English Class in Chile
Last week, amidst the madness of packing and preparing our Idaho campus for seven weeks of vacancy, students began a new unit in their English classes. Before they left for Chile students were introduced to one of the most nebulous genres in literature — Magical Realism.
Put simply, Magical Realism is a genre in which the magical becomes ordinary and the regular becomes fantastical. Stories like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Stranger than Fiction, Big Fish, and Midnight in Paris are great examples of the genre in American cinema. In class, we looked at the trailers of these movies to wrap our heads around what magic might look like when mixed with the ordinary. The class was spattered with questions like “Wait, why is there a giant?”; “Is Harry Potter Magical Realism?”; and “You mean they just row the boat around their apartment when their parents aren’t home?”.
As we begin classes in Chile, we will tackle these questions and more. Specifically, we will look at the history of Magical Realism and how it affects our learning. While originally a term coined in the art world, Magical Realism as a genre was born out of political upheaval and unrest during the 1920’s and 30’s in Latin America. Authors like Gabriel Garcia-Marquez and Isabel Allende (both of whom we will read works from this semester) have made their mark on literature through this genre.
Studying Magical Realism, students will have the opportunity to wrestle with texts in the places they refer to. In English C, we will read the novel The House of the Spirits, which is set in Chile and deals with both landscapes we will see ourselves and those touched by magic. English A and B will read short stories with similarly accessible landscapes, and more importantly communities that mirror those we live in while abroad. This overlap of class content and setting should give students an up close and personal taste of what drives the books and stories they are reading and will allow them to better interact with their new, fantastic Chilean environment.