A Lesson in Cuisine and Cultural Exchange

Alzar School | 14.02.20

As Alzar School develops long-lasting relationships with a new place–a new home–in Chile, we’re putting a lot of thought into the best possible ways to step forward. What’s maybe the most exciting about this new opportunity is that the school’s ‘steps’ are the students’. The way Coyhaique, Villa Lago Atravesado, and our neighbors along the lago perceive us is nearly entirely determined by the way our Spring 16 students move through those places. So, not only are our students learning how they want to represent themselves, they’re learning how they want to represent each other. They’re learning how they want to represent our school. 

This past Tuesday, one-third of Semester 16’s students went on a field trip to Villa Lago Atravesado to take a cooking lesson with a local family. The husband, Castillo, and wife, Connie, will have been married for 27 years this fall. Their daughter’s name is Karen. And, beyond being wonderful folks that have let us into their family-run kitchen and business, they also provide us with authentic, delicious Chilean fare every evening. So, this means that the food we prepared during our cooking class was then served to the rest of our community for dinner. So much intrinsic value! So much authentic cultural exchange! Personally, as one of the Spanish teachers, I could not be more excited to watch our students struggle to understand and communicate in the kitchen. 

Students join with local chefs for a cooking lesson.

By the end of the hour and a half lesson, our kiddos made sopaipillas (something akin to the New Orleans beignet but without all that powdered sugar) and vegetarian empanadas (like a Chilean calzone). They squealed with excitement when they fried the dough, and they giggled with Connie while they cut the empanadas into half-moons. Our Spanish 1 students swore that they didn’t know how to say a word of Spanish and that they wouldn’t be able to understand a thing. However, I watched them cut dough, build empanadas, and wash dishes. There’s nothing more universal than sharing in the making and the eating of food. No matter what level of a language you speak, warm dough and warm company translate. 

Wrede, Mariam, and Carson making empanadas.

And, when it comes to the words we really want to say but don’t know how, well, that’s why we travel with dictionaries and friends. Teague, a Spanish 1 student, asked me how to say, “This was the best day of my life,” to Connie, Karen, and Castillo. So, after we swept, wiped counters, and turned off the stove, Teague and a few other boys turned to the cooks and let ’em have it: “Este día fue el mejor de mi vida”. It was cheesy and heartwarming. They all smiled. I laughed. Nice work, Alzar School Semester 16 students!

Teague, a Spanish 1 student, asked me how to say, “This was the best day of my life.”

Perhaps what is most exciting for us facilitators is that our students are putting their best foot forward because they truly want to. It is welling up out of them, and it is moving them beyond where they thought they’d go and what they thought they’d do… And it’s only week 3 of the semester!