This month, all of us here at VSP find ourselves saying “Adios” to Emily Leighton. Tía Emi has been a part of VSP since October 2014. She started as an intern for a year, followed by a fellowship focused on programming. During her time in Valpo, she has planned various English classes, created a ton of blogs and social media posts, been a steadfast mentor and formed long-lasting bonds with our students; all this in addition to making the best coffee in the office, taking a photography course, and jumping in the water for some waves whenever possible. We cannot imagine VSP without her and the impact she has made. Before she packs her bags and heads to Brooklyn, New York, we sat down with Tía E to get some more insight about the past couple years down here in Chile and what the future might hold for her.
1. VSP: What is the greatest challenge you faced and how did you overcome it?
EL2015: Being able to understand and speak Chilean spanish. That just took time, patient friends and kids that don't cut you any slack. Being able to actually express myself and understand people is a nice thing.
VSP2017: A big challenge in the job is recognizing your limits as a mentor and what will be the most effective form of action when a student is dealing with a more serious issue. My goal was always to be a positive influence and to provide an open and safe environment where the students felt comfortable in all aspects. It is important to recognize that there are other resources that are available and that we can become a pathway to provide added support versus trying to undertake something beyond our qualifications.
2. VSP: What was the most important lesson you learned while working with VSP?
EL2015: You'll never regret getting in the water. The feeling you have when you are done a session and putting your clothes back is something inexplicable. The hardest part for me can be convincing myself that I actually like surfing, when the weather is cold and you have to put on a wet wetsuit. But 100% of the time I am so happy I did. You feel renewed and can see more clearly, which I feel is one of the many reasons we use surfing as a mentorship tool.
EL2017: Take the time to listen. To our students, to their families, to the other staff members of Valpo Surf Project, to the people working at the bakery down the road. Every meaningful conversation is a learning opportunity.
3. VSP: Has your idea of mentorship changed after working with the students of VSP?
Mentorship to me is a two-way street. It is a symbiotic relationship where one component does not function without the other. You need to do your homework and listen in order to understand the background of someone that you are working with, to understand the context with which they are making decisions and living their life. Mentorship, especially working with kids going through adolescence is not always easy. You have to be strict and tell them things they don't want to hear sometimes. But I believe when that is backed up by genuine care for their well-being, a bond of trust is formed.
4. VSP: Do you have a favorite memory of your time in Valparaíso?
It's hard to pin down one memory exactly, but I think overall what I will miss about Valparaíso is it's authentic bohemia. There are all different types of characters in Valpo. Walking down the street and seeing afternoon light hit a crumbling building, smelling sopaipillas sizzling on a corner and hearing a colectivo driver yelling out the window to say hi to his buddy spotted on the corner. I know that's all very romantic and cheesy, but it's something special that I don't think is found everywhere else in the world.
5. VSP: What are your future plans? We heard something about Brooklyn... pretty hip..
I'm am indeed living in Brooklyn. My family is all in the city now so it will be the first time in maybe 8 years we've all been close together, so I am trying to take advantage to spend some quality time with them. Hoping to find work...somewhere.
6. VSP: Any last words?
Wishing all the best for VSP in the upcoming year!