the upper level, grades 9-12, are 1-4 “Medio.” Students also must choose what area they want to focus on by grade 11 and start taking more classes in that specific area.
Overall, my first day was quite fun as a I got to present to the students and teach them about my life, while also learning about theirs. By the end of the day, I was eager and excited to go back on Wednesday and continue my teaching experience for the next 3 weeks.