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I Can Read!

Time September 16th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, Chile, College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I’ll start by saying that I am now doing things – angst-ily, I wrote last time that I wasn’t doing anything here and that I would write again if and when I finally did. I have – I’ve been busy, and that’s why I haven’t written. I practice with an ultimate frisbee team, I met up with a Chilean girl who went to my high school, I went on vacation to Chiloé, and I read my first book in Spanish. This shouldn’t be impressive; I’m supposed to have read ten books already for this particular class, but I haven’t, and so far there have been no consequences for my failure to do so.

The book is La Casa de los Conejos, and it’s about a little girl whose parents are revolutionaries during the Argentine dictatorship in the 70’s. She narrates and the novel, I think, is more about what she can’t say that what she can; she can’t conceptualize self-sacrifice and the word trauma isn’t in her vocabulary yet, so the story is no more than her account of what happened and when and who was there, and how it made her, a seven-year-old, feel. There is no grand narrative, no explicit discussion of war or national devastation or destruction of family. Analysis is left to the readers, and the novel is simple, pretty and sad.

I hope, at least, that’s what it was about because I was proud of myself for reading the book and I liked it. I felt a strange solidarity with the main character – subtextually, her story is about the limits of language, about how much we can and should express of what we experience. Of course, I have never in my life experienced anything like she did growing up in a terrorist state. But I could understand the absences in her stories, the moments in which she stopped short of explaining or embellishing or emphasizing because she couldn’t, didn’t yet know the words, and left it up to her readers to interpret, give her words meaning. What I say in Spanish is incomplete too, and part of my empathy for the narrator comes from trying, as children do, to express myself in a language in which I do not yet feel at home.

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Feelin’ Existential

Time August 26th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I’m familiar with the crisis, but I’ve never found a remedy. Here I am sitting in bed at 1:2o on a Wednesday, under the covers even though it’s sunny outside and listening to my host family have a little fight. (My host mom hates the ****** landlord.)  If nothing else, I’m making progress with my Spanish – I understood what she was saying, and she wasn’t talking in her slow for-foreign-girls voice.

I’m not sure what to do with myself because everything feels absurd, and everything confuses me. It’s winter and it’s August; it’s winter and it’s sixty degrees; it’s August and I’m in school; I’m in school and it’s winter.

And I have plenty to do! I have a lot of homework! I’m just not sure if I should do it – is that what study abroad students are supposed to do? Everyone told me before I left that I wouldn’t spend any time in Chile doing schoolwork because I’d be “partying.” Does that mean that’s what I should be doing at 1:27 on a Wednesday afternoon?

I caught the purposelessness bug on Sunday, when I started reading a text I had to present in class at 11:30 on Tuesday. I skimmed it, decided I’d read it again on Monday, and watched an episode of Key & Peele. Monday night I was tired, skimmed it again, watched two episodes of Key & Peele, and set my alarm for 7:45 Tuesday morning. Tuesday I woke up at 8:45, finished the article at 11, and got to class at 11:40, out of breath and without the hand-out’s I’d planned to distribute. The professor asked me to present immediately; I did. I don’t remember what I said, whether it was Spanish, whether the students and the professor understood me. But the twenty minutes passed – nothing happened, there was no negative consequence for my irresponsible actions.

So now I feel like I don’t have to do my homework.

I just don’t know what else to do.

Key & Peele is good, but not that good.

And I came with so many things I wanted to do:  books to read, essays to write, friends to make, clubs to join. In fact there are so many things I want to do in Chile that the quantity weighs me down, as if it were something tangible, and I, overwhelmed, find myself so tired I prefer to sit in bed and eavesdrop.

Here’s a hackneyed and ill-fitting simile: I feel as if this time, a month after arrival, is the eye of the storm. Except the eye, the stupefying and dizzying nothing, is the bad part. I’m tired of the calm.

I’ll write back if and when I do something!

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¡Two and a half weeks in and on vacation!

Time August 10th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, so maybe, if you’re reading this, you don’t know that I arrived safely in Santiago three weeks ago – only got lost thrice at the airport – or that I’m done with orientation, or that I’m starting classes next week. So there’s an update. I’ll write more regularly from now on, I think, because the hectic part (will I make friends, do I speak Spanish, why am I in this country) is mostly over.

Now I’m in San Pedro de Atacama, which is a tiny, touristy town in the north of Chile. I have this week off by accident: the online registration system for classes at la Católica broke, so the university postponed classes a week and my friends and I, having wanderlust and nothing better to do, decided to spend a weekend in the desert.

The vacation is nice – surprisingly refreshing, given I haven’t been doing anything difficult except adjust to a new country – but I also feel as if I left Santiago too soon. Saying goodbye to my host mom, Patricia, and sister, Pancha, I did feel as if I were leaving some sort of home.

Last week, I started eating dinner in Patricia’s room every night and watching telanovelas with her and Pancha as we ate. We laughed about the show’s dumb teenage romance; she asked me if I had a boyfriend; and when we weren’t talking, the silences felt comfortable.

Still, part of me worries that when I get back, I won’t feel like I’m coming home but as if I’m moving into a new place, again: making nervous conversation at the dinner table, not knowing where and when to take off my shoes. This weekend marks a beginning, or a re-beginning. Before now was adjustment; feeling scared or new or totally confused was acceptable. When I get back on Monday, I’ll start classes, speak almost entirely Spanish, have to make Chilean friends. The real part is starting! Get hype and send your blessing.

 

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Hello from California at midnight

Time July 21st, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Actually, it’s past midnight. I just finished packing a hopefully-not-overweight backpack and a definitely-overweight suitcase. Last time I checked they were 49 and 67 pounds, respectively – I took out a couple of t-shrits and an ugly dress, so keep me in your thoughts and prayers and also cross your fingers for me.

I’m leaving tomorrow morning and I don’t really have any feelings about it. I think I’m too nervous to be excited and too excited to be nervous, which is nice, actually, because I don’t have any particular expectations or anxieties at all. As in, I’m not thinking, say, what if I don’t get along with my host family or I’m sure my Don Quixote class will be really awesome. No hope; no dread. My thoughts are stuck in this moment with my fat suitcase and my blog and an unseasonal SoCal humidity.

What I have to look forward to: a 24 hour flight during which I’ll read Half of a Yellow Sun; orientation, a mystery, since I don’t know where it’s taking place or how long it is or what it involves (information available in the unreachable IFSA-Butler booklet at the foot of my bed); and meeting my host family. I’ll be staying with a retired nurse, her daughter, and her baby granddaughter.

She’s six months old and so cute. Her indigenous name, Sayén, means “woman with a big heart.”

Beyond that, I don’t have much to report! Will post soon.

 

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