Friday, July 25, 2008

Just call me "camp counselor"

“It’s chilly in Chile” and “I love mint tea” are my most common gmail chat away messages these days. Lately, in the midst of another cold Chilean winter, keeping warm with my very loyal boyfriend and a large mug of mint tea have pretty much been the highlight of my social life once the work day ends.

So, it comes down to my work to provide entertainment. Luckily, this has not been much of a problem, as I have been playing host to 6 teenage girls the past month or so. That being said, there is never a dull moment. These girls, part of the exchange program I created at a local high school I work at, come from Idaho, California, Idaho, Kansas City and Chicago. It is funny how these girls are unique but very similar all at the same time.

Two weeks ago, while students of the high school were in semester final exams, the girls and I took advantage of the free week to travel and see the sites in and around Santiago. Of course, we hit up all the highlights, with trips to my favorite town of Pomaire (family: where all your clay bowls came from), Pablo Neruda’s house in Isla Negra, and of course, the beach towns of Viña del Mar and Valparaiso. The beach towns would have been great…but the clouds were so thick that the ocean could barely be seen. We took a chilly horse-drawn carriage tour of the cities anyway.

It has really been eye-opening seeing Chile all over again through these girls’ perspective. Although I was a bit older, and I would like to say more mature, these girls had the same basic level of Spanish and same amount of experience with Chile (none) as I did when I arrived for the first time almost two years ago. I laughed to myself several times when I heard the same comments come out of their mouths as did mine when I first arrived. I smiled when they tasted pisco sour for the first time, reacting with a sour-puck face, then a few minutes later asked for more. I even comforted them when they expressed frustrations over the non-existent concept of time in Chile or being treated like a child/stupid by others simply because they could not understand the language. Overall though, my relationship with the exchange program participants was summed up by one of the girls during our Valparaiso trip, when she said, “Michelle, I feel that you are our fun camp counselor and we are at camp.” I will take it as a compliment.

I guess because my family or friends will not be able to come down and see my life here in Chile, I really did enjoy the moments when they asked about my life and I was able to share some part of it. I was still not able to answer the questions “What do you miss most about the United States?” and “What will you miss most about Chile when you leave?” and I am sure those answers will not be discovered any time soon. Regardless, at the end of their very short stay, I am confident to say that they at least got a sense of this country and this culture…if nothing else, they will go home with a lot of new friends, including one very fun “camp counselor.”

A group of Gringos: Some of the visting U.S. exchange students, their Chilean "sisters," U.S. teachers who teach at the high school they are visiting, and me.

Some of the visiting U.S. exchange students and me, riding the Santiago subway

Some of the visting U.S. students and me, at Isla Negra and Pablo Neruda's house


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