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Traveling Solo Through Chile For Personal Growth – Part 2

After my three month visit to Chile in 2007, I returned to The States to find that in my hometown, there is a school which offers certification to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL).  It turns out there are many programs of this nature offered both on site and online.

The TEFL class I attended took place Monday – Friday from 9AM to 6PM for one month and includes both classroom learning and student teaching. Although the course takes only a month to complete, the work to complete it takes every waking moment of your life for the entire month.

Upon completing the course and obtaining certification, the school offers a lifetime job placement service. Most of the students in my class had a pretty good idea of where in the world they wanted to teach. Many of my classmates planned to teach in South Korea. My plan was to return to Chile, this time, to live and work for a while.

In March 2008, I returned to Chile having arranged to stay with one of my Spanish teachers for a week while finding a place to rent.  I got a job teaching English to business professionals, at one of the many language schools in Santiago.

There is a push for business professionals in Chile to know English and job promotions are often contingent upon learning English. Employers pay for their employees to attend class and as students, they are highly motivated.

I was hired by the language institute but quickly learned that most of my classes would not be held at the institute. Instead, most of my day was spent traveling throughout the city, from business to business, wearing a backpack filled with books, to teach my students in their offices, while eating empanadas on the run. Chilean food is for the most part bland, and they remove the peels from everything, even tomatoes, before eating.

Chilean Independence Day Celebration

I loved my students and teaching English but my day was often very long and tiring. You can earn a living doing this type of work if you stay busy.

Because it takes time for businesses to enroll their students and for classes to start, it is important to have money saved before embarking on the journey to this type of career.

In Chile, if you work for an institute under contract, you will receive a temporary resident’s visa, allowing you to stay in the country for one year.

My first job was not a contract position which means I had to leave the country every three months in order to renew my tourist visa. The fastest and least expensive way to do this is to take a seven hour bus ride from Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina, a beautiful city with close proximity to vineyards, skiing, and thermal springs.

You can go through customs and immigration and return immediately on the next bus if you are inclined, but most folks spend at least one night in Argentina. These trips require careful planning during the winter months since it is possible to get snowed in for quite some time which is problematic if you are scheduled to teach classes.

In 2008, I taught English from March until November and then traveled through Peru on a tour and to the Antarctic Peninsula on a ship. Lima, Peru is a four hour flight from Santiago. Peru is a beautiful country with wonderful food although I don’t recommend the cuy (Peruvian Guinea pig.) Peru feels much more like South America to me than does Chile. It’s a place I definitely recommend visiting.

Peruvian woman selling hand woven scarves made from alpaca wool.

Peruvian woman (with her alpaca) selling handcrafted items









Summer in Antarctica



Antarctica has 24 hours of bright daylight all summer long. After a day, you lose all track of time. It is a magnificent place with lots of penguins. I even saw an Albatross fly over our ship.

We attended fascinating lectures with scientists who were stationed for one year on the peninsula to study global climate change.


In January 2009, I returned to The States for two months, to re-group, before planning my next work/travel adventure. So stay tuned…

Traveling Solo Through Chile For Personal Growth

Bust of Chilean Poet Pablo Neruda at his home on the coast in Isla Negra, Chile

Bust of Chilean Poet Pablo Neruda, at his home on the coast in Isla Negra, Chile

I traveled solo through much of Chile, (the birthplace of Pablo Neruda, one of my favorite poets) having arrived there from The States for my maiden voyage in June 2007. As a poet, my intent was to write poetry in what is often referred to as the “Land of Poets,” improve my Spanish, and explore the unfamiliar culture.

I was keen on avoiding the hot summer weather here in The States. Since Chile is located in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are reversed. Thus it was quite chilly (no pun intended) when I first arrived, in early June, in this faraway land, where I knew not a soul. Since I planned to stay for three months (to fully avoid summer heat,) I arranged in advance to rent an apartment in Santiago, Chile’s capital city.

I had a couple years of Spanish under my belt, and had even lived in a Miami neighborhood known as Little Havana for a while. My Spanish skills were fairly good, until I moved to Denver, Colorado in 2000 and stopped using them. Denver is a city with a large Mexican population. Many of the Mexican people I met don’t speak Spanish. They come from families that have been in The States for several generations. Since they go back so far, their families no longer pass their language down with the generations.

Thus was my language preparation for arrival at the Santiago airport on June 6, 2007 at 7:30AM. Instantly, I was seized; alone, and handicapped, in the early morning airport rush, where I couldn’t understand a single word of Chilean Spanish, AT ALL. Zero, Zip, Nada.

A winter's day in Santiago, Chile

A winter’s day in Santiago, Chile

I hadn’t planned on enrolling in Spanish language classes right away, but due to my predicament, the first phone call I made just hours after arriving, was to Escuela Bellavista, a language school in the city. Clutching the receiver with a sweaty palm, I spoke to the voice on the other end. “Do you speak English?” I asked in desperation. “Yes,” he replied and then continued. “If you study here, however, this will be our last conversation in English. You will only be allowed to speak Spanish at the school, and on tours you attend with the school as well.”

A total immersion sounds like just what I need, I thought. I started classes the following day and couldn’t have made a better choice. The school uses a particular method of teaching known as the Direct Method. It is so subliminal, as a student, you don’t even realize you are learning. The teachers use mime and play games with the class in Spanish.

There was so much humor in these Spanish mime games, we learned Spanish through our laughter; and fell in love with the language and each other. Our teachers introduced us to Chilean music during break between classes. They danced with us in the lobby of the school.

In the high-end beginners class, where I was placed, we were immediately taught survival skills for travelers such as: asking how much things cost, asking and giving directions, purchasing tickets of all kinds, handling a wrong number politely on your cell phone, booking reservations, how to rent an apartment, how to make an appointment with a doctor, how to tell the nurse what’s wrong, how to order in a restaurant, how to complain about service and accommodations, all weather related vocabulary including the necessary clothing…

My favorite class was at the open-air fruit and vegetable market. Our teacher had us ask the vendors about the produce, and the prices. She took us shopping out in the real world, where we tasted what we didn’t know and wanted more.

The school teaches Castilian Spanish, not Chilean Spanish. All Chilean people understand and can speak fluent Castilian Spanish but that is not what they speak on the street. Surviving The Chilean Jungle is a three-volume dictionary filled with Chilean Spanish including Chilean slang. Both words and expressions that continue to grow and evolve over time, make it a living language.

Even when Chilean people speak Castilian Spanish, they are difficult to understand at first because they omit pronouncing the letter s in most words. Instead of saying, “estufa, “ they say “etufa. “ The word means heater, an issue worth a tissue or two on a frigid August night!

I spent a fun five (half-days) a week, for two and a half months at Escuela Bellavista and two delicious weeks traveling, including a week in the Atacama Desert (the driest desert on earth) and another in the Lakes region, a region of beauty with active volcanoes, and a 10 hour drive, south of Santiago. (Please click on the photos to enlarge them for a better view. )

The Atacama Desert in Northern Chile Driest Desert on Earth

The Atacama Desert in Northern Chile
The Driest Desert on Earth


I kept the promise I made to myself, wrote poetry daily while living in Chile. Some of the poems I wrote in Chile, were accepted for publication, and along with several others, also appear in the book, Poetry For Living An Inspired Life. This was my three month experience in Chile but as some of you know, I later lived there for three years. Stay tuned for more about Chile, its food, culture, geography and more…

Puerto Varas in The Lakes Region of Chile  (background, Volcano Osorno)