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From July till November 2017 I have been a volunteer of the program English Opens Doors Chile. I am 33 and before I’ve been a designer and engineer. Besides I love to travel. So I will tell you about this program and my experience in it. And a bit about how to prepare to volunteer and travel in South America.

English Opens Doors Chile  Program aims to create english speaking environment in Chile. Volunteers are working as teacher assistants in Chilean public schools which have no sponsor support, that means with the poorest schools. Most of the students in the school where I was working were children of farmers, miners and huasos (local name for a cowboy). Some of my students while telling about their everyday morning timetable said that they wake up at 4 a.m. because before going to school they have to milk a cow or take care of a horse.

Most of the volunteers are young men and women from States – about 80% - and the rest of us are from other English speaking countries. I noticed people from Australia, Sweden, Kenya, Poland, Venezuela, Danmark and one other girl from Russia, St.Peterburg.

Any English fluent speaker can take part in the program. Your duty is to teach students to speak English. The method is given on the first training week in Santiago de Chile. Mostly you have to play language games and repeat phrases and questions in English. Kids, even if they were teenagers, preferred to play and have fun with me than to repeat grammar with the teacher. Professional education as a teacher is not required. What required is speaking English and good mood. I have to admit also that it took some time to transform from an alien (TIA GRINGA) into a good friend (PROFE).

I was serving in 5th Region of Chile – Valparaiso. The capital of the Region is an amazing city with a story to tell. But I was working in the little town Papudo on the Pacific Ocean coast. And I was living in 25 km away from the coast in the town called La Ligua. My students were high school teenagers from 14 till 21 years old. Chile has no obligatory military service so kids are repeating one, two and sometimes 3 years of high school. My everyday transportation to the work was a bit complicated but you forget all inconvenience when you see the ocean. Volunteers are not choosing a place to stay and serve, but you can tell you preferences in climate and city or rural status of the place.

I recommend examining the map of Chile and google for some interesting places. Because you can ask politely and maybe appear next to amazing San Pedro de Atacama, to Villarica volcano, to Puerto Varas, to the capital Santiago de Chile, to Chiloé island or to Punta Arenas with its penguins. Usually volunteers are living in Chilean family, it helps to understand chilean culture and to see the life from inside, to begin having ONCE instead of dinner and ASADO instead of BBQ. But there is an opportunity to rent your own appartments.

Spanish in not required to take part in a EODP. But you need to speak Spanish to travel on the continent. Program offers you a Spanish course for the beginners and for the ones who speak Spanish. Also you can pass an exam if you successfully complete all the tasks. I had a book, access to online course, a teacher to ask questions and who was giving and checking homework. Also EODP provides you with weekly newsletter about Chilean culture. I began to speak Spanish after this course. The language environment helps a lot but it was difficult to begin speaking without grammar. Before coming to South America I could only say: “Hola, Soy Maria estoy perdido”. That means: “Hi, I am Maria and I’m lost”. But even this little phrase was really helpful in the beginning of my travel.

The support that is provided by organizers of programs to volunteers was very important to me because I’ve never worked in school before and never travelled in South America before. So thanks to people from volunteer center since I always felt safe and never was facing any situations on my own. They were immediately solving my issues with receiving Chilean visa in Russia and my early arriving to the country. Their help made me feel a part of a family right after I’ve become an approved volunteer of EODP.  We are a big and happy family of so many people making good things together. That is an amazing feeling.

EODP is a big official volunteering program of Chilean Government with support from UN. Chilean ministry of Education helps to receive and pays for Chilean temporary residence visa. This kind of visa serves to get a temporary ID and let you leave the country within 30 days after is expires without any fine of sanctions.

I want to warn just about the time limits to receive this visa. To collect all the required documents in RF without any stress you need 2 months. Because document about your criminal background officially can be ready after 30 days (in fact I received it after 12 days – you have to keep on calling them and ask everyday if it’s ready or not). And making a visa takes another month. I was lucky and with the support and official letters from Chilean Min. Edu. I got my visa within 7 days. Also it’s important that you have to enter Chile within 90 days since the visa was stamped in your passport. EODP helps you to control all these dates.

There are many benefits for the volunteers who have temporary ID. On arrival to your community in Chile you apply for and receive this ID and debit card of a Chilean state bank –BancoEstado. This card helps you to pay for bus tickets online. For example, TurBus and Bus Sur didn’t accept any foreign credit cards in online payments. TurBus is a biggest Chilean transport company. And Bus Sur helps you to travel in the south of Patagonia – Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales and international rides to Ushuaya (Argentina).

Besides being a temporary resident of Chile you have a discount for entering all the National Parks of Chile. I paid 6000CLP instead of 21000CLP for foreigners at the entrance to Torres del Paine National Park.

If you decide to make this volunteering in Chile and they accept you, I highly recommend to take some things from my list. All the instructions and advises that will be given to you are important but my list is short and I will explain the reason these things are there.

  1. Some really nice stylish clothes. We were invited to official ceremony of Opening of the new volunteering Service that took place in UN in Santiago de Chile. And everything was very official and fancy. Enthusiasts of the program from Chilean government and UN embassadors were taking speech in front of us. Embassador of New Zealand in Chile was sitting just next to me. And everyone was beautiful but there were people who were confused and confusing others with their trekking pants and t-shirts.
  2. You have to take trekking shoes. Because even if you are not planning to travel and do trekking in Chile you will do it anyway. And to buy a proper pair of shoes in Chile can be a big deal if you are not staying in the capital.
  3. Special clothes and shoes to work in school. You have to look different from your students who may be of the same age as you.
  4. If you are coming for one of the winter semesters (May to November) take warm clothes and mind the wind. It was really windy almost everywhere in Chile and it was cold in different way than in Moscow. Sun is bright and strong but during the night the temperature falls down to 0°.
  5. Also you have to remember that Chileans don’t use central heating. And they build seismo-proof but not freezing-proof houses. So my warm pajamas were really useful.
  6. You must have a Sun cream not less than SPF 20. You feel the Ozone Hole effect on your face. Every time I forgot to apply it I was losing my skin.
  7. Swimming suit or bikini. Pacific Ocean is really cold but there are plenty of hot springs and beautiful lakes and rivers in Chile and on the continent that you would love to swim in. Besides some of the volunteers are reporting that water in the swimming pool of the hotel was great.

You have to be ready to feel a real earthquake. It’s a common thing in Chile. I had a chance to experience 6.3 earthquake on the first week of my volunteering. And then there was more but with a less strength between 3 and 4 points. Chileans are guessing the power of the earthquake by their feelings and can give you the balls quiet exactly. I was checking on the site . After a few months staying in La Ligua, I also started to feel difference between “teremoto”, “templor” and “tremor”.  By the way Terremoto (earthquake) is the name of the sweet alcohol cocktail with ice-cream that Chileans invented after the disaster of 2010 when earthquake was that strong so the scale was not enough to measure it.

Some other thoughts and advises.

Buy a one-way ticket. Or ticket with open dates to come back. Here on the continent flights are cheap between 30 and 100 USD, so you can fly to another country. You would definitely want to see everything here like Machu-Picchu, Uyuni salt flats, Colca canyon, highest and dryest desert of Atacama, Lima, waterfalls of Iguasu.

Choose a winter semester,  because you can also join a summer camp after it. And summer camps are paid approx. 400USD for 2 weeks. Besides that program provides you with a good accommodation in a hotel with other volunteers and transfer forth and back to the camp.

You can learn more details on their web-site. EODP is organized very scrupulously and receives a lot of people every semester. My VS3 2017 had approx. 60 people from all over the world who was serving in all regions of Chile besides Easter Island. But even there sometimes is a service vacancy.

Now you still can apply for a VS4 august-november 2018.

To get more details use

If you have more questions about my experience, contact me on instagram direct, of via FB


Author of the text – Maria Stepchenko

Date of event – July-November 2017

Date of publication - 19.02.2018

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