The last few times I’ve gone to a new country I’ve not read much about it beforehand because I’ve wanted to learn from first-hand experience whilst I was there rather than arriving with preconceptions. Because of that I hadn’t anticipated Santiago being so big – six million people live there and it’s the absolute hub of Chile. It’s a very cosmopolitan city; there is still some evidence of Spanish colonial history but also a lot of modern architecture and it seems that anything that doesn’t move for more than a minute is covered in graffiti. The other projects I visited were in very distinct locations: San Alfonso is a wine producing region, very green, temperate and lush, Puerto Montt is a big, industrial fishing city and Castro is on an island called Chiloe with a much smaller, very friendly community.
The aspect of Volunteering in Chile which really stuck out to me was how important the host families are to the Volunteers’ experience. Chilean culture is very family-orientated and through staying with host families the Volunteers’ get an in-depth understanding of that. At the same time that host families are a huge part of the Volunteers’ experience, the Volunteers become a huge part of the host families’ lives. They aren’t treated like lodgers; they’re expected to get fully involved in the lives of the people they’re living with. It’s important that families eat together and Volunteers are regularly invited to family gatherings and events. The Volunteers feel really accepted and it’s an aspect of the experience they are all getting a lot out of.
The teaching assistant Volunteers are all now settled into their primary roles and are starting to think about how to expand their experiences and use their skills and interests to add value to their projects. Some are starting up after-school English workshops, some are assisting with drama productions, there’s a Volunteer playing basketball and finding it a great way to interact with his pupils on a different level and two of the boys ran Scottish culture workshops in the run-up to St Andrews Day. It’s great to see them all being so proactive and making the most of their time overseas.