There are certain things that I never, ever could have even imagined would happen in my life. Things like…say…hearing my own voice speaking both Spanish and English on Chilean radio several times a day? Surreal, but it’s happening.
About 3 weeks ago, I met my colleague Pastor Oto at Radio Ancoa, a local station in Linares which broadcasts a mix of local news and community opinion call-in shows, Chilean folk, Spanish pop, and English music. There we met with the sound tech Fernando to record an ad for the English classes I will be teaching. This glorious little announcement – which combines a Mexican accent, a U.S. Spanish accent, and American worship music – was then broadcasted 4 times a day for 12 days. Just for fun, I’ve provided the link so that you can listen to it here: Clases de Ingles.
Although I was unsure about radio advertising, it truly has helped us reach the intended audience: fairly well-informed and educated adults with high self-motivation to learn the language. In fact, most of them came right to the church itself to inquire about the classes. One week later, I had arranged interviews with 7 Chileans who are, um, a good word might just be “giddy” …to learn English. I am not kidding. They are pumped! Which makes me pumped! Yeah, synergy.
My goal is to have 24 students total, or about 4 classes of 6 alumnos each. When the radio ads expired, I all but stopped receiving calls or visits…soooo it was time to form a plan B. After learning that my friend’s brother, a pastor in New York City, does evangelism by riding the subway there, I decided that the central plaza here could be a solid starting place.
On Tuesday, I hit the plaza armed with flyers and sunscreen (Chile has a major hole in its section of O-zone…and I keep having bad dreams about getting extremely sunburned. Weird.).
I definitely didn’t “warm up” before I arrived at the plaza; as a result, I started off really timidly (I know I know, those of you who know me well may be surprised!). So, ahem, Day One was a bit…painful? For example, I approached two ladies with my winsome line “Tienen interes en clases de ingles?” I had barely finished the question when they responded with “OOOhhhh, ¡Qué liiiindoo!” Well, being in the rather self-conscious state to that I was, I roughly translated this in my head as “Awwww how cuuute!” It actually probably doesn’t really mean that. But…Ahem. In that moment, I’m pretty sure I all of a sudden felt like a little American toy doll. Cute?!? I am not cute!! I am…I am an English teacher, for goodness sake! (Insert subtle Garrison Keillor reference here.)
So, after a bumpy and timid first day, I re-evaluated and took a second plunge on Tuesday with my host mother’s words echoing in my head: “One just has to persevere, that’s all!”
Here are the top 4 things I have learned so far from my few days canvassing in the plaza:
1. Appearance matters in Chile. The first day, I handed out flyers wearing jeans, sensible brown shoes, and a nice zip-up sweater. People were kind but didn’t seem to take me seriously. I had a hunch that it had to do with my outfit. Pretty sure they thought I was 17 and trying to “make it” in Chile by convincing them to learn English with a gringa out of her tiny studio apartment. Day 2: Business make-up, pencil skirt, blouse, coordinating earrings, dress shoes. Results: Positive.
It seems to me that most people out and about during the business day in Chile have just stepped out of this ad for, er... ProntoMatic. Yes. But seriously.
2. You can talk with someone for 5 minutes in the plaza and make a friend for life (probably). I spoke with one gentleman about classes for him and his daughter; we exchanged normal life info and contact information. The next day, he invited me to coffee. In the U.S., this would make me second-guess his motives (creepy!). Here, I’ve realized it’s just an everyday outing with a Chilean friend. (Of course I bring my cell phone, insist on driving myself, and ensure that we stay in public…just in case!)
3. Know your stuff. People in the plaza are more-or-less relaxed and like to strike up a longer conversation. Within 5 minutes of any given conversation, I’ve been drilled about Martin Luther, the Lutheran church (is it like the Mormon church? the Catholic church?), the class schedule, my political stances, how I like Chile, my marital status, and how much class costs. It’s important to have professional yet light-hearted answers ready for everything. Chileans are genuinely curious about the life of a foreigner, and they appreciate a sense of humor. Avoiding the question or changing the subject quickly means running the risk of seeming cold, brusque, and unfriendly to the Chilean personality.
4. It works! As the plaza is a place for everyone – families, office colleagues on break, government workers, car washers, teenagers, students between classes, vendors, readers, couples – there is a wide audience. In addition, soliciting in the plaza is normal and even expected, which makes the job easier. It’s also a great way to give the church more presence in the community. After only 2 days (4 hours), I now have 8 more students – and it only cost my time and photocopies.
Today, I am thankful for plaza culture :) And cute English teachers.