I applied to the Allan and Nesta Charitable Trust last year before spending a year volunteering in Chile, and received a generous cheque for £300. I left for Chile in August and spent a year living in a small community teaching English as a volunteer for the organisation Project Trust. I worked in a small rural school as one of three English teachers but also helped individual children with work in other subjects. Our input at the school meant that pupils had engaging bursts of 15-minute English classes everyday and got one-on-one extra-curricular aid. Furthermore, we helped a native speaker with her 2 hour English classes once a week for the older years.
Working at a school that has as few as 160 kids meant that I got to know everyone really well and I learnt a lot about their lives and traditions living in Cajon de Maipo. The school environment, as well as the community in general is a very caring one. At the beginning of the year, the kids helped us to learn the national anthem, some useful dialect and even tried to teach us their traditional dance called the Cueca! The children and others in the community were also very keen to share their traditional foods and other celebrations with us.
We were often invited to go on interesting school trips and I spent a lot of time at break and lunchtime interacting with the kids. In between classes I also helped to teach reading in Spanish and did extra work with pupils who excelled in maths. I built strong bonds with many of the children and learnt a lot about the essentiality of care and compassion in their community. This was especially the case for kids who came from difficult and broken backgrounds who needed someone they could confide in and speak to. Having such good relationships with the kids improved their outlook on school life, and they also seemed to work harder or behaved better in our classes! However, saying goodbye to them at the end of the year was almost impossible, and many of the children joked about not letting the plane leave or hiding us in the school so we didn’t have to go!
It was gratifying to volunteer in a country as a whole where the support was greatly benefitted from. In general, levels of English in Chile are low. Only as much of 5% of the population are capable of fluent English and Chile is ranked 7th in Latin America for its progression in spoken English. Chileans are generally very reluctant to speak English through fear of making mistakes, so a lot of the work we did was building their confidence to practice what they knew and to develop their interest to learn more! In the particular area that I was working in, tourism is of great importance. For this reason, English is considered extremely useful, not only for locals to communicate with tourists but because jobs in the industry are well paid and it keeps the community afloat.
Something that I am proud of from my year overseas was developing the ability to understand and speak confidently in Spanish. Despite having studied it at A Level, learning Spanish in a native community is really quite different. Moreover, learning ‘Chilean style’ Spanish is a whole other story! It took at least 2 months before I began to understand and pick up the dialect. However, because it was such a constant, and even still is, an on going learning process I feel that I managed to grasp a lot of the language and have learnt to speak like the locals! During my time overseas, I had the chance to visit some amazing places in Chile and on the rest of the continent. I tried some both weird and wonderful things, such as eating llama meat for the first time and biking down The World’s Most Dangerous Road in Bolivia! I learnt how to adapt and deal with new situations like getting stuck on a broken down bus, removing scorpions from my room, or how to haggle prices, and I became quickly accustomed to cultural quirks and differences. I definitely learnt how to better manage my time and money but also that sometimes the best situations come about by pure unperceivable chance!
One of the biggest challenges working at the school was developing the ability to work with a variety of characters and learning abilities, especially being able to encourage the motivation to learn. Once this became manageable the job was even more rewarding and enjoyable. At the beginning of the year, the prospect of teaching in front of a class of primary school children was scary! I am definitely now a lot more confident and determined to take on my own challenges to see where it takes me. The culture also taught me to worry less and to really enjoy and appreciate what life has to offer.
I recently started university to study English and Spanish Law and intend to get involved with as much as possible and make the most of the many opportunities on offer. The skills I learnt throughout my year have definitely built my confidence and capabilities in new situations. The responsibilities I took on as an adult, as well as a teacher have made me more independent and mature. They are invaluable to my studies and I approach them with enthusiasm and the determination to succeed.