Greetings from Santiago, Chile! As I end my first month in Santiago, I at last feel a little more settled. My journey to Santiago started with a delayed connecting flight to Miami, which resulted in missing my direct flight to Santiago. I instantly panicked when an airport representative informed me that the next available flight would be three days later (a day after my expected start day in the office). In the midst of this temporary chaos, feelings of self-doubt began to emerge. Was this a sign that this opportunity was not meant for me? When I reflect on it now, I may have overanalyzed my current situation. I now know those feelings stemmed from a place of uncertainty of whether I would live up to the expectations I at times unintentionally place on myself. One month in, I can confidently say that I am excited to be a part of this experience.
To learn more about the history of Chile, please review Rebecca’s blog post. Rebecca is also a Fellow at the UNESCO Office in Santiago.
What attracted me the most to UNESCO was the work they are doing in the field of lifelong learning as well as formal, non-formal, and informal education. Looking back now as an adult, I realize that informal education has been a part of my family’s experience for a long time. My parents moved to the United States from El Salvador in the 1980s, leaving behind all they knew during the Salvadoran Civil War. Growing up, I witnessed my parents struggle with mastering the English language. Having not received adequate schooling in El Salvador, they enrolled in English language classes during the evening for many years. Although they struggled, and at times continue to struggle with the language, their motivation to learn has been imbedded in me.
It all came full circle when I started teaching English as a Second Language at the Community Ministries of Rockville, the same organization where my parents attended classes when I was younger. My students ranged in age from mid-20s to early-60s. Their reasons for learning English varied from wanting to attend university to becoming U.S. citizens. Their resilience and determination to complete homework and projects, while holding full-time jobs and caring for their families, is what inspired me to continue my studies and apply for graduate school with the goal of opening up systems of higher education to be more inclusive and flexible so that people of all educational backgrounds can participate and continue learning, regardless of their age or life experience.
Once I learned that the UNESCO Office in Santiago was working on lifelong learning and adult education, I knew I wanted to be a part of this mission. My field office is primarily working on the Education 2030 (E2030) Agenda, which aims to eradicate poverty by 2030 through sustainable development. The agenda has 17 goals, number four focusing on quality education. Individuals in the office are working on projects focused on pre-school through higher education, as well as non-formal education. The office focuses on various themes that include, but are not limited to, global citizenship education, early childhood education, disaster risk management education, and cultural diversity in education.
I am a part of the Education 2030 Agenda Coordination team and am focusing on various projects related to youth and adult education, as well as lifelong learning. My first week consisted of reading many UNESCO and UNESCO Santiago publications and working papers to become more familiar with these topics from a Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) perspective. My first assignments consisted of brainstorming a strategy on how to centralize communication between the Santiago office and other UNESCO national offices within the region (which tapped into my organizational leadership studies!) and identifying educational factors that might prevent Chile from moving towards a sustainable development model by 2022.
I am also currently working in a smaller team towards the goal of securing funding to create an Arts Education Week in selected Caribbean countries where arts education is lacking. The intent is to model the Arts Education Week held in various cities throughout Chile, which focuses on highlighting the importance of arts education, while promoting intercultural dialogue, cultural diversity, and social cohesion. In addition, I am working with a colleague on finalizing an observatory (or database) that centralizes LAC youth and adult education statistics from the Sustainable Development Goals indicators and the third Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE). This initiative will be presented in Cochabamba, Bolivia at the upcoming second Regional Meeting of Ministers of Education of Latin America and the Caribbean, Transforming Education: A Joint Response from Latin America and the Caribbean to achieve the SDG4-E2030 goals.
The meeting aims to follow-up on the Buenos Aires Declaration commitments (i.e. promoting inclusive societies, strengthening monitoring and evaluation mechanisms that measure SDG4, expanding early childhood education, committing to lifelong learning, etc.), as well as to further discuss a roadmap consisting of activities and actions that LAC can use to implement SDG4 within the region. I am excited to continue working with my colleagues with the intent of improving my knowledge and expertise in the areas of adult education and lifelong learning.
On another note, I am enjoying life in Santiago! An immediate impression of Santiago was the striking similarities to DC, which I did not entirely expect. It is typical to see individuals walking to work or heading to the metro in their professional work attire, having lunch at a local restaurant, and going to happy hour after a long day of work. Instead of SmartTrip, we use bip!
I have also had an opportunity to visit local tourist attractions with Rebecca, such as:
- Cerro San Cristóbal (San Cristóbal Hill) – the peak is the second highest point in the city.
- Castillo Hidalgo en Cerro Santa Lucía (Fort Hidalgo at Santa Lucía Hill) – built in 1816 by order of Casimiro Marcó del Pont, the governor of Chile during the Reconquest, to defend the city.
- Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights) – “seeks to draw attention to human rights violations committed by the Chilean state between 1973 and 1990.”
- Weekend trip to Valparaíso – known for its colorful buildings, culture, and universities.
Although I have not had much difficulty understanding the Chilean dialect, Chileans use many slang words that I continue to learn on almost a daily basis. Many locals acknowledge that the Chilean way of speaking Castellano (or Spanish) is distinct from other countries in Latin America. Although I am well versed in Salvadoran slang, having grown up using it with my family, I would have never guessed these Chilean slang words had someone not translated them for me:
- Bacán = great
- La bomba = the gas station
- ¿Cachai? = get it?
- Fome = boring
- Po = emphasizes a point when added at the end of any sentence or phrase
- La micro = a city bus
I look forward to trying new foods, visiting new places, and meeting new people. But for now, as the Chileans say, ¡chao!
Melquin is a master’s candidate in organizational leadership and learning.