Jacob Blanc, English Opens Doors

Name: Jacob Blanc
School: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Type of Work: Education
Region: South America
Length of stay: 3-6 months

Tell us about the organization you work for and what you do for them.
I taught English in a public school in Chile through a Chilean Ministry of Education-sponsored program called English Opens Doors. I worked about 30 hours a week in my own classroom in a small public school with students grade 7-12. A lot of my job responsibilities and tasks were figured out on the run, meaning that there was either a lot of flexibility or disorganization in the program, depending on which perspective you want to take. Being in such a small school made me immediately feel a part of a close community, and my students and their families warmed up to me very quickly. The program facilitated all of the regional placement and travel, set me up with a home stay, provided health insurance and even provided a small monthly stipend. So unlike a lot of work abroad programs that charge you to teach, EOD actually gives you a bit of pocket cash and all you have to do is pay for your airfare.

Share a favorite memory.
We put on an “English week” toward the end of the year, and the highlight for me was dressing up in drag with the 12th grade students to sing and perform Barbie Girl by Aqua. The whole school was at the performance and we all had a blast learning the song, making up a dance and putting on a silly show for the community.

What have you learned from your experience? How has it affected your long-term goals?
The patience of teaching a foreign language, and doing so in a way that respected my students cultures and world-views. Living in South America was a fantastic way to gain an intimate perspective in the region’s culture and history, all of which has been a huge help now than I am in graduate school for Latin American history. Working with EOD really reinforced my desires to be a teacher and connected my abstract research interests to specific trends in my daily experience working abroad.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
Finding ways to connect learning a language with the students’ individual interests and backgrounds.

Do you have any advice for prospective gappers?
Be as easy going as possible, since working as part of a government program in South America means unavoidable problems in bureaucracy and processing. There will be many challenges and unforeseen obstacles, but just know that they will get resolved eventually and that those moments of frustration are perhaps the best opportunities for truly understanding new cultures and daily lived experiences.