By Sascha Gordon-Zolov.

(Note: Sascha is a 7th Grader at Q300, and a member of the Q300 Chess Team. He is currently studying abroad in Chile and will return to Q300 in early 2020.)

Players (left to right): Cristóbal Rossel Grandón, Matías Andrés Jaque Gutiérrez, María Ignacia Rossel Grandón, Sascha Gordon-Zolov

I awoke to the lights of the plane being turned on. It was three in the morning. Two hours later, we arrived in Santiago, Chile–tired, hungry and cold. It was July 15, and the middle of winter. The first few weeks were a whole new experience for me. I didn’t know the language, and it was extremely hard to communicate. We did okay in the beginning, buying things and saying the occasional gracias (thank you) and permiso (excuse me). You had to go by the one or two words you knew in the sentences you heard.

On August 1, we started school. They have a very strict dress code – the kind of clothing that you would wear to a formal event. Most students know some English because all of the courses through fourth grade are taught in English. Some students helped me through classes and translated the material that I did not understand. We have two breaks each day, and on the first day, I didn’t really know what to do. I found the library and went to see if they had any books in English that I could read. I walked in and saw chessboards. I was instantly drawn to them and completely forgot about the books. I watched some kids play. After the game, one of them got up and asked me if I wanted to play. I understood and sat down.

It was a fun game even though it ended quickly. I played a few more matches before the bell rang. None of them had been too hard to win, but they had all been very fun to play. After a few more class periods, the second and final 15-minute break came along. I was now very excited that I had something to do during the breaks.

On the third day of school, someone new challenged me, an eighth grader named Matías. I was excited to see a new face, and we started to play. I didn’t expect my opponent to be very strong. Yet after the first few moves, I knew he wasn’t just a normal player. The game ended in less than 25 moves. I asked for a rematch, and he accepted. We played more games over the next few days, and I learned a lot from playing with him. One day, Matías told me that there was a tournament coming up, and he invited me to take part.

I didn’t know what to expect. When we got there, I was surprised to see just how many people there were.There must have been about 30 teams (four players to a team). I was really nervous before starting. Our team started at the top table, which is the most advanced section. We had to hold the table for six rounds. The games were incredibly stressful and fast as we only had 15 minutes on the clock. The first few rounds were simple, but the games got more intense as we progressed. Matías won in the fourth round with only six seconds left on his clock! It turns out that he will be representing Chile in the South American tournament in December. We ended up holding the table and won the tournament. It really was an amazing moment for me. I didn’t know how to talk with anyone, but I was still able to connect with others through this game, the language, of chess.