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…