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  • Writer's pictureGrace Rector

Walking in a "Summer" Wonderland

Spending Christmas time during the middle of the summer is new for me. I came to Chile from New York where it was snowing the day that I left. But walking to school in the blazing sun reminded me that this was not a December I was used to. Seeing Christmas trees with Hawaiian lays around it showed the contrast of a white Christmas and a tropical vacation.

My first week at work was unusual, just like the summer weather in December. I met some students on Monday, and on Tuesday I invited my other students to come hang out with me on the lawn since we didn't have class but I still wanted to meet them. They weren't required to come to school that day, so it was a happy surprise that five students came. We stood outside for an entire hour talking about their interests, about their recommendations for things I should do in Chile, and we talked about our Global Politics class! It brought me so much joy to be able to be with them in person. It is so much easier to connect with someone face to face.

After our mini meetup, I wandered around the school bumping into so many teachers. They looked at me and realized I was the most recent arrival of the new teachers and happily greeted me with a big hug. I sat in a classroom talking to my department head and one by one people that I knew passed by the classroom window looking at me then realizing a second later that it was me! Teachers and students came into the classroom to say hello. My mentor teacher took me to the teachers' lounge to check it out. A counselor gave us a tour of the school and told us all the corners of the school where kids like to hide out. Then at the end of the school day there was a happy hour for ALL of the school including elementary, middle school, and high school teacher plus admin and facilities. I knew several people in the high school but the event was such a fun way to meet new faces.

I heard music playing and as I walked around to see the band, I recognized the faces of three of my students! I felt pride well up inside me and I shouted out their names to cheer them on. I probably embarrassed them, but I was just so happy to see them thriving outside of the classroom environment. The student band left before the adults started drinking and my friend, a music teacher, began to play with others. It was so fun to cheer for these incredibly talented teachers.

I saw a young woman come up to me with a smile and I realized it was my learning facilitator from online classes. At the beginning of my teaching experience, she would set up the technology in the classroom for the students every time - I literally could not have taught without her. She is such a lovely person and we stayed together for the School happy hours enjoying Hors d'oeuvre and drinking the famous Chilean pisco sours. My roommate found her learning facilitator as well, so the four of us wandered around laughing and dancing. I felt warm and fuzzy not just from the drink, but also the good company.

We headed to a nearby bar for delicious mediterranean food and live music. What I love about that group of people is how inclusive they are. You can go up to anyone and connect on a deep level. We ended the night inside the bar dancing to Reggaeton music and spinning one another across the dance floor.

After a late night, we woke up with headaches. But we made the trek up the mountain to school in the blazing sun and made it to our offices. We did some planning for next semester and then some teachers and I got pizzas and broke bread together to celebrate the end of the semester. It felt so great to feel so comfortable in a community of teachers that I'd met only 2 days prior.

After school, my roommate, Christy, and I went for a swim in the incredibly large pool at our school. The funniest part was they required us to wear swim caps and goggles in the pool which gave us a laugh. We swam laps until we couldn't breathe, then dried our hair with the hand dryers in the bathroom. We walked home with wet towels in hand and proceeded to explore the neighborhood in search of yummy food. We came across a DELICIOUS french bakery called Etienne Marcel Pâtisserie Française that sold a wide variety of macaroons, baguettes, croissants, cookies, cakes, and sandwiches. I tried the chicken sandwich on a butter croissant and it was incredible. We also chatted with a girl working there who is lovely, and has since become a friend! They also have cute boxes of macaroons, perfect for gifts.

With a full stomach, Christy and our friend, Hyejee, found a strip mall with a thrift store inside. We pulled item by item from the racks trying to eye whether it would fit us. Christy found some good steals while I found a beautifully framed map for $7! I'd call it a BIG success.

To end the week, we went to school on Friday for a school wide staff meeting. I didn't know what to expect; however, the meeting began with a farewell to one of the middle school janitors who had worked at the school for more than 15 years. When they made the announcement, every single teacher, administration, and maintenance worker rose to their feet clapping loudly as she made her way to the stage. The applause continued for almost two minutes straight until she shared some remarks with tears in her eyes, and she received a bouquet of flowers. Seeing a member of the community recognized and celebrated with so much love made me feel exceptionally grateful to be part of such an amazing school.

The meeting proceeded with business as usual, until there was a raffle and a dance-along to Christmas songs! We all stood up and danced according to the Kids Bop video cracking up at how poorly we were able to follow the dance moves. Lastly, they announced that the music department and some volunteers would be singing Christmas songs! So Hyejee, a music teacher, got Christy and I to go perform on stage with the other music teachers. I stood on stage looking at the huge auditorium. I should have felt scared. But the energy in the room felt so supportive that I didn't fear messing up or making a fool of myself. Christy and I shared a microphone and belted "Jingle Bell Rock." We also sang the song "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and I had a kazoo solo at the end. I'd learned to play the kazoo the day before, but I was committed to my role. People hooted and hollered in response to my solo making me smile and sing with more energy. Lastly, we sang "Winter Wonderland" and changed the lyrics to "Summer Wonderland" because of the blazing heat in Chile. With a Christmas headband on my head, we walked away from the school knowing we wouldn't see it again for another two months.

Spot me in the red shirt and Christy to my left.

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