First Job: Teaching in Chile

In her first job after college, Margaret Woodman-Russell ’10 embraces education in a remote corner of Chile

by Christina Barber-Just

Margaret Woodman-Russell ’1 and her seventh-grade student.
Margaret Woodman-Russell ’10 and one of her seventh-grade-students, Estefania Delgado Méndez.
Smith major
Government and Spanish
Current job
Volunteer teacher in isolated Palena, Chile. “Most Chileans have never heard of my town,” says Woodman-Russell, who is volunteering with the Chile Patagonia Sur Year program. The program is a partnership between WorldTeach, a Harvard-based NGO, and the Patagonia Sur Foundation, a Chilean nonprofit that encourages conservation and promotes social and economic development in the Chilean part of Patagonia.
What she does
Teaches English and leads environmental-education programs. Her students range from preschoolers to adults. At Palena’s school, which is heated with woodstoves yet features better Internet service than Woodman-Russell’s Smith house did, she co-teaches several classes with a Chilean English teacher. She also visits two rural schools once a week, and teaches an evening class for adults in the community. One of her favorite extracurricular activities is coaching her star students to compete in the “English Olympics,” an interscholastic event in which language students from neighboring towns face off. In her capacity as an environmental educator, she has spearheaded everything from a school-wide battery-recycling campaign to an exhibit of recycled art in hopes of raising her students’ environmental awareness. “Patagonia is such a valuable area ecologically,” says Woodman-Russell, who likens the region, with its luxuriant green and open space, to “the lungs of the world.”
Want her job?
Polish up your foreign-language skills. Woodman-Russell was fluent in Spanish even before she arrived in Chile thanks to majoring in the language at Smith and studying in Mexico during the fall semester of her junior year. Have a desire to live abroad. Woodman-Russell is the only non-Chilean person in Palena, and that’s by design. “I didn’t want to be with a lot of Americans,” she says. Patience, flexibility, and high tolerance for frustration are other musts for volunteer teachers overseas.
The last word
“I feel lucky that I’m doing something that I want to be doing,” Woodman-Russell says. “If you want to do something, do it, don’t just talk about it.”