Volunteer Abroad - Chile, Volunteer Abroad Programs

A Birthday Bash, Chilean Style, at the Volunteer Project

by Janna Elwell, Greenheart Travel Volunteer in Chile

What a weekend it has been! Although I stuck around the hogar, I had such a lovely time. The other volunteers arrived early Saturday morning and I could not be any happier to finally have some company. There are two other women: Maja, who is from Albania and is my same age, and Silvia who is from Croatia and is later in her thirties. Both are from Europe, but know English rather extensively.

However…as I mentioned before, they have both been here for much longer than myself (7 months for Silvia and nearly a year for Maja) and have grown accustomed to Spanish. So! We all speak Spanish to one another, even in the house, meaning that for the next 7 weeks Spanish will be my only language spoken except for calls home. It´s kind of a crazy concept to wrap my head around, but I suppose this is truly a language immersion.

The other volunteers here has already helped me so much. It makes things exponentially easier when I have a common language with others to fall back onto when I have vocabulary questions or need help understanding something. Both women are incredibly nice and have already been so patient and helpful with my Spanish. I’ve so very much enjoyed the time we’ve spent together and look forward to getting to know them better!

Part of our weekend included a fiesta de cumpleaños–my first Chilean birthday party. What an experience that was! Our neighbor, Tìo Juan, turned 49 and his birthday party put any American´s 49th birthday party to shame. I’ve learned that with any special occasion it is customary to bring out the fire pit and roast a couple of animals, which is the first thing Silvia, Maja and I saw when we arrived. All the men were gathered around the fire pit, so we sat for a bit and talked with them. Everyone here is extremely interested in what life is like in the States, and these guys were no exception.

Everyone there was also intrigued by my blonde hair, as Carlitos predicted, and they quickly deemed my nickname as Barbie. This made me laugh, because I don´t particularly resemble Barbie and I know how blown away they would be if they could see the other girls in America who truly do. After enjoying the company of the men for awhile we went inside to find an unbelievable amount of food, the most festive Chilean music blaring through the tiny house, and all of the women–already nearly drunk–crammed into the kitchen (about the size of a standard American bathroom). I quickly learned that everyone there loved their alcohol. I honestly think that I am the first person they have met to turn down a coca con vino–a peculiar mix of Coke and wine, but it´s a local favorite.

When it came time for dinner we fit as many people as we could around their dining table but it was still only about half of the party guests. However without any thought to it the guests without a seat went outside while the rest of us ate. After we finished, the table was cleared and then re-set for the second round of guests. Once the meal was entirely complete, the table was whisked away, the music was turned up even louder, and everyone took to the floor and began to dance. Chilean dancing may appear to be classy and smooth, but it is incredibly difficult to learn. Silvia, Maja and I joined in giving it our best effort, but didn’t come anywhere near the grace the others had.

During the entire evening there wasn’t one second of rest; everything was hectic, with one event tumbling into the next, the music was blaring so loud everyone was yelling to converse, and there were so many people crammed into the tiny house. But not a single one of them stopped smiling, laughing or drinking the entire night. The dancing carried on until the early hours of the morning– I don´t know for certain how early, because the three of us only made it to 2:30 before desperately needing sleep, but the party was still full swing when we left. It truly was a fiesta, and certainly the most happening 49th birthday party I’ve ever been to!

As for this week, I´m looking forward to continuing my work with the kids. Sole asked if I would be willing to give English lessons to her and another teacher here during the mornings. You would think that it would be an easy task considering English is the language I’ve used my entire life, but now that I look at it from a foreigner´s perspective I´m realizing that English really is the most illogical language! It is also a bit intimidating to be teaching because both of my English students are older and in higher positions than myself: Sole, who is the on-site director of this entire program, and Sebastian, a 23 year old who is the gym teacher here. Today was my first day teaching and it went relatively well! However we just started with the most basic topics…I´m not sure what I´m going to do when we get into the more complex topics. If anyone has any English teaching tips, please feel free to send them my way!


About Greenheart Travel

CCI Greenheart Travel is personally invested in providing cultural immersion programs that change lives, advance careers and create leaders. We achieve this by partnering with organizations and governments overseas that empower their local communities through experiential learning and practical development. We provide others with the same positive travel experiences in which we ourselves engage. Through travel and cultural exchange, we help individuals reach their full potential, leading to a more tolerant, peaceful and environmentally sustainable world.



  1. Pingback: In the Company of Friends at the Volunteer Project in Chile « - August 16, 2012

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