Sunday, October 12, 2008
Here in Chile we just wrapped up the month of September. Yup, believe it or not there are a few things about life in Chile that overlap with life in the United States. One of them happens to be the months of the year. However, September in Chile has a different significance than it does in Ohio and any other state, for that matter. September 18th is the Chilean equivalent of the Fourth of July in the States, though it commemorates the first meeting of the Chilean congress, and not the declaration of independence. Also unlike in the States, this national holiday is much more than just one day of celebration with a few additional days of fireworks shows. Actually, fireworks don’t really figure into the holiday. The 18th fell on a Thursday this year, which meant that the entire country had Thursday the 18th and Friday the 19th as legal holidays, followed by a two day weekend. At the colegio we got a few additional free days: Monday the 15th through Wednesday the 17th, which meant over a week without class. Then, take into consideration that the previous Thursday and Friday were days packed full of activities, skill challenges, and dance contests in the colegio, and you will realize that we had nearly a week and a half without class. This is not to say there was not anything to do at the colegio; far from it, actually, during the first few days of festivities. Thursday and Friday there were no classes. Instead, the students competed in various games of skill. In addition, each homeroom presented a choreographed routine of traditional dances. On Saturday the 13th, the school had a mass “a la chilena,” which involves traditional dances including the cueca from the central region and more colorful and choreographed dances from the desert region in the north, mostly in homage to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, who is the patroness of Chile. Following mass there was a fonda or festival where the students presented their dances in full garb for teachers and parents, and there were stands selling shish-kebabs and other chilean food and some drinks.
The best part of this evening was seeing all of the families of the school there appreciating over three, perhaps even four, generations the cultural heritage of Chile. I had a hard time responding to people who inevitably and frequently asked what celebrations there are in the United States that are analogous to the Fiestas Patrias in Chile. The brief answer is that there is none. The Fourth of July would be the closest thing, but in the United States we lack the music and dance traditions that are such an elemental part of the Chilean national holiday. The traditional foods also far outnumber any traditional foods the States may have for Independence Day. Fortunately, we did not have to fend for ourselves on the 18th and the days following. Thanks to the gracious invitation of the Candelori family we had a delicious barbecue and mote con huesillos, which is a dessert made from husked wheat soaked in peach syrup, spiced, and served with dried peaches. The Candelori’s are grandparents of Coni Gallardo, who is in fifth grade at the colegio. In their house live Coni with her sister and mom, another daughter of theirs with her husband and daughter, as well as their youngest son Francisco who is two years older than us.
I forgot to mention what we did in the days leading up to the 18th. Since the entire week we were school free, we took advantage of Monday to lay low and rest. Tuesday we explored downtown Santiago by foot, passing by the president’s building (basically the Chilean White House, except that the president doesn’t live there) and visiting a few impressive-looking churches. Then Wednesday we went to fly kites in O’Higgins Park. September and October (the months that correspond to spring in Chile) are the only time of the year when there is a strong breeze in Santiago. John, Michelle, and I went with Raul (a freshman at the colegio who lives nearby) and four kids from an orphanage that Michelle often goes to visit. We had a lot of fun, but unfortunately ran into a group of kite cutters who have string coated with fiberglass who snipped our kite strings and ran away with our kites.
So, as if that weren’t enough, the 19th and 20th we travelled, by invitation, north of Santiago to San Felipe to visit the home and family of Oliver Escobar, a 26-year-old who teaches philosophy and works in the pastoral offices of the colegio. San Felipe is a very picturesque rural town, and thankfully the weather cooperated to offer plenty of amazing scenic views. Oliver’s family is very active in the practice of their country’ cultural roots, so they included us in their celebrations during the time we shared with them. His grandma, who is 73 years old, plays the guitar and sings as though she were twenty. Everyone dances cueca, the national dance. We were quite pleased at first to observe their well-practiced dances, since all of them have years or decades of experience. To our slight embarrassment, they later asked us to give it a try. We did this without any explicit instruction. Thankfully they were very gracious, and later even gave us some detailed lessons later. I am very proud to say that I now at least know the basic movement of the cueca and can dance with a Chilean without feeling completely unconfident. After this extended pre-party, the entire extended family went out to dance cueca, corrido, and cumbia at a tent party with a live band. After the toll of midnight (more or less) the youth then went out to another more crowded and lively dance that took place in the town nearby and had more popular modern music (reggaeton). The following day, after sleeping in a bit, we hiked around a bit to take in the nice scenery, which was a great way to wind down after all of the dancing action of the previous day.
I had hoped to relax all day on Sunday to recuperate for the school week, only to receive an invitation from the host family of one of my friends from study abroad in 2007. I joined them for a barbecue and some catching up. I have to admit it was a pleasant day, and the food was delicious, but the next week at school I was incredibly tired.
As you can see, the Chilean national holiday experience surpassed the expectations I held from what I had heard last year. Until the next update (hopefully sooner than this one arrived), I hope this message finds you all very well. To those of you north of the equator, please enjoy the fall, which I miss even though the spring here is admittedly very enjoyable. Chau!
Monday, September 1, 2008
In the realm of my community life here in Santiago, the distinction of with whom I spend the most time and who has the most influence on my mood and daily life belongs to John. Let there be no doubt about that. After John creating a hierarchy of most influential people in my daily life in Chile is a bit harder. This fact is something I wanted to mention just so yo9u don’t assume that the order in which I publish these entries on community shouldn’t necessarily indicate any order of importance. Each person has been uniquely influential, and I hope you’ll keep this in mind throughout my entries about “Community.”
Today, I would like to introduce Padre Erwin Fonseca. Padre Erwin is a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross (padre=father) who is the Academic Director at the colegio, subject only to the principal (rector in Spanish). I presume this is a demanding position to hold. For what it’s worth, he has one of the most spacious and well-furnished offices in the colegio.
In addition to being Academic Director, Padre Erwin is also a theology teacher for high school students, as well as a homeroom teacher for one of the two sophomore classes. At his invitation, John and I have been attending the morning reflection with his homeroom every day. This time for reading, sharing thoughts, and praying lasts about ten minutes on average, taking place before classes begin for the day. It is a great window into the lives of the kids, seeing as this is the only time I have spent with some of them yet this semester. Thanks to the opportunity of meeting the kids in these morning sessions, we have been developing further friendships with them outside of classes through basketball and soccer events, in addition to other activities which I hope to elaborate in another entry dedicated to this class.
Returning to Padre Erwin, in the time we’ve spent with him and his class it has been obvious that he can connect very well with people of all age groups. I have heard students, teachers young and old, and other members of the parish community comment on how approachable Padre Erwin is. To coin a Chilean phrase, people say he has “buena onda,” or good vibe. He can make easy, down to earth, every day conversation with anyone. On the same token, when the moment calls for it, he can demand the attention of the class for serious matters. One major point which he has discussed on multiple occasions with me and John is his continuous effort to show concern for students’ wellbeing outside of their class work. One recent tragedy has brought to the forefront such reflections. About three weeks ago a sophomore student at Saint George’s College committed suicide. For years, Padre Erwin had lived next to the apartment of this student and had accompanied him to school in the mornings. So, besides the natural sadness surrounding a young person’s decision to commit suicide, Padre Erwin was making a special effort in the days following to talk about the importance of looking out for the wellbeing of students not only in their academic endeavors, but just as importantly, or perhaps more so, in the area of their emotional and psychological development as well. Since in the classroom it can be difficult to tell what students are going through in their lives outside of the hours of classes, trying to know them when time allows and spending time playing sports or talking after school will be important.
Padre Erwin was one of the most important organizers for our house and living supplies before John and I arrived last July. He worked with Michelle Fitzgerald, the last remaining Holy Cross Associate, to secure the place, move in all the furniture and household supplies which remained from the former Associate house, and buy new of the important things we were lacking.
Another area in which Padre has helped our adjustment is through the incorporation into the local community. The first weekend we were in the country he introduced us to a few families in the area, taking us to their houses and making sure we were recognizable to them. In so doing, he successfully secured that we would not have to worry about much cooking during the first month, as invitations to lunch or the evening meal have been constant enough.
His great mix of humor and seriousness in the appropriate moments has made working with Father Erwin a very enjoyable experience. He often comes over to the house for our community nights on Wednesdays and always checking in on how we are adjusting and fitting into the colegio, our house, and the local community. Needless to say, it has been a great relief to have such a concerned Chilean who can aid us in our transition in all of its aspects thanks to his connections to our neighborhood, school, and Holy Cross community, as well as his understanding of Chilean life.
Friday, August 22, 2008
In the next few entries, I hope to introduce a few of the most important people in my community experience here in Chile. Before diving into today’s reflection, I would like to recall the three pillars of the Holy Cross Overseas Lay Ministry program: Mission, Spirituality, and Community. I recall these pillars because there is one person who has been present and will continue to be present for about any important development in these areas during my time in Chile. His name is John Paul Power, and he hails from Fox Island, Washington, which is in the Puget Sound just outside of Tacoma.
(Pause: In Spanish, “John Paul Power from Fox Island” is “Juan Pablo Poder de Isla Zorro”. If you don’t speak Spanish, it’s hard to convey the rhythm and effect of that name, but it rolls off the tongue very easily and the words “poder” and “zorro” are both pretty charged. My teacher/mentor Claudia, after hearing that translation, came up with this image of John wearing a cape, on top of a mountain, outlined by the setting sun…and surrounded by students.)
John graduated from the University of Portland in April, having majored in History, French, and Political Science. He’s lived in the Pacific Northwest for all of his life besides two periods of time when he lived in France. He lived there for an entire year as a junior in high school, and for another semester as a junior in college. You’ve probably already figured out that he speaks some pretty good French. Our combined knowledge has come in handy on occasions when we need to speak without the observation of any Spanish or English speakers. Despite this very cool technique of exclusion, his French more often than not has been creeping into his Spanish conversation. This is John’s first time in a Spanish speaking country, and as a self proclaimed “on-site” learner, he came without much practice but expects to improve greatly after the first few months, and has already made noticeable progress since we arrived.
In many ways, John and I are about as opposite as two people can be and still live comfortably in the same house. He is, in a word, extroverted. Great at telling stories and conversing in general, he makes sure the house doesn’t stay unbearably quiet. Where I prefer having a plan written out, John easily works on the fly. He certainly has more flexibility when it comes to dealing with unexpected situations.
For the few workshops and academies that we teach together, we have found that our skill sets complement each other rather well. Even though the extent of my preparations is still limited due to the lack of knowledge about what exactly we are doing, I’ve been providing a basic structure around which to base the lesson, while John is great about coming up with exercises and keeping things moving throughout class. Another interesting contrast is the ways we each write on the white board. John tends to write haphazardly and without any real sense of order, and I’ll usually make tables, lists, and groups like words together.
At home, we have an efficient system of cooperation in place at the moment. John made it a point, on the day that we met at Notre Dame, to make it clear that we will let each other know if and when we have a frustration with the other. Perhaps thanks to this agreement to be upfront, we luckily have had no major run-ins to date. Not to worry though, we still have over a year together to achieve that.
Even outside of class, for example in handling things with our Chileans coordinators or running errands together, we have come to liken our cooperation to the powers of the Captain Planet team, or the yin and yang. All of this means I am looking forward to the time we will be spending together and growing together over the next year and a half. We’ll get on each others’ nerves from time to time, as may have already happened, but we’ll learn to deal with the small things and not let them get in the way of our little community.
In the mean time, I’ll continue to make sure that doors are closed, that food and other items return to their rightful places, and that we get out of bed in the morning, and John, for his part, will make sure I don’t get too caught up in the small, mundane details of daily life to miss the bigger picture of why we are here in Chile.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Of course, as a good student at a Holy Cross university, I knew very little of this before coming to Chile. However, at the colegio, there is a very strong devotion to Brother Andre. Some of the kids even have the perception that he founded Holy Cross or was a priest because they talk him up so much. So, during this week to commemorate him, each class participated in a “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”-like contest answering questions about the life of Brother Andre, the history and government of Chile, current events, and other trivia relating to interests of the students such as TV, movies, music, and popular card games. The contest even included sound effects straight from the TV show. The older grades (7th through 12th, I think) competed for the title of school champion, and the 9th graders won.
Thanks to Brother Andre, many classes were interrupted due to the trivia contest.
Then, on Friday, there were no classes at all. In the morning, the older grades hosted the younger grades for fellowship, food, and fun. John and I, since we usually begin our days with one of the 10th grade classes, stayed with them for the activities. Also, since Fr. Erwin, their homeroom teacher, was out for a surgery, we served as their homeroom teachers for the day. Really, they pretty much handled the day themselves, and were very good about decorating, focusing on their “younger siblings,” and cleaning up after themselves.
Friday before lunch there was a short play about Brother Andre’s life and work. Most of the kids in 10th grade found it boring since they’ve seen it every year for a while now. It being my first time, I found it moving. The actors were mostly students, and they did a very good job. In the afternoon, there was a social for the teachers in the library, complete with hors d’oeuvres and drinks (champagne and pisco sour). The men and women competed in a friendly but competitive game of trivia, much like the students’ version.
On the most basic level, this week helped me learn more than I ever thought I would about Brother Andre. In addition, I witnessed how important prayer to the saints is here among Chilean Catholics and within the colegio in specific. This is true for the students (many, though not all, of course) and for the teachers as well. Personally, it has been a good reminder of the importance of the saints for a Catholic. Praying to the saints that they intercede for us with our petitions is of course laudable and one of the reasons why the church distinguishes them. On the same token, though, we should make an effort to go beyond merely asking for their aid in through petitions. Educating ourselves and reflecting on their lives gives us the opportunity to cooperate in implementing positive change in our lives. The church says these holy people are worthy of being intercessors on our behalf because they were close to God in their lives here on earth and we believe they are among the closest in the kingdom of heaven. Thus, in knowing about the lives of the saints we learn from their tried example of how to do God’s will in difficult situations in this world. In the case of Brother Andre, his example was very simple, cheerfully fulfilling his duties in cleaning and maintenance at the school and dedicating many hours of the rest of his time to listening to the stories of people coming to him for help through their sickness. I can only hope that in my work at the school I can emulate this spirit of duty and selfless perception of time.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Ok, so maybe that’s not true. At first John and I were taking turns accompanying Claudio and Claudia different days of the week. However, after the first week, once the time came to decide between ourselves which days we would accompany which teacher, John and I decided that for the first semester I would work with the younger students and he with the older ones. Level of fluency in Spanish was essentially the determining factor, since the younger students have more questions and usually need responses in Spanish in order to get the most out of our time with them. Claudia works primarily with students of enseñanza básica, or grade school, while Claudio teaches students of enseñanza media, or high school. Seeing as how the high school students can better carry on conversations in English, and John cannot yet communicate as efficiently in Spanish as I can, we arrived at the decision that I would accompany Claudia and he Claudio. We may very well switch things up for the new school year in 2009, after John has spent a few months here and gotten more comfortable in Chilean Spanish.
As I have gone accompanying Claudia, she tries to have me spend time with small groups of students to practice conversation and reinforcement of grammar and vocabulary they are studying at the moment. On the occasions when the class must go to the computer lab for an assignment, I am there with Claudia to answer questions they may have.
Claudia sees most of her classes for four horas every week, each hora being forty-five minutes. This means two days per week for about an hour and a half each of these days. As a result, it is hard to get students into the habit of frequent conversation in English, and they spend most time working out of their books or in the English computer lab at the school, primarily on written content. For this reason, eliciting conversation has been basic with most groups, especially the lower grades. For example, with the fourth graders last week, in forty-five minutes we barely succeeded in having each of abouttwenty students respond in complete sentences to the questions “What is your name?” and “How old are you?”
This does not mean, however, that the students have no interest in conversing. Many do often feel ashamed to try and sound foolish. Patience and respect, though, seems to be the best way to encourage them to talk. John has also enlightened me with the wisdom of tricking students into teaching one another, often by introducing a competitive element. When there is some sort of goal to reach, or particularly if the group is divided into two who compete against each other to complete a task, they will help each other out by repeating phrases for one another and encouraging each other. They also pay closer attention in general when they are under pressure and could stand to benefit from listening to those speaking before them in order to prepare and by listening to those speaking after them in order to make helpful suggestions.
Let me return to Miss Claudia now. Like all other teachers at the school, she has a home room with whom she starts the day with reflection and prayer. With her homeroom she is particularly insistent upon silence during the prayer and cleanliness in her room. Her attention to cleanliness carries on to the other rooms she travels to throughout the day. Each class begins with her greeting the class and them responding, in English, either “Good morning, teacher” or “Good morning, Miss Claudia.” By the way, she is married, but she has her students call her miss. Chile has a different system for addressing teachers than the United States, not only because of the difference in language. Where in the U.S. students would most likely address me as Mister Smith, in Chile the students address their teachers by their title, profe, followed by their first name. For example, most students address me as Profe Brian (teacher Brian), and occasionally Mister Brian in English class. Some of the younger students call me Tío Brian, which literally means Uncle Brian. This doesn’t mean that they see me as part of their family, though. In Chile the words for uncle and aunt are used for any sort of caretaker or supervisor of children. Since Claudia works with students from first through eighth grade, learning to adjust to the levels of proficiency and the teaching methods appropriate to each grade level has been challenging. The students in general are very interested and cooperative with conversation activities. Claudia and I are still in the process of planning ahead how I can structure future lessons. For the time being, though, speaking with the students about their interests and likes while incorporating important phrases and grammatical points has been successful.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Here begins what will hopefully be an extensive series of entries about my experience as an associate layperson (laico asociado in Spanish) of Holy Cross in
Before leaving the States we spent one night and part of a day in
So, you may be wondering what the house is like. Well, after Fr. Mike DeLaney (Holy Cross’s district superior in
The inside of the house was very pleasantly furnished before we arrived, thanks mostly to supplies left over from the former Holy Cross Associates program and a few new items which the Congregation provided for us. There are two floors; the first is comprised of a living room and kitchen separated by a counter and cabinets. Then, beyond a door in the back, there is another small room , off of which is the laundry area and a modest bathroom (read: toilet). The small room will serve primarily as space to dry clothes. We do have a drier, but since they take so much energy we will try to use it sparingly. Upstairs are three bedrooms, one each with a regular bed, bunkbeds, and a bed with an additional roll out underneath. I have chosen to live in the room with the roll out, since it has a window that faces Cerro Renca, a hill to the north east which I saw often last year and has a cross on top of it. At the end of the hallway is a bathroom. With my next post I hope to have some pictures of the house, but have decided to wait until John and I are settled in.
John and I came to Chile with the understanding that the first week or two would be a time of orientation, meeting the Holy Cross priests, brothers, and other workers here in Chile, defining what we will be doing at the Colegio and in the other apostolates of the Congregation in Santiago. Well, most of that has happened. The only change from the original plans is that we began working at the Colegio on Monday. So, John and I jumped into the deep end in a sense. However, being it the first week, we worked primarily with introductions, to get to know the students and to get a feel for their level of English. The strangest part for me was that the teachers just left us with the groups without much in the way of instructions or consultation about what they expected. For the workshops, John and I are the only teachers listed for those classes. All considering, though, the classes have gone well. We try to speak only in English, with mixed success. With the younger students this tactic is nearly impossible, and we have resigned ourselves to the fact that we may have to implement games working with vocabulary and basic sentences. In the classes from middle school to early high school, some students grasp most of what we are saying, which so far has been limited to introductions and questions about their family and what they like to do. For the upper grades, especially 11th and 12th grade, the small groups have been able to at least make an effort to speak exclusively in English, and some students know quite a bit. For most all of them, though, this is their first opportunity to learn with a native speaker. This means that attention levels have been surprisingly high over all age groups.
What with meeting the teachers, students, priests, brothers, and neighbors, the past week has been a bombardment of names, many of which I have already forgotten. I can only hope that people will understand that while I appreciate their effort to distinguish between John and me, I may take a bit longer doing so for them, as they are a bit more numerous.
Well, seeing as I must stop sometime, I will wrap up by saying that I have not covered many important parts of the past week. I think that is something good to keep in mind for this first entry in
For now, I bid you farewell. I hope you’ll return, and please write with questions if you have them. Coming soon: more frequent entries.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
For the next eighteen months, until late January of 2010, I will be a participant in the Congregation of Holy Cross Overseas Lay Ministry (OLM) program in Chile. If you are reading this, you probably know that I just graduated from the University of Notre Dame on May 18, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Romance Languages and Literatures, for which I studied Spanish and French. The Congregation of Holy Cross (Congregatio a Sancta Croce in Latin, or CSC for short) is the religious order that founded and administrates Notre Dame. The Congregation of Holy Cross consists of priests and brothers, and was founded in 1837 by Fr. Basil Moreau, who was beatified this past September. Historically, Holy Cross religious have had a particular interest in service in the area of education for the underprivileged and mission overseas to areas of particular need. Their ministry began as educators to rural communities in France, but quickly spread to the uncharted wilderness of northern Indiana, French Canada, and Bagladesh within the first few decades of the Congregation's existence. One result of this expansion was Notre Dame. Then, beginning near the middle of the twentieth century, Holy Cross expanded to create missions in Chile, Peru, and various countries in eastern Africa. They entered Chile at the invitation of the Archdiocese of Santiago, who asked that they assume the administration of an English school for boys called Saint George's College in Santiago. College in the Chilean education system does not mean a four year institution of higer education as it does in the United States, but can be any school that includes secondary education, either the four year school equivalent to high school in the U.S., or a school with grades from kindergarten through high school, such as Saint George's College nowadays, as well as the school where I will be. The second school, Colegio Nuestra Señora de Andacollo (Our Lady of Andacollo College), Holy Cross began to direct in in 1976, once again at the request of the Archdiocese of Santiago. Saint George's has been and to this day is a school of the most elite families of Chile, whereas Colegio Andacollo is located in a working poor neighborhood, closer to downtown Santiago. In the decades that Holy Cross has been directing Colegio Andacollo it has improved the services the school can offer, as well as significantly expanded and modernized its facilities.
The Holy Cross OLM program is in its first year, and my hosuemate John and I are its first participants, but it is the product of a long history of Holy Cross lay ministry in Chile. The Holy Cross Associates program had existed for years (at least since the early 1980s) before being disbanded last year as the Congregation decided to re-evaluate the incorporation of their Constitutions and mission. The result of of the reformulations, additions, and changes is the new OLM program, which has as its three pillars Prayer, Mission, and Community. Relating to the pillar of Prayer, John and I will both have a spiritual advisor once we are in Chile, either a priest or another person approved by Holy Cross. We will also be incoporating community prayer into our daily routine in Santiago, as well as time for conversation and reflection on our service work. Since there are only two of us, instead of the original three the directors had planned on, finding the time where "all the lay ministers" can be together should not be too difficult. Relating to Mission, I am very glad that the directors have decided to have us work at Colegio Andacollo instead of Saint George's because it seems to me that of the two schools, John and I could have a more significant positive impact at Colegio Andacollo. In the area of Community, besides the community of lay ministers which I already mentioned, we will be closely involved in the local community of Andacollo, both school, parish, and neighborhood. We will live one block from the school and ideally will be active presences in the parish outside of just hours when class in in session. Hopefully this description suffices as an overview of the program. Of course, more details are forthcoming upon arrival to Chile and commencement of actual service work.
The orientation at Notre Dame lasted from Sunday, July 6th, through the morning of Thursday, July 10th. Sunday John and I arrived and shared dinner with Steve Holte, the lay coordinator of our program, and Fathers Tom Smith and Don McNeill, director of Holy Cross Overseas Lay Ministry and former director and founder of Notre Dame's Center for Social Concerns, respectively. Over the course of the next few days, Steve, Fr. Tom, Fr. Don, and various other Holy Cross priests with experience in Chile and former Holy Cross Associates in Chile, educated John and me in the Holy Cross history, traditions, and missions. They also helped to prepare us and encourage us in our new endeavor. Their stories were all fascinating and inspiring. The final night we gathered for a grilled dinner at Steve's House with Fr. Tom, Fr. Don, and three former Associates, after which they had a short prayer service before our departure. For being only three full days plus a bit, they managed to fill it to the brim.
In the process of all this orientation, John and I have gotten to know each other a bit. While from the beginning it has been apparent we have very distinctive personailities, we each see how we compliment each other in some ways, and anticipate bringing out perhaps untapped or underpracticed virtues in each other and keeping the other in check.
Since Thursday, July 10th, we have been at the headquarters of Maryknoll Lay Missioners for a more extended program and general orientation for those departing for international service. The program lasts until Friday, July 25th, and will be the subject of my next entry, God willing.