After officially being home for two weeks, I decided that it was time to write my final blog about coming home. There were many things I missed while I was abroad. The number one thing, of course, was my family. Christmas was even sweeter, especially after missing Thanksgiving. Funnily enough, the second was Dunkin Donuts iced coffee! During customs and baggage claim, I was lucky (and spoiled) enough to have my parents get me my normal Medium Iced Coffee with Caramel Swirl and Cream from the Dunkin at JFK. Thirdly, I’ve missed my friends. Many of them I kept in constant contact with during my semester away but others it had been awhile since we had talked. Either way, we fell back together like we always do and it was comforting. Read More »
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Happy New Year!
It’s easy to go into the New Year with the frameset of “new year, new me”, and as I greet 2017, I’m optimistic about diving headfirst into my professional and personal goals for the year.
2016 was a hard year. I know personally that I’ve been struggling to attempt to clarify exactly who I am, and what I want to do with my life and how to move forward to reach a point where I’m happy.
But indubitably, I can point to studying abroad as being the highlight of my year and an experience I’ll treasure for years to come, for a variety of reasons.
I’m currently writing from Chicago, Illinois as I have returned home after my absolutely wonderful semester abroad. After my Michaelmas term at Oxford ended, I spent two weeks traveling around Europe with my friends. Prior to studying abroad, most of my traveling was with my family. It is an entirely different experience to travel with peers. There are many important decisions to make and rather than simply following my parents, it was on me to determine the best course of action. Prior to my semester abroad through IFSA-Butler, I would have considered myself a novice traveler. However during my study abroad experience, I saw eight different countries, navigated the public transportation system of foreign nations, and learned to communicate despite language barriers. I honestly learned just as much while traveling as I did during the academic term. The following are some tips that I noted during my adventures:
- Know the measurements of your suitcase. Even if your suitcase is always allowed as a carry-on for various American airlines, it may be too large for certain European airlines. Either take a picture of the original tag of the bag or look up the exact suitcase online and write down its exact measurements. Additionally, while traveling it is really important to fully understand the luggage requirements of the specific airline. Sometimes the flight may be cheaper but they may charge for carry-on luggage and with the extra charger, that flight may become more expensive than the second cheapest option. Another important thing to consider is that it is often cheaper to purchase baggage online rather than at the airport, so if you expect to pay for your bag try and pay for it earlier rather than later.
- Bring locks. Locks are really useful if you plan on staying in hostels because many of them have lockers available. I brought a lock for my suitcase (that is TSA approved of course) and one for my backpack. One of the biggest tips I received was to be wary of pickpockets so whenever I traveled I kept everything locked. Then when I arrived at our hostel, I would take the lock off the suitcase, put the suitcase inside, and then use the lock for the locker.
- Carry a filtered water bottle. First, look up whether your country’s tap water is safe for drinking. If I determined that tap water was safe, I would fill up my Brita-filtered waterbottle. This was not only convenient for having water on hand, it ended up being a cost-saving measure. I found that many restaurants would only provide bottled water and they will subsequently charge to your bill.
- Don’t overuse the currency exchange. It is important to remember that every time you exchange currency, you are losing money. I found that in the beginning I was overestimating how much cash I would need at each location. It is really helpful to get a credit card that does not have international transaction fees. I figured this out prior to leaving the U.S. and found it incredibly valuable. With this kind of credit card, I learned that I really did not need too much cash. By the end of my trip I was only taking out a little bit of cash and reserved it for things I knew I couldn’t pay for with card such as cabs and small food stands.
- Protect your passport. While I advise against carrying your passport everywhere, I also advise against leaving it in anywhere that might not be secure. If the hostel I was staying at had a locked locker, I felt comfortable leaving my passport. Otherwise I kept it within an zipped inside pocket in my jacket. It is definitely the most important thing you have and by far the most difficult thing to replace. A good rule of thumb is that at any point in the day, any day of the week you should be able to say where your passport is currently located.
- Google Maps is great for public transportation. Using public transportation is such a great way to save money. Furthermore, it is much easier than I ever anticipated. Google Maps worked in every city I was in and I found it to be incredibly accurate. Additionally, I found that in places such as train stations and bus stations it is relatively easy to find someone who speaks English and they can tell you exactly what kinds of tickets to purchase. Google Maps not only tells you which bus or train to take, it also tells you the time it will arrive and when the next one is coming. Furthermore, you can download a city to your saved “offline” locations and then you can use Google Maps without any wifi or data.
Thanksgiving is consistently one of my favorite times of the year. It comes at a very stressful time during the semester, so it’s always so nice to go home for a week, be spoiled by my parents, and eat comfort food. I completely forgot that the English don’t celebrate Thanksgiving (understandably so) and come September I realized that for the first time in my life I would be celebrating the holiday away from my family.
Initially, I was really nervous – truthfully more than I expected to be. My parents even offered to fly me home for the long weekend because my tutorials on Monday/Tuesday allowed me to do so without missing anything important. However, I declined their kind offer because I felt that a part of being abroad is to adapt to new, potentially uncomfortable situations. Being away from my family on a day that I have never been without them definitely fell into this category. Read More »
As of today, I have officially been home from Australia for a month. And to be honest, I have some mixed feelings about being home for such a long period of time before going down to my home uni again in another week. I do love being home, especially because I was blessed to have a beautiful white Christmas with my family in my hometown with plenty of cheer (and not to mention, lots and lots of food). I still have friends that stuck around in Straya a few weeks after I did, and seeing their photos or videos online definitely makes my heart squeeze a little because I miss the sunshine and the Australian accent. I try to use the Aussie lingo sometimes just to keep it alive in my heart, but I have definitely been given a few odd looks after asking “hey, how ya goin’ today?” even in the most casual setting. I won’t let that stop me from throwing out “heaps” whenever I can, though!
Sometimes I feel like I forget that I even was gone in a foregin country for 5 months. Then, I’ll get a message from an Australian friend, or I’ll see a photo that I took on one of our adventures, and everything comes rushing back all at once how much I’ve learned and been lucky enough to see. Thankfully, I have plenty of reminders of my travels and really enjoyed creating a photo album with all of my photos, ticket stubs, postcards, and little things I collected along the way that remind me that nothing was a dream, but it makes it all still tangible to me no matter where I’ll be in the future. There are so many memories that I never want to forget, and I feel like the only way to make sure I never do is to solidify them in pictures and journals, so I can look back on them whenever I want to feel nostalgic. Australia will always have a very special place in my heart now, and I take every opportunity I can to tell people about my travels and how incredible the Aussies are. I’ve noticed many things that are very different in America vs Australia, as I knew I would notice when I came home, and some of them are very familiar and others make me question why we Americans are so different and how we can improve many things to be more efficient with our country in comparison.
Overall, I’ve adjusted to being back home very well because I’ve been around my family and two of my closest friends as much as possible, and been able to work at the job I have during the summer to earn back a little of the money I spent abroad (which, to be honest, was a lot). The strangest thing to get used to the first few days was not hearing the Aussie accent around me, but now I can hardly remember when that was all I heard (and I’m too horrible at accents to try and recreate it for others, sadly enough). I feel that I’m the same person I’ve always been, but I have so much more knowledge and confidence in my abilities overall now that I’ve survived on my own for months in a foreign country, making me feel worldly and traveled with a lot more cultural balance beneath my belt. I would never, ever trade my experiences in Australia for anything, and I feel like I studying abroad was the best decision I could have ever made for myself during my college experience, because I have learned more about people, myself, and the world than I ever could have in a classroom.
Cheers, for the last time,
Casey is Counting…the days until she can go back, the amount of money she has left, the number of memories she made, etc.
It’s official. I am back in the US of A. But before I talk about that, let me tell you about my pre-Christmas adventures!
The first weekend in December was my last real weekend in the UK, so I figured I’d make the most of it! First, I headed to Bath for the crowded Christmas Markets, where I stocked up on Christmas presents for my family, and the Roman Baths. It was quite a fun little trip! Next on the list of places I had to visit was Northern Wales. I got on my first train of seven for the day on my way to Blaenau Ffestiniog, a slate mining town, home to Bounce Below–the largest underground trampoline park in the world! I had a blast at the underground trampoline park! Then, I made it to the town with the longest name in the world–Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
Have you ever gone to school on Thanksgiving? Up until today, I hadn’t. The UK doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, remember? So last Thursday was a normal school day, filled with professors, reading assignments, lectures, and a full on American Thanksgiving feast.
Yes, that’s right–my flat celebrated Thanksgiving! We had turkey, stuffing (oh my gosh, so much stuffing), mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green beans, rolls, corn–we went all out. For dessert, we even had apple crisp and pecan pie! We made hand-turkeys, listened to Christmas music, and shared lots of laughs. In case you missed the stellar video we all made, please watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XKONuW0-eI
The weekend with them made me realize just how much I’ve missed seeing each of their faces every day like I have for the past two years at school. Lately, I’ve been missing a lot of things, actually. Mostly, it’s just been little everyday things that I took for granted before moving to a different country–97 cent Suave shampoo and conditioner, Wendy’s junior cheesburgers, dryer sheets, etc. It would seem silly to me if I were the one reading this, but, as I write it, it makes perfect sense. These things used to be constants in my life, and I never thought a time would come when I wouldn’t have the option to have them. It’s made life a bit more interesting. Trying to find a deoderant that wasn’t spray-on, or a box of Kraft mac and cheese to make for dinner, while trying to keep the “trolley” (shopping cart) under control–all of the wheels move, not just the ones in the front, so they can be kind of hard to steer–has been quite an experience, I’ll admit.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy trying new things and being in a new place–I absolutely love it! All I mean to say is it has made me a bit more thankful for the things I used to take for granted. I am really looking forward to getting my hands on some of these “delicacies,” but also know that when the time comes for me to leave in just a few short weeks, I will be missing the things I’ve come to see as normal here. I’m already dreading the goodbyes I’ll have to say in 12 days…
In other news, CHRISTMAS IS ALMOST HERE!
Want to know more about me? More about my adventure? More in general? Check out my travel blog “Casey in Cardiff” by clicking here or typing the following into your browser: www.caseyincardiff.weebly.com.
I’m finally home!! After my program ended, I was fortunate enough to travel around Argentina with my parents for ten days before catching a flight back to the States (I’ll insert some pictures of our adventures below) and since then have been having a relaxing holiday week with family and friends.
To wrap up this blog series, I wanted to share three takeaways on my study abroad experience now that I have been home.
Some thoughts now that I’m back home. Thanks for watching
“Why do you leave? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there you see differently, too. Coming back to where you started is never the same as not leaving.” Terry Pratchett
For the sake of continuity, I’m starting my last post with another quote. After almost 24 hours of travel I’ve now been home for two weeks, and besides the extreme change in weather the transition has been pretty seamless – it’s kind of scary how easily I slipped back into my usual routine. It’s been kind of overwhelming only hearing English around me for the first time in five months, and I sometimes find myself thinking in Spanish, but otherwise going back to the US has been fairly uneventful. I think going back to college will be the toughest part of resuming life in the US, after a brief two-week vacation. While I’m excited to see my friends, teammates, and professors, I’m nervous about returning to the craziness of the trimester system and juggling track practice, work, academics, and extracurriculars again.
This might be the blog post I have dreaded the most. When hearing “final blog post,” one would think it should wrap up my whole semester abroad nice and neatly with a cute little bow, probably with some important moral of the story or reflection about how much I’ve grown this semester.
However, I can’t quite do that. Not only is it too much of a cliché, but I am also realizing that my experience abroad cannot all be summed up in a few hundred words, written about with a note of finality that could somehow mean I’m done living it.
A lot of my friends in my program have mentioned how much they’ve changed and discovered who they are. I am not sure I really had that experience. Sophomore year at Georgetown was an important, challenging and transformative experience—and I think I left it already knowing who I am and the person I want to be. So what do I take away from my experience? While they can’t really sum up my whole experience abroad, here are a few things that really impacted me:
- My host family: I’ve touched on this in past blog posts, but I really wouldn’t have it any other way. Living with a host family has helped me to improve my Spanish so much more than I believe I could have if I lived in a student residence with other international students. I can’t begin to explain how comforting it was to have a warm, home-cooked meal to come home to each day at the end of my classes. Having a “mom” abroad to hug, vent to, and share my day with is what really made me feel at home in Santiago.
- Improving my Spanish: This comes from living with a host family to taking all classes in Spanish with Chilean students. It was difficult at first—especially taking an economics class in Spanish with different symbols and formulas, but it was worth it. It was a learning curve—I didn’t feel like I started to notice myself significantly advancing until about two months in.
- My classes- Two classes I took were a couple of the most interesting classes I’ve ever taken. I took a class called “Economic Development in Latin America” and “The Foreign Policy of Latin American Countries.” In the States, the only time we ever learn about Latin America is when we talk about the Mayas, Aztecs, or Incas, great empires, and important to study, yes. However, I’ve never really studied contemporary Latin America, especially from a non-U.S. perspective. While there are definitely aspects of my country that I am extremely proud of, I’ve learned just why so many non-Americans are angry about actions of our past. Learning of the not-so-stellar ways that the U.S. has involved itself in other elections has been humbling.
- Learning about the dictatorship: I don’t believe that I discussed this in any earlier blog posts, and perhaps I should have. Chile experienced a dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet from 1973-1990. I can’t even begin to describe how awful it was or the ways that it still permeates society today. Before I came to Chile, I knew nothing about it, so I’m glad that I am at least a little less ignorant about it now. While I don’t want to go into details for personal privacy’s sake, my host family was actively involved in the resistance. Unfortunately, many people, usually political opposition like socialists, were tortured, exiled, and executed. While it was sad to learn about, learning about it helped me to better understand Chile as a country.
I am back now at home in Boston. I miss Chile, especially my host family. But it is also really nice to be home. I don’t, however, feel like this is the end of my abroad experience. Maybe what I can take away is that I opened my mind more this past semester. And I plan on continuing doing that, traveling, and learning through the stories of more people I meet as time goes on.
As the new year approaches, I’ve been enjoying home for the past two weeks; catching up with friends, wolfing down pizza and bagels, and indulging in the English music I’ve blocked out the past five months. It was an adjustment going from the sunny 80 degree weather of Buenos Aires to the cold 35 degrees of New Jersey, but it’ll a good transition for when I return to the tundra known as Maine where Bates is located. The biggest shock has definitely been being able to understand random conversations from people I pass on the street. It’s also been a change reading signs- the words simply glazing past with no effort while in BA there was usually some degree of delay from reading the words to processing their meaning.
Post-study abroad slump hasn’t hit me…yet. I’m hoping that staying busy will keep me occupied so I don’t look at abroad pictures for too long. If I get nostalgic, I’ll have the music of Soda Stereo, Gilda, Tototomas, Jorge Drexler and Julieta Venegas to name a few. I brought home my mate gourd and managed to squeeze three bags of yerba in my suitcase, so hopefully I’ll be able to keep up my addiction somehow! And of course, I have my memories of a time I’m sure will become even more positive as time passes.
At this point looking back, I’m not sure if my experience has necessarily changed me. Rather, I believe it confirmed a few things.
My own privileges. Buenos Aires, and Argentina as a whole may be liberal, but just as it wasn’t the gay capitol of South America I envisioned, there’s always something underneath the surface. My black and Asian friends in my program had to deal with all kinds of offensive behavior and harassment, sometimes beyond simple curiosity or misunderstanding. It wasn’t enough to ruin their experiences, yet it was something they had to deal with nonetheless. And while as a white gay man I would be considered a minority, I didn’t have to take as much percussion when going on dates with men from dating apps than my female peers, or even walking the streets.
Taking risks are usually worth it. I made great friends in my program, but I found that I got other unique parts out of Buenos Aires by either hanging out with Argentine friends, or going to places by myself. Perhaps as a natural introvert it seemed more logical for me to break off, though there were certainly times in the beginning I didn’t want to seem anti-social. Yet in the end, it’s your experience, and it might be your only time in this place. After all, me taking the initiative was the reason I ended up going to La marcha del Orgullo, one of the highlights of my experience. So I would say to go out of your way- it’ll make your trip so much more worth it.
Un monton de gracias for those who have kept up with me throughout my journey! For those who are going to BA in the future or want to know more, feel reach to reach out in whatever capacity.
Un gran abrazo
One of the final IFSA Butler events was the Despedida Cena where the students and the director and her assistant were all invited to share a meal and thoughts for one final last time.
I don’t remember much of the food except for starving it all down because I was so hungry but I remember there being a lot of emotion and anxiousness about what was to be expected of us when we returned back to our ‘old lives’ in the United States. However, after spending 5 months traveling, getting to know other people from different parts of Latin America and the world in general and speaking in a non-native language, there was no ‘normal life’ to return to.
After saying goodbye to my professors, we all went out for a final time to Miercoles Po, the local party spot for gringos who don’t want to pay a cover fee. We danced our hearts out and had our last good time together. It was a great way to say thanks and adios to a place that served as our literal homes for the past 5 months.
Five very long months later, I’m greeting my Mom’s familiar face and my beloved bed and car. It was a hard goodbye leaving my host family but an even harder welcome home coming back and not knowing what exactly to do with myself.
In many senses, abroad changed me. The goals I set at the beginning of the semester actually came true in their own senses and I feel like despite how much I learned about Chile, I learned even more about myself and what I want out of life to make myself happy. Coming into abroad, I was going through personal struggles- a break up, ending friendships, a poor Instagram follower-to-likes ratio and coming to terms with the fact that I would be a whole season behind on the Mindy Project on Hulu (which isn’t even available in Chile- as if?!)
My time abroad made those struggles even worse as I tried to resolve my personal life while adjusting to a complete switch in my life where I was surrounded by strangers, who at the time, likely would have been overwhelmed by my poor explanations in Spanish and lack of familiarity with my personality to even help me. It was hard, I cried, I did things I regretted and eventually learned within the last month and a half that it’s almost impossible to stop feeling overwhelmed by yourself. It’s also okay to reach out for help and talk about things- in this period my host mom became one of my best friends in Chile and I started to tell her everything.
It was the last month and a half of Chile when I realized what host families were really for: to be there for you and to serve as a place of refuge when you were feeling down. Shoutout to my comuna Ñuñoa- I love y’all. Siempre en mi corazón.
- The Radcliffe Camera in all its glory
2. High St as seen from the University Church. Make sure to ask for a student discount (only for Oxford) when climbing the tower
3. The central part of Oxford. The sidewalks are often too narrow to accommodate all pedestrians
4. The lawn and iron railings are protecting the library from hundreds of tourists
5. The final international get-together of Michaelmas in Freud, the bar located inside an old church in Jerico
6. Oxford loves subtle colors and classic fits. (Packing neatly is often the key to fitting more clothes into your suitcase)
7. The Queen is saying “Good Bye” in London Luton Airport
The last week before going home, a few friends and I made a trip to the wondrous Patagonia and flew into Punta Arenas, Chile. Despite Santiago having temperatures an upwards of 25 degrees Celsius, the weather in the south of the world seemed like a breezy North Eastern fall. Days were long, like really long. And the nights were very cold.
We stayed at a cute hostel, Domos Hostel, and were so impressed by the cute little town and all it had to offer. Unlike other parts of rural Chile, it was evident that this town had been marked and shaped for tourism. In the center, there was a concentration of vegan and vegetarian restaurants with posh layouts. Our hostel had three types of Wifi, one for the office, one for breakfast and one for just the regular dome rooms. Taxis ran frequently and there were tour guide businesses on basically every corner.
An integral part of my experience in Chile has undoubtedly been my Chilean family. Similar to most other students in my program, I live with a señora/dueña de la casa. Additionally, I have a hermana mayor and her daughter as well.
Needless to say with three other people in the house, the life I’m accustomed to at home as an only child has been challenged. From my first days in Santiago, they have gone above and beyond in taking care of me and making sure I knew how to get to various places (even if their directions are wanky- I often resorted to Google Maps anyway). While I know that each Chilean family is distinct in its own way, mine was a big part of my daily schedule and helping me understand Chilean culture on a personal level. Read More »
After almost 5 months I’m finally home. When I’m asked how my experience in Argentina was, I immediately respond “AMAZING!!” and start telling stories. However, when I’m asked how it feels to be home, my response is “it’s kinda weird actually”. It was weird walking through the Denver airport and seeing all the signs written in English, and being able to understand every conversation that’s going on around me. It was weird walking into my house and sleeping in my old bed. The normality of home makes it seem as if the whole thing was just a dream. Read More »
My last week in Argentina was spent backpacking in Bariloche and San Martín de los Andes, in the southern part of Argentina. My travel buddy on this trip was an amazing friend and Argentine native who has been traveling here almost every summer since he was a child, so he knew the ropes. Read More »
After we finished our final exams, all 50-something students on the IFSA Argentine Universities program got to go on an excursion to Uruguay to celebrate the end of the semester and Thanksgiving. At first, my friends back in the states were jealous that I was already finished with school, but when I reminded them that my semester started in July, they realized that my semester was just as long as theirs. Read More »
The Iguazu Falls, on the border of Argentina and Brazil, are the largest waterfall system in the world and one of the natural wonders of the world. A lot of my friends traveled to the falls on a bus with a travel company called BAIS (Buenos Aires International Students). However, the bus ride is about 22 hours, and after my experience with the broken down bus on the way home from Mendoza, I decided to save this trip for when my family visited and take a 2 hour plane ride instead.
The trip can be done in two days because the tiny town of Iguazu itself doesn’t have much to offer besides a small downtown area with some restaurants and tourist shops. It’s possible to see the falls from both the Argentina and Brazil sides, but it’s extremely expensive to get a visa to visit Brazil. Unless you play on traveling more in Brazil, it’s best to stay on the Argentina side.
If you’re going to see the falls, you MUST pay the extra money to go on a boat ride that goes right under them. It is so worth it. The sound of the water falling is thunderous, and you get soaked from head to toe. You’re given dry bags to put you shoes and electronics in, and we dried off quickly in the hot summer sun.
The waterfalls were truly the most beautiful thing I witnessed in Argentina. After the boat ride there’s a ton of trails and boardwalks you can walk on to see the falls from all angles. I felt like a monkey while walking through the jungle, so I couldn’t help climbing a tree and posing like one for a picture.
Standing on one of the lookouts and viewing the waterfalls framed by a perfect rainbow from all the mist was an unreal moment. I’d seen pictures and postcards of this place, but they don’t do it justice. You know that you made the right decision and that all of the struggles of studying abroad were worth it when you get to see a view that takes your breath away.
The second half of my semester abroad flew by! My life got busy with planning trips, final exams and presentations, and my family visiting me. Trying to cram in as much as I could, combined with spotty wifi while traveling through Argentina, caused my blog to be pushed to the back burner. But, now I’m stocked up on amazing photos and stories to share about this crazy life abroad!
My friends and I decided to take a break from the city and travel Mendoza, Argentina for a long weekend. When we arrived to our hostel, we couldn’t help but giggle at the translation mishap that read “your funniest travel experience”. The sign was comical, but the rest of the hostel was overflowing with good vibes. We befriended some Germans backpacking through South America, and ate an amazing asado (barbecue) with them.
I was craving a little adrenaline, so I convinced my friends to sign up for one of the excursions that the hostel offered. We woke up early and took an hour long bus ride from our hostel to the mountains. The first half the of the day we hiked with our tour guide to an over-hang that we could repel off of. I love heights and I was the last one to jump, so getting to watch the expressions on my friends’s faces who feared heights was priceless.
In the afternoon, we geared up in wet suits, life jackets and helmets and headed to the Mendoza River for “white” water rafting. Even though the water was completely brown from sediment and runoff, the experience was exhilarating. The rapids soaked us and our guide excellently guided us through the tricky parts.
After another full day of a bike tour through vineyards, we were exhausted and ready to get on the bus for the 14 hour trip back to Buenos Aires. Unfortunately, at about 4:30 am we were awoken by an announcement that the bus had broken down. We waited for a new bus to arrive, but were then told that there were only 30 available seats. There was a titanic-esque moment when they announced that only women and children should get on this bus, but we were lucky enough to all find seats. The 14 hour bus ride ended up being closer to 20, but through the midst of the travel chaos I was able to snap a picture of the sunrise and was reminded that you need a certain amount of resilience and flexibility when traveling in a foreign country.
Despite the heavy rain, the march went on..and it was one of the most incredible moments of my time here.
As my time is coming to a close here in Chile, I have been thinking about the experiences that have really come to shape my time abroad. Without a doubt, volunteering once a week at Doming Savio, an after-school boys and girls club, has been one of my most meaningful endeavors. Doming Savio is located in Santiago, but on the outskirts, far away from the upper-middle class areas of Providencia, Santiago-Centro and Las Condes. The children of Domingo Savio see it as their second home, a safe place to go so that their often single mothers can work grueling hours to make ends meet.
Silvana and Isa from IFSA-Butler really encouraged us to take part in some form of volunteering activity. I didn’t know much about the organization when I signed up, but I was eager to continue my work with kids, a big part of my life at Georgetown with the D.C. Schools Project.
Starting about mid-August, three other girls from my program and I headed to Domingo Savio to meet the runners of the organization and the kids. That first day I was amazed to discover that every child that walked through the door, upon seeing us, politely greeted us with a kiss upon the cheek and an, “Hola Tía” or “Hello Aunt.” What makes Domingo Savio so special is that Tío Jorge, Tía Olga, and the other volunteers/ teachers make it their mission to instill good values within the kids, from washing their dishes, to treating their elders with respect. Everyone is treated as family, and the organization provides as much as possible to the low-income families, such as supplies of toilet paper or breakfast kits.
Anyway, I began my role as Tía. Although I was treated with total respect, I felt completely useless. As we were new to volunteering, we were unfamiliar with the routine, and where materials were kept, so often the kids would be the ones directing us. Our main tasks consisted of helping out with homework, from math to English, then playing games and assisting with crafts or cooking workshops, and finally preparing “once, “or their 6pm snack. I’d say my awkwardness, at least, was in large part due to my lack of a good grasp on the language. Before arriving in Santiago, I thought my Spanish was pretty good. However, coming here, being forced to think in Spanish constantly, and having the kids speaking rapid-fire Spanish in the typical Chilean fashion, with Chilean slang thrown in, I was pretty lost. Consequently, I felt like I was more of a liability than an asset when I first began volunteering.
Slowly, that all began to change. While yes, I’m sure that as my Spanish improved, my usefulness increased; however, a huge part of how I began to feel more at ease and more a part of the Domingo Savio community is all due to the kids. They treated us tías with the expected respect, but they also joked with me in unexpected ways. One day, as I was helping some kids with homework, Felipe* asked me how to say “fat” in English. Rather naively, I told him, and he then proceeded to taunt his friend Nicolás: “You’re fat, you’re fat!” Nicolás, rather than be upset, turned to me with a grin and shrugged, “He’s calling me fat, but we are both obviously fat”. I couldn’t hold my laughter, and soon we were all laughing together. The great thing about Domingo Savio, like I said, is more like home to the kids than school. It’s supposed to be both a break from school and a safe space at the same time. While perhaps this interaction would be considered inappropriate in a U.S. school, it was just one of many jokes that were perfectly acceptable at Domingo Savio, and what makes it so fun for the kids.
Finally, we had a routine. I didn’t really feel like I was volunteering in the sense that it was an obligation. I looked forward to laughing with the kids, giving lessons in English, helping with multiplication tables, dancing Zumba together, and preparing cheese sandwiches each Thursday. But what really made this activity so impactful in my overall experience abroad is that I got to see and be a part of another Santiago. I learned about another Santiago that one cannot easily see in the la Universidad Católica or Costanera Center. Chile is considered one of the most advanced and developed countries in the region, but just like in any other city, we can’t forget that there are families struggling as well. It was inspiring to see families work so hard to provide their children with as much opportunity as possible. Domingo Savio has strict requirements for the families in order for their children to remain in the club: incentives such as working the hours that the children are cared for. Everyone, from the parents, to the Tíos and Tías, to the children, contribute to the sense of community. I felt more involved, like a part of the city, due to this experience with Domingo Savio.
Last week I said my goodbye to Domingo Savio and everyone who is a part of it. I am not sad because I know that the kids are in extremely capable and caring hands. I am mostly just thinking how cool it was that I got to be a part of it all.
*Names have been changed