Laurie, a middle school Spanish teacher from IN, traveled to Santiago and Valparaiso, Chile in May and June of 2010 through our organization, United Planet. She returned to Santiago this winter to visit and reconnect with the place she fell in love with, as well as the many people who touched her heart during her original trip with United Planet. Check out some of the great things she has to say about her trip, as well as some amazing photos she took during her time abroad…
For Laurie, her first trip to Chile was about more than just traveling and working on her Spanish. As she explained recently, “some of my family thought I was crazy, but I wanted to do something bigger than myself! This was one of the best things I’ve done.”
Laurie spent her first week living in Santiago with a host family. Pepe and Elizabeth have 5 children: Elizabeth, Pablo, Manolo, Geraldine, and Esteban. Laurie explained that during her Quest she went with Elizabeth to her school to volunteer. She also spoke about the hospitality of their son, Pablo, who helped her navigate Santiago's metro and showed her around the city.
When she had to leave at the end of the week she was sad to leave such, “warm, caring, wonderful people,” and she has kept in contact with them, explaining, “I really think they’re my family.”
From day one of her two weeks in Chile, Laurie was impressed by the hospitality and the warmth of the people she met. As a middle school teacher and someone who is inspired by kids of all ages, she really connected with many of the children. She spoke about the great experiences she had in the classroom; whether participating with the children in Catholic Holy week celebrations, or being awed by the beautiful uniforms and the matching beautiful spirits of the children she came in contact with.
One 6th grade girl named Catalina made a serious impact on Laurie when she gave her the gift of a heart sticker to wear on her coat. For Laurie, that moment was truly touching and summed up the whole trip: “That’s why I had to go back. I had never felt that kind of love, especially from a group of strangers. They were so encompassing and welcoming.”
On her return trip to Santiago in December 2010, Laurie had the opportunity to stay with her host family for one more week. She also got to reconnect with Paul, the United Planet Chile Coordinator, and meet a group of current United Planet Volunteers who are living and working in Santiago! She said they were a “terrific group of energetic young people,” and she was both amazed and impressed with how many questions they had for her, as well as how excited they all were to be volunteering in Chile.
Since Laurie's first trip to Chile last May, her students have been in contact with a friend she met, Guillermo, and his classroom of Spanish speaking students learning English. She said many of her students really enjoy the experience of communicating with kids from so far away; one boy even changed his name from Nick (Nicola in Spanish) to Guillermo because he thought it was such a great name! Laurie's students have become familiar with the people and places she often speaks of, as well as the bits of culture that she continues to share with them; it has been a great way to motivate the kids to learn more and to appreciate the Spanish language.
Consistently throughout my conversation with Laurie, as she recounted stories and moments she had in Chile, she referred to the people, places, sights, and moments as lovely.
At one point she laughed and said, “I know I keep using that word, but it is so true of the people…I only spent three weeks of my life in Chile, but I could tell there was so much unconditional love.”
She made it clear that even if you’re just traveling for a short time, it is important nonetheless to realize if you go with an open mind and an open heart you will make a difference in someone’s life, and undoubtedly someone will make a difference in yours.