Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Death of a Latin American Dictator

Augusto Pinochet died an old man of 91 last Sunday, December 10. He was being treated in a hospital after suffering a heart attack the week before. He had been improving until Sunday afternoon when he passed away after experiencing a massive stroke. He died at 2:15 in the afternoon. Five seconds later every TV channel and radio station in Chile began broadcasting the breaking news. The information broke everyone’s day.

People began to mourn outside the hospital where he was being treated. A huge crowd of well-wishers, mostly elderly women, had been holding vigil outside the hospital. Upon hearing of Pinochet’s death many broke down crying and sobbing, all with an undertone of bitterness over what “they” had done to him.

Meanwhile, in downtown Santiago… Crowds began to form independently in the Plaza Italia and in front of la Moneda, Chile’s presidential palace, popping champagne, throwing ticker tape, and chanting victoriously. In front of la Moneda the scene later turned violent. Rocks and Molotov cocktails were thrown at the ready-for-anything-decked-out-in-riot-gear police. The violence finally ended only after the police sprayed tear gas, brought out water canons, and made arrests. There was also similar violence and protests in the “poblaciones” Santiago’s poor outlying South side neighborhoods.

Monday morning things had returned to normal. The buses were running and people went to work. There were no big protests. Life went on. But what happened in Chile the day before was now front-page news the world over. “Pinochet Dead.” My favorite headline was Argentine left wing daily Página 12’s What Has Hell Done to Deserve This?"

So who was Pinochet? He was… In order to talk about Pinochet one first has to talk about Salvador Allende. Allende was the Chilean socialist party presidential candidate in 1972. He won the election. Chile, at the time, was an extremely poor country and Allende’s economic policies did not help things. The CIA was also no help, paying workers to go on strike and fomenting unrest. The country as in turmoil then came September 11, 1973. Allende’s chief of staff, Augusto Pinochet, who conversely had a reputation for loyalty, led a coup to oust his commander in chief. He surrounded la Moneda with tanks and demanded Allende relinquish power and flee the country. Allende instead committed suicide in his la Moneda, which was then made rubble by the Chilean air force.

Pinochet then dismissed congress and took full control of the government, first along with a few other generals, then consolidating power for himself. He killed and or tortured many former Allende supporters, left wing activists, union leaders, and assassinated dissidents abroad. He created a secret police, the DINA to clamp down on dissent.

He also firmly aligned himself with the US government and Margaret Thatcher. He embraced neo-liberal economic policies. He called in young Chilean economists, known as the Chicago Boys because they were mentored by Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago. After some initial pitfalls the Chilean economy boomed, growing at least 4.5% every year after 1984. The Chilean standard of living increased and the foundation was set for today’s Chilean economy- the strongest in the region.

However, by 1988 Chile was being ostracized and isolated internationally for not embracing democracy Pinochet finally succumbed to pressure and called a national plebiscite to determine whether he would remain in power or if elections would be held. He never thought he’d lose the plebiscite… He lost. As a post script, he was later found to have upwards of $25 million in foreign bank accounts.

That’s a basic outline of events, it’s a very interesting story, so if you want to learn more, read a book.

It’s now 2006 and even though Pinochet doesn’t loom like he once did over Chile, he’s still in the back of man minds. He’s a very controversial figure and you never really know what a Chilean is going to say about him. People can’t even agree on what to call him. The left- as does the international community- calls him a dictator, while the right refers to his regime understatedly as “just a military government.” The country is split on his legacy.

One Position:
Coups are not in a general’s job description. Chile had a democratically elected government and a long democratic tradition, all of which were made rubble when la Moneda was bombed to the ground and Pinochet ascended to power n 1973.

After basically assassinating the President, he had death squads roam the country hunting for communists and socialists and anyone deemed “undesirable.” He turned the national soccer stadium into a quasi-concentration camp where many people were tortured and/or killed. There was no freedom of the press or of expression. After he left power he was found to have upwards of 25 million dollars in foreign bank accounts. Ahem, corruption?

Opposing Position:
Pre 1973 Chile was in a very dire situation. The economy was in shambles and many people didn’t have enough to eat. Pinochet came in and, after years of tumult, steadied the ship. No more protests, no more disorder, and the economy drastically improved.

As for the killings and disappearances: for a long time Pinochet followers claimed that the reported torture and killings were propaganda and never actually happened. The disappeared simply packed up and went elsewhere. After it became all too evident that horrible things really did go down, they began to contend that anybody killed was a “terrorist” and that he (Pinochet) should have killed more people- that’s a direct quote from the lady I used to live with. Simultaneously many argued Pinochet wasn’t aware of everything going on.

His millions stashed away? It wasn’t him. It was his wife and kids who were corrupt and pilfered all the money (some seriously argue this).

What do I think?
Allende’s government was no walk in the park. Nevertheless it was a democratically elected government. I’m an opponent of all dictatorships, be they left or right. There’s simply no excuse for a coup and an ensuing repressive 18 year dictatorship. As for Pinochet no knowing about the torture, killing, and corruption; he famously quipped while in power, “not even a leaf moves in Chile without me knowing.” He was a Latin American caudillo dictator who happened to institute sound economic polices.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Endearing Things to say to a Chilean

Endearing things to say to a Chilean:

1. I heard that the pisco in Peru is better.
2. You guys suck at soccer.
3. I love George Bush, in fact, I worked on his last campaign.
4. Chilean wine is over-rated.
5. A Completo is just a hotdog.
6. Argentine girls are better looking.
7. Argentine wine tastes better.
8. Anything good about Argentina.
9. What's up with your funny accent?
10. ¡Huevón! (pronounced way-OWN)
11. ¡Re-ándate a la concha tu ma're, ahuevonao machucao!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

10 months in Chile: Reflections

Last February I came to Chile to teach two semesters of English at DuocUC, a DeVry-esc post-secondary institute in Santiago. December has now descended upon us and the second of the two semesters is coming to an end. There only remain final oral presentations to hear, papers to grade, and students to fail (just kidding upon failing students… well, not really).

Last semester I had a relatively good bunch of students. They were generally interested in learning English so long as they didn’t have to work too hard, and we had some fun in class. In contrast, at the opening of the second semester my new students didn’t really care for English at all. They saw my class solely as a requirement -or obstacle- they had to take on to get their degree. I tried not to become jaded but I felt whatever magic there was from the first semester had disappeared. However, things began to change somewhere around the semester’s midpoint. Class started to improve, unfortunately I have no idea why, and the students began to show a better attitude. Many have told me they want to take English with me again next semester. To be sure, I’m uncertain if this is because I was an effective teacher or an easy grader.

Before I left a year ago I tried to act cool. “A year abroad ain’t no thang,” I said to myself and people I knew. But honestly I was scared out of my mind. I had studied abroad in Madrid for a semester in college, but that was for four months. I spent most of my time with fellow American students and came into little contact with the local population. On the other hand this was the real deal. I’d be living daily life for a year in a foreign country to which I had never been. “How would I feel six months down the line? How much would I miss my family? My friends? The New York mindset?” A year, I thought, was a pretty long time to spend away from home, and I was taking a dark step into a completely unknown situation.

So how do I feel almost a year on? Pretty damn good, actually. Sure, I’m not going to lie and say I don’t go through patches where I feel home sick. That’s only natural. But what I’ve learned is that a year is not that long to spend in a foreign country. I feel like I’m just now getting to know Chile. Moreover, everyday here potentials presents a new challenge. I never know when I’m going to discover something new. Teaching English, while not my career goal, is a pretty cool job. It’s much more interesting and fewer hours than whatever I’d be doing right now if I were in New York.

So I’ve decide to stay a bit longer…

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Are you Brazilian?

“Could I ask you a question... Are you Brazilian?” asks the lady working behind the counter at my neighborhood coffee shop. Someone asking me where I’m from is perfectly reasonable as my accent gives me away as a foreigner here in Chile. Nonetheless a Brazilian accent in Spanish is very distinct- like an Italian accent in English- and my Spanish does not sound Brazilian by any means.

“No, why? Do I sound Brazilian?” I inquire, playing along.

“Not really, you just have very special eyes. I’ve only seen eyes like yours a long time ago on a trip to Rio.” I was flattered, too bad the woman looked to be in her 50’s. But I couldn’t help but think, “what do eyes, even a pair as beautifully jaw dropping as mine, have to do with being from Brazil?”

Apparently reading my thoughts, she replied, “You just have that look to you.”

It doesn’t hurt one’s self-esteem to be taken for Brazilian, but the preceding incident is hardly the first time I’ve been asked something of the sort. I just have that “look” of ethnic ambiguity. I’m 5’7’’ with black hair, light brown eyes, and olive skin. I could plausibly be from a host of different places, and I get mistaken all the time for anything and everything across the olive-complexioned spectrum. Brazilian... Italian... Lebanese... the list goes on. But the situation gets messier once I reveal my true identity. “Soy de Estados Unidos,” I’m a gringo.

“¡No puede ser!” It can’t be! People respond in bewilderment, almost challenging what I've just told them.

Most people I have met here in Chile have a pre-conceived notion of what an American is supposed to look like, and I certainly don’t fit that bill. “I thought all Americans were tall and had blond hair and blue eyes!” they say, half to me, half to themselves.

“Well, George Bush doesn’t have blond hair or blue eyes...” I retort.

“Yeah but it’s not the same. He still looks American.” Not wishing to argue the point as to what an American is supposed to look like, I drop the subject and move on. But slightly different variations of the same conversation happen so often it begs me to ask myself, why do people here believe Americans are all lily white skinned blondes? After all, it's the United States of America, not Northern Europe.

Chileans come into contact with very few Americans. As I have written in previous posts, Chile is surrounded by natural barriers, the Andes to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the West. Moreover, it's far from the United States, very far. Because of the infrequent contact, they obtain most of their information about the U.S. and its citizens from exported American pop culture, namely movies and TV shows.

If you're in the US right now then turn on the TV and take notice. If the show you've just tuned into isn't marketed towards a minority group then the characters- while not necessarily blonde and blue eyed- have a vaguely waspish look. This is especially true of the American shows broadcast in Chile, Orange County being a prime example. On the big screen non-wasp looking actors are few and far between unless the movie is about drug dealing or the mafia.

After people here arrive to the acceptance stage of my being American the conversation moves on to this. "So, tell me, what do people in the U.S. think of Chile?" Basically all Chileans ask me this question. Okay, perhaps that's an exaggeration; let's say 99 percent of them. I should add that this represents a massive cultural difference. Would we, as Americans, ever ask a foreigner that question? No, probably not. It would be a very loaded question for an American to ask a foreigner, but it's more than that. We, to put it plainly, don't really give a shit. There are positives and negatives to that attitude, but it's true nonetheless.

But what do we Americans think of Chile? Take a few seconds to think... That's right. Nothing. Maybe we confuse it with Mexico or the Dominican Republic, but that's about it.

I've been in Chile for about nine months now, which really is not that much time. But what do I think of Chile? That's for my next post.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Update: La Pensión

About a month ago I moved from the Chilean household where I had been living to a pensión. The pensión, a cross between a boarding house and a hostal, has been great so far. It’s located in Barrio Brasil, a neighborhood in downtown Santiago that, while historically poor, is rapidly gentrifying. Santiago is basically an ugly city and there are not many memorable places, but Barrio Brasil is one of the few exceptions. It is one of the few neighborhoods with character, there are a lot of old buildings, hole-in-the-wall bars and cheap restaurants. There’s also a plaza with street musicians, a fairly size-able Peruvian population, two subway lines and a plethora of bus lines run five minutes from my new place.

Why did I move out of my old place? It just wasn’t working out. Officially I had been living with a “Chilean family.” Nevertheless, that is deceptive phrase. Often times, in an effort to genuinely emerse themselves, travelers choose to live with a host country family. In theory the idea sounds great, but it’s very hard to get a “family.” Many times the host family doesn’t take you in seeking a true cultural exchange, they’re just trying to find some extra cash. Other times it's just a person with a spare room rather than a family.

My situation fell into both aforementioned categories. I lived in Providencia, an upper-middle class Santiago neighborhood, with Chely- an old, grumpy, aristocratic Chilean woman- and her dog Wilburt (I swear to God that was the dog’s name). Willburt, a black lab so big he could’ve taken down a lion, was a great dog. Chely on the other hand was aloof and uninterested in most of life. She rarely left the house and was so fond of Augusto Pinochet (Chilean Dictator from 1973 to 1988) that she had framed pictures of him in almost every room of her home (a few were even signed). We hardly ever spoke for more than two or three minutes at a time and I can count on one hand the times we ate a meal together. Granted, Chilean mores are very different from American ones, but a picture paints a thousand words:

Chely employed a housekeeper, Rosita. There were miniature bells placed throughout the house and, instead of calling Rosita over to help with something, she would just ring the nearest bell. Imagine Rosita’s daily humiliation having to respond all day to a bell... Needless to say, Rosita didn’t stick around too long.

The only benefit to Chely’s place was that it was extremely cheap. But I finally found a different place with a comparable rent, so I peaced the hell out, nah mean?

Compared to Chely’s the pensión is astounding. I now have daily human contact at home. Most of the people there are Chileans from outside Santiago who have come to the capital looking for work. Almost all of them are super cool and everyone has a story to tell. A random gringo tourist or two is usually thrown into the mélange, and I’ve become the unofficial pensión translator (I’ve drastically improved since Legal Aid). To be sure, the pensión’s Crown Jewel, is the family that both administrates and lives there. There’s a mom and pop with their four daughters- ages two, six, eight, and ten- an aunt, and “la uelita,” the grandmotherly matriarchal figure who’s the true mover and shaker of the pensión. So ironically even though I ditched my Chilean “family,” I’m actually living with a real one now.

As food is not included in the rent, I’m also cooking on my own - it couldn’t have come sooner either, Chely’s food tasted like rain soaked five year old cardboard. I never really learned how to cook, so now I’m learning on the fly. It hasn’t been easy, a few weeks ago I messed up rice- don’t ask. But now, after some trial and error, I’m proud to say I’ve mastered pasta. I make my own meat sauce too, take that Emeril!

The only gripe I have is that I’ve been dubbed Martín. My first day there “la uelita” mistakenly referred to me as Martín. “Ummm, it’s actually Benjamín,” I politely told her. “Oh right, sorry,” she said. But she never could get it and kept calling me Martín.

After the umpteenth time correcting her she finally informed me, “look, I’m not young anymore, there’s a lot of stuff I can’t remember, your name being one of them. You look like a Martín, so that’s what I’m going to call you.”

I don’t know what the expression on my face conveyed, but- basically telling me to get over it- she then added, “but don’t worry, I like the name Martín a lot. It sounds really nice.” What could I do? So now I’m stuck for a while with this lifeless, colorless name. ¡Puta la hueá!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

"To do a dull thing with style is preferable to doing a dangerous thing without style. To do a dangerous thing with style, is what I call art."- Charles Bukowski

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Money and Robbie Williams

As I write this I’m breathing a big sigh of relief. I found new students to tutor on the side. I just had my first tutoring session today- it lasted an hour- and the cash feels pretty damn good in my pocket. My new student, Carolina, is 25 and works at a travel agency, so English is important for her to know. She is also willing to pay 16 Lucas (about $32) for two hours a week of classes. She has a very basic level of English but that’s a positive because the learning curve will be steep; she will start to see results immediately.

Nevertheless the best private students are the really advanced ones. Their English is really good- maybe even borderline fluent- and all they want to do is practice through conversation. You get paid to literally sit and talk to someone for an hour. You don’t have to prepare a lesson nor worksheets, nothing. Those students are very hard to come by though and they usually don’t last too long either . If I can find one more person to tutor I’ll be in a good position financially.

It’s officially spring in Santiago and its finally beginning to really warm up. Today you didn’t even need a jacket.

What do ‘has been’ British pop stars do instead of retiring? Apparently they play concerts in Chile. Last night Robbie Williams performed here. Anybody know who he is? If you’re reading this and you’re American (probably most of you) then most likely you have no idea. He’s a British pop star who tried to break into the US market about five or six years ago. He never made it in the US but he’s huge in the rest of the world (he has one song, Rock DJ, that’s okay, other than that I’m not a fan). Although it’s winding down now, the last month has been Robbie-mania. His face juts out at you from billboards all over Santiago and his concert was advertised all over TV and the radio. Such a fuss was made upon his arrival to Chile that you would have though he was a Head of State or something.

Last week I also moved into a new place, but that’s a story for another day (e.g. the next blog entry).

Monday, October 09, 2006

British vs American English

The first day of the semester many of my students are disappointed. They hope for a British teacher. Someone who speaks, “inglés inglés,” real English. But what they got was some guy from New Jersey.

On some level I sympathize with them and their preference for British English. I have to admit, most American accents are fairly bland and monotonous. But I don’t have just any old accent. I have a New York accent. I speak fast, and with an unmistakable rhythm. An English friend once told me that although she didn’t particularly care for American accents, mine was alright. Nevertheless this argument has never won the students over. The only students appreciative of my New York cadence are those who listen to hip hop.

But to be sure they are only superficially enamored with British English. Many are pretty unmotivated to learn English- or any foreign language for that matter- in the first place. The Chilean mindset is similar to the American one concerning foreign languages. “99 percent of the people I know speak Spanish. I’m probably never going to leave Chile, so why should I learn a foreign language?” Moreover, they have no strong appreciation for British culture, and besides; as much as I like British accents, other accents are much sweeter sounding. If you were learning English, wouldn’t you want to take on an Irish accent? Or how about that Australian outback accent? A British accent would probably be way down on your list.

So why do they want to learn British English? For starters they are under the (false) impression that British English is more “authentic.” Actually, the accent closest to Shakespeare’s is spoken south of the Mason-Dixon Line. They also feel that British English is easier to understand. Only a non-English speaker would ever argue this. The ‘BBC accent’ is wonderful and all, but not too many people really speak that way. You wanna hear a British accent? Watch Snatch.

I think there preference for British English is more about Anti-Americanism than anything else. My students didn’t choose to study English, it’s something being thrown at them. Over the past decade English has gained importance and become much more prevalent in Chilean society. English is all over the radio and television, and its influence is only growing. Many see this- whether rightfully or wrongfully- as American cultural imperialism. Couple this mindset with a very strong anti Bush sentiment and enmity over the US government’s numerous ‘military interventions’ in Latin America since the invasion of Cuba in 1898, and what you get is a strong anti-American sentiment (I’m not getting political, just calling it like I see it).

By learning British English, they are (albeit symbolically) rejecting American English and, by extension, perceived imperialism. However, this is a paradox. The British Empire- by definition imperialistic- lasted approximately 400 years. You cannot make a statement rejecting colonialism/ neo-colonialism/ imperialism by learning British English.

So what’s the solution? I propose Jamaican English. Go listen to Bob Marley. Everybody loves Jamaica, they have a beautiful accent, and their Bob-sled team is fuckin' nasty.

Friday, September 29, 2006

A Rant

One of my earliest memories is sitting at my grandparents’ kitchen table in their worn out Brooklyn apartment listening to my grandfather tell stories about Argentina, a country he had lived in for so long. After a while my brothers would grow disinterested but I was enthralled. I would sit there for hours listening to my grandfather and those stories had a profound effect on my life. It made me learn Spanish, and major in Latin American studies in college. Traveling to and potentially living in South America was always a dream of mine, and at 23 I'm fulfilling it. However, one thing my grandfather always commented on, and which I usually ignored, was the region’s pervasive anti-Semitism. This situation would have probably been very familiar to my grandfather:
The other day I told a Chilean friend I was Jewish. He just stared at me for a good 30 seconds. Literally, just stared. I understand that there are very few Jews in this country and I'm probably the first one he's (knowingly) met. But really, what the fuck? Don't stare at me like I have six heads, it's rude.
I have had a ton of very similar experiences, and there comes a point where you just get fed up, and that's me right now. So here it goes...

I hear this particular conspiracy theory a whole lot from people who know I’m American but not Jewish: "The Jews are an extremely powerful people in American society and are the driving force behind the decisions and actions of George Bush." This harks back to Jews being blamed for the Plague in Medieval Europe. Unequivocally, George Bush is responsible for George Bush's actions. Not the Jews. Bush is an evangelical Christian, not a Jew. How many senior administration officials are Jewish? Zero. How many oil execs are Jewish? Zero. Jews traditionally have highly valued education; hence we are disproportionately represented in white collar jobs. However, about two percent of Americans are Jewish . Because we are so few in number, most white collar workers are NOT Jewish, it’s a mathematical impossibility. Nor are most people in positions of power Jewish. Nevertheless, even if that were the case- that a majority of powerful people were Jewish- that alone would still be insufficient evidence of a conspiracy. I'm not saying that conspiracies do not exist. One need only look at the Iran Contra Affair or the rumor that McDonald's is a front for the CIA (okay, I just made that one up, but you never know, McDonald’s is everywhere), but come on.
What I also hear lot: "Why are you Jews treating the Palestinians so badly?" Don't get me wrong, I love to argue about politics and I probably do it too much (sorry... Dad especially). With that said, five jotes (a mix of coke and cheap wine) into the night, I'm not trying to have a heated debate concerning Israeli-Arab relations - playa's just tryin' to get his drink on. With that said, I don’t agree with a lot of Israel’s policies and actions, however the aforementioned statement is inherently anti-Semitic. Jews can be from anywhere, people who live in Israel are properly referred to as Israeli, just as people who live in Nigeria are Nigerian. It is far from a black and white issue, but get one thing straight: the Israeli government is the actor, not US JEWS.

Instance number three. On a trip last July to Mendoza (Argentine city about 7 hours from Santiago) a friend and I met some Argentine girls. We got to talking about the United States and how diverse it is. I mentioned that in New York, you could find just about any race/ethnic group in the world. Chinese… Dominicans… Irish… Jamaicans… Jews… Upon which one of the girls remarked, “Oh of course, there are a lot of Jews in New York. the Jews are a very capitalistic people (i.e. greedy) and New York is the center of world capitalism, so a lot of Jews immigrated there.” At the time I just brushed the remark aside. But really, read a history book, watch a documentary, or shut the fuck up.
To be sure, this is not the Third Reich, and the rest of the world is probably equally as anti-Semitic. I can only comment on my experiences in Chile, and to a lesser extent Argentina. I like Chile a lot and most of my experiences here have been quite agreeable. Sometimes you just gotta vent though.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

This semester....

So, I spent yesterday posting fliers throughout my neighborhood advertising my services as an English tutor (I included my being from New York, they seem to be impressed by that here). I've been trying to find individual students to tutor for a while now, but so far I haven't had much luck. I'm going to be posting more fliers tomorrow as well, so we'll see what happens (I'm cautiously optimistic).

I really need more money though. I hate being broke and I hate asking my parents for money, it really makes me feel like shit. I need some private students. Fast.

We're about a month and a half into the new semester and, so far, things haven't been going well. Last semester I really had a great bunch of students, I just didn't realize it until now. This semester I am teaching five sections, three Basic II classes and two Advanced II classes. I get the feeling that my basic students don't like me too much. My basic students almost exclusively study gastronomy and are known throughout the institute for not being "the sharpest tools in the shed." Most of them are lazy, much lazier than last semester's students, who by no means could be labeled 'workaholics.' My current students have very little enthusiasm for learning a foreign language, most just don't see what's in it for them; accordingly their English level is very low, I'm not sure how some of them passed Basic I.

I've been trying to make class more interesting, but it's hard when the students show no enthusiasm for learning and on a personal level are down right dull. For instance, over half of my current students report that "watching TV" is their hobby... You're 20 years old and your hobby is to passively sit on a couch and absorb whatever crap the television set throws your way?!... I mean come on, you can't think of a remotely better way to spend your time?

With that said, a good teacher should be adaptable and able to inspire. So that's my job for this semester. I need to figure out a way to reach them.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

about my life here

I’ve been in Santiago, Chile’s capital and largest city (population 5.8 million) since February teaching in a post-secondary institute called DuocUC, which has some sort of relationship with Universidad Católica, one of Chile’s largest and most well known corporations (it controls one of Chile’s largest universities along with one of its most supported soccer teams, both going by the corporation’s moniker). There really is no American equivalent to Duoc. It’s a cross between a community college and a trade school.
There are several DuocUC sites dispersed throughout Chile, but most are located in Santiago. The site I teach at is located in San Carlos de Apoquindo, one of the city’s swankiest areas, in Las Condes (translation: the Countesses), in the northeastern edge of the city.
I like my co-workers and I love my boss. The only drawback to working in San Carlos de Apoquindo is the daily commute: it’s a good 45 minutes from any other place in the city. My students are a mixed bunch and study a large range of fields, anything from Hotel Management to Gastronomy to Industrial Design. Some of them are extremely smart, some are average, and –even though I hate to say it- a few are downright dumb. Many of them are also lazy. They hardly ever do homework or study outside of class, which is a problem if you are really trying to wrap your head around a foreign language.
The Chilean school year runs from March to December, so I’ce recently begun my second semester of teaching. My first semester was a blast. My students, although a little immature, were pretty nice (well, there were a few…). I taught all levels; basic, intermediate, and advanced; and it was both fun and satisfying to see my students improve their English as the semester bore on.

Favorite moments of my first semester:
Funniest: There's a type of hot dog here called "ass." (it's similar to a cheese steak). I was doing a lesson on food, and one of my students said "I like to eat ass." I didn't know about the hotdog, so I was speechless. Meanwhile the rest of the class was like, "oooh ass, that's really good!"
Most Touching: One of my basic students told me he had never been interested in learning English until he took my class.

So, he goes another semester…

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Chile 101: They Speak Chilean Here

Perhaps the first thing to know about Chile is that it is a very isolated country. Geographically Chile is separated from the rest of South America by the Andes Mountains and most Chileans I have met have never traveled outside of their country. Of the few that have, many have solely been to Mendoza, Argentina, just over Chile’s eastern border. On a recent trip to Argentina, one Argentine I met told me that historically Chile has been a country apart from the rest of Latin America. Indeed, Chile has yet to join one of the two South American trading blocs, the CAN (La Comunidad Andina) or Mercosur (Mercado Común del Sur), neither has the Chilean government taken a firm stand pro or anti- Hugo Chavez. One more bit of evidence to Chilean uniqueness is the country’s version of Spanish. There are many words used here, chilenismos as they’re called, that are unique to Chile. In fact, I would venture to say, they don’t speak SPANISH here, they speak CHILEAN.

Exhibit A: the term “Huevón.”
Often times pronounced, “Gue-on,” this is an all encompassing term used by Chileans of all social strata. It has a plethora of meanings and can be good or bad. For instance, if you see a friend walking down the street, you might say “¿Cómo estai, huevón?” whatsup, man? But at the same time, if someone cuts you off in traffic you very well might shout “¡huevón!” in their direction. Alternately, you could also use it solely in reference to “that guy over there.” There’s also the slight variation “huevada” which is ascribed to objects; calling something a “huevada” us similar to labeling it a “whatchama-call-it.” Huevón refers to men, the feminine version is “huevona.” But be warned, do not ever call a female a “huevona,” it’s akin to saying bitch/slut. Because of its many shades of meaning, as a foreigner it’s best to only use this term among friends.

Exhibit B: the term “Po.”
The term comes from the Spanish “pues” (well…) and whether you are rich or poor; a day laborer, university professor, electrician, or a businessman; EVERYBODY says “po.” It doesn’t really mean much of anything; it’s just attached to the end of phrases to make what you are saying more emphatic. So, instead of the mundane “Sí” (yes), it’s common to hear sípo. There’s also “Nopo” rather than plain old “no,” and “no sépo” instead of “no sé” (Spanish for: I don’t know.)

Exhibit C: the verb Cachar.
The rest of the Spanish speaking world uses “entiendes” for “do you understand?” Not so in Chile, where “entiendes” is said about as often as snow falls in June. Instead, the say “¿cachai?” This word actually comes from the English verb “catch,” as in “catch my drift” and can mean “understand” or alternately “have sexual relations” (hence it’s another word for foreigners to be careful using).

Exhibit D: Other miscellaneous terms:
¡Qué lata! What a pain!
¡Qué fome! How boring!
¡Bacan! Cool!

Now hopefully you have a beginner’s grasp of Chilean Spanish. So if someone ever asks you, “¿Catchai, huevón?” You can affirmatively respond “¡Sípo!”

Sunday, August 20, 2006


I'm 23 years old and am originally from New Jersey. However, since February, 2006 I've been teaching English at an institute in Santiago, Chile. This blog is intended to record my experiences living and teaching English in Latin America. I don't have time right now but don't worry, I'm just getting started, there will be more to come...