The end of the year 2016 marks the end of my experience of the ACE in Chile teaching program. I have learned so much! Moving to the southern hemisphere turned most of my preconceptions about the country upside down. I knew that I was signing up for an adventure when I said yes to ChACE, but I had absolutely no idea what unexpected experiences and extraordinary people were ahead of me. I want to highlight some of the “teachable” moments that have helped me to grow as an educator and as a person.
Lesson 1: Try new things!
Exploring new places gave me the desire to say yes to any and every invitation that came my way. Our ChACE experience began in Ecuador, and it was here that this open attitude first broadened my horizons. Although I enjoy outdoor activities, I would never have considered myself one for extreme sports. Nevertheless, a couple of weeks into ChACE I found myself rappelling down waterfalls, hiking up the volcano Pichincha, salsa dancing (an extreme sport for me), and tubing down the Amazon river. Our immersion in the Ecuadoran rain forest even challenged me to expand my culinary palate to include a couple of bug species! My fears initially made me want to say no to these unforgettable experiences, but I am so glad that I said yes. The support and enthusiasm of my ChACE friends helped me develop my own sense of cautious fearlessness.
Lesson 2: Presence over Productivity
Free time is not something that many ACE teachers experience. Lesson planning, parent conferences, grading, coaching, grad-school work, ACE community meals…. Planning out my daily life in increments of activities became as routine as planning my lessons. When I joined a Chilean family for my first three months of the ChACE program, I learned what it looks like to give up this need for productivity and structure and instead value being present to others. My afternoons and evenings were sometimes unexpectedly consumed by Chilean lunches and asados—delicious and elaborate affairs that could last for hours. As I was warmly welcomed and invited to participate in these days dedicated to family, I realized that they were not worried about moving to their next activity. Rather, they were simply living in the moment and enjoying one another’s company. When I accompanied high school students from Saint George’s to Chiloe, an island in southern Chile, I also witnessed the power of simply being present. My group was stationed in a village in central Chiloe. As missionaries, we walked around the rolling hills of the village in groups of three or four young people. Our missioning activities began with us announcing our arrival with a knock on the door and a gently shouted “Alooooooooo!” I was struck by the willingness of these Chilote families to accept our interruption to their daily routines, a willingness to open their homes to us, to share with us their story, a prayer, and usually some homemade bread.
Lesson 3: Humility
As a young teacher in ACE, I found myself constantly worrying that my students would discover that I did not in fact know everything. Lacking fluency in language as well as in cultural practices when I arrived at Saint George’s College in Chile, I realized I couldn’t even pretend to know what I was doing. I was blessed to work with a partner teacher with whom I planned and taught sixth-grade English classes. My partner teacher’s endless patience and kindness in helping me understand the expectations within the classroom and the community of teachers were critical to my adjustment to the new school. My sixth-grade students quickly became my teachers, helping me to navigate Chilean culture—everything from identifying the chileno fútbol stars, to finding the best places to eat a churrasco italiano, to understanding the meaning of various chilenismos. Although it sometimes hurt my pride to feel helpless and in need of direction, these weaknesses presented opportunities to get to know my colleagues as well as to empower my students to be ambassadors of their school and their culture.
These lessons are not simply for ChACE teachers nor are they only for Chile. These lessons will continue to shape the ways in which I live my vocation as an educator, daughter, sister, viajera, and friend. The experience of living as a foreigner and teaching in Chile will continue to be a transformative experience for me as I will be returning to teach in Saint George’s for the 2017 school year. Go Dragons! I will not be quite as lost as when I arrived at the beginning of ChACE. I will return with a humble heart, ready to go forward living these teachable moments.
Learn more about how you can teach in Santiago, Chile, next year while growing as a professional and a leader! Visit ace.nd.edu/chace or contact Matt Rhodes at .