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Moving Forward But Not Leaving Chile Behind

Time January 18th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

(Part 2 of my post-study-abroad entry.)

2. Things Aren’t So Bad Here After All.

Yes, I did (and still do) have a pretty bad case of reverse culture shock. But I’m getting over it. Really, I am.

Strategy number 1: Let your friends drag you to your old usual haunts. This is what I did all winter break–the month in San Francisco between my return from Chile and my return to Barnard. I saw my friends (and sister) almost every day and we went to classically San Franciscan places like the beach (did I mention yet that global warming has led to a beautiful December and January for us this winter?) and the top of the hill with the best view of the entire city. We ate good Mexican taqueria food, which I really missed while abroad and always miss when I’m in New York, and we drank bubble tea, and we did everything we used to do. The only difference this time around was the earful my friends got about Chile. I’m sure that if they have to hear “In Chile…” one more time they are going to cry.

Strategy number 2: Talk about your experiences, whether people want to hear about it or not. It is best if your listener actually wants to be listening to you babble on about how amazing Chilean folklore music is, but it’s OK if they don’t care. Not everyone will, but you still must share your stories. And what I still have yet to do is go to the one place where I am guaranteed that my study abroad stories will be considered fascinating and important on my campus: the study abroad office. It’s definitely on the agenda.

Strategy number 3: Speak in Spanish. There are more Spanish speakers in the Bay Area and the New York City area than I could meet even if I spent every second of my days meeting new Spanish speakers. There is no excuse. There is no excuse. I can maintain my Spanish fluency, so now I must.

IFSA-Butler has given many other great suggestions for making a successful transition back to U.S. life and I plan to give the ideas a try. Volunteering, for example. I think I’ll also pursue that Spanish minor now and look for ways that I can return to, if not Chile specifically, at least to Latin America.

So, here’s to moving forward but keeping Chile with me as I go. Thank you for reading about my experiences. Que les vaya muy bien.

Anjie

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Stuck in Reverse?

Time January 18th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

I’m back in the USA and have been for a little over a month. Does that mean I’ve readjusted to life here? Yes, but not completely. I’ve been stumbling through my transition back to both my home in San Francisco and my U.S. college in New York City. Here is part 1 of the story.

1. Reverse Culture Shock is Real.

There have been many, many moments since I left Chile in which I didn’t really leave Chile. Not emotionally, at least. These are some of the most note-worthy moments.

Reverse-culture shock moment number 1: For a good couple of weeks I kept saying “permiso” in crowded areas in place of “excuse me.” Woops. The funny thing is, though, that I probably could have said “hippopotamus” and the slightly insane people of San Francisco would have understood me anyway and proceeded to move out of my path and say “you’re welcome.”

Reverse culture shock moment number 2: Is that what you readers thought whenever I used the word “gringa” in my earlier posts? You assumed I was trying to crack a joke? Weird! Because now whenever I talk about the gringa experience in Chile with my friends here in the United States, I get laughs and giggles. It’s the weirdest thing. In Chile, the words “gringo” and “gringa” are neutral. It’s like saying “U.S. citizen” or “person of European descent.” There is nothing especially funny about the word gringo in Chile, unless you’re actually making a joke about gringos in Chile. Hence, I’ve been using the word just as casually here, too, because I’m having a hard time remembering that “gringo” sounds funny to U.S. citizens. Even though that’s what we are. Gringo. Gringa. Gringo. Gringa. Why are you chuckling? Why? WHY!?

Reverse culture shock moment number 3: What? You mean I have to wait TWENTY MINUTES for this bus? That’s ridiculous! The Errazurriz bus in Valparaiso runs every twenty seconds!

Reverse culture shock moment number 4: I forgot that I used to wear two pairs of socks on cold days in New York. A friend had to remind me that that is something people do. Not even the central-heating-deprived chilly coastal winter of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso compares to this cold. How did I already survive two New York winters before?

Reverse culture shock moment number 5: My Spanish-speaking friends in the U.S. either don’t understand or don’t like my Chilean dialect. The awesomeness of the meaningless word “po” is lost on them.

Reverse culture shock moment number 6: I insecurely double-track through the New York neighborhood I used to know by heart. When one friend asks me “Do you want to stop at Westside?” I cannot help but reply, “What is Westside?” Westside is not just an Upper West Side grocery store; it is an Upper West Side landmark. When you have forgotten all your college landmarks you are doomed.

Keep reading on to part 2.

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Que Le Vaya Bien, Chile; You Will Be Missed

Time December 12th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The time has come to say goodbye to the great nation that has hosted me for the past semester. I can honestly say that because of my experiences in (and around) Chile I will be returning to the U.S. a slightly different person. And I think that slightly different person is an improvement upon the former Anjie who existed before.

Let’s review.

The old Anjie would not have had the courage to jump out of a plane after receiving safety instructions in Spanish. She was too chicken for that kind of thing.

The old Anjie would not have danced in clubs until four in the morning. She was too shy for that kind of thing.

The old Anjie would not have hiked just short of 30 beautiful miles (48 gorgeous kilometers) in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine in a day and a half. She was too lazy and out of shape for that kind of thing.

The old Anjie would not have left home base to go to Peru, Argentina, the Atacama desert, southern Patagonia, Santiago (IFSA trip and individual trip), Isla Negra (IFSA trip), La Serena (IFSA trip), Maitencillo, Casablanca… The old Anjie was too cautious to spend travel money on, well, actually traveling. The old Anjie had backwards financial logic. The old Anjie was also a home body with little interest in sitting on buses, trains, and planes in order to go somewhere new. The new Anjie, though, gets pumped up about travel opportunities and will continue to travel within the US whenever possible.

The old Anjie would not have let that boy kiss her goodnight. She was too involved with herself to even try to be involved with someone else.

The old Anjie would not have liked the Chilean accent. She would have found it too difficult to understand and overflowing with too many Chile-exclusive words. I mean, really, when am I going to be able to tell someone “bacan” in the United States? Only when I encounter one of the few Chileans we have! Oh, but the new Anjie illogically loves Chilean Spanish. Maybe because so many good memories were created while listening to and speaking it.

The old Anjie would have been pissed at the machismo of Chilean society. But the new Anjie understands to put everything into a cultural context, thus allowing her to enjoy her time in Chile without wanting to strangle the piroperos and shout at wives who don’t talk back to their husbands as they comfortably wait for food to be served to them at their dining tables every night. The new Anjie has learned to see the feminism in a woman being the master of the house.

The old Anjie wouldn’t have watched soccer games. She was too obsessed with baseball to bother with soccer. Now the new Anjie cares about baseball AND soccer.

The old Anjie would have relished in the opportunity to return home for her older sister’s wedding, glad to be back in her English-speaking comfort zone. Although she was, in fact, happy to go home for a bit, the new Anjie was also sad to have to leave Chile for an entire week!

The old Anjie would have stayed quiet at meals with her host family, afraid to say something incorrectly. The new Anjie butts into the conversation as often as possible.

The old Anjie would have wondered why she was in Chile at all if she is an English major. The new Anjie understands that her Chilean narrative and poetry classes, and her experiences living abroad, have taught her much more about literature and language and culture and life than any single Shakespeare class in the U.S. ever could.

The new Anjie, however, wants to have been able to do so much more during her time in Chile. Maybe that is always the case with being abroad for a limited amount of time: there is always more one could have done but was never able to do.

I never got to see northern Patagonia (Puerto Montt, Pucon, Chiloe). I never got to hike an active volcano. I never got to spend time at an asado in the campo. But you know what? These are all things that will be going into my “When I Return to Chile” list. Not “if,” but “when.” I just have to figure out how first.

And it’s not like I didn’t do enough with my five months in South America. I was so busy traveling and enjoying my time that I couldn’t even write in the blog as much as I otherwise would have. I had plans for blog posts about the gringa-chileno love phenomenon (because it is, in fact, a phenomenon!), visiting host grandparents (the chatty host grandfather returns!), the IFSA trip to La Serena (telescopes and Gabriela Mistral quotes), and–of course–the big trip to southern Patagonia (giants and guanacos and pumas, oh my!). Alas, the blog is not as overflowing with stories as I would have hoped.

I fly home on Tuesday. While I will be happy to be home, I am dreading it, too. Not just the person studying abroad undergoes change, you know. Some things back home will be different from the way they were before I left. I am going to have to re-adjust.

In a way, my new comfort zone is Chile. An example of this: from my week back in San Francisco for my sister’s wedding last month I now know that, once again when I return later this week, it is going to be really, really weird to NOT have to translate everything in my head from English to Spanish before interacting with people in public. No more “permiso” on the metro–I must remember that I can just go ahead and say “excuse me.” No more “tiene sencillo?” to the grocery store worker; it should be “do you have change?” instead. No more “que les vaya bien” to friends and acquaintances at the end of time spent hanging out with them. Wait…”Que les vaya bien” doesn’t even have an exact translation! What am I going to say to my English-speaking friends after hanging out with them, then? “Goodbye” doesn’t do “que les vaya bien” the slightest bit of justice!

Asi es la vida: some things just cannot be translated. But they can be imported. Therefore, I promise to import everything good about Chile, the intangible and the tangible alike. Including a jar of manjar and a recipe for empanadas.

From Chile to the US, with love. And thank you for a wonderful semester, Chile.

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The Saddest Part is Seeing the End Coming

Time October 31st, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It is impossible to believe: I have already been in Chile for a little over 13 weeks. I had a website do some math for me (seeing as my own math skills are hardly up to par with such a task), and my time here so far is equal to 96 days, or three months and four days, or 2,304 hours, or 138,240 minutes.

Considering that I am only here for another 1 month and 16 days (or a little more than 6 weeks, or 1,128 hours, or 47 days), that is a lot of time that has passed and that I can never get back. And it feels like nothing. It feels like just yesterday I was at the IFSA orientation in Olmue, walking around the town center, being lovingly followed by a pack of dogs that hated each other. I can’t help but cringe while I write this phrase, but…Looking back, skydiving in Mendoza does not feel like it was nearly a month ago. I could swear that I was in Peru and the north of Chile only a couple weeks ago (it was, in fact, well over a month ago).

Perhaps because my stay in Chile is limited, it feels like time is speeding by at an alarming rate. The worst part is that I have no say in the matter. You know that over-used ice-breaker question, “If you could have one superpower, what would it be?” Well, If I could have one superpower, I would be able to control the ticking of the world’s clocks. That way, I could make each hour here longer. I could create more sunny days at the beach. More night hours for both homework and carreteando. More days for trips to the countryside and the center-south, both places that I haven’t explored yet and still have no firm plans to go to (ah!!!). More time to pass talking with Chilean friends. … More time to make Chilean friends.

More time. I just want more time.

I would extend my stay by another semester in a heartbeat, even with the student movement and everything, because I love living in Chile. I love the nature, the cities, the people, the dialect, the food (well, the hallullas, I’m not completely crazy about)…I love almost everything about Chile. The problem is that it is impossible to both extend my stay and stay an English major. I would not graduate on time. Once upon a time I was considering changing my major, but the truth is, I love being an English major. And in a backwards kind of way, English might help me come back to Chile in the future–after graduation. You see, I want to teach. In fact, I want to teach English. English teachers are in high demand in Chile. Why not, if I still like the sound of it in a year and a half, and if I can scrounge together the airfare to Santiago again, come back to Chile in the future to be an English teacher?

Hey, it’s an option.

But back to the time issue. The saddest part of having only one semester (in total, 4 months and 19 days) in Chile is that, at this point, I can see the end coming. I have November and early December planned. I am scheduled to leave Chile about four days after my final big trip (to Patagonia), assuming that I can’t find a good enough excuse to merit the fee to change the date of my flight back to the States so that I can stay a few more days. (Or a week, perhaps. Or all of winter break. Or my entire life. That would be nice.)

I can pretend all I want that I don’t see the end coming. I can try to take it one day at a time and try not to look at the calendar–other than to plan trips and weekends. In other words, I can turn my head, so to speak. And trust me, I’m really trying to focus on the time left here instead of the part about having to leave. I am desperately trying not to look too far forward. Even still, with my head turned to the side, trying to ignore the inevitable, I can’t help but see nasty little Mid-December from the corner of my eye. It is making faces at me, taunting me, grinning evilly. It smells my fear that it will approach before I am ready to face it.

 

I apologize for the heavy dose of sobriety. My next post will definitely read happier.

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The Backlog of Descriptions of Chilean Life + Skydiving Is the Easy Part

Time October 18th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

This is a double-post and hence very long. Forgive me; the two parts didn’t seem complete without each other. Hopefully I can hold your attention from start to finish.

La Vida Cotidiana; or, The Little Things I Haven’t Mentioned Yet

It sounds easier to write about the smaller, everyday insights of living abroad than it is to write about the big, life-changing moments. But it’s not easier; it’s more difficult. For you, my dear audience who should press the Facebook “like” button at the bottom of this entry when you’re done reading it, I will try my best, a traves de some notable quotes.

“We’re Going to Re-take the Casa Central” (Current Events)

To start off, I have for you an update about a significant building in my host university. Casa Central, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Valparaiso: Eerily quiet now, I presume, after the police finally received a warrant to enter the building and arrest students occupying it. And worse for wear, I also presume. My Communication and Culture professor says students have gone as far as stealing books from the libraries, a line he draws in spite of his liberal viewpoint. Basically, it looks like I will not be taking classes in that building at any point this semester, even if it is not en toma (occupied).

There is a chance that students will try to occupy it again, too. The student movement has been bigger and has lasted longer than anyone could have imagined. The students involved are determined. They will not be taking bad compromises from the government–not without a fight, at least. The two options, essentially: free and high-quality education for all, or more protests.

Not as current, but still an event: Recently a television crew flew in a Chilean air force jet to the island of San Fernandez off the coast of Chile to report on how the island is doing after the big earthquake and tsunami last year (since the island is one of the places most affected). Unfortunately, the crew did not survive the flight. Tragedy seems to follow the nation of Chile the same way a street dog in Valparaiso tries to follow you home with its sad eyes full of unexpressed love.

Which reminds me. The street dogs (of which there are many) in Chile are not dogs that lack owners; they are dogs that are owned by everyone. People feed them. People pet them. They are basically the guard dogs of public spaces, keeping an eye on all us humans, and asking only for a little food and belly rubbing in return.

“It Wasn’t a Real Dictatorship” (Chilean Politics)

If you think U.S. politics are divisive, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

I had a conversation with my host family recently about the Allende-Pinochet transition era (cerca 1983). My host parents lived through both the Allende and the Pinochet regimes. My host mom described the Allende phase as being horrible. (In many ways, it was. Imagine standing in a long line for a little bread even though your pockets are overflowing with bills and coins. Imagine being kicked out of your home for making the mistake of being born into a wealthy family.) But then my host dad interjected with something that just about made my jaw drop: the Pinochet era “wasn’t a real dictatorship.”

Say what!?

I have seen, with my own two eyes, Villa Grimaldi in Santiago, formerly a torture site where Pinochet’s political enemies entered and were often never seen again. I have seen the memorial wall with the names of known victims of the Pinochet military-political regime and blank spaces left open for the names of victims who have yet to be found. Pablo Neruda, who I have read for three months straight (ugh) in my Chilean Poetry class, was exiled for being a socialist. Even when Pinochet formally descended from his seat as President his hand was in Chilean politics well into the 90’s.

Tell me again that Pinochet’s government was not a dictatorship.

I did not say this to my host dad, though. Part of me wishes I had. Another part of me doubts that I would have had the capacity to say it in Spanish while steam was still coming out of my ears.

Hence the divisiveness of Chilean politics: the population is still in recoil from the damage done by the double-whammy of Allende and Pinochet. Chileans have no other way to cope than to divide themselves between the extreme left and the extreme right, as if they were still fighting against Allende or against Pinochet today.

“Obama Is Arab” (Chileans on U.S. Politics)

This quote was relayed to me via another IFSA student and comes from her host mom. (Is October “Talk About Politics With Your Gringa Daughter” Month?) The words speak for themselves: Chileans have strong opinions about U.S. politics, but have a tendency to be under-informed.

There are Chileans with well-supported opinions, however. I was stumped by a Chilean this weekend who asked me, essentially, why–on principal–the U.S. government would bail out the big banks if they were doing so poorly in the first place. I tried to explain that without the help they would fail, and failing would bring the whole economy down. But when you think about it a little too long–about the way economies go up and down all the time anyway, about the way that the bailout didn’t actually help–that justification doesn’t really justify anything.

“What is a Bagel?” (Chilean Cuisine)

Chileans eat bread constantly. They are the number two consumers of bread in the world (you can confirm this with my admittedly less-than-academic source here, if you wish). That does not mean, however, that you can walk down any street in Vina del Mar and stumble upon tortillas, crusty rolls, and bagels within an easy stroll of each other. My host mom didn’t even know what a bagel is until I did my best to explain them to her.

Yes, Chileans eat a lot of bread, but only specific types of bread.

My host family eats a lot of these:

They’re called hallullas and they are dense, meal-like rocks (oh, I mean “rolls”) made out of simple carbs and butter. Some days I hate them. Some days I like them. All days I feel the urge to refuse eating the second of two halves at breakfast. I try not to eat them at lunch and dinner altogether since I have so much food on my own plate to focus on without even considering the bread sitting on a serving plate off to the side.

They feed me so much here it is ridiculous.

With one exception: once isn’t a terribly big meal. Once is great. It’s like British tea time but much, much better. You’ve got your tea, for sure, but you’ve also got your instant coffee (what Chileans drink at home in place of brewed coffee), your hallullas, your avocado, your queso fresco (light, refreshing, almost odorless type of cheese), more bread, jam, crackers, butter… I suppose each family does once differently, but the idea is that it is a meal made of appetizers and snacks to go with your tea or coffee. It often replaces dinner.

Chorrillana, a Valparaiso invention that spread to the rest of Chile because it’s delicious and should be eaten everywhere, can also replace dinner. It might also be the cause of many a clogged artery. Let me explain what this mess of wonderfulness includes. It is stratified by layers of different things. On the bottom are the French fries. In the middle are the fried onions. On top is a carnivore’s heaven: grilled pieces of beef and sausage.

So, tonight: shall it be once, dinner, or chorrillana?

Adventuring in Argentina

La cosa mas peligrosa de paracaidismo es que te guste.

“The most dangerous thing about skydiving is that you might like it.”

–Tandem jump instructor.

So, I finally told my parents from back home–purposefully belatedly–that I spent the past school holiday jumping out of a small plane from over 9,000 feet in the air after learning how to do so in a language not native to me.

My mom seemed to shrug it off, which surprised me. I was expecting to hear a scream that could break windows. My step-dad was proud of me (but not in that macho kind of “oh that’s so cool, high five” kind of way). My sister commented on my awesome new profile picture of me parachuting to the ground with “You really did it!? S#*t!”

I may have worried my host mom sick by talking about the plans with her before leaving for my trip to Mendoza, Argentina (metropolitan population of 848,000, and an approximately 6 hour bus ride away from Vina del Mar). In fact, when I got back, it turns out that she really had gotten sick to her stomach. I felt so guilty for being away from her during that time and having the time of my life while she was suffering, confined to her bed, and at one point, even in the hospital. Bwaaaaaaa :( Don’t worry, she’s back to normal now.

The fact is that I did indeed have the time of my life. The weekend in Mendoza started with a bike tour of the wine-growing region. (Let me tell you, you haven’t tasted real chocolate until you’ve tried pepper-flavored chocolate from an artisanal producer.) We continued our adventure with a buffet dinner in town. I left that dinner weighing 10 pounds more than when I entered. We ran into the bike rental place employee at the restaurant, too, and had ourselves a discussion about gringos in Argentina and how the guy wants to live in the Australian outback.

The next day was the fateful one: skydiving. Yes, a pretty expensive few minutes of excitement; but worth it? You bet! The first step was signing my life away to the Fates and the Lawyers. Then my travel buddies and I learned how to not get hurt while plummeting to the ground at 200 kilometers per hour…in Spanish. And we understood everything perfectly.

(That says two things: 1. My and my friends’ language faculties have improved by leaps and bounds since arriving in Chile; and, 2. As with the Peruvian accent I mentioned in this earlier post, the Argentine accent is… less “specialized” than the Chilean accent. Heck, every accent is less specialized than the Chilean accent. However, it’s really grown on me. The only way I can say gracias now is like a Chilean. Yeah, OK, fine, more like a gringa trying to be Chilean.)

We climbed the sky in a tiny plane that felt like it could have been blown off its trajectory by a strong enough gust of wind. Luckily, it didn’t. Up in the sky the view was spectacular. It was almost peaceful.

And then they opened the door. That’s when it got real.

And then my plane buddy wasn’t sitting in the plane anymore. That’s when it got more real. And then my feet were dangling off the wing of the plane, the only support for them being the ground 9,000 feet below. That was the worst part. And then I was in position for the jump. I felt like I was hanging on that edge of the plane for a year and a half. And then we (tandem jump instructor and I) were spinning in the air–and falling, too, apparently, though it didn’t feel like it.

That free fall liberated me from something. Terrestrially confined body movement, for sure, but something else, too…something I can’t really put my finger on. Something formless and invisible, but real.

And then the parachute was pulled and we gingerly floated like a giant feather toward the earth, which was spread out like a quilt of vineyards and cities and roads below me. The Andes were a big (very big) wrinkle in the quilt to one side, as though someone had been sleeping underneath it and forgot to make the bed after waking up.

And then I was on my feet again, obeying the laws of gravity, with severely impaired hearing. It turns out going 200km per hour without being covered in something like a car can put so much pressure on your ears that they just decide to take a little break from hearing for a while. Don’t worry, they’re fine now.

And then I was being helped out of the harness. And then I decided that I loved the whole thing and I want to do it again.

Yes, tandem jump instructor, I think you were right: I fell victim to the greatest danger of skydiving. Sure, in danger of wanting to blow money on this quite expensive (though cheap compared to the U.S.) experience every time I get the chance. In danger of wanting to try other extreme outdoor activities, I suppose. But mostly, in danger of not having any excuse to do other things that scare me–dancing in public, falling in love, applying for competitive internships. “But, Anjie, you jumped out of a frickin’ plane before!” I have been left defenseless. And that, my friends, is the most dangerous thing that anything can do to anyone.

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As Promised…

Time October 12th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

…Photos of my big adventure to Peru and the Atacama Desert!

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11 Days, 6 Flights, 5 Shirts, and 4,400 Meters

Time September 27th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Possibly the best thing about studying abroad in the southern hemisphere in the fall is getting a Spring Break in September of all things. I say this because a week off from classes is exactly what allowed me to have the time of my life traveling through two different South American countries.

The General Itinerary

A bus from Vina del Mar (where I live with my host family) to Santiago. A sleepless night in a noisy party hostel that offers free dinner, wine, and club entrance every Wednesday. A plane to Lima, Peru, and another plane to Cusco, Peru. Three amazing days of breathing in little oxygen (the city is so high up it practically touches the clouds) but lots of culture. Our tour guide’s car to Ollantaytambo (Sacred Valley), a night there, a train to Aguas Calientes/Pueblo de Machu Picchu, a night without electricity in torrential mountain rain, a day exploring Machu Picchu, another night with faulty electricity, a return train and return planes, and a restless night trying to sleep on flights and in airports. Then, another plane–this time to Antofagasta. A meeting with a Chilean friend who went to middle school with me in the U.S. who I had not seen in at least 4 years, a bus to San Pedro de Atacama, two days and three nights in the driest and most spectacular desert in the world, a broken bus and a subsequent transfer to a working bus, an earlier flight than planned to Santiago, another bus, and a few long blocks to my comfy, familiar bed.

I’m Definitely Not in Chile Anymore

The first thing you notice when leaving Chile after a little over two months of deciphering Chilensis is the clarity of everyone else’s Spanish. Peruvians are no exception. No longer does “maomeo” stand in for “mas o menos.” No longer must you answer questions like “Cachai?” (more or less like “Comprendes?”) or “Donde tai?” (“Donde estas?”). Nope: in Peru, the Spanish is almost as clear as the Sacred River that runs through the Peruvian Andes.

The second thing you notice is that the Incas (well, originally the pre-Incan civilizations of which I do not remember the names) were onto something when they built their cities and monuments in the mountains: it is breathtakingly beautiful up there. There is a magic in that (thin) mountain air that you cannot find near sea level.

The third thing you notice is cultural, religious, and architectural melding. Buildings are constructed right on top of centuries-old Incan foundations. Catholic churches feature guinea pig Last Suppers and moreno Jesus Christs. Folkloric dances invoke both the Andean tradition and the later European influences. And yet, there is nothing else like the completely unique Cusquena (Cusco-based) culture. The bright textiles, the complex foods, the Quechua accent noticeable when layered over the clear Peruvian Spanish, the small-town feel that permeates through a city of 400,000… If it were not for the fact that Cusco is consistently overflowing with annoying tourists like me, I would move there.

I fully hiked Machu Picchu Mountain, by the way.

Perfect Desert to that Meal

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile is another tourist town, and for good reason. It turns out the driest desert in the world is one of the two most beautiful places I have ever visited in my life (the other one being Peru). The Atacama desert may not have any rain, ever, but it does have:

Several distinct lakes and lagoons: Where flamingos harvest tiny shrimp, where tourists who don’t know how to swim (oh hey, that’s me again) float lazily upon water that contains 44% salt, where geysers feed pools warm enough to keep your body from freezing in the -11 degree C air at 6 in the morning,

Really cool rocks: In interesting shapes and made out of volcanic ash, Andean mountain discards, and this supernatural yet earthy red color that any visual artist would kill to reproduce,

Volcanoes,

Snow (don’t ask me how it gets there),

Charming cities built over oases,

Lovely sunsets,

And just plain magnificent natural beauty.

While You Were Out…

The funny thing about my trip to Peru is that it coincided with the biggest annual celebration in Chile, which occurs on September 18 and continues for several days afterwards: Fiestas Patrias. Basically, from what I am told, it is Independence Day as the United States knows it, but on steroids.

And I missed it to accomplish my dream of going to Peru.

When I returned to Chile for the desert adventure it was already too late to celebrate, but I did get to see the great decoration show the nation put on for Fiestas Patrias: a great Chilean flag at every door of every building on every street in every city. Literally, I have seen more Chilean flags in the past few days than I have seen in my entire first two months of living here.

Luckily, I did not miss out on all the things Fiestas Patrias entails. I have tried most of the special foods that get made just for the holiday. I have seen Cueca (the national dance). I have been told stories of what September 18 (“el dieciocho“, informally) is like. The picture has been painted in my mind for me. For now, that will have to do.

Who knows–maybe I’ll find my way back to Chile for a future Fiestas Patrias. This country is really starting to worm its way into my heart anyway; how can I stay away too long?

 

Pictures of the journey will be up soon in a separate post, so stay tuned! And while you’re at it, please hit that “Like” button!

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Strikes and Extended Family

Time August 16th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

I hope you North-Hemispherians are enjoying your summer. I’d give anything for a true “beach day” right about now.

A Pothole in the Road: La Huelga

Thanks to the wonderful but achingly slow process of democracy, I will not be taking classes with Chilean citizens during my time spent studying abroad.

I hate having to say that. It’s a little bit heartbreaking. One of the main reasons I selected an IFSA-Butler program for my study abroad experience was because I thought I could take courses alongside Chileans. And I would have, if the majority of the Chilean population and an incredible number of student activists did not think the educational system needs change–drastic change–and that the change needs to start with this semester, nonetheless.

Or, look at it from the other side: I would be able to take classes with Chileans if the Chilean government had only accepted all of the students’ demands and initiated the changes necessary for Chileans to have a free and high-quality education system.

I’m still not sure which perspective is closest to mine, just as I still do not completely understand what the beef is (this article helps), but I do know that the student sit-ins and demonstrations have a direct impact on my study abroad experience.

I’m staying in Chile. There is no way in hell that I am leaving this country to return to boring ol’ U.S. schooling without getting my semester’s worth. But I’ve officially hit my first pothole in the road: not being able to take classes with Chileans. Credits are not the issue. I can take classes offered from the international student office, but these classes (still taught in Spanish) are exclusive to foreign students. In other words, I will take literature classes, but I will not sit next to a cute Chilean boy and read Pablo Neruda’s twenty love poems to him. I will make puppets for school children in an education-art-workshop class, but I will not make them in the company of fascinating Chilean education-major students. Sad, sad, sad.

I wonder how many of those Chilean students I would have met in class are participating in the protests, and how many are sitting at home with their eyebrows bunched up on their foreheads, thinking, When is this all going to end? And what if I was a Chilean-citizen public university student–where would I stand? What would I be doing today? Would I be sitting in a freezing cold, barricaded classroom, holding the semester hostage to the tune of reform refrains? Or would I be watching las noticias on TV, criticizing my classmates for marching in the streets of Santiago without government permission?

There is one thing I know would be different: I would not have homework due tomorrow. Lucky guys.

Here is what Chilean universities look like when covered in protesters’ slogans and banners:

An Apartment in Santiago: La Familia Chilena

Yesterday was my first time in Santiago outside of the airport. It was my host mom’s father’s birthday. He is 80-something and talks and walks around the apartment like a teenage sprite. His wife is an adorable little lady who appears more her actual age but still has the gift of gab. His other children–my host mom’s siblings–are gregarious, entertaining, and caring. The eight-year-old cousin of my host sister speaks better Spanish than me.

The Chilean Family is a beautiful thing. Perhaps some U.S. families are similar to The Chilean Family, but it is far from my experience and thus deserves to be turned into a proper noun–capitalized and everything.

First, there are the greetings. Hugs and right-cheek kisses abound. This is very Chilean.

And by Chilean, I guess I mean Basque-French-German-Spanish-Italian-Argentinian-Mapuche-Chilean. Because the first thing you should know about any culture, just as with the U.S., is that it is a mixture of many parts. A significant part of the Chilean population has roots in the Basque region of Spain, and even more have roots in Spain in general. A good part of Chileans also descend from the immigrants of other European countries (my host grandmother’s father’s last name is French). All these Chileans–well, more often than not–also descend from the Mapuche Native Americans who occupied Chile long before Spain went a-conquesting in the Americas. And according to my Spanish prof, Chileans copy some Argentinian slang. What I am getting at is this: Chilean culture is not always completely Chilean. Some aspects of it parallel things true to other parts of the world.

Anyway. The whole kiss-on-the-right-cheek greeting is very Chilean because not only family members do it. If you are a woman like I am, the way people greet you for the first time is a kiss on the right cheek. Although, I still haven’t learned if you’re supposed to tell people your name before or after you kiss them on the cheek…

So, after the kissing and hugging come the teases of affection. If I were to directly translate how the grandfather greeted his son, it would read something like this: “Hi fatty, how are you? Where is your woman?” What this really means, though, through the lens of The Chilean Family relations, is: “Hey son, long time no see! You’ve put on a little weight since I’ve seen you last. How are you doing otherwise? Is your wife here?” Calling someone a gordo here, in the context of familiarity, means nothing more than affection. When you see this in action, one realizes how stiff U.S. Americans are with each other–always afraid of voicing their observations, of insulting someone, of seeming callous. But the typical U.S. American family’s way of avoiding topics like weight, skin color, height, and other physical aspects is just plain silly. Yes, The Chilean Family is a beautiful thing.

And being a U.S. American in this setting is fun, too. Even when the party was seated in the living area after a toast to the birthday boy, I got to chime in on the conversation. I felt included the whole time because the U.S. was always a main topic of conversation–either aspects of the country itself or people and products of the country. When we talked about how humans are destroying the planet, one person brought up Al Gore’s documentary. When we discussed the student strikes, the U.S. was always a source of comparison. (“If college education can’t be free in a country as wealthy as the U.S., how can anyone think education can be free in a developing country?”)

U.S.-centrism is annoying when you have to suffer through Justin Bieber songs on the radio in the last country on earth you would think you would have to hear him. (Then again, the Biebs is everywhere at once.) But Chile’s eyes on the U.S. is great when you’re looking for a way into conversations at a birthday party filled with people you just met.

 

You might have noticed that I haven’t said “American” in place of “U.S.” I was kindly reprimanded by a professor recently for conflating the two terms. I was all like, “I’m American,” and he was all like, “I’m American, too.” Chileans are Americans. Remember that. I sure will.

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The Other Side of the World is Really the Other Side of the Mirror (and Other Stories)

Time July 28th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Consider this your fair warning: If I intend to do the past week any justice, then this blog entry is going to have to be epically long. I suggest that you make yourself an iced tea and get comfortable.

The Other Side of the World is Really the Other Side of the Mirror

The following is a recipe for San Franciscans wishing to adjust to the Chilean physical and social environment.

Take everything you’re used to and gently turn it 180 degrees, making sure none of the contents shift in the process. Add drastic changes in daily winter temperature, Chilean Spanish (no substitutes), and a fully open capitalist market. Skim off from the top the adherence to the stated speed limit; remove and dispose of immediately. Serve with a side of parallel politics.

Everything here, with the exception of the added ingredients mentioned above, is familiar. Chile physically seems to mirror Northern California. San Francisco is “The City by the Bay”; Vina del Mar and Valparaiso, then, must be “The Sister Cities by the Other Bay.” Central Chile’s hills and Mediterranean-biome plant life mirror the hills and plant life of the Bay Area. Like most of northern California, the winter isn’t all that bad. (Yes, it gets really cold at night, even after what felt like a Spring day, but that’s because in Chile houses are not kept artificially warm with central heating like they are in the U.S.) Valparaiso has ascensores to climb the hills for you; San Francisco has cable cars for the same purpose. The ocean sparkles in the sun here the same way it does in northern California. Even the politics have things in common.

Right now, the university I am supposed to attend is almost entirely shut down due to student protests in response to what the students consider a mis-allocation of government funds for education. A couple of years ago, San Francisco State University students blocked off access to an academic building in response to increases in tuition and cuts to academic offerings.

The Chilean student strikes are more complicated than my brief introduction above, of course–not that I fully understand what’s going on myself–but it seems to me that young Chileans are similarly, but more grandly, demonstrative as Californians.

In my pre-departure post I assumed that nothing would be familiar to me in Chile. I was wrong. Almost everything is familiar, but in an inverted, re-mixed sort of way. I’m living on the other side of the mirror.

Parque Nacional La Campana

La Campana is a national park in the Fifth Region of Chile (where Vina del Mar and Valparaiso are located, along with a good chunk of central inland Chile). IFSA took us here during orientation.

For now, I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.

No Te Preocupes

“Do not expect breakfast in bed,” IFSA staff tells us during orientation. So what happened on the first morning I spend with my host family? I was brought breakfast in bed. It happened the following morning, too. One might think this is awesome–and it is. I mean, who doesn’t like breakfast in bed? But for me, it is also a little uncomfortable. I’m not a princess; I shouldn’t be treated like one.

So I asked my host mom to set breakfast for me on the table the next morning instead of bringing it all the way to my room. She did, and I felt relieved.

So what happened this morning? Breakfast in bed again. And then she was off doing something else before I could protest.

And when I do protest such luxury (she also tidied up my room for me and insisted on walking with me to meet up with IFSA friends at night), all I get is “No te preocupes” (“don’t worry about it”) and a few words explaining that she likes to do the things she does. So, either I am going to have to ask for a bejeweled crown as well, or ask my host mom to be a little less nice to me.

It makes me wonder, are all Chilean families this hyper-caring?

Carreteando with the Chileans

Last night was my first carrete–the Chilean word for party. After hanging out at a bar and having awesome conversations in Spanish with Chileans I met that night through a mutual IFSA student connection, the group took the party to one of the Chilean’s apartments. This is where a big difference between Americans and Chileans comes up. Americans like to party, but are usually in bed before the sun comes up (with some exceptions). Chileans really like to party,but don’t start until late and don’t stop until the Americans are waking up the next morning. So, I and a couple other students left “early,” while the party was still based in the apartment. Leaving early was the wrong decision. The rest of the group went dancing afterwards, and from what I hear it was a ton of fun.

Next time, I guess. There is time for a lot more carreteando this semester.

Hasta luego.

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On Walking into One’s First Discotheque Blindfolded; Or, Meet the English Major Going to Valparaiso

Time July 15th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off on On Walking into One’s First Discotheque Blindfolded; Or, Meet the English Major Going to Valparaiso by

My name is Anjelais (Anjie for short) and I am leaving San Francisco, CA for Chile in five days. I could not feel more simultaneously prepared and unprepared for this journey.

I have never been to South America before. This will also be my first time being abroad for a period of time longer than three weeks.

I have never had to use my Spanish on a daily basis before. In fact, I’m an English major. For now, at least. Perhaps my experiences this semester will change that.

I have not extensively studied Chile. I don’t know all that much about the political history of the nation, or how tall the Andes really are, or what shape the schools are in. Part of the draw of Chile to me is this: I will be somewhere I know next to nothing about, and I will leave knowing much more—probably more than most Americans.

Going to Chile like this—essentially as a blank slate and a tongue-tied gringa—must be a little like walking into one’s first discotheque blindfolded. Imagine it: The unrecognizable dance gyrations (all you know is that people keep bumping into you), the mosh pit that seems to consume every corner of whatever open space is there (you can’t even tell how big the place is), the drunken cheers (or, what you think are cheers) and the singing along to songs (well, what you think are songs) you don’t know…Chaos.

I am flying non-stop (and red-eyed) into what, for me, will most likely be complete chaos. And I can’t wait for it to begin.

Perhaps masochistically, I crave adventure and challenge. The discomfort that will come with being forced to speak in my imperfect Spanish and with navigating an unfamiliar terrain is of the utmost importance to me. After all, it is only when one is uncomfortable that one can grow. And oh, all the places I will go along the way! There are parks and deserts and mountains and beaches and ports and cities and neighboring countries and…

…And, of course, I will go to school. Perhaps three different schools. In beautiful (from what I can tell so far) Valparaiso.

Let’s go!

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