Grandes Esperanzas

So now I seem to be starting over as a student here in Chile where my thoughts mostly stay trapped in my head because I don’t have the words to communicate them to those around me — or because I’m paralyzed by fear that I will butcher the language when I open my mouth, which I usually do.

My Spanish teacher told me today that I could easily get a job teaching at a university immediately; her college English teacher did not speak Spanish. To me that seems a bit unethical and, well, really quite lonely. It’s not easy to live in a place without knowing the language well. How can I ask Chileans to respect me as an editor, teacher, sister, client, colleague, student, and friend if I haven’t taken the time to learn their language?

I am trying. I am really trying, but it is exhausting. The prospect of another chaotic line-ish grouping waiting for public toilets is daunting. I almost fell to my knees to thank a woman who defended my gringa’s right to a bathroom stall after I missed about a dozen turns at the mall this weekend. How can I argue over a bathroom stall with people who seem not to see that I exist? How can I argue at all if I don’t know the language? What right do I have to their bathroom stalls?

Overall, I feel welcome here, and thankful for the many, many helpful and generous Chileans I meet. It is just mortifying to feel like such a clumsy, inelegant brute all the time. But it’s really only in the bathroom where things seem fall apart, and sometimes with the dogs.

I walk every day, often accompanied by one of the many stray dogs here for a block or two, then another. The dogs break my heart. I can’t help it. They are somehow (obviously) emblematic of my isolation here. I can’t touch them; I can’t communicate with them. I want to, but I can’t. I miss my dog. I miss my U.S. home, my friends and family. But when I look up from my computer screen, I see a spectacular view of my new city and evidence of a new life with my husband in a place I know and love more every day.

Clearly dogs and bathroom lines are superficial reflections of deeper cultural issues I’ll need to address more formally when I possess the language skills to do so. For now I am learning as much as I can in hopes of someday adding something of value to this place.

Today was my second day of Spanish classes after more than a decade. I found a way to work Victorian literature into the class. Okay, this is going to be good.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Charles Dickens fue un escritor inglés que vivió en la Era Victoriana en Inglaterra. Aunque fue un novelista muy popular durante su vida, nunca fue rico a pesar de trabajar muy duro hasta su muerte en 1870. Durante su carrera escribió mas de 20 novelas, unas docenas de historias cortas, y artículos periodísticos muy numerosos. Siempre fue muy crítico de la injusticia social y sobre todo las malas condiciones de vida y trabajo de la clase trabajadora, especialmente niños, y se puede ver esta crítica en la totalidad de su escritura.

Nació en 1812, Dickens estuvo contento los primeros años de su vida, cuando disfrutó la vida de clase media con sus padres y sus siete hermanos. Esta vida cómoda terminó repentinamente cuando el padre de Charles fue puesto en prisión por deudas en 1824. Toda la familia de Charles fue a la Marshalsea prisión para deudores con el padre, con la excepción de Charles, que, a la edad de 12 anos fue a trabajar a una fabrica de zapatos — Warren’s Shoe Blacking Factory. Charles nunca olvidó esta experiencia traumática, y es uno de muchas experiencias duras que informe sus escritos.

Dickens tuvo una conciencia social muy fuerte, y durante toda su vida insistió en defender los derechos de las clases trabajadoras. Dickens usó su popularidad para enseñar a la clase media leyenda la realidad de la vida de los pobres en Inglaterra, y en su manera mejoró esa realidad, cuando al mismo tiempo creó obras maestras literarias. Las novelas de Charles Dickens todavía son unos de las novelas más populares en la historia de la literatura inglesa, y hoy nos enseña mucho de las vidas de otras en Inglaterra de la Era Victoriana y en el mundo de hoy.

Unos de sus novelas mas conocidos incluye:

A Christmas Carol (novela corta); A Tale of Two Cities; Bleak House; David Copperfield; Dombey and Son; Great Expectations; Hard Times; Little Dorrit; Martin Chuzzlewit; Nicholas Nickleby; Oliver Twist; Our Mutual Friend; The Mystery of Edwin Drood ; The Old Curiosity Shop


About sarahjpurdy

I am a writer, editor, English teacher, and Spanish student living in Valparaíso, Chile, where I teach English at the Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María. I also telecommute to the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), where I have worked as a marketing publications writer and editor since 2004. Prior to joining UNR, I worked as a journalist, editing and writing features and news stories for the Reno Gazette-Journal. I earned a master’s degree and a bachelor’s degree in English literature from UNR, where I was chosen for a graduate research assistantship in Victorian literature and graduated with a 4.0/4.0 cumulative GPA. I also taught at UNR for three semesters as a discussion leader for cross-disciplinary Core Humanities 201 and 202 courses, which examine Western literature, history, and culture from Mesopotamia and Ancient Greece through the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution to World War II, the postcolonial era, and postmodernity. For eight months prior to moving to Chile in February 2011, I volunteered as ESL tutor for the ESL In-Home Program of Northern Nevada. In fall 2010 I earned a 50-hour TEFL Certificate from the University of Arizona and a 30-hour Social Media Marketing Certificate from UNR, and completed a graduate TESOL course through UNLV.
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3 Responses to Grandes Esperanzas

  1. David Warr says:

    Beautifully written, even though it’s about isloation. I can feel the desperation in you wanting to pat the dogs but not being able to, water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.

    • sarahjpurdy says:

      Thank you, David! The feeling of isolation is lifting already thanks to the awesome group of teachers and students at Ecela Viña del Mar. Today I even talked with the school’s activity coordinator about volunteering at a shelter that vaccinates, sterilizes and treats stray pets, and she’s going to look into finding me an opportunity to help out. I feel really lucky to have already worked through some of the loneliness that comes with moving to a new country simply by attending Spanish classes. I love education. Estoy contenta!

  2. David Warr says:

    I hope she finds you an opportunity to work with the animals like that.

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