Thursday, October 21, 2010

The novelty has simply worn off.

I have just about a month left in Punta Arenas. There were times throughout the last 7 months where that phrase seemed as far away as my old bed in Huntington Beach. As we creep closer and closer to our volunteer expiration date, I feel more and more ready to go making it feel still a bit too far away. While that might sound bad, I can assure you that the reasons for those emotions aren't all negative.

I'd be lying if I said everything has been peachy and that I'll miss doing everything I'm doing. There are parts of being a volunteer teacher that are thankless, useless and frustrating. There are parts of living with a family that isn't truly your own that are alienating, embarrassing and depressing. There are also parts of living in a foreign country that are humbling, awkward and sometimes just plain stupid. However, I knew what I was signing up for when I came here so I've tried to take all of it in stride and not ever let it get me down. That strategy is successful most of the time but I still have my days when I just want to feel sorry for myself. I quickly realize how silly it is to be feeling sorry for myself as I've gotten to have some incredible adventures so my mood usually corrects itself... and then I have to drag myself to a class full of 7th graders and we start the cycle all over again.

A lot about life here has simply become the norm, which in and of itself was never the point. I arrived to much excitement from my family, school and community. Everyone was happy to see me, curious to hear me speak my ridiculous Yankee language (they really do refer to it that way sometimes), and excited to introduce me to some of the interesting aspects of Chilean life and culture. Those were absolutely fantastic weeks where time seemed to fly by. To be fair, that may have been because the days actually were flying by since the sun was up for only about 7 hours per day. Now that we're entering spring and I'm entering my 8th and final month, the days are getting incredibly long and they're beginning to feel that way too. Much of the excitement about what I could/would/should do has worn off to a point where I feel like some people don't even notice me anymore. Now let's get one thing straight... I've never been one to be disappointed at not being noticed. I'm definitely not the type to be screaming for attention or feel neglected if I'm not the life the of the party. BUT in this situation, I never expected to be an afterthought. At that point, it feels like we're all kind of missing the point of me being here. I came to make kids excited about English, to expose teachers to new ideas of how to teach and to exchange cultural experiences and traditions with my family and community. As we press on through these last weeks, I feel that much of that has been tossed out the window. I'm not the new, exciting person that just showed up one day. I'm just part of the scenery now which certainly represents my cue to find an exit.

While all of this represents the forces that are pushing me away from all this wind and ice, there are other reasons that make it feel as though the US is ready to pull me back that I consider much more positive and exciting. More than anything else, I'm ready to get back to normal life. While this has been an incredible experience that has allowed me to escape a lot of the boring, monotonous routine that can sneak up on you, I'm ready to be building something again. I'm ready to have a job that I can feel passionate and confident about. I'm ready to start building a life that I can be dedicated to because I know it won't be disappearing any time soon. At the ripe old age of 26, I can't be messing around with excuses about wild oats for much longer. The money supplied by having an actual job will be nice to have too.

While I realize this post isn't the sort of butterflies and rainbows that most would enjoy reading, it's still represents part of this experience. Things have been great but things have also been tough. The bottom of the world isn't a glamorous place to be and neither are screaming, pre-teen girls. Such is life... for a little while longer anyway.


  1. Well, my blog has definitely not been butterflies and rainbows, and my friends and family at least have enjoyed reading it because they care about me and are interested in what I'm doing while I'm gone (and I tell my stories reasonably well). I've had enough challenges of my own here in civilization (Valparaiso); Punta Arenas can only be harder.

    About becoming part of the routine: I've actually found that to be one of the rewarding things. As much as I've had to adjust to my kids, they've had to adjust to me. I ask different things of them than their other classes, I make them obey different rules and coax them to speak words in a language they're often deeply uncomfortable with. I also behave and treat them very differently than their Chilean teachers. They've now integrated our relationship into their lives; they and I are different people than we were 7 months ago, having stretched ourselves to connect across a cultural and language divide. I can see it in all of them, from the most reluctant and surly up to the most apt and cooperative.

  2. Yeah, my blog too. It's just reality. Sometimes I think, "What the hell am I doing here?" and other times I think, "This is the best job in the world." Either way... Punta Arenas is very cold. That, I will never forget.

  3. Thanks for the comments, gentlemen.

    I definitely hear what you're saying 1st Chris. I think I have offered the students something different, that they may or may not appreciate. The problem is that I don't feel much support from the teachers for these new expectations and ideas. Since we don't give grades and my host teachers don't really buy into what I'm doing, I feel like I'm just spinning my wheels. The truth is, everything will go back to the way it was the second I leave. It's a shame because I do feel that quite a few students have benefited from what I've tried.

    I think a lot of the disparaging emotions are more directed at the teachers and host family instead of the students. All in all, the students are my favorite part and the thing that really keeps me going.