School was my main avenue to the rich Chilean culture. My friends had done an outstanding job molding me into a Chilean, at least in terms of speech. I was now comfortable chatting with anyone inside and outside school using the local jargon. I mastered words an educated Chilean would use in formal situations as well. The circumstances would dictate when to use the formal or informal, and I could identify these with ease. The Chilean culture placed a strong importance on manners and mutual respect. Some outsiders criticize this as snobby or elitist but while a guest in their country, I noticed the importance of etiquette as a gesture to make others feel comfortable. With a universal code of behaviour, when someone would leave their environment to enter another, they would feel at home. I remember my lads from school were very much this way. They would move to ensure everyone would be included in the conversation. This was truly remarkable behaviour for 8 year-old children, in contrast with today's reality. Parents seemed to go out of their way to teach this fundamental value in their children’s lives. This was a perfect fit with the values my parents wanted Brian and I to have.
|Entrance to the Alliance Française Antoine de St-Exupéry|
Every school day after my first – I joined my group late as you may recall from the previous blog entry - would start with La Marseillaise – the French national anthem – followed by the Chilean national anthem. All the elementary school kids would stand to attention and sing the anthem as each flag was raised. Of course, La Marseillaise had been engrained into my mind through Colegio Francia, as well as the Venezuelan anthem "Gloria al bravo pueblo", but now I saw the French paired up with the Chilean. I memorized the lyrics to the Chilean anthem and did not only sing along every morning, but I felt the words with a certain kind of inspiration and patriotism. I still recall every single word of the national anthem to this date and when I hear the song in international competitions, I get goose bumps and a sense of national pride. Perhaps I had become attached to my new culture because my hosts had been extremely welcoming and true friends. All the students would line-up in with their respective grade and classrooms in a large patio that separated elementary and our beloved soccer field in the north, from middle school and high school to the south. On the east side of this mall was the main gate to Luís Pasteur and to the west, the track and field facilities where we would endure physical education classes.
Our school curriculum had a strong French component and it was our primary language of study. Math was in French, History was in French, Science was in French, French was in French – just making sure you are still reading. The other component which was completely new and foreign to me at the time was the inclusion of Spanish. I was a master in speaking Spanish - whether it be Chilean or Venezuelan - but I had never sat down in a classroom to write it. Of course, I panicked. If you possess a solid base writing one Latin language, it is easier to learn new ones, but by no means is the process an easy one when the rest of the classroom has an advantage of 5 years. I find French as a written language still much easier and elegant – perhaps because it was my first language of study – and Spanish lacks so many accents. Grammar is somewhat similar and equally important. These languages tend to have longer sentence structure, including intense description, something I quite enjoy and find lacking in English. I always wondered why the Anglo-Saxon culture never went with the flow of formulating sentences that go on for pages. My mother, being a good francophone, says the English use few words because they know they can’t get in to trouble by sharing too much information. Working as a political consultant, I see a lot of truth in that comment.
The Chilean curriculum, aside from the writing aspect, was another great cultural portal. We studied history and geography of Chile. These two subjects still remain my life's passion and a source of enjoyment. Brian and I had invented a game with our Larousse Encyclopedia, which I am sure he still remembers as fondly as I do. One of us would pick any country in the world from the encyclopedia and only show the other the national flag. The other one would see the flag and have to name the country and on what continent it was situated. We later became experts at playing this game and would know the country capital and national language - or languages in some cases. Through my classes I learned about the great liberator, General Bernardo O’Higgins, who fought to drive out the Spanish. I saw something of myself in this person, as he was of Irish ancestry and had a strong commitment to his Chile with its blue skies. Perhaps I would be the Canadian who would some day make Chile his home as well and leave my everlasting mark on my Chilean people. I also learned about their proud naval history with the Esmeralda, immigrant settlements throughout the country, and most importantly, the existence of a small island in the South Pacific called Rapa Nui - also known as Easter Island. I remember being intrigued by pictures of the Moais in my textbook and dreamed of the day I could see one up close.
|Brian and I wearing our Alliance sports outfit.|
At my age, I was receiving a fine blend of academic knowledge and sporting activities. Some Venezuelans possessed an interest in football yet their real ambitions lied in baseball. All their national sports heroes dreamed of practicing baseball professionally in the major leagues in the US and Canada. Chileans, including my buddies, dedicated their lives to the sport of football. The country had a competitive professional league that brought through its ranks some continental champions. In our school, even though we were friends and played together every chance we could, tension would arise when chatting about the national league. Everyone was a proud supporter of their club. You could never take away the accomplishments of the U de Chile, the history of Universidad Católica de Chile or the fighting spirit of Colo Colo’s Caciques. My brother and I jumped on the Colo Colo bandwagon, especially in 1991 when Colo Colo made it to the finals of the Copa Libertadores de America. They had risen to defeat Olimpia de Paraguay, the defending champions, 3 – 0. What a moment that was for us as fans and pundits of the sport! This moment immortalized the great manager and Yugoslav mastermind, Mirko Jozic along with his caciques warriors. This accomplishment was a landmark for generations of players and fans to come. There were also many memorable moments from the game to recreate in the schoolyard and with our friends.