On Boundaries and Fear

Beach | Iquique, Chile | Spring 2015
Street art in Iquique

The sounds outside my classroom were the normal cacophony that I have become accustomed to since beginning my teaching volunteer service; the shrieks of students running around the playground, banging and English curses permeating the hallway outside my classroom, as fifth graders “play fight”, sometimes delving into the real thing, the slap slap slap of a jump rope hitting the ground.

I walked down the hallway, greeting my students, passing out high fives like candy when I heard students yelling.

“Ella no es una virgen.”

“Que,” I asked.

“Usted es una virgen,” a student questioned.

I stared and walked away, speechless.

Unless something got lost in translation, which it may as well have, a student asked me, “are you a virgin,” while another claimed that another ten year old was not one. These were fifth graders talking, FIFTH GRADERS, talking about the concept of virginity, questioning another 10 year olds status, and having the gall to ask me, a 25 year old woman, about mine.

I can only imagine what that student was feeling and I am ashamed that I didn’t do anything more in that situation, stop it, call the inspector, pull the girl aside, talk to my head teachers about what to do,  But I didn’t. I am only a volunteer, a foreigner in this school community for 4 months, with limited Spanish language skills, unaware of the lives these children students lead and afraid to learn, being present during their lunch period and hearing what they say as the permanent teachers do their own thing.  But I can still be effective.

I like to think that this student has a perfectly fine home life, and another student just shouted this out to get a rise out of her. Maybe these kids have no idea what virginity implies and just said it. Maybe there is something heinous that I am not aware of. This situation exemplifies this modern era of student life: the horrors of school bullying and sexualization of children and the lack of boundaries that many students possess.

My line of questioning was violating, a line of questioning that is not appropriate for school in any capacity, nor for a 10 year old to ask.  And as a woman, this is no ones business but my own. What possessed this student, a female one might I add, that makes me wonder about what she and her peers are being taught at home. This was the perfect opportunity for a lesson on boundaries, the desire to grow up quickly and I missed it.

School | Arica, Chile | Spring 2015
6C at Recreo

“Esta embarazada?

I’ve heard this question time and time again from many students and the fact that 5-14 year olds are questioning the vacancy of my womb, while members of my own family don’t, immediately made me question how much I’m eating. But their question has nothing to do with how I look. Many of my students have young parents, parents who had their children at 17 and me being a 25 single, childless woman is unfathomable to them. It’s almost unheard of in my city.  My own thoughts on children are ever-changing, and these questions from them, are really giving me something to consider.

Some of my students could very well be parents within the next few years, and in a school that teaches religion, but not sexual health, it very well may be a possibility.

At my program orientation in Santiago, we were told about the inquisitiveness of many Chileans; people were bound to ask if you had a pololo/polola, Chilean slang for significant other, upon meeting you and other basic information.

“Como se llama?”

“De donde es?”

“Usted tiene un pololo?”

My students love to ask me about my personal life and I readily give them the information they ask. “I have a brother. He’s 14.  I don’t have a pololo. Yes, I like Arica,” and so on and so forth.

These are simple questions, designed to help them know me better and to increase their own comfort with me, They’ve worked and my students and I have a friendly relationship.

Yet the boundaries that I have from growing up in the US have been crossed time and time again, leading to aforementioned situations and worse.

Being in Arica has made me realize what I can and cannot handle, what types of relationships I do not want to be a part of, the importance of being comfortable in a work setting and more.

I do not like random people coming up to me, commenting on my looks and asking about my relationships status.

I do not want to be a part of any relationship that involves verbal abuse.

I need to be comfortable in my professional setting to do as good a job as I can.

While I do love my school and the majority of my students, some interactions make me glad that I am not teaching for more than 4 months. Yet, every time I hear a “Te quiero Mis,” receive a hug or a cheerful “Good morning,” I think this is totally worth it.

School | Arica, Chile | Spring 2015
The Boys Translate a Book TItle

–Symone

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