Interview with Dr Cecile Arquette

publicado a la‎(s)‎ 15 sept. 2014 16:55 por Carrera Inglés
We are glad to share with you an interview with Dr Cecile Arquette, who was a visiting professor in the first semester of 2014. She has shared her thoughts regarding culture, education and daily life as both a teacher and a tourist in Chile.

Date: Monday 14th July, 2014.

1 - Where do you come from?

I live in Peoria, Illinois, which is almost exactly in the center of the state of Illinois about 3 hours south of Chicago. I've lived there since June 2005, so I've been there for almost 10 years.

2 - I understand you are a Fulbrighter. What does being a Fulbrighter mean to you? Have you received any other Fulbright grants before?

This is my first Fulbright and it means so much to me because I consider myself kind of an ordinary person to tell you the truth, but I have had experience living overseas before. I worked as a volunteer when I was 25-26, in West Africa, in Cameroon. I lived there for 2 years, and that gave me some knowledge that the world is both a big place and a small place. It's big in the sense that we need to get outside of our towns and explore, learn things and meet new people. It’s also small because I found out that although we have differences culturally, people everywhere really want the same things.

As far as becoming a Fulbrighter, it's actually incredibly competitive. There are several different Fulbright programs; I am in what they call 'The Fulbright Scholar's Core Program'. In the one that I competed for there are only 300 that are awarded every year. So it is kind of a big deal I got it and so it really means a lot.

3 - Had you been to Chile before? Have you visited any other towns or cities in Chile?

I had never been to Chile. People sometimes ask me: 'Why did you pick Chile?' When I applied, I went online and looked for what was available (there is a Fulbright database). I looked for something I thought that was a good fit: I was looking at both a Spanish-speaking country, porque hablo un poco de Español, pero mucho no, and I thought it would help me. I had to go pick the country and find a school that wanted me. I wanted a place that would also be a good place to bring for my family and I really had heard terrific things about Chile, it's known for being a beautiful place, a great place to visit, a safe place (I don't know after the football matches!), a highly-regarded country and it was a place I was really interested in coming to. I was able to go with my family to La Serena, which I loved. The other place I went, which was probably one of the most exciting experiences in my life, was Easter Island - it was just incredible.

By the way, there are student Fulbrights for people living outside of the United States who want to go to the United States, so I really urge anyone who is interested to look into it, particularly people who are in our program here who have English skills. There's a Fulbright office in Santiago and people need to know about that.

4 - As soon as you got here: what was the first thing that called your attention?

Obviously, people speak a different language here. On the surface and even underneath, I think that there are many things that are VERY similar between Chilean cultures and the U.S.: buses and cars, airplanes and roads, streets and tall buildings and everything like that.

Most of the people that I've been around are educated middle-class people, which are the same people I hang out with at home, so a lot of those things are quite similar.

One of the very first things I noticed that is really different are colectivos. Those do not exist in the United States. We have taxis, you can telephone and, like here, they're quite expensive. The public transportation system here is AWESOME. It is so great and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that not everybody has a car, whereas in the US, often in a family where there's a husband and a wife, they each have a car. There are some families that have three people and they have three or four cars – that's not unusual. The car culture in the United States is actually kind of horrible: it's very polluting and uses a lot of resources.

So, to answer the question, I would say that the public transportation really caught my eye and I was so scared to take a colectivo! I thought: "I don't know where they go, they have these numbers on the top of them"… Then, of course I found out that once I got to know the town, I realized that many colectivos and micros run on the same streets, so all I have to do is say "Hey, I'm going to the feria" and they'd go "Yes" or "No" and I'd just get on. Sometimes I just get in a car and I just go, and people have been helpful. That was probably the thing that was the most challenging at first, and now I have no problem.

5 - In relation to the Chilean culture, is there anything that has made you laugh? Or things that have upset you culturally speaking? Or something unheard-of?

There are small differences that sometimes I stop and think: “This is kind of strange” or “this does not exist in the U.S.” It does not mean it's bad: it's just different. There are a few examples: you go to a restaurant here, and you get your food and you have to ask for the bill. Completely different in the United States where after you get your food, the waiter always comes and says, “How is your food?” Here almost never someone comes and asks; they leave you alone. Some people from the U.S. would think that's actually bad service because the waiter is supposed to come and say "How is everything?", in the United Stated, and then they always come back and say “here's your bill” and they give it to you. That sounds kind of rude to Chileans. For somebody from the United States where it is all about “Hurry, hurry, hurry!”, but here it's quite lovely because you are paying for your meal, for the space and the service, and nobody is trying to get you to leave. So that's a very interesting difference that I like a lot.

There's another thing that I've noticed that is really very unusual from the point of view of somebody from the United States: in the Lider, you go and you get your things, you stay on line and you pay for it, but in the smaller stores you order from one place, you get a receipt, you go to the little window, you pay for it, maybe they stamp it or you get another receipt, then you go back maybe to a third place to pick up your purchase – REALLY confusing at first, and it made me start thinking: 'Why does this exist?' and nobody's really been able to tell me. I have a couple of observations about it: first of all, in a place where you're buying meat of food, it's GREAT that the person who is getting your chicken or cutting your cheese is not touching money, because money is filthy, so tit's much more sanitary. I also suspect that perhaps if you own a store, you are going to be the one who takes the money and you have people working for you maybe that you don't want them to have their hands on the money.

As far as anything that I don’t like I don't really find anything particularly awful or unappealing (in day to day life). I will tell you: I'm not a big fan of the student strikes. We haven't had one this semester and I'm very grateful we didn't because I would have been really disappointed since I love teaching and then I wouldn't have been able to teach.

I remember when I heard from my office mate, at the beginning of the semester that it would probably be a really active year for strikes and I was really concerned. I'm actually a big supporter of workers' rights, and I really think that strikes can serve a very good purpose. For example right now we have the metro strike, which I'm not happy about because I'm only here for two more weeks and I have money left on my metro card, and I really want go out to Limache and back to the Puerto, but I think they have a legitimate reason for striking.

I'm a foreigner, and I don't understand everything behind the students' strikes, but it's really strange for me to hear stories of the very small percentage of students who vote for a strike. Then the school administration says “Ok, we're not having classes” and then weeks go by with no classes. I think this happened last year and the professors and the students had to come back early from vacation: they had a few weeks of classes and then they sat exams, and they passed people on, yet they didn't cover everything they needed to cover. My feeling about strikes is they're useful, they serve a purpose, I really support them, BUT there are consequences for them. I think what has happened sometimes with the students (and again, this is my opinion, and perhaps I don't know all the details) is … it's gone to the point that “Ok, we're not happy about this; we're just going to have a strike.” Ok, if you choose to have a strike, and that means you are not in school… well then… that means you're going to have to re-take your classes. So, that's to me a little bit difficult as an educator: understanding why exactly, culturally, this occurs because it's quite frankly really surprising to me. Teachers, for example, can strike in the United States; but it's rare but there are consequences… they don't get paid, some of them lose their jobs, and there are other consequences too. So, I'm happy I didn't experience that because I would have been really disappointed.

6 - Could you please describe your experience here as a professor? Have you perceived any differences between US students and Chilean students?

I have got to say I have loved working here; I have felt welcomed; I have been treated like a professional. I came here, I was given the syllabus for one class and one of my classes is an elective course that I developed (a literature class).

From the first moment I got here, people were just warm, friendly, kind. Any time I had a question, it was answered; people spent time with me and really helped me. I was confused a lot, because there are some differences with the system, for example: I've noticed that people seem to take a lot more class hours here than they do in the United States. A very, very full schedule would be 18 hours in the U.S., and there are some students here who take 20, 25; I even heard some students in La Serena are taking 30 or more hours. Honestly, that's shocking to me because sitting in a classroom is only part of the work; you need to spend at least double the time outside, sometimes triple the time doing the actual homework and studying, so you're talking about people who are spending 90, 120 hours a week just to try to get through their school work.

A big difference here is that students cut classes all the time; they're trying to balance things, so in one class they have a big project due, so they're going to cut my class, because that hour and a half might help them get ahead.

People miss classes in the U.S., but typically…you know, I teach methods classes in the U.S., I don’t teach English as a subject, so I teach people who are studying to be primary school teachers… most of our classes are 3 hours, and they really meet two and a half hours a week. Students in my program have a tremendous amount of work to do, it's more project-based though, so for example, if I'm teaching a methods class, I teach how to do something and then my students have to go out into the classrooms and practice doing it, write reports, put big binders together and submit these huge projects, so there's a lot of outside-of-the-classroom work.

In my two classes at PUCV I've been really impressed by my students: how kind they are, their intelligence and their level of English.

My Spanish isn't NEARLY as good as my students' English is, so obviously the program does work. Some of my students have told me that there's quite a few who drop out because it's too difficult, but for the ones who are able to go through it, it does seem to be helping them learn English.

Overall, my time here has just been great; it's been lovely and a little confusing sometimes, for example when I didn’t know the grading system. In the United States usually we use letter grades: A, B, C, D and F, and the letter grades are based on percentages, while here we use 1 through 7, and are based on percentages as well; it's just a different way of looking at things. Grading on the surface might look really different, but it's really not that different, although one thing I find quite interesting is: people never get a zero here, if you don't turn working, you get a 1 – Why would you get a point? You turned nothing in, so that’s a little unusual…

7- Is there anything that you have learned here that you would like to share with teachers or academicians from your country? Would you recommend other people in your country to come as visiting professors? Would you come back to Chile?

There's a beautiful video that I found just before I got here. There's a young couple who spent 5 weeks here. They traveled from one end of Chile down to the other and they made this lovely short movie, and I watched it before I got here. It’s so moving and so beautiful, and it made kind of…like… have tears in my eyes thinking about … “Wow I got to go there", and I just shared that video with one of my classes today.

It's going to be extremely difficult to leave…and Oh, my gosh…I really hope and pray I get the change to come back.

Having my family with me was really special, they were here for almost the whole time. That was really wonderful.

I would absolutely recommend other people to come here. As a matter of fact, I'm already corresponding with three people. There's one person who is probably coming here in about a year, there's another person who is interested in coming to Chile and who started to apply for a Fulbright, and there's one other person whose husband got a Fulbright, I think with our University. So, I've been corresponding to all of these people already, and they ask all kinds of questions, mostly things like “How do I find an apartment?”

I think this was a great program (Fulbright), I would recommend to anyone who's interesting in teaching English as a foreign or as a second language to try and come down here, because it's a great place to live; it's easy to get around, and people are nice…

One of the things that I found most interesting, something we don't do in the United States, and I think I'm kind of going to try although it's quite different culturally is here, students who have a certain grade average don't take the final exam. I've never heard of something like that, and I'm thinking “Wow, that's really kind of cool”; it would seem to me it would give people a lot of incentive to try hard. Of course, for weak students it's difficult because they might be weak to start with and then having to study and take an exam might make it difficult for them. (PUCV) also has an attendance policy (which affects the exam), so in my class just about everybody was able to have a 5 or above, but about one third of my class has to take the exam because they didn't spend enough time in class. So that’s was sort of interesting to me. So, this system gives students an incentive, if you work really hard and you get these grades maybe you shouldn’t have to take the exam. I'm actually going to bring it up in my faculty when I get home and see what people think about that.

8 – What are your future professional plans? Do you think they will be affected by your experience in Chile?

In the United States there are three levels of professors. You have an assistant, associate and full professor.

In most universities in the U.S., you have 5 years to work at the university (and you’re reviewed every year), but then at the end you submit a very large portfolio and you have things like your research, the service that you've done, how many committees have you worked on, your teaching and what students say about you in this portfolio. Almost all universities in the United States have these three levels and you get more money as you go up. A lot of professors stop at the second level because they don’t really want submit another portfolio…you have to do lot more work (to get full professor). One of the things you generally need is international recognition… so, hello!… I’ve done it! The Fulbright could really make an impact on my ability to move to the next level and to be honest with you some people would say that it is more prestigious but being a full professor means more work because you are more senior, you have to do a lot more work.

9 - Is there anything that you would like to share with the EFL students?

I think for all of the EFL students in general is really important to take advantage of the technologies that we have available. You can find all kinds of native speakers speaking online …you know TEDTalks, I think most of the students are familiar with those and the talks help you learn different accents in English.

I'm really encouraging all of the people that I meet to contact me.

If you need something, e-mail me. The contacts that we make between people from different universities and countries and language groups I think that’s the essence of why travel so important. And if there's any way that students have the chance to travel, they should do it. I say this to my students at home: I know travel can be extremely expensive, but even if it's just traveling in Chile: you might be born in one place, “I’m going to school in Viña now but I’ve never been to Antofagasta”. It (travel) makes a really big difference; it opens your eyes. I'm also encouraging my students to… please stay in touch. You know, Hey! You might end up in the U.S. in 3 or 4 years, so, please drop me a line.

The U.S. is a big place, so if you go to California I may not be able to see you, but sometimes people have questions later on, and I'm really always interested in all of my students everywhere. I don't care where you are, whether you are in Chile (Africa, wherever I’ve taught) …you know I’ve had students from more than 25 years ago in Cameroon who are still e-mailing me. And I have students that I taught when they were 6 years old who are now 24 or 25 that I hear from once in a while, and it's really nice just to see what they're doing in their lives. More than that, you are going to be English teachers, I speak English as my native language, so if you have questions e-mail me and stay in touch with me.

So stay in touch, travel and travel, and use technology as best as you can. Yeah… that’s my advice.

Dr Arquette is an associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education, College of Education and Health Sciences, Bradley University, Peoria, Illinois.

Her line of research is cultural exchange through the learning of the English language.

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