Starting my Two-Year Journey in Chile
After five months of waiting for my visa to Chile, I got the call and rushed to the New York Consulate to obtain the visa. I came out of the building leaping with joy as I held the stamped visa in my hand. I had been hired as a Global Teaching Fellow at Nido de Aguilas in Santiago, Chile a week after my college graduation and had spent the past several months teaching High School History on Zoom. So the idea of finally getting to meet my students and colleagues brought me immense happiness.
Flash forward to December 10th, when I stepped off of the plane onto Chilean soil. I waited through three hours of lines for PCR tests, customs, and airport regulations but I was so excited that I didn't mind waiting.
I made it to my apartment and began isolation until I got my PCR test back. Sure enough, it was negative! I went out for drinks with my new roommate and several more new people that work at my school. It felt so normal to be sitting there chatting with people I had only met instances before, but people whose faces I'd known since July. We ate at a delicious Israeli Restaurant called Eretz with amazing falafel, kebabs, and hummus.
The next day I woke up from my first sleep in Chile and got dressed and ready to meet up with my best friends that I'd met in Chile two years before. We met while studying at the University of Alberto Hurtado in Santiago and I was drawn to these three lovely ladies because of their kindness and willingness to include me in their activities. Only one day after I arrived, my friend, Karina invited me to celebrate her birthday with her and her entire family. I was thrust back into a Chilean family context and it made me so happy. However, in order to get to her house, I had to take an Uber to the metro then ride the metro for one hour! A trek, but so worth it to see my dear friend.
I sat with 15 other people around a table to celebrate the birthday girl. We shared Choriyana - a typical Chilean dish that includes french fries with meat or vegetables on top. We started dessert with Chirimoya ice cream - a type of fruit that is incredibly creamy and rich - because the day was so hot. We continued dessert with the best cake I've ever had. It had layers of crispy phyllo dough with cream and strawberries in between. To end the meal, we sipped on Ramazotti, another typical Chilean drink made of hibiscus flowers and a little bitter. It was a spectacular meal, but the best part was the conversations between her family throughout. At points, my brain felt like it would explain because I hadn't spoken this much Spanish in a long time, but I made it through. I find that being honest about not understanding things or admitting mistakes is much better than pretending to follow the conversation and being confused later on.
My first weekend in Chile was packed. The day after my friend's birthday party, I got brunch with the lovely human that told me about this job in the first place and who has come to be my mentor. We went out for coffee, except I don't drink coffee, so I had a big cup of RICH hot chocolate that was so thick that it coated all of the sides of the mug. She and I celebrated that I was finally in Chile after so much waiting. Then after sharing my nervousness about going to school for the first time the next day, she offered to take me on a little tour of the school on Sunday so I could get my bearings.
We drove up to the campus of El Nido de Las Aguilas and my jaw dropped. The mountains wrapped around the buildings like they were inseparable. The campus was so large I could barely fathom it. We walked from building to building as she explained which was which but I was still in shock about how beautiful the campus is and how lucky I was to call this place my work. I had chills thinking about seeing the campus full of students - MY students - that I'd been longing to meet since July.
The next day I walked onto campus again but this time there were kids all around, from preschool to high school age. I found my office and dropped off some things before nervously making my way to my classroom. I looked around at students, but only slightly because it was my plan to surprise my students - they didn't know. So I waited in the classroom, and then the doors opened and two students walked in. They looked at me for a moment and nothing, then they looked again and realized it was Ms. Rector! One ran towards me with outstretched arms saying, "Ms. Rector!!!" the other also came for a hug and although they all wore masks I could tell she was smiling.
When the bell rang I knew it was time to begin. Unfortunately, my first day at school was also their final exam, so they were a bit on edge. I smiled from behind my mask and said happily, "It's so nice to finally meet you." I had students stand up, and prompted them to put their hands on their hips like a superhero. "In my high school they made students do this superhero pose before exams because it chemically makes you feel more confident," I said. I looked at my classroom of little superheroes and felt a flutter in my chest. I felt the anticipation of all the great conversations I'd get to have with them in the coming semester. But for now, I can cheer them on as they take this exam.
They began. I walked up and down the rows of my students. Sometimes I'd squat down next to their chair and check-in. Sometimes I'd say out loud, "You're doing great! You got this." Sometimes I'd smile as I saw some students writing long responses to the short answer questions. I was just so grateful to be free from the Zoom box and physically present with my students.
They finished the exam early and we played charades as a class. Then I made my way to my next class and smiled again upon seeing each student's face. This class had a lot of energy and feelings about the exam, so I had them stand up to do the superhero pose again, but this time I also had them do some jumping jacks, shake out their bodies, and think about how well they're going to do. The test began and within five minutes I saw a student place their head on their desk. I rushed over and asked if they would come outside with me. For the first time since teaching online, I could actually see student body language effectively and be able to do something about it. We went outside and sat together. We went through the question together and I prompted them to think about the question differently. He understood the content, he just was confused by the prompt. He went back inside and later, while grading, I was so happy to see that he did very well.
Overall my first day was incredible, busy, and overwhelming. I met two of my classes, I met almost 20 other teachers in person that I'd only met before on Zoom. However, the genuine excitement of others to meet me and the apparent network of support made me feel incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be part of this community for the next two years.