Thomas’s New Year’s Newsletter
Sunset over the Patagonian Andes November 2008 I am sitting in my underwear in December in my living room/work office in downtown Santiago. It is bright and sunny just like it has been every day for the past two months. The weather is a constant reminder that this New Years is very different. As I am spending this holiday season far away from family and friends, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on 2008 and update those who, despite the distance, remain very close. I started the year 2008 finishing my second year of teaching at Miami Jackson Senior High, thereby completing my two-year commitment to Teach for America. After struggling so much during my first year, during my second year I was able to see, through the struggle, tremendous growth in both myself and my students. In an atmosphere of poverty, racism, apathy, and low expectations, my students and I managed to create a welcoming classroom where learning was possible. I was inspired by my fellow TFA corps members who were fighting the same fight as I was in classrooms all across the city. Through TFA, I made some incredible friendships that helped me maintain my focus and hope when I felt everything was at times unraveling. Aside from my teaching I truly grew to love Allapattah, the community I had become a part of in Miami. While living in the neighborhood of my students, didn’t exactly give me street cred, it did give me a broader perspective on what my students live every day. I would see them in the grocery store, and on my evening jogs through the neighborhood. The community around my school was predominantly working-class African American and Hispanic (mostly recent immigrants from Central America). The signs on the storefronts were all in Spanish, and the park was filled with young men playing soccer and old men playing dominos. I lived in a small apartment behind a Honduran family’s house. My landlord’s grandson was a student at my school. The woman who made my steaksandwich for lunch, in the shop across the street from my school, was also my neighbor. 3rd period ESOL class, last day of school June, 2008
Thomasâ€™s New Yearâ€™s Newsletter
Keys 100 mile relay race
Sanibel Island with Liz
Sunrise over downtown
While the I95 traffic and the urban sprawl was suffocating and vastly different from rural Central Oregon with its mountain views and strong small-town community feel that I grew up loving, I became incredibly fascinated by the social, racial, and economic mixing and clashing that is endemic to a diverse urban setting. While I am still strongly pulled towards the mountains and the deserts and the forests, I came to the realization that the Big City is where I belong, at least for the time being. Washinton DC, April 2008 The Cuban coffee, batidos, and sunset jogs on Key Biscayne kept me sane. I also retreated to the Everglades as often as possible to kayak and camp. In January, I ran the Miami Half Marathon and later ran in a 100 mile relay race from Key Largo to Key West. Later in the spring I was lucky enough to accompany 10 recent immigrant students to Washington DC to see my countryâ€™s capital through their eyes, both as immigrants, and now as urban American youth. This was truly a unique experience. As I finished out the school year, I was faced with a surprisingly difficult decision of whether to continue teaching or move on to something else. Throughout most of my experience in the classroom, I had wondered if I could even stick it out and survive just the two-year commitment. So to find myself actually considering staying in my classroom made me realize how much I had grown personally and professionally, as well as how much work I knew still needed to be done. After months of indecision, with one week left in the school year, I decided that it was time for me to say goodbye to my students and the life I had built for myself in Miami. I had ended up in Miami by chance, and it was never a place I had planned to stay forever, but I had become incredibly connected to the people, and the city itself.
Sanibel Island with Mom and Dad
Thomas’s New Year’s Newsletter
Sunrise over Valparaiso
Caoneing in Hosmer Lake with the family, August, 2008
Patagonia with David
After difficult goodbyes to students, friends, and my neighborhood itself, I spent the summer agonizing of resumes and cover letters, punctuated by a family trip to Montana, hiking with Tyler in the Olympics, canoeing in the high Cascades with my family, and the weddings of several friends.
So after a long, humbling, and at times, demoralizing job search, I accepted a position as Field Director for WorldTeach, a Harvard based non-profit that sends volunteers abroad to countries that are struggling to attract qualified teachers. My job is to train, place, and support the 50+ volunteers who commit to teach for a semester or a year in Chile. It has been wonderful to come back to Chile, this time not as a student or a traveler, but to actually be working to make a contribution to a country that has been so welcoming to me over the past few years. Through my job, I get to travel throughout the country, visiting the schools and the Chilean families who generously host our volunteers. Through them, I can see parts of Chilean culture that was hidden to me before. While I have been incredibly busy adjusting to life in Chile and getting ready for our new group of volunteers set to arrive in February, I have been able to take some time for me. David came to visit and we spent a week hiking in Patagonia. I was again reminded that no matter how important an urban lifestyle is to me right now, I have to continue to take Edward Abbey’s advice: “Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am-a reluctant enthusiast...a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure…get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space.” It was great to see David and once again be with someone who truly knows me well and to enjoy the awesome space that is Patagonia.
Thomas’s New Year’s Newsletter
Downtown Santiago from Cerro San Cristobal So I am settling in to my daily routines here in Santiago. I have joined a water polo team and started taking capoeira classes. I buy my vegetables at La Vega, the colorful central marketplace, and manage to go for daily runs in Parque Forestal. I do most of my work from my living room, though often have the opportunity to travel to the volunteers’ teaching sites. On the weekends I spend time with my incredibly generous host family that I lived with four years ago, who continue to treat me as part of the family. And, as always, I am pondering my next steps. I miss home, family, friends… and I miss being cold in December. I continue to be torn between the draw of an international setting, with the excitement of a new culture, and comfort and familiarity of home. I have begun to study for the GREs and plan on eventually going to grad school in some sort of public policy or public administration field. On a clear day, when the Santiago smog is not too suffocating, I can see the Andes mountain range from my window…this strangely gives me the comfort of home, even though it is nothing like my home. Well I will wrap up this lengthy update. While it strikes me as rather self-important, to write such a newsletter, I wanted to reach out to many of you with whom I do not have as much contact as I would like. In spite of obstacles like the distance between us and time since we last saw each other, I draw on my history and the people I have in my life for the strength to continue when I am so far from home. Thank you. I wish you all the happiest of holidays and am looking forward to a challenging and exciting 2009. Take care, and when possible, be in touch. Wishing you health, happiness, patience, and success for 2009,