It’s been a year since I decided to move to Chile to teach with the Chilean Government (where does the time go?!) and so I thought it was only fitting to write a little more about my experience. I sometimes get people coming to my site in search of info on English Open Doors Program and I figured it’s all I can do to give my take on the program! I remember searching about it and not finding too many personal posts on the program. The English Opens Doors website does a fabulous job of providing logistical information, but sometimes it can be nice to read a different perspective. Since I’ve had some people reach out to me that have read the posts on Chile and went on to do the program I wanted to continue adding my thoughts now that I’m a few months out of Chile.
What is the English Opens Doors Program?
I came to find this program through a forwarded email from my college Spanish professor. The program is called English Opens Doors Program (EODP) or Programa Inglés Abre Puertas. It’s run by the National Volunteer Center which is part of the Chilean Ministry of Education and it’s also part of the United Nations Development Program.
At its core, the EODP places English-speaking volunteers all throughout Chile in public schools. The goal is to increase speaking and listening abilities among secondary students in the English language while simultaneously offering a cultural experience for the volunteers. While volunteers can live on their own, the majority opt to live with host families as it allows them the chance to practice the language and learn more about Chilean life.
Anyone between the ages of 21-35 can apply for the program. The interview process is fairly simple. You’ll be interviewed via Skype with someone who works at the Volunteer Center ( Make sure to really know the manual! ) but it’s not too stressful and a relaxed interview.
Keep in mind that Chile operates on different seasons as it is in the Southern half of the hemisphere. You might be thinking “well duh”, but it does flip-flop the school year as Chilean students head back to school at the end of summer which is early March or the end of February. That being said, the program offers different service time frames. The first service (VS1) runs for a semester from March to July. The second and third services (VS2 and VS3) run for longer, usually from sometime in April to the end of November. The last sessions (VS4 and VS5) are a semester and go from August to the end of November. I participated in VS5 and taught for approximately 3.5 months.
I think the biggest thing to emphasize in the logistical info about this program is that it’s fee free. When I first read that when learning about the program I was surprised that this is a huge selling point of the EODP program, but with more exploration of other volunteer programs I came to learn that this is big deal. Not only is EODP fee free, but also the government waives the fee for your Temporary Residence Visa. Without this, the visa would could hundreds of dollars.
My overall impression:
I thought about my experience with EODP just yesterday when a former student of mine messaged me on Facebook that he missed me. It’s little things like that message that continue to remind me of the overall positive impact of the program.
When friends and family ask me about my experience, I always offer an honest answer. The program was by no means easy. There were a lot of days of frustration with lack of organization in my host school and difficulties building relationships with my host family. The city I lived in was rather small and it was sometimes difficult to find new and stimulating activities.
But these are hurdles that anyone must overcome when assimilating to a new country and culture. And often times the difficulties are actually disguised opportunities to learn and grow. By not having the best host family I was forced to put myself out there to make some Chilean friends. The city I lived in, Coquimbo, could be quiet and also dangerous at night but this ended up saving me money for traveling after the program ended. By not going out a lot and staying in to read a book or watch something, I was helping my future self financially.
I won’t sugarcoat it. Working in a Chilean public school can be tough. A lot of days classes would start late and there was little time to accomplish everything I set out to do. The level of English that the students have (at least in my case) was a lot lower than I thought it would be. The program encourages speaking mostly in English to students. In my school, this simply was impossible. I spoke 80-90% of the time to students in Spanish in the class. But this should not be seen as ineffective. While it wasn’t what I expected, I was offered the chance to really improve my conversational Spanish and learn Chilean Spanish.
With this hurdle, I changed my goals for the program. In less than three and a half months, there was no way I could make my students become fluent. But I could set out to accomplish some smaller goals.
I wanted to make my students have less fear when speaking English, improve pronunciation, and know by heart key phrases and questions. Another bigger goal was to act as a positive role model, especially for the girls. As Chile is still quite a traditional country, it’s important for the young girls in the school to see another young woman, like myself and other volunteers, that is in her twenties and is not yet married and traveling and having her own experiences.
I think it’s important for anyone looking to go into the program to understand that you won’t be able to fix everything and it certainly won’t be without its flaws. But the bigger picture, of being a positive role model for the students you lead, in my opinion almost trumps the advances made in the English language. Being there for your students and helping them open their minds to new cultures and ideas was the most rewarding part for me and for many other volunteers I know.
My biggest piece of advice is that the volunteer must be doing the program for the students. This isn’t a study abroad program and things don’t go perfectly, but at the end of the day if you’re willing to put forth the effort to be an uplifting role model in the lives of some young Chilean students, you will enjoy your time and feel purposeful.
For more specifics I wrote a post about the general FAQ’s of the program and also the EODP offers useful info on their site! If you are planning on applying or are already accepted in the program, feel free to ask any questions here or on Twitter!