If We Had Never Traveled: English Class Reflections on our Chilean Expedition

Alzar School | 26.03.14

Over the past five weeks, students learned to read the world as a text in Chile. We dove into magical realism, analyzing works from Latin American authors Julio Cortazar, Jorge Luis Borges, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez for character elements, point of view, issues and themes. Students wrote analytical essays piece by piece in which they picked a short story we had read in Chile and crafted a response to the prompt “How do the elements of magical realism support the theme of this piece?” In addition to daily peer workshops on each piece of the puzzle, students met individually in teacher-student writing workshops to work their essay through multiple drafts.


Throughout our Chilean expedition students practiced connecting literature to experience through reflective writing works. During their weekend spent learning from the indigenous Mapuche community in the Trankurra valley, students took notes on cooking, history, and plant biology lessons. Then, during a solo sit around a secret waterfall, students composed “I Come From” poems from the perspective of a Mapuche community member. The results were insightful and striking. Listen closely below to a few video samples of students reading their original poems over the hush of the waterfall:

Continuing along the belief that to know another culture, you must first know your own; to know how you interpret the world, you must first know how where you come from impacts your worldview. We discussed and defined “American culture” through readings such as “Why do Americans Act Like That?” by  Dr. Robert Kohls and debated service through the perspectives of Ivan Illich (“To Hell with Good Intentions”) and Sir Edmund Hillary (“My Story”). Students then wrote their own “I Come From” to determine how their worldview is shaped by their upbringing, their geography, their communities.


Jacob: “I come from and am constantly shaped by the people, feelings, and places around me…” Click here for full text

Brewer: “I come from a place where few people stay inside. Where it matters to spend time outside and in the world not confined by walls and ceilings, where the weather is your only enemy and best friend, where dirt and grass replace the concrete and asphalt of the towns far away…” Click here for full text

Lily: “I come from the white picket fence that lines the corner of Section Street and Gaston Avenue…I come from the Catholic faith where I learn to thank God for all of the many blessings in my life and where I always have someone to talk to and ask help from…” Click here for full text

José: “I come from forests, I come from mountains also from the sea and the desert, I come from the Patagonia where the rain don’t stop in all year, I come from my family…” Click here for full text 

They then put Chilean culture under the microscope and wrote a revealing “This is the Way” prescriptive narrative.


Claire: “I am in love with an astounding human, a woman who manages to take my breath away every day, constantly surprising me in the simplest ways…” Click here for full text

Alec: “This is how you clean the dishes, make sure they are stacked neatly before cleaning. This is how you scrub tile, make sure to put you full body into it…” Click here for full text

Finally, we concluded our journey in Chile with a reflection on how these experiences have influenced how we have grown, and how we want to travel in the future. Students wrote the first part of their “If I Had Never Traveled” reflection in Chile, and will have completed their second half after having experienced home again over Spring Break.


Cameron: “If I had never traveled I would never know how to plan.  Who knew the amount of time and effort that goes into planning every day? If I had never traveled I never would have seen crystal clear water tumbling in-between massive rock walls…” Click here for full text

 Ale: “Being able to experience Chile has also changed my perspective on the little things that otherwise wouldn’t have crossed my mind. I am more appreciative of things whether it be wifi or all the work my mom puts into make delicious meals…Having to be so independent and responsible for my belongings has developed into a habit and been reflected in my life back in Miami…I am eager to see the world and want to move around it….Click here for full text

Along with the multitude of stunning photographs that students are taking home, it is always my hope that Alzar School students return with more questions than answers, a more complicated worldview, and an open, humble approach to investigating foreign cultures. They learn to ask “What is your perception of kayakistas or norteamericanos?” in Spanish not just for language practice but because it causes them to reflect on the way they carry themselves. This is how we learn to read the world as a text. This is the value of international travel. This is education.