As we near the end of June many of our current volunteers are nearing the end of their time here in Valparaíso. A majority of our volunteers are study abroad students that arrived to Chile in late February excited and eager to immerse themselves within the culture and connect with the local community. Volunteering with Valpo Surf Project (VSP) is an excellent way for oneself to practice spanish speaking skills, practice surfing and teaching english, immerse oneself in the local community, and most importantly, learn how be a mentor to our students.

Many of our volunteers have fully dedicated themselves to VSP’s cause and have come to classes and surf sessions on a weekly basis. This commitment to our program has allowed them to develop relationships with our students and get to know more about their lives while sharing their own stories as well. We are so grateful for the support the volunteers have given to our program and to our students. We have asked some of our most dedicated volunteers from this semester, Nora and Grace, a few questions about their experience to reflect on their past few months with Valpo Surf.

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What was your most challenging or impactful moment you had while volunteering?

G: My most challenging moment was trying to control a class of middle schoolers when Spanish isn’t your first language. My most impactful was when we played Telephone after learning the lyrics to “Wavin’ Flag” at Montedónico and Joshua’s learned the phrase “We are champions”. One of my favorite moments was building sandcastles and playing “pinta” (tag) in the ocean with the ‘chiquillos’(kids).

What did you learn about the role and responsibility of being a mentor while you were working with our students?

N: It’s really hard to balance being a teacher and being a friend. I learned that within the context of VSP I am not a teacher but instead a mentor, which is a type of friend. I have to have very clear expectations and model clear behavior choices. I’ve started to try to ask more than demand, recognizing that progress is made in a collaborative and respectful manner, even with 12 year olds. My primary goal is to form positive relationships with the kids and I hope that from that, they will learn and grow and foster love in this world. At the start I think my goal was more to “teach English” or “get them to focus” but the role of a mentor is so much more involved than that.

G: I learned how important it is to be consistent as a mentor. I think a lot of our students lack a constant source of support at home, so the fact that the VSP volunteers and interns come each week gives them another person to count on and trust for help if they need it.
I also learned to be much more patient and flexible, through my experience with VSP specifically, and during my semester in Chile in general. Some days are really chill and other days are kind of crazy, so you just have to go with the flow and try to make the most of every class.

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What will you take away from this experience of being a volunteer with Valpo Surf Project?

N: VSP has affirmed my beliefs and desires for this life, which most simply is love the world. Love your friends, your neighbors, love the earth, the ocean, the air. This love brings respect and kindness and compassion, and from this, you will have happiness.

How has your experience of being a volunteer with Valpo Surf Project affected your overall time spent here in Chile?

N: My time with VSP has really enriched my experience of Chile in the sense of integration. It’s not too hard to live in a place and spend time with other foreigners. Especially within the context of study abroad. VSP has allowed me to make friendships with Chilean kids, catch a glimpse into their lives way up in Cerros, a place I would have never ventured on my own. I’ve been able to hear about their struggles, see what makes them giggle, and share hugs. VSP has allowed me to catch a greater image of the heartbeat of Chile; the good, the bad, and the weird. Countries and humans are very complex things. VSP has been a piece to help complete the puzzle of the wonderfully wacky Chile.

G: Being a part of VSP allowed me to get to know people and see places in Valparaíso that I probably wouldn’t have encountered otherwise—but it also gave me a chance to serve the community I’ve been living in, not just observe it.

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A huge thank you to all of our volunteers! Valpo Surf Project would not be able to successfully have as many english classes, surf sessions, and events for our students without their consistent support. Their responses shine a light onto how much of an impact VSP has had on them and we hope that they will forever remember their time spent in Chile with our students and the VSP crew.

If you are interested in joining the VSP crew as a volunteer, please reach out to Chelsea Ernst, our volunteer coordinator at voluntarios@valposurfproject.org – we’d love to have you and are always in need of volunteers with diverse experience!

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