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Mariana Vasquez-Credé

Jan 18, 2012 by Mariana Vasquez-Crede in Latin America


At school people call me "Yana"; my full name is Mariana Vasquez-Credé.  My mom is Puerto-Rican, and my dad, Californian. This semester I am studying with the MHC program in Monteverde, Costa Rica.  I cannot wait to become part of the community in Monteverde and learn to speak like "una tica."

 I am a sophomore at Mount Holyoke and an Environmental Studies major with a concentration on ecosystem science. My favorite part of science is lab because it is applicable; I am quite the hands-on learner.  In addition to my love of Spanish, I love being outside, farming, hiking, "yogging" (the equivalent to very slow jogging), dancing, and just exploring.

I selected the Monteverde program because I am looking for a fantastic hands-on learning experience in environmental science and Spanish immersion. I can already tell how hard all of the coordinators are working to provide us the best experience possible.

Murales y despedida

Aug 24, 2011 by Cory Ventres-Pake in Latin America


I've wanted to be a mural painter for a while. To get into painting class at MHC, I basically got down on my knees (figuratively speaking) and explained this long-time aspiration to the professor.

Understandably then, when somebody mentioned the desire to carry out a mural project in the community here, I jumped on the opportunity. Thus, a good portion of my time this summer was dedicated to figuring out how to write a project proposal and budget, coordinating and re-coordinating with community members and school directors, talking about methods, and designing the mural. The outcome? Sixty schoolchildren, 12 youth health promoters, four days, and two big, inviting walls.

I have learned that often times people are wise. What they say about being able to do anything that you set your mind to is relatively true...it just isn't always easy! We had four days. Four days filled with confusion. (Despite my claims of competency to get the project off the ground, I had never run a mural project before. Additionally, we had to change our designs last minute!) Four days of stressed preparation. (Would all the kids fit at the wall? How could we control their use of the paint?) Four days of 21 questions and autograph requests from curious schoolchildren. Four days of cold showers and wearing the same clothes. (It's a big process—I decided to stay the night in the community a few days in a row. Good thing I got to change my plastic bag/artist's apron every day!) Four days of pure bliss!

 

It was too difficult to say goodbye—too hard to whine out my thousand thanks in my practiced Carabayllo accent. The surprise despedida (going away party) the community held for me was amazing, adorable, and such a blast I almost forgot how much I was already missing them. The children I worked with and their mothers came, and I experienced a true Peruvian party. This summer was good to me, words cannot express my gratitude. The Lois y Tomas community center will occupy a special place in my heart forever!

 
My favorite clowns rule "La hora loca" at the despedida!

Breakfast of Champions

Aug 22, 2011 by Cory Ventres-Pake in Latin America


Those lines on the street? Just a suggestion. And the one-way arrows? They must have been painted in the wrong direction!

I spend an hour every morning mesmerized by the traffic. Cars, buses, taxis, and mototaxis weave in and out of the lines, speed up and slow down as they please, and miraculously stop just at the right time. Every day, we travel about two-thirds of the sprawling city of Lima, watching the neighborhoods change while dancing the traffic waltz. Sometimes I plan out my day during the commute; other times I just stare out the window, hoping to take it all in before I'm gone.

Sometimes I’m combing my hair in the mirror when the bell rings. Other times I’m in the kitchen, snapping the lid on the Tupperware I bring for lunch when the call comes: 6:50 am, my ride has arrived.

I arrive at the office at 8 am and prepare the lesson plan for the day with my supervisor. We run programs at the community center from 9 to 11 am and again from 3 to 5 pm, working with 12 to 35 kids. The youth health promoters provide support in daily activities, in addition to designing trainings for children and their parents about health-related themes.

Every day at snack time, we sing the champion song for the kids who finish all their food. I extended the meaning of "championhood" to all small victories in life. For example:

  • I was picked every single time in "heads-up seven-up."
  • I managed to eat fried liver twice for a snack, and convince my school-age companions that not only is it my favorite food, but they also love it!
  • Small children jump up and down and scream my name whenever I walk through the community, “Cory MORY cory MORY cory MORY!!!”

I am tired at the end of the day when I get in the car to start my commute home. I watch the houses change as the city moves by slowly in the night traffic. When I step out at my apartment, only the dust on my shoes is left to convince me that this is not just the dream of a champion.

"When in Rome, Do as the Romans," but Not without Some Forethought!

Aug 01, 2011 by Rebecca Neubardt in Latin America


Look! Guinea pigs!


The other day, I went all around Carabayllo with a representative from the Department of Education to visit ecological schools in preparation for a report about recycling in the area. One elementary school had all sorts of cute animals, like the cuyes above. Unfortunately for the little cuy-nea pig, he is not only adorable, but tasty enough to be a typical Peruvian dish. Seeing as how I have broken my vegetarianism since arriving to Lima, I may be getting to know Señor Cuy quite intimately soon...no disrespect to the four guinea pigs I had as pets growing up. Actually, along with the chicken feet, intestine, and beef heart I've tried, opening my mind and mouth to guinea pig is just one small attempt at showing respect to my Peruvian friends and acquaintances.

 

I can't count the number of times people here have generously offered me heaping plates of steaming hot homemade food. During my first few weeks in Peru, I would politely decline the meat dishes, no matter how good they smelled. I was determined to keep my vegetarianism as I had last summer in the equally carnivorous country of Spain, even if I had to be inconvenienced, inconvenience others, and explain what I would and would not eat a thousand times. Strangely enough, it was actually rewarding to be a vegetarian living in Spain. I took the seemingly endless hunks of blood sausage shoved in front of my face and the puzzled looks as I smiled and said no thanks as opportunities to share my ideas about vegetarianism.

 

On the other hand, after talking over and over again with ex-vegetarian American volunteers and meat-loving Peruvians, I came to understand that eating meat in Peru is compounded by the question of respect of the local culture as an American. In Madrid, the people cooking and I, the meat declining side-dish eater, were from wealthy countries and often from the same socioeconomic class. Here in Peru, I am again the white American outsider, but there is a greater difference in positions of privilege than there was in Spain. Denying the meat dish that a community health promoter from Carabayllo has prepared for the group, including me as a volunteer, can potentially be received as an embarrassment or a waste in the face of poverty. I don’t want anyone here to think that claiming vegetarianism is an excuse to avoid the promoter’s “questionable” kitchen hygiene. I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable if I enter their home and cannot eat the food they’ve made. And I certainly didn’t want my pride to suffer any longer as a long-standing member of the Clean Plate Club every time a bowl was filled and passed to me personally before I could stop the ladle from even entering the pot.

 

I admittedly still had trouble making the final decision to start eating meat after a two-and-a-half-year vegetarian stint, but I’m satisfied for the most part now. In a way, it’s all balanced out. It may seem that I have temporarily given up some values, but it's been in exchange for developing other ones. While I’m here, respecting Peruvian culture (and people’s time, resources, and efforts at welcoming me into their culture) have taken precedence in my life over rejecting meat for it's environmental impacts and frequent disregard for workers' rights. I can find other ways to maintain my commitment to those issues while still participating in as many aspects of life in Peru as I can in the relatively short time I'm living here.

Un abrazo,
Becca

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?

Hi, My Name Is American Volunteer

Jul 10, 2011 by Rebecca Neubardt in Latin America

Hey there everyone!

The above picture is from our third day with Socios En Salud. Cory and I are giving a presentation to a group of community health promoters about the environment, focusing on how they can plant trees and veggies in their homes. In the past four weeks, I have given several presentations to both women and youth community health promoters, covering various environmental topics.

Interestingly enough, it often feels like my role as an (white, upper-middle class, semi-college-educated) American volunteer, despite being 19 and a half years old and an expert in nothing, automatically makes me capable to be an authority and a bearer of knowledge to community members and leaders here. Yet, contrasted with mornings spent cutting, pasting, taping, coloring, photocopying, formatting, cutting, pasting, and taping and cutting some more, I have learned that being a volunteer here means doing whatever needs to be done, no matter how under or over-qualified you might be. The time and resources I have as a volunteer allow me to do some of the work that community members or Socios employees might not be able to complete as quickly among all the other responsibilities they have.

But, this experience has never represented one-sided "helping." The reciprocal nature of the volunteer-Socios relationship has been clear since the day I arrived. (Quick shout-out to my Intergroup Dialogue crew, my Grassroots Community Development class, and the Community-Based Learning folks for creating safer spaces for dialogue about reciprocity and identity!) Although I sometimes hold the unofficial position of trainer, thinker, and talker, I have already learned far more from the people I work with than I have taught them. Whether it’s by chatting with a six-year-old at the community center, or by sitting in on one of the health promoters’ meetings, every day brings new perspectives, ideas, skills and information.

Hasta la próxima amigos!

Besos, abrazos y más abrazos,

Becca

"I wanted to give my child an education; all I gave him was debt."

Jul 08, 2011 by Layli Amerson in Latin America


Nature can be found even in the hectic center of Santiago on Cerro Santa Lucia, the park where I encountered a flock of colibrís (hummingbirds) who obliged me by "posing."

The past few weeks have brought me countless adventures. Most have been delightful; some have been sobering (I advise that you never leave your wallet in an outer zip). I’m reminded repeatedly that although I’m accustomed to some aspects of my daily life—I no longer tip over standing on the Metro—much of Chilean culture and history and of Santiaguino life remains beyond my ken.


I can’t write without discussing the student movement here, with its ubiquitous proclamations graffitied on walls and blazoned on banners. “EDUCACIÓN GRATUITA, PÚBLICA, Y DE CALIDAD” sums it up: education must become free, public, and high quality. Today, there persists a messy system of education, a leftover of Pinochet’s neoliberal policies, in which businesses can run semi-private schools and receive government funding with negligible accountability. The accompanying inequality between fully public, semi-private, and private schools contributes to the stratified society. Other problems abound, including the exorbitant interest that banks charge on student loans.

The students proclaim that education should not continue to be a business one day longer, and to underscore their demands there have been enormous marches, strikes, and tomas. In solidarity with public education, the Universidad Alberto Hurtado students went on paro (strike) for a week, suspending classes. If you were to drive around Santiago, you would see schools with piles of chairs and desks blocking their gates: these institutions are in toma, with students occupying the grounds and barring anyone else from entry.


Katie and I went to one of the marches to observe. I was astounded by the incredible size of the crowd—a veritable sea of faces and signs streaming down la Alameda, the main autopista.


I unintentionally experienced the dangers of protesting in a country accustomed to police crackdowns when I tried to get to UAH in the final hour of a march. UAH is located in the center of the city, very close to where the marches end, so my usual Metro exit was closed. Tentatively taking the exit across la Alameda, I was greeted by a guanaco, a water cannon. I found myself huddled with a group of students and onlookers behind a newsstand to avoid the powerful jet of water. I looked toward the university and saw a mist wafting in front of the sign “Universidad Alberto Hurtado”: tear gas. I started walking the opposite direction, and then found myself consumed by a crowd of running students—and in a second, I was running too. An hour later I arrived to class, shaken, with a new respect for the risks of solidarity.


On a completely different note, I have never seen a city as photogenic as the port city Valparaíso—or, as Chileans call it, Valpo. I spent a weekend there with Katie, and we both got soaked in a Saturday storm. Luckily we were able to dry off a bit in Pablo Neruda’s house, from which I watched waves break in the distance, beyond the hills of bright houses.


I have also had the pleasure of getting to know some fellow Bahá’ís here, and of visiting the grounds of the future House of Worship, the Temple of Light. The construction site sits on the ankles of the Andes; I visited with a Spanish-French-English interpreter and a family, freshly arrived from several years in Maine. Sitting on the scrubby grass, looking over Santiago to the mountains across from us, I imagined that I could see through the immense ancient stone to the ocean. After all, in Santiago, anything is possible. What a wonderful and terrifying prospect.

Asado

Jul 07, 2011 by Julia Herman in Latin America


As I move into the final week of my eight-week internship here in La Plata, Argentina, I have begun to realize that I have adapted to an Argentinian lifestyle. My days now begin and end much later, and the pace of my daily life has slowed down to match the city around me. I am no longer surprised when the entire city stops for a big football game, and most importantly I have become used to eating asado on Sundays.

Argentina is known all over the world for its amazing meat—a reputation the country holds with pride and takes very seriously. Meat, however, is not just a product here, it truly is a way of life. Young children are taught to eat, and love, meat from their parents, and the process of making an asado (barbecue) is a prized position.

For dinner on Sundays, families (or in my case my hostel) gather together to make asado. Pachi, one of the owners of my hostel, makes our asado. After going food shopping with him for the meat last Sunday, I realized once again how seriously Argentinians take their meat. We walked to the butcher and he explained to me what each cut of beef was, what part of the cow it came from, and how best to cook it. Buying meat was not as simple as picking your favorites: certain cuts go together and certain cuts don’t. Sausages are a category of their own, and every different kind of sausage requires its own form of consideration and judgment.

When it comes time to cook the asado, everyone gathers outside around the grill. The entire process is a social gathering and friends come together to talk and eat as the meat cooks. As the meat becomes ready, it gets distributed piece by piece, rather than as an entire meal.

The whole process can take a few hours, as everyone sits and talks and eats around the barbecue, enjoying their Sunday evening. The social, shared nature the asado is something I have come to identify as a key aspect of Argentinian culture. As I begin to think about heading back to the United States, I realize that this style of meal, which represents so much of Argentinian life, is something I will greatly miss.

Stepping into the Professor’s Shoes

Jul 05, 2011 by Katie Bussiere in Latin America


El tiempo vuela
—time flies. In just one week I’ll be on a plane flying home to the states. I won’t get too sentimental writing this entry, but I will say that I am going to deeply miss my host family and the friends I’ve made through working at Universidad Alberto Hurtado.


(Looking out over Santiago from the top of Cerro San Cristobal Hill; one thing I won’t miss—the smog!)


(Central campus of Universidad Alberto Hurtado early one morning)

I arrived in Santiago six weeks ago with no formal teaching experience. Thus far, I have cotaught two peer-mentoring courses with Layli, and I have run weekly conversation groups and tutoring sessions for English students. In addition, I have independently led four university classes. ¡Qué emoción! For my first two classes, I reviewed some basic rules of academic essay writing and treated the class periods as writing workshops. As a class, we reviewed prewriting, thesis statements, and body paragraphs.


(Helping a student during my essay writing workshop; thank you, Layli, for the photo)

In my next two classes, I introduced a new unit on "Disasters and the News." I wanted to create a lesson plan that would get the students talking, because they needed to know the lesson’s vocabulary for their next exam. Also, I hoped to lighten the gloomy subject of disasters with a little humor. I ended up creating an activity called "The Day after Tomorrow in Santiago, Chile."


(A slide from my PowerPoint; the photo illustrates what Plaza Baquedano might look like during a disaster)

My assignment for the students was to imagine that an extraordinary disaster occurred in Chile’s capital. Each student assumed one of three roles: news anchor, interviewer, or survivor. Each group created and performed a skit for their classmates (the television viewers). I supplied the survivors with comic props, such as an umbrella and a bus map of Santiago, to animate their tales of survival. The ensuing skits were impresionante—impressive! The students energetically embraced the role-play activity. I was awestruck by their creativity and originality, and overjoyed to see the students both laughing and learning. Initially, I was nervous about stepping into the shoes of the professor. But I have found that teaching (although challenging at times) is extremely gratifying and rewarding. My time in Santiago is limited, but I hope that my students have taken away something from my teaching. It’s the least I can do for all that they have given me.


Students pose for a photo with their professor

So You Thought You Were a Vegetarian...

Jun 27, 2011 by Cory Ventres-Pake in Latin America


I think I’ve been swallowed whole: by the huge white cloud that is Lima in the winter; by children's slobbery greeting kisses; by the place where the pavement stops and even the brave mototaxis must submit to the dusty hillside and the laws of gravity.

 

(Lois y Tomas Community Center—where most of my workday takes place)

Here is where the journey stops and my day begins. We drag bags full of school supplies up the hill, bending down periodically to greet children on the path. Socios en Salud runs a before- and after-school program here in the mountainside communities of Carabayllo, one of the northernmost districts in Lima. This is where I laugh and stutter out positive reinforcement in Spanish, make lopsided presentations, and never cease to be amazed by how effectively the youth health promoters maintain control over floating groups of hyperactive three- to 12-year-olds. I spend most of my time supporting the teachers who run the programs, but Becca and I have also taught workshops on planting vegetables, making planters out of recycled materials, and the importance of caring for our environment. Last week, we were lucky enough to receive a visit from the founders of Socios en Salud, and to learn a good deal more about the organization’s impressive history in the treatment of drug-resistant tuberculosis and the study of TB-treatment plans.

 Office

(Alicia, Becca, and Guadelupe hard at work)

As I grow more comfortable in my new surroundings, I look forward to working with and learning more from the youth and community health promoters, and from Socios’s successful community development model. Tomorrow, another volunteer and I will begin a series of interviews with the youth health promoters to learn more about their backgrounds and their goals for the program… Until next time!

Carabayllo at night

(The view from my community center overlooking Carabayllo after work)

Museum of the Memory

Jun 17, 2011 by Layli Amerson in Latin America


(The beachside market in Cartagena with statue of San Pedro, patron saint of fishermen.)


From the outside, El Museo de la Memoria looks like an enormous hovering prism. This museum, like Villa Grimaldi, dedicates itself to preserving the memory of those whose rights the dictatorship abused.

In a sleek, high-ceilinged hall of el museo, I watched Pinochet’s coup on a monitor. It was 1973, and I hunkering down with a group of reporters in a hotel room, filming the bombardment of the presidential palace. Then I was listening through thick radio static to Salvador Allende’s final address. Years later, I was mourning the murder of a reporter along with his weeping family.

Why does this matter? I think now I have a better answer than I did at Villa Grimaldi. It matters because although this part of Chile’s history is over, it’s not dead. The legacy of pain, fear, and oppression still walks and breathes in the memories of the people in our midst and in the national mentality.

When we arrived at the final floor of the museum, I stepped out onto the balcony. The day was sunny and summery, and I drank in the view of the city. It’s hard to believe, Katie and I agreed, that much of the wounded history in the museum happened right here, and not so long ago.


Outside my forays into Chile’s past, I’ve been busy at the university, talking with students and helping teachers. I’ve given two presentations so far and led several breakout groups. I can thank SAW for preparing me for this role! In a presentation I gave on prewriting, I went over some strategies.


As a lover of metaphors, I tried to find one to express how fundamental prewriting is to the writing process. I came up with this:


To further emphasize this point, I had two volunteers perform a skit, a dialogue between a feckless travel agent who has failed to prepare any plans for his client’s trip (the writer who didn’t prewrite), and a traveler (the reader). It got some laughs, so I consider it a success!


I have been learning far more than I have been teaching. Looking through the eyes of the students, the United States is a peculiar place. Much of their impression of the United States comes from entertainment media—thank you, MTV—and they envision our nation brimming with families eating bacon and eggs for breakfast, sweet sixteen bashes, cheerleaders dating football jocks, wild frat parties, high-speed police chases, and bank robberies. It’s amusing, but then how much does the average estadounidense know about Chilean culture?


Last week I hit a milestone: 20 years old, although I’ve been feeling older (many of the students pegged me at twenty-five). Chileans don’t throw big parties for birthdays; instead they have a special family dinner and cake. I must publicly thank Isabel, my madre chilena, for that layered chocolate raspberry cake, above. ¡La torta más deliciosa del mundo! Apparently here they make cake using really thin layers, panqueques. I already know I’ll miss it!

I’ll finish with Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), Nobel Prize-winning poet and politician, internationally acclaimed but especially beloved in his homeland, Chile. We visited the second of his three houses in Isla Negra, on the Pacific coast. Neruda is buried with his last wife Matilde here.


His house is filled with the oddest collections: exotic insects, colored glass, busty ship figureheads, ships in bottles, fantastic seashells… String instruments never played, a sailboat never taken to sea. Neruda preferred to get dizzy the safe way, by drinking with his friends on his beached boat.


With Lety, Loreto, and Katie, I went into a tourist shop called Casa del Arte blooming with little crafts and souvenirs. I found a few gifts, including a panpipe (zampoña) lapel pin. The owner/cashier asked me where I was from and whether I liked Isla Negra, and then he said he would give me a book, which he signed. It turned out to be an anthology of poetry in tribute to Neruda. Alfred Asís, I discovered, is both the owner of the shop and a poet. The back cover reads: “El espíritu de Pablo está presente en cada rincón del mundo”—Pablo’s spirit is present in every corner of the world. 

Pleas for an Education of Equality and Quality

Jun 15, 2011 by Hilary Pollan in Latin America


It’s Sunday night, and I’m sitting at home, and the only thing I can hear outside my window is a million car horns honking. Why? Because La U (Universidad de Chile Futbol Team) just won the championship game, and people are now lost in the ecstasy of victory. This moment of utter bliss, however, greatly contrasts with the rest of current happenings in Santiago these days. In the last two weeks, there have been continuous marches against the building of dams in the Patagonia (!Patagonia Sin Represas!). Additionally, we’re witnessing the start of massive national student protests, which have become part of my everyday life here.

On June 1, 40,000 university and high school students (including myself!) entered the streets and marched to the front of the ministry of education to demand better financing of public universities and better overall quality of education. Since then, almost all public universities have been on strike (meaning no classes), and many are considering entering toma, which means the students take over the school, not allowing professors and administrators to enter, and spend all day AND night in the university. As a private university, Alberto Hurtado (where I’m interning) has not officially decided to enter the national strike, but I have a feeling that by the end of this week it will be doing the same.

As a student from Mount Holyoke, a college nationally ranked #9 for “school runs like butter,” the idea of having to go on strike for weeks just to receive a high quality education still shocks me. Through many conversations with mis companeros (classmates) in the conversation groups I host, and informally during lunch and class breaks, students tell me stories about the limitations and struggles for their education, which begin with being limited in their choice of a major because their high school didn’t prepare them well enough for the PSU (Chilean version of the SAT), to having all their classwork strictly tied to a numerical grade, and to not feeling like their voices are heard in major decision-making processes. During these conversations, I constantly remember how truly grateful I am for my Mount Holyoke liberal arts education that lets me choose what I want to be passionate about, gives me access to faculty and staff who truly support me (and all my fellow students), and that is a welcoming and inclusive community for all. I feel deeply for these students, and I am trying support them as an ally during these times of hope for change.

Fortunately, my internship position has offered me a grand opportunity to talk about these issues in the conversation groups I have with fourth-year students. In light of the current political events at universities around the country, and the students’ and my shared interest in critical pedagogy, we’ve decided to use these times to run a series of dialogues about teaching and social change. Our last two topics have been “Why is it important to learn English?” and “Teachers as political subjects.” In this space, students and I can challenge the status quo and seek strategies that they can use in the classroom to support what they, and all the students of Chile, are asking for: the right for all students to have equal access to a quality education!

Hola La Plata!

Jun 09, 2011 by Julia Herman in Latin America

 

Hola! I’ve been in Argentina for almost two weeks and I feel like I am beginning to get my groundings! Arriving in Argentina with just about zero Spanish skills was a completely overwhelming experience. As I stood in the airport waiting to go through customs, I listened to the chatter all around me and realized that for the first time in my life, I truly didn’t understand what anyone was saying. The first few days were a challenge—even buying fruit from the stand down the street required a great deal of miming, smiling, and apologizing. Slowly I have gotten accustomed to both the city and the language barrier.

My first night here I made the grievous error of moving the metal straw in the Mate cup (Mate is a tradition Argentinian drink that’s kind of like a strong herbal tea). The reaction was instant—everyone at the table cringed and grabbed it out of my hands, saying, “No, you can’t do that!” When I asked why I couldn’t hold the Mate straw, I was told that it messed up the flavor of the Mate, but mostly that it just wasn’t done that way. Two weeks later, I can now proudly say that I can both make and drink Mate properly and that I drink all of my Mate by holding the cup and not the straw.

At my internship at Home: A School for Intercultural Learning, I have begun to adapt to Argentinian teaching and working styles as well. It came as a shock when, during my first class visit, a little boy from the class walked up to me to say goodbye and then looked up at me and puckered his lips to kiss me. My background working with children in the Untied States took over and I immediately stepped back, prepared to speak with the child about inappropriate physical contact. It was only on second thought that I realized I was not in the Untied States and that he was in fact trying to kiss my cheek—a polite way of saying hello or goodbye here. It’s little moments like this one that I think lie at the heart of international experiences.

As I adapt and react to Argentine culture, I have begun to learn about my own culture as well. Living in a hostel has been a particularly rich experience. Every night I meet new people in the hostel. La Plata isn’t a tourist city, so I always love hearing about what they are doing here and how they ended up here. Beyond the pretty but quiet La Plata, I am just 40 minutes from Buenos Aires, a city that became one of my very favorites within moments of my arrival. I spent last weekend on a whirlwind tour of the city, visiting every neighborhood I could make it to and taking in all of the sights. Now I’m excited to go back and get to know it over the summer, and also to get to know my own city better and learn what I have to discover!

Living with the Santiaguinos

Jun 06, 2011 by Layli Amerson in Latin America


(Figurines from “Cerámica Policromada” exhibit at GAM, Centro Gabriela Mistral)

I have always found big cities overwhelming because they ambush the senses from every direction. The scent of sugared almonds mixes with the stench of the sewer. Advertisements compete with street signs. Two stray dogs bark at each other, separated by the traffic speeding between their respective sidewalks. Men in business suits walk past a shirtless beggar prone on the ground. Snatches of conversation grab at passing ears, fusing with the tinny reggaeton clanking out from someone’s portable speakers. Buffeted by all of these new experiences and faces and places, it’s tough to choose what to write about. So I’ll jump between a few of the gems of my stay thus far in this entry.

Las Condes is an upscale comuna with shopping malls, high-rise apartment buildings, and family homes. I live on a relatively quiet street with my host mother, Isabel. This is my workspace:

 

 And my window:


On the days when I don’t have much to do at the university, I can usually count on the temperature rising by midday and the sun shining. I like to make the short walk from my house to the plaza near Isabel’s church (below).


The plaza is very popular with nannies and moms, who bring their guaguas and young children to play on the equipment, and with dog owners, who bring their perritos to romp around the fenced park off leash. After choosing a bench in the middle, I’ll read my book and observe the other visitors. I pulled out my camera around sunset the other day for this:

 

Of course, Santiago, city of six million, is not all plazas and quiet streets. The Universidad Alberto Hurtado is in El Centro, the center of the city. I walk this street every workday after emerging from the Metro (this photo doesn't show the usual bustle as I took it on a weekend morning):


The Metro I could write about endlessly, because the speechless intimacy it demands from its thousands of passengers strikes me as so strange. Again, I’m from a small town, so I’m used to everyone driving a personal car, not pushing into a packed train car underground and whooshing through black tunnels. I admit that I’m proud that I’ve figured out (mostly) how to navigate Line 1!

Speaking of unfamiliar experiences, there was the demonstration that Katie and I went to (read her entry on it!). Here are some of the photos I took on our expedition:

 

 


The following weekend Katie and I went on another sort of cultural field trip, this time to Villa Grimaldi, a mansion turned torture center under Pinochet’s regime turned memorial garden. Claudia, Katie’s madre chilena, asked an astute question: Why would the university choose to take a herd of foreigners to this place? I haven’t come up with a good answer. To remember what happened before we were born? To honor the victims? To contemplate human rights? I’m not sure. Here you can see part of the rose garden, which has memorial signs with names among the flowers:


Beyond exploring Santiago, the most important part of my time here is the opportunity to talk with the university students. Their college life is entirely dissimilar from ours at Mount Holyoke. They all commute to the university. They have classes nearly all day and little freedom for electives. They don’t have the luxury of discussing theory and literature in the way we do. Their professors teach at two or three universities to make a living. There are a host of problems with education that resulted in a huelga, a student strike and demonstration downtown, on Wednesday. Yet there is a lot of hope for reform. I was delighted when one student stuck around after his compañeros left my Monday conversation group to talk with me more. He has fluctuated between career aspirations, from social work to psychology to teaching, because he loves everything. The desire he expressed to work with the struggling schools impressed me, as did his humility in wishing to serve his people. I think I will cherish most the enthusiasm and generous hearts of students like him after I’m back in los Estados Unidos. 

The Sunday Lunch

Jun 03, 2011 by Hilary Pollan in Latin America

 

Greetings from Santiago on this chilly winter morning!

My tenth day in Santiago has just arrived, and with the time that’s passed, I must say that this travel experience is unlike anything I’ve ever done before. Why exactly is it so different from other adventures? Because as I’m returning for the third time to Santiago, the things I do here are mostly things I’ve done before. Yes…there have been some minor changes here and there (like the new Montreal Bagel shop that opened up a block from my apartment!). For the most part, however, coming back to my life here has been a subtle adjustment, and a very warm welcome. It has been such a joy to walk back into friends' homes to join them for once (the daily evening snack/dinner eaten after work), and to return to my favorite cafes and bookstores, and in general to just walk around a city that feels in some sense like my own. I’ve realized in the past days that Santiago is now my home. It is where I find myself wanting to invest time and energy into my relationships, the politics, and in understanding ways to help Santiago flourish and grow!  

Something that always continues to surprise is how hard Chilean’s work, and for such long hours. Alejandra, my mom here, has to be at work at 7:20 am and often does not get home until 10 pm. Professors at Universidad de Alberto Hurtado often work as more or less “freelance” professors, teaching classes at two to three different universities. My friend Mario has classes at his public university from 4:30-7:30 pm on Saturdays, a time most of us would consider personal time. Their schedule is long and tiring; I often worry about the emotional health of Santiaguino’s, as their urban lives can cause so much stress.

Yet, what I’ve found to be the saving grace of my friends’ exhausting and intensive lives is sharing long Sunday lunches together every week. After my first week here, I too was able to share lunch. At 2 pm on Sunday, our extremely close family friends, Rosario (a fascinating feminist community-radio producer for Radio Tierra) and Feña (her daugher), arrived at our home. We ate a delicious lunch with dessert and coffee and talked about our weeks, politics, and the rights of mothers. We talked for hours and hours, until we decided to get competitive by playing their favorite card game, Carioca. By the time we finished the game (I got second place!), the sun had set and the cold arrived, and it was time for once. A few more friends joined us for tea, sandwiches, and more conversation (and even some singing), and before we knew it, it was 9 pm and time for everyone to prepare for bed and the coming week. I love the long Sunday lunches, and I look forward to them every week, and miss this valuable communal and familial time dearly when back in the United States, as it is truly an energizing, relaxing, and beautiful gathering! As my friend always says, con esos me alimento, meaning: with them (family lunches) I feed myself, both physically and (more importantly) emotionally.

Salud to the Sunday Lunch!