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Looking Back—But Mostly Ahead

Jul 21, 2011 by Layli Amerson in Latin America

(Students in the main courtyard of Universidad Alberto Hurtado.)

It was 10 pm, and I had arranged my window seat for my flight out of Santiago as best I could, though my enormous backpack insisted on hogging my legroom. I turned to the norteamericano beside me.

“So were you here on vacation?”

No, he told me, he was on a business trip, which required him to spend more time in planes than actually on the ground. I told him I had been staying in Santiago since May.

“Oh yeah? You’ve got to see the south. Santiago’s just like any other big city.”

I nodded. I wasn’t in much position to argue. Santiago is the only big city I’ve ever lived in, and I assume the busyness and pollution inhere in nearly all metropolises. Yet my time here was anything but common.

With Katie, I’ve had the singular opportunity to build something from the ground up: the English Pedagogy Department’s Writing Center. It started as a hopeful seed in our heads that we tried to transplant to the rest of the department, which required a series of reality checks. Recruit 10 mentors? Try three. Our own workspace? Use the Teachers’ Lounge. Get funding? Depends on the department budget.

At times, we didn’t know where to start. How do you introduce a person to the vast field of writing center scholarship (yes, it’s a field), or even to the mere idea of a writing center, without overwhelming him or her?

We tackled those questions as we presented our proposal to the teachers, met with students interested in mentoring to discuss articles, and wrote a syllabus for the preparation class the three mentors-in-training will begin in a few weeks. I wanted to stay connected to the project after returning home, so I cooked up a blog, “Pioneer Mentors,” in which the mentors-in-training will write weekly journal entries. Check in soon for the first entries!

While I’m super excited to power ahead, I remind myself to take it one step at a time. We’ve set out in a rowboat—it’s not yet a steamship (though this Valparaíso oarsman might argue otherwise).

There are projects—and then there are people. I’m going to deeply miss the friends I’ve made, who have been so welcoming. I can’t resist showing off a few of these wonderful people…

Cristobal and Dayana, who we met through conversation groups, taught us so much about Chilean culture.

Professor Emeritus Eliana Ortega supported us from day one.

Professors Lety Banks and Loreto Aliaga Salas advocated for the Writing Center project. At left, they talk with Katie at the despedida for the interns.

The other day I was sitting in my little purple room in Wisconsin, listening to Bishop Allen’s “Like Castanets,” when I had a small epiphany. This song, which I had heard the band play at Mount Holyoke in 2010, is about the cities of Valparaíso and Santiago!

This city is silver in the moon
And mountains heaped with sugar spoons
The click and clatter of my feet
On lonely crooked cobbled streets…

I feel the strain of climbing along the labyrinthine streets of Valparaíso.

I'm following the coffee trail
And drink it black and by the bail
The pesos turn to paper cups…

I see the commuters streaming through the city sipping Nescafé cappuccinos.

Across the Mapocho
Santa Lucia
Barrio Bellavista
San Cristobal
Across the Mapocho
La Moneda
La Casa Neruda

I smiled, picturing all these places in Santiago:
The Río Mapocho running its dusty track,
Cerro Santa Lucia with its hummingbirds and steep stairs,
Barrio Bellavista with pubs and lapis lazuli sellers,
Cerro San Cristobal with la Virgen guarding the peak,
La Moneda, the presidential palace, with carabineros patrolling,
Neruda’s house tucked into a corner, the poet’s hideaway.

Chile, todavía estás conmigo—¿cachai?


Oh I am so happy you had such a great experience and time, Layli! The end of this post makes me smile so much. You poet, you.

Posted by Lara on July 29, 2011 at 03:09 PM EDT #

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