Chau (For Now)

8 Mar

2011 was undoubtedly the best year of my life, filled with new experiences, staggering self-realizations and an outpouring of love and support that I had previously considered impossible.

On January 3 I said goodbye to Chile and my closest friends during a quiet gathering in my apartment. It felt like a funeral, the air tinged with the unspeakable looming of my departure. Though it could have been a depressing affair, we did not cry and we were not sad. Instead we wore our best poker faces and made the night as cheerful as possible.

My plane landed in Minneapolis at 10:30 pm the following day. Since then, I’ve been incredibly busy seeing old friends, looking for new creative opportunities and studying at Saint Cloud State University to be an English teacher. I plan on graduating in the spring of 2014, ready to take on a new part of the globe.

My friend Rodrigo and I in Torres del Paine National Park.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll come back to Chile, but until then I’m putting this blog on the shelf. It’s been fun writing and sharing my experiences with those of you who have found your way here. Thank you so much for your support and comments.

I hope I’ve helped a few of you who are interested in coming to Chile; I couldn’t recommend it more highly if you’re looking for a great experience abroad. Feel free to comment and ask questions if you have any. You can contact me or follow my writing at the following places:

Twitter: @lukasgohl

A Heartbreak Set to Flames

24 Jan

I watched on Chilean news channels as tentacles of flames lashed out in all directions, projected onto a canvas of crystalline lake water and dimmed by a curtain of black smoke that all but snuffed out the sun.

I had been there just the day before, but it was not an inferno I saw, rather a living masterpiece forged by tree and rock, water and sky. It was Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia, and I had unwittingly been one of the last to set eyes on it before it was devastated by flames and smoke.

On December 27th, a wildfire broke out near Glacier Grey, the northwesternmost point of the famed “W” hiking circuit in the Cordillera del Paine. According to CONAF, Chile’s parks department, when fire brigades arrived around 100 acres (40 hectares) had already burned. Two weeks later, 37,000 acres (15,000 hectares) were affected.

As I navegated through Torres, reality melted away under 16 hours of daylight. The trails up ahead seemed to defy possibility, like a nature frescoe conceived by Michaelangelo.

Beauty aside, what struck me most was the haphazard manner visitors traveresed the park. Many strolled about wide-eyed; with little more discretion than if they were visiting the Eiffel Tower.

Straying from the trails, inattentiveness to camping stoves and littering were commonplace offenses. In Los Cuernos, I overheard a group of American tourists bemoaning that the refugio didn’t have change for their dollars. Does the tourism industry beget the naive traveler, or the other way around?

It is the duty of the tourist to understand the difference between visiting a city and visiting a highly sensitive ecological area. Remember to plan extensively (especially when trekking in a foreign country) and follow the instructions of park rangers and signs. Our earth is a shared privelige, not a private right.

 

Neither Here Nor There

20 Dec

Dead? No. Bad blogger? Maybe.

I’m sure you’ll forgive me after reading this. Since my last post where I revealed my plans to come back to the U.S., I’ve been taking advantage of my remaining months traveling, giving bittersweet send-offs to friends and reveling in this adventure which has awakened a Me I’ve never felt before.

I spent the end of October in Valdivia, where I nearly died of an acute overconsumption of beer and cheese. November flew by with planning, studying for my linguistics class and teaching. I’ve been on the road non-stop since the semester ended on December 7th: first in Pichilemu, then Mendoza, and today… the Big One.

At 9:35 p.m. my flight leaves for Punta Arenas, Patagonia, Chile. Ever since I first seriously considered moving to South America, visiting Patagonia has been a dream of mine. Sadly, I always thought I’d have more time (perhaps a month) to get to know its verdant corners, clear water and chalky peaks. This time, I’ll have to settle for 9 days.

Like any good adventure in life, there never is “enough time.” Just as much as I’d like one month in Patagonia, one more year in Chile sounds tempting. However, it’s the impermanence of our experience that makes life special. The laughter, the late nights and even the quiet moments I’ve had here are so precious I want to bottle them up. But perhaps, in my honest devotion those moments were lived fully enough to last forever.

Thus, I’m neither here nor there. Close to going home, but grateful for one last hoorah- a dream to be realized.

I send my love to you, who reads these words, and to my many friends and acquaintances who have left Chile. I’ll see you on the other side. ¡Chau!

Arriba y Adelante

22 Oct

Living in Chile has gone from pipedream, to adventure, to a reality that feels more to me like life than I have ever known. I thumb through my journal, old wants and worries vaguely recognizable, the preoccupations of a boy without direction.

Now, the course is set. Perhaps what marks a man is the gumption to steer his own fate regardless of uncertainty. Even if it’s damned, every ship still needs a captain.

This photo is deceptively tranquil looking.

My original plan was to study Spanish at the Universidad de Concepción (UDEC). I pestered the Spanish director for months with verbose emails and in June I went to the campus for a visit.

When I think of my first encounter with UDEC, the word “apeshit” comes to mind. Student protests had derailed classes in favor of demonstrations, drinking on the campus lawn and creating a general atmosphere of chaos.

I decided that perhaps now wasn’t the best time to study in Chile.

I turned my search to other countries: Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia and Costa Rica. After receiving some great advice from friends (namely Elena, Unai and Javier – thanks!) I made my decision.

With my course schedule planned and the hoops jumped through, I committed to spending the next six months in San Jose at the University of Costa Rica. Almost.

That period was one of intense reflection. I drove myself to insomnia with ceaseless mental pacing.  What did I want for myself? Did I really want to teach Spanish?

Continue reading

What Would Edward Abbey Think of the 21st Century?

3 Oct

This weekend I finished reading Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey. Written during his six-month stint as a ranger in Arches National Monument, Solitaire chronicles the writer’s experiences in the wilderness, which give rise to numerous talks on the importance of nature to humanity (or as the author might have stated, humanity’s unimportance to nature).Image taken from Wikipedia. Not-for-profit.

I agree with Abbey’s ideas concerning conservation, resource management and the merits of simple living, but his writing interests me not because he has answers. Rather, he succinctly captures the quandary of the modern man who sees his Eden decimated by the gnashing teeth of his own industrial mechanism.

We are ruining civilization by over-civilizing; the price of “progress.” Progress for whom?  Who defines progress? To an enterprising industrialist, progress means paving roads to our national treasures so that everyone may enjoy them. To Abbey, progress means leaving them alone so that everyone may enjoy them.

Above all what I respect about Edward Abbey is that he is never disingenuous. Part wise man, part park ranger and part desert bum, he guides us on a journey through his eyes. When you read Solitaire, you’re in Abbey’s country. It is a place that observes a steadfast respect for life; a place we should all get to know a little better.

Continue reading

Fiestas Patrias: Something For Everybody

25 Sep

Last Sunday, September 18th, was the anniversary Chile’s first government meeting and its existence as a state sovereign from the Spanish crown. In short that means BIG PARTY, which began for some as early as Thursday night and went until Monday, the last holiday before the work week.

September 18th festivities commonly include asados (barbecues), traditional music and dancing, games, Chilean rodeos, and general merrymaking. Every person has their own interpretation of what Fiestas Patrias should be, ranging from a quiet weekend out of the city to a no-holds-barred drunkfest.

My weekend was a mixture of both. Seeing the many sides of Fiestas Patrias reminded me what I love most about Chile: it is dynamic. Every Chilean has their lifestyle carved out just the way they like it, with some preferring the dizzying speed and western sensibility of Santiago and others avoiding anything having to do with Chile’s capital city.

I want to give a thanks to all my friends who filled my weekend with wonderful memories. Here’s a short video that shows some of what I did, but is also a mini-tribute to Chile, my second home :]

English Teacher, Take Two

30 Aug

I apologize for my lack of correspondence. Winter vacation’s good vibes have faded and the spring semester is well underway, pencil to paper. Hypothetically speaking, that is.

In the past three weeks we’ve missed four days of class: one holiday, one snow day (yes, snow in Santiago) and two days due to protests (less surprising).

I’ll begin with the snow. Thursday the 18th, the temperature plummeted after a glorious sun-soaked week that hinted at spring. Alas, winter is a cruel mistress. When I walked out of my apartment, a slushy mess doused me instantly. I changed into warmer clothes and marched into the chaos anew.

High in the foothills where the air is colder, my school was a frost-white battleground. Rogue snowballs arced left and right, giggling groups of girls posed for photos and motorists spun out on the roads, greenhorns in inclement weather.

 

Euphoria overwhelmed me. I felt at home, in my element. Ask any Minnesotan and they’ll say they prefer the summertime. But starve them of their natural habitat, those bucolic snowscapes that twinkle like a field of diamonds in the rising sun of a December morning, move them to the gentle climates preferred by passionless, unimaginative people and then- surprise them with a dose of freshly-fallen powder in bone-chilling air. They will erupt with childlike bliss, the very same bliss that I felt as I strolled into my classroom that morning.

My students chattered like squirrels. “It hasn’t snowed here in ten years!” one of them informed me. I hated to crush the joy, but we had a class to start. They opened their books and I set my marker to the whiteboard. When I opened my mouth to speak, I was interrupted by a knock on the door. Classes were cancelled.

Continue reading

Greetings from San Pedro de Atacama!

6 Aug

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

TEFL in Chile: Why Choosing the “Wrong” Country Was Right For Me

23 Jul

It was February 2010, the bone-buckling cold bore down hard, exacting revenge for my decision to leave Minnesota for the summertime embrace of South America. Family and friends flooded a bar in tiny St. Joseph for my going-away soirée. I remember the parade of faces asking me about my plans, my future job, but mostly asking, “What’s Chile like, exactly?”

Their ignorance was merited. Outside of tragic mining accidents and natural disasters, the good people of Minnesota aren’t often exposed to this wonderful land. Occasionally “Chile” is printed on the stickers of their fruit- that’s about it.

I myself have questioned my choice. Why Chile? Every blog post I’ve read concerning the “best places to teach English abroad” cites Mexico or Argentina as the most viable Spanish-speaking candidate. I wonder if people read those posts, blindly obey, and (uninformed of other options) return home to propagate the same arbitrary advice.

There’s always more than meets the eye. Take the Lord of the Rings trilogy: at first blush, Fellowship is bland and trivial, but as you read further a rich story world unfurls, filled with a myriad of subplots and infinite depth. It is one of the many instances in life when taking the time to truly see reveals something much more profound. Such is Chile; there are many positives for those who dare to dig deep:

1) Chile is the one of the safest and most politically/economically stable countries in South America. You can actually trust the police here.

2) Jobs for English teachers are relatively abundant throughout all levels of education in both the private and public sectors. From what I’ve seen, English teacher pay is high compared to other countries in S.A., typically ranging from $14-30 USD/hr.

3) The diversity of its 2,700 miles of terrain is legendary, from the icy peaks of Patagonia to the driest desert in the world: the Atacama. Getting around by bus is affordable and convenient. There’s nothing like an outdoor adventure to rekindle your love for the classroom.

4) At the heart of Chile is a vibrant social core. People here are actively involved in the arts and passionate about bringing about advancements in education and government. The weekly protests make this self-evident.

5) Though you may have to work a little to encounter traditional Chilean culture, you’ll find a colorful history that includes many native tribes (such as the Mapuche and Yaghan), huasos (cowboys), Cueca, and folk music.

6) Chileans are wonderful hosts, always willing to help and particularly friendly towards gringos- sometimes to the point that they want to date you.

There are many other countries I’d love to teach, but I’m glad I made the choice to come to Chile. The experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met along the way have shaped my life forever. Especially if it’s your first time, I’m convinced Chile deserves to be one the “top 10” countries to teach English abroad.

* For anyone interested in teaching in Chile, feel free to DM me through Twitter @Lukasgohl

** For anyone currently teaching or working in Chile, I’d love for you to share your personal reasons for coming here. What made you pick Chile over other Latin American countries?

Burning Down the (School) House

14 Jul

It first hit me in Concepción. Strolling through the pedestrian mall at the university, sporadic explosions of colored lettering spelled out chants like “Stop the profiteering!” and “We are the future.”

The student expression touched me, yet I felt melancholy as I stared up at the old dignified buildings, scarred by paint in the same way two lovers thoughtlessly carve their names into an oak in the park. This was the visual struggle of the Chilean undergrad, the cave paintings of a tribe at war.

As I write this, the students and faculty of many schools and universities are on strike, protesting the lack of government support for the public education system while the rich study in private institutions. The education disparity begets an economic one: Chile has one of the greatest levels of income inequality in the world.

Though I’ve been surrounded by protests for months in Santiago, it took my trip to Concepción to truly grasp what’s happening. The situation here isn’t that much different from the United States: faltering government support for public institutions.

So what’s the difference? Activism. I respect the Chileans’ passion for change. What happened to America’s rich history of rebellion?

We youth have become a docile herd who sit back and tweet about how screwed we are, yet senselessly rack up debt without a thought as to how we’re going to pay it off in the future. We attend expensive universities because we believe we need to, yet when we graduate with $60,000 in loans we find that there are no jobs.

I’m a student myself, currently considering if I want to become a teacher. I feel trapped in the middle- do I want to finish a degree so that someday I may become a propagator of the system that currently enslaves my generation? Perhaps it’s an opportunity to be part of the solution; maybe it’s just lunacy.

Learning is a beautiful gift, a blossoming of humanity that should be treasured. Now more than ever we need to stand up for what’s important. Americans need to stop our government’s investment in war technology and instead buy into education. I don’t just mean with tax dollars, but with a mutual spirit that demands excellence of our academics and government leaders.

If you want to read more about the student protests and see some great pictures, check out my friend Sark’s blog: Sark el Viajero.