By MARK NEWMAN Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — When we travel, or even simply meet travelers, we can learn as much about our own way of life as we do about theirs. And sometimes, similarities make our differences stand out.
Ottumwa Rotary had five visitors from the South American nation of Chile. One, John Bolton, is a Rotarian from there. The other four are young professionals, sponsored by Rotary to travel internationally.
"This is our fourth week in Iowa," said John Bolton, the Chilean Rotary member and leader of the delegation.
Though the four travelers with him are not currently Rotary members, their guides locally were.
"Part of the [idea] is to promote peace," said John Helgerson of Ottumwa, "through communication and friendship."
His guests, all young, English-speaking professionals, agreed that it's less likely friends will declare war on one another.
"We exchange opinions and learn from each other," Bolton said.
Rotary makes sure the exchange groups get to visit and study businesses, but they are also able to tailor a trip to professional interests of the party, which in this case consisted of four teachers and an attorney.
For example, that morning, the group observed a lesson on English Language Learner reading at the Ottumwa school district. Bolton said it was similar to what the group's English teachers do in Chile: teach a Spanish-speaking child how to read in English. The visiting teachers even had their own suggestions on how to enhance the learning.
"Not only does the student read, but talk about what they are reading as well," said Javiera Reyes Araya, an English teacher.
That way, the student is encouraged to speak and think, in English, about the words they've read on the page.
Club members also adjusted on the fly. The travelers had already visited an area education agency, where they witnessed the co-op nature of those regional education supporters and the surrounding schools. So instead of going to another one as scheduled in Ottumwa, member Tom Lazio contacted his daughter, a teacher, to see about getting the group a visit to an in-session public school.
Luis Marchant Fernandez, a Chilean attorney, was able to spend time at the Iowa Supreme Court, a lower court in both a civil matter and a criminal trial and with prosecutors and defense attorneys. So much of what was happening seemed familiar — which made differences really stand out.
Emotions do not play as much of a role in Chilean justice. That's because of the jury: in serious matters, the law does not call for a jury in Chile, only three voting judges who are experts on the law and the subject at hand. And they don't tolerate theatrics. In the U.S., attorneys need to know the law and be performers for the sake of swaying the jury, Marchant Fernandez said.
Which may be why he found it interesting to observe one Iowa attorney who told jurors to "close your eyes," and then asked them to picture a scene in their imagination.
"You would never say that to the [panel of judges in] court," Marchant Fernandez said. "Never."
"It took two-and-half hours to choose the jury," said David Gonzalez Marambio, a high school English teacher in the nation's capital.
"And," added Botlon, "they have no legal training. You have to explain the law to them ..."
There are fewer courts in Chile, too. They have a local court, an appeals court and a Supreme Court. In the U.S, they found it interesting that in addition to those courts for state laws, there are similar but totally separate courts for federal laws.
However, Bolton and elementary school teacher Cecilia Espejo Zarate explained that there are several types of schools in their country, all considered to be at different levels of educational quality. There are private schools paid for by parents. Those are considered the best. Then there are "free" to students public schools, schools which have not been garnering a very good reputation for quality lately. In the middle are government-subsidized schools, where the government pays some of the tuition and the parents pay some of the tuition.
Taxes are higher in Chile, Marchant Fernandez said. Here in Ottumwa, he saw the sales tax was 7 percent. In Chile, it's 19 percent.
The group has stayed busy in the United States. Bolton said they are on the go from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. The mission, said Rotary members, is to teach the young people something they can take home with them, allow Rotary members to grow by meeting them and to encourage international friendship.
This group had already made friends at Indian Hills Community College with culinary instructors and students who prepared dinner for them Thursday night.
"In four weeks, it was the best meal we've had," said Bolton.