Recently a WorldTeach volunteer in our Chile Ministry program who completed her service, Heather Tang is now joining us as Chile Field Director, and will be welcoming a new group of volunteers in Santiago in July. As we welcome her to the WorldTeach family in this new capacity, Heather shares with us the journey that led her to this adventure!
"I got bitten by the travel bug very early in life as my family took trips all over North America since before I could remember. But it wasn’t until I studied abroad in New Zealand my senior year at Boston University that I realized how much I wanted not just to stand behind the ropes viewing a culture from the outside, but be a part of people and places I visited. I went on a home-stay trip with the program to the tiny, remote island of Mangaia in the Cook Islands, working with the island’s children at their school, learning about their daily life, and teaching them about ours. The exchange set me on a path that has taken me through the South Pacific, Asia, and Africa over the past several years, learning and teaching along the way and quenching my thirst for foreign cultures and languages.
When I stepped off the plane in Santiago back on March 17, 2010, I truly had no idea what to expect. I, along with my fellow volunteers, had arrived in a country literally shaken to the core by the historic 8.8 magnitude earthquake with much of the area just south of capital devastated. Everyone and everything was still in recovery mode, although Santiago seemed to be recovering a little more quickly. In the wake of the quake, my family and friends asked whether I would still take on the task of teaching in Chile, with the threat of strong aftershocks still very constant. But for me, it was never really a question.
From the beginning, I saw the strength of Chilean people, pulling together after such a life-altering incident and showing so much national pride that most of the aid for the quake came from the people within the country than out. Over the next eight months, I lived and taught in the country’s fifth region of Valparaíso. My public elementary school students were on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder and many came from difficult family situations. Yet that didn’t keep them from being the kids they were, and it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with their spirit and cariño. They deserved as much of a chance at a bright future as their companions in the private schools did. With my host family, I found my center in Chile. In their home, I learned about the family life, food, history, music, customs, language, and much more. They became my support, entertainment, and a part of me as much as my own family.
My year in Chile saw the destruction from the earthquake, the first conservative government sworn into office in 20 years, the fútbol fever of the World Cup, the internationally-covered miracle of the 33 trapped miners, the country’s 200-year Bicentenario of independence from Spain, and some of the most spectacular natural geography in with world. It also saw me establish myself in the country’s vivacity, no longer just a gringa looking in from the outside, but becoming a part of its core."
We are still recruiting volunteers for the Chile Ministry Semester program, departing in July 2011. Learn more here about how you can join the WorldTeach Chile familia!