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Students from Chile Master English at Buffalo State

Students from Chile Master English at Buffalo State

Posted: May 1, 2015

Two students from Santiago, Chile, refined their fluency in English in Buffalo this semester, thanks to a partnership between the Universidad Mayor and the International Professional Development Schools Consortium in the School of Education at Buffalo State. Bastián Pfeiffer and Christine Etchart, both in their fifth and final year at the Universidad Mayor, are studying to become teachers of the English language. They were awarded a scholarship from Chile’s Ministry of Education to finance a semester abroad.

Both students are strongly committed to enabling more students in Chile to learn English. “Only a few people can speak English,” said Etchart. “If you are a doctor or a lawyer, or if you want to work or study abroad, you need English.” She said that the ability to speak English opens up many additional opportunities.

Pfeiffer said that he learned most of his English from American popular culture exports such as video games and music. Etchart’s parents sent her to a bilingual school. But despite the fact that they were among the best English speakers in their class in Chile, it was a struggle to understand spoken English when they first arrived in Buffalo.

“We went to Subway to eat, but when they talked to us, we couldn’t make out any of the words,” said Etchart. “The workers spoke so fast!”

However, Pfeiffer and Etchart both learned to understand English quickly. They are studying methods of teaching English as a second language, and participating in a teaching placement at Herman Badillo Bilingual Academy, which teaches in both Spanish (the language of Chile) and English. Both are also taking Italian, simply because they love learning languages. Etchart is studying Spanish literature; Pfeiffer is taking a course on world music.

Pfeiffer, who is teaching second graders, said, “I have learned a lot about classroom management. Children are tough—you cannot use reason!” Both are finding the classroom strategies interesting. “When we teach English in Chile,” said Etchart, “it is very rules-based. We are getting some good ideas to help students learn.”

However, they agree that being immersed in English was the most invaluable aspect of their experience. “We may be confident speaking English in Chile,” said Etchart, “but when a native speaker talks, we were afraid. But now, we are confident.”

Pfeiffer agreed. “After living here, I feel much more prepared than four years ago,” he said. “I know different stuff—‘What’s up?’”

It’s clear that both Pfeiffer and Etchart have enjoyed learning about American campus culture and how it differs from higher education in Chile. “Every single new thing blows my mind,” said Pfeiffer. “We built a snowman! We were playing like little kids.”

They would like others to enjoy a similar experience by building more connections between Buffalo State and the Universidad Mayor. Etchart said, “Tell your students to come and study at Mayor. Chile is beautiful.”

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