New Experience for Some San Diego Schools Students and Their Teachers

Written by Patricia Hawke for Schools K-12

This July, Annie Santana, a Spanish teacher at Mission Bay High School, part of the San Diego schools, departed the city and headed for the island of Robinson Crusoe, Chile.  In the seventh year of her career, Santana joined the Fulbright teacher exchange program.

For one year, Santana will teach English as a second language at a Chilean school on the island; but her students will not be losing her. A Chilean teacher will be replacing Santana at Mission Bay.  While both teachers are immersing themselves into their new cultures, the students in both countries also will be exposed through their teachers to a new cultural experience and another country.

Both teachers will have many challenges to face, since there are many differences between the cultures. Chilean classrooms, for example, are smaller in size than those in the San Diego schools. The culture-driven relationships between teacher and student are much closer in Chile, as well.

Santana initiated the contact with the Fulbright teacher exchange program. She believed that she was ready to advance to the next level of cross-cultural experiences by teaching abroad. Santana thoroughly researched the available options. Many did not meet her needs, since she would have to give up her teaching position with the San Diego schools. The Fulbright program best fit her needs, since the exchange is only for one year and an exchange teacher will take her place, allowing her to retain her position with the San Diego schools.

Santana chose Chile, because it is more economically stable than other Latin American countries. To prepare for her trip to Chile, she read the “House of Spirits”, by Chilean author Isabel Allende. The book aptly portrays the culture in Chile, which is largely influenced by the many German immigrants over the years.

Before leaving in July, Santana remarked of her interest in experiencing the differences between the cultures of the U.S. and Chile. She also was excited to see how Chile differs from other Latin American cultures, of which she is familiar from her own Mexican heritage. She also was looking forward to seeing how school operations differ from the San Diego schools, as well as societal norms and the general day-to-day routines.

Other differences that Santana and her students back in the San Diego schools will experience are the Chilean customs and the difference between the Spanish known and taught by Santana and Chilean Spanish, which has a different accent, slang and word usage.

Santana is scheduled to return to the United States and the San Diego schools in July 2007. Until then, she plans to communicate with her family, friends, the Chilean teacher, and her San Diego schools’ students by way of the Internet. She wants everyone, especially her San Diego schools’ students, to enjoy her adventure with her. It is a great opportunity for them to experience life outside San Diego.