Author Archives: Natalie Jane

About Natalie Jane

Secondhand Self encourages readers to take ownership of their clothing purchases and be conscious of how what they buy and wear can shape their sense of self. Influenced by music, books, podcasts, magazines, art, and everyday life. I almost always have library fines. I'm North America's #1 fan of asparagus. Fourth year college student. Please check out my real about page for more fun info.

A New Blend of an Old Self

It’s a week after I returned from study abroad. I’ve finished unpacking my suitcases and feel like my travel home is a blur. But then I remember the 24-hour journey in which I managed to bring not only my backpack as a carry on, but also my sleeping bag, tent, and sleeping mat that somehow made it through multiple sets of security check points. I also remember the entire season of Girls I watched with jet-lagged curiosity on the flight instead of sleeping. And on the final leg, waiting around in those airport chairs  eavesdropping on strangers who I can understand because they are shockingly speaking perfect English.

The airport pickup was made by my parents who arrived with much enthusiasm and a little cooler of snacks to share. The reunion felt strangely similar to when I am reunited with my family in between semesters away at school. All one can really offer another is love and snacks at this point.

 

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Shortly after I got home, my mother and I went strawberry picking. I’ve never been so conscious of such an annual routine. Take note of the small good!

 

There are a few strange bits about being home.

The first time I got in my car and began driving, it was a feeling of pure exhilaration and luxury. I turned on the radio and felt like a million dollars.

I have a whole closet, dresser, and shelf full of clothes to wear now and am somehow feeling slightly nostalgic for my living-out-of-a-suitcase life. This is something I thought to be impossible beforehand. I  donated multiple bags of clothing to the thrift store right away.

Being home is a bit strange because you want to share your experience perfectly so you feel a bit disappointed when people don’t ask you about it, but feel equally disappointed when they do ask and you struggle to define your experience in the 30 seconds available. There are just so may facets to include in the explanation. I believe this gets easier.

 

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The face I make for reverse culture shock as a stranger at my own kitchen table. Modeled by university cat.

 

A few oddities worth mentioning:

My Facebook newsfeed is a mix of memes in both English and Spanish.

In a recent trip to town, my friend hands me his Jeep’s auxiliary cord. I put on Chilean reggae music and begin to tap the rhythm out on my thighs. He just laughs.

I feel even more strongly now post-Chile that our consumer markets are flooded with way too much stuff as I stand in front of the five shelves of peanut butter in the grocery store, reflecting on the choice between merely two types in Chile.

I wonder when I’ll find a liquor store that sells Pisco, the Chilean alcohol distilled from grapes.

I complain about the quality of avocados in Wisconsin as I open a smelly too-many-days-old one from our counter. I recall how avocados seemed immune to aging in Chile. I also feel a queasy sort of guilt for all the food miles we rack up with produce in the States.

Outside my window I hear the sound of summer frogs instead of the weekly marching band practice that sounded below my Valparaiso apartment. The cars that pass by do so in silence and I find myself grappling to define the feeling that something is missing. I realize I miss the lack of cars with open windows stuck in traffic constantly, stretched along the oceanfront and the narrow streets. Many Chileans like to leave room for their reggaeton beats to waft out.

 

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A Chilean lesson: the meaning is always in the small details.

 

I visit the flea market on Sunday and it reminds me of Valparaiso’s. My mom motions to the meats for sale, wrapped in several layers of plastic wrap, labeled, and in buckets of ice. I think about the carts of raw fish in Chile with the juices running down the sides onto the sidewalk.

There are plenty of things here I appreciate, like setting my own mealtimes, free access to my large book collection, and the easily attained feeling of home. I missed being surrounded by forested area and seeing the deer graze in the yard. I’ve enjoyed planting the garden and weeding the kale again.

 

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A few of my favorite things I enjoyed the first week home: green salad, libraries, and iced coffee.

 

But it’s quiet here and pretty stable. I miss the chaotic, random unfolding of events of a night in Valparaiso and I miss the constant opportunity for something to happen. I suppose I have been trying to find small ways to add adventure and challenge to my days here since my time away allows me to look at it all with fresh eyes.

When I first arrived home I was scared I had settled back in too easily. But as I’ve made present in the examples above, Chile is present in my thoughts and is becoming more and more frequent. I keep finding more reasons to appreciate the experience.

As for my future, my appetite for the pursuit of my goals in life seems to have grown. I’ve been devouring magazine articles and short stories, noting remarkable authors and different approaches to journalism. I’ve been thinking about new ideas to write about this fall for my school’s magazine and narrowing in on my internship options. Making goals to read more, write more, and tackle some more Spanish reading seems to have become a daily trend right after brewing my morning coffee. Each cup is a treat as I thank my garage-sale-bought Coffeemate and recall the trademark Nescafe packets of Chilean instant coffee.

I envision my life being a fuse of lines of writing, reading, non-profit work, magazine articles, and representing differences, while simultaneously embarking on my own quest. My world has grown. My world is changing. I step into my old location as a new blend of myselves, pre-Chile and post.

 

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Ciao Chile!! This photo captures the finale of a steep climb that I made at the national park La Campana. Only a bit more steep and rocky than the challenge of studying abroad! (Hah!)

 

 

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How to Live Your Life After Studying Abroad

This isn’t easy to explain. In the simplest terms, Chile has expanded my world.

Every week I encounter other people whose lives seem to be so far from the United States’ definition of career or success. People who make their living by telling stories to the passengers of the trolley cars. The man by the bus stop who sells his empanadas caseras (homemade) out of a little basket while quietly announcing to the passing crowds the day’s special.

 

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This man is giving a live performance of his music with his CDs for sale as well. At the Sunday market you can find musical artists on the drums, saxophone, rapping, and sharing their skills with the public.

 

This week I saw a truck driving through the city with its bed stacked with bundles of flowers. I saw a truck driving through the city with its bed full of drums, the instruments towering above the truck secured by a few straps. I saw a bicyclist taking a break, his hand latched onto the bed of a truck, soaring through the street. Little reminders that life is different for everyone.

 

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Pebre and chorizo served up on the street! A very Chilean combo of street meat and a type of salsa unique to this area. The street food here is a cultural factor. I’ve witnessed a man who bought a large fish tank, fastened it to a cart, and created a way to cart around his pastries for sale.

 

So if I had to describe how my experience in Chile has altered my ideas about my future, career wise or academically, I would say that it has given me a sense of calmness that has allowed me much more space to think. More important than establishing your career is ensuring that you’re seeking out the right grounds on which to establish it. And that takes a lot of time. It could involve a list of odd jobs along the way.

Before, I was a bit preoccupied with figuring out what all of my education is really amounting to. But being in Chile has helped me understand that if you listen to what you find interesting or what you are craving to know more about, you can and will lead yourself in the right direction. Right now I consider myself a student of Spanish, English writing, and philosophy. I have noted that I need to start setting intentions about which directions I’d like to be going in pretty much every aspect of my life….
In reading
In writing
In eating
In speaking
In being

 

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This man is selling birds at the Sunday market! There is also a booth that sells fish supplies and fish themselves. The market not only offers anything you need, but creates needs you didn’t know you had.

 

I would say that Chile has affected my career goals with the realization that life is constantly happening. Every moment of your day counts as your life. Envision a life you could be happy in. Look around at the lives the people around you find themselves in. Adjust yours. Admire others.

With only a set amount of days to spend somewhere, you are forced to come to terms with the concept of time.  But that is probably the way I should be living my life every day. I would say that Chile has renewed my understanding of the importance of immediacy. If there is something you think you need or want to do, don’t let the unknown next step leave you hesitating. It’s a bit scary, yes, but there is a lot of good to be found. Refusing to take that leap of faith is like refusing to play a game of cards because you don’t know what cards the other player has in their hand.

 

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Here is a photo of a woman who is selling her eggs outside the Unimarc grocery store.

 

So in an attempt to say something more concrete about my career and academic goals, Chile has helped me pick a direction because of the lessons I have learned about the value of time and the value of experience. I’m currently seeking out literary magazines to send out internship requests to and my reading list is growing a more specific focus.

My eyes are wider and my brain is more ready than ever before to seek opportunities, make connections with other humans, and live this life.

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How to Discuss Change

While I am still living in Chile for a few more weeks, attempting to write a blog post about how I’ve changed over the course of this semester feels a bit like jumping the gun. I find it a bit of a struggle to ask myself “Am I the same Natalie?” How exactly does change manifest?

It manifests in your thought patterns. It manifests in your fear. It manifests mostly when you feel the most vulnerable.

But self-recognition is due.

It’s true that I am now comfortable with being uncomfortable (or at least aware of how to make it through a rough patch). I have acquired a new level of being a good listener while trying to comprehend Chilean Spanish. The level of independence I thought I possessed before studying abroad has been surpassed over and over again with independent travels and basic independent living I’ve experienced in Chile.

In a way I feel like I’ve learned lessons that are ingrained in us at a young age, but it maybe takes an experience removed from your normal life to really grasp these lessons. The first one I can think of is that you don’t know how good you have it until it’s gone. A support system of family members, a sense of comfort and safety, a food cabinet full of familiarity, whatever it may be. Studying abroad has made me realize all of the effort put into creating your reality. When you’re forced to recreate your reality, it really demands you to examine how you’ve been living and how you would like to live in the future. It requires you to examine what action or event led to whatever you’re feeling. You are truly independent in understanding your own emotions, and confronting your emotions won’t happen unless you take the initiative to decide to do something about it.

 

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I joined a group of strangers (a mix of Chileans and study abroad students for an exchange of culture and languages!) for a weekend in Pichelemu, a town located 5 hours South of Valparaiso known for the surfer vibes and waves.

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I also explored the Atacama Desert via bicycle with a few friends that I met only two weeks ago.

 

The second lesson I’ve come to understand is that the small details are important. How you greet someone, how you walk, the amount of effort you put into a conversation, all of these things are visible to the people around you and contribute to how others perceive you as a person. Even if you are unsure about the circumstances or feel unstable, the best thing you can do for yourself and others is to focus on small details and small comforts you can give to other people. Like greeting others with a smile and a kiss on the cheek. Asking questions about their lives. Expressing interest in others.

The biggest struggle I’ve experienced is a sense of shyness that I feel takes over my mental capacity at times. However I’ve realized that while being shy is a problem, a larger problem is how a shy attitude might make the other people in the situation feel. They could feel like they aren’t interesting to you, that you are a bit egotistical, that you are unhappy in being here, a whole string of things. So even though you think you will find comfort in your quiet, I found it to be much more uncomfortable. I did not want to run the risk of being perceived as a snobbish person. In my silence I found myself feeling detached from the situation and culture, and detached from the growth of taking risk. But even in this I learned something about my behavior and the direct way it affects those around me, even when I’m not thinking about it, maybe more so then.

One thing I want to be sure is clear is the level of self awareness you feel while studying abroad. It’s like you have two pairs of eyes, one looking out on the world and one looking at you in the world. By possessing this extra set you can drive yourself crazy with self criticism, but you can also use it to understand the culture around you in more fine detail. You can use it to examine the diversity of the humans around you and appreciate the strangeness of human life. There is an infinite number of ways to be a human and an infinite number of ways to find success. Your objective is to find what kind of human you are at your best and set intentions to get there.

I think sometimes in the United States we have a rather immobile, static way of looking at success. But in Chile, success could be selling your homemade empanadas on the street everyday. Success can be pursuing art and painting murals on the street of Valparaiso. The most important part is that you listen to yourself closely to know your own ideas of success and of course, to recognize your achievements as you go. Change happens every day if you let it accompany you. If you are awake and attentive with intentions and open mindedness, positive change is always a potential.

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A Word on Being Alone

There’s a stark reality underneath the layers of all the newness that comes with study abroad (new friends, new “family,” new places). The reality is that you have transported yourself into to a completely other culture that is a whole 12 hour flight away from your home. An entire different set of humans living their lives here just as you had been living yours. They are speaking a different language and eating different foods. They shop at stores you’ve never heard of and at weird times of the day. You are surrounded by the unfamiliar and in this reality you are alone.

 

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Studying abroad can sometimes feel like you’re upside down. This photo was in the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo and was taken by Elías Adasme of Chile.

 

I don’t want this to sound like a message of fear. I want to explain that this sense of alone-ness can be your greatest friend. You create your own reality. Maybe at home, your reality was influenced by your parents or things your friends shared with you, whether it be interests, activities, ideas. Study abroad is your chance to really think about what you’d like your reality to be about and go ahead and create it.

Last weekend’s circumstances called for me to venture solo. My study abroad program had a field trip to Santigo to visit a few historically important sites and I decided instead of taking the bus back that evening with the group, I would spend the night at a hostel.

After navigating the metro system, I checked into my hostel. I was informed it was the largest hostel in Chile. While the man at the front desk was showing me around the hostel I experienced something like deja vu. The place felt like something that had appeared in a childhood dream. It had many staircases and hallways and a bohemian vibe. A kitchen with cooking things waiting to be discovered in the many cabinets. If you walked towards the center of the hostel you’d find yourself in an open air patio that continues on to the dining area. What looked like a modest, maybe shabby old brick building from the outside felt like a mansion of travelers from foreign lands on the inside.

 

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Santiago streets. It’s always the season to eat outside here.

 

After buying groceries, I spent a while under a tree in the park eating gummy worms and people watching. Perfect. I cooked dinner, a stir fry of broccoli, green onions, and bean sprouts while dancing around the other guests cooking their meals in the kitchen. We swapped a little Spanish as they monitored their pasta. Cooking dinner was very exciting because after three months of eating food cooked for me by my host family, it feels nourishing to cook for myself.

I felt like a queen.

I ate dinner with a table of girls I had never met, all from different countries all over the world. We talked and laughed and decided to find a place to dance that evening and went out together. We bonded over feelings of displacement and being inept at dancing the salsa.

In the morning the hostel had a nice breakfast included in the price of my stay so I ate as many pieces of bread as possible in true Chilean fashion, slathered in caramel-ly manjar* and consumed several cups of REAL coffee.** Fuel for my day. I planned to visit two art museums: Museo de Bellas Artes and Museo de Arte Conteporaneo.

*Manjar is similar to dulce de leche or a caramel-like spread. It bears resemblance to the caramel frequently used for caramel apples. However, Chileans put it on anything possible, like cakes, candy, donuts, and of course toasted bread for breakfast.

**It is rare to find real coffee here in Chile. If you order it in a restaurant or cafe, you will frequently receive a mug of hot water and packet of instant coffee powder on the side.

I had selected this hostel because of its walking distance to the art museums. I walked in the general direction of the museums and trusted my instincts. I stumbled upon a record sale and fingered through vinyls of many Chilean bands that I was ecstatic to recognize and had to restrain myself from spending all of my pesos.

 

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Records found at the pop up record fair. Los Prisioneros is a popular Chilean band that I recommend giving a listen.

 

I wandered through a flea market and craft vendors selling beautiful handmade clothing and jewelry. I walked through a cobblestone street surrounded by artsy cafes and bars. Eventually I found the art museums (free admission!) and spent several hours wandering around the two galleries. How fun it is to be on the other side of the earth and still be doing things you would do in your home town.

 

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Books for sale. Books in your second language seem to possess a new mystery because they reveal themselves in a whole different layer.

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More bizarre, cool things stumbled upon in the art market. Old cameras for sale.

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Photo found at Museo de Arte Contemporaneo. Called Las Dos Fridas, it is a play on the original painting by Frida Kahlo. This one is enacted by Chilean writer and artist Pedro Lemebel and photographed by Francisco Casas.

 

I got very hungry and decided to try the tiny cafe inside of the museum and was served an awesome meal of salad, soup, and spinach lasagna. The two cafe workers were about my age and had fantastic taste in music and when I paid for my meal we chatted about their great tunes.

I caught my bus back to Vina del Mar and was back home.

The point of this is that being alone is good for you. It develops self awareness, forces you to face your reality, and allows you to credit yourself with confidence. Embrace the uncomfortable zones of your identity. Pretend you are like a vegetable on a vine that needs rotation so that each side can face the sun. You may feel like a tree without roots for awhile, but by becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable you can learn a lot.

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Expectations vs. Reality: FOOD, Part I

If my brain had an equivalent of Google’s most frequently asked questions, I believe my top 3 would look something like this:

  1. Is that a really a job? (Something I ask myself when I witness yet another five people handing out flyers on the street for restaurants, or a women stationed at the bathroom to hand me a piece of toilet paper.)
  2.  Do I  eat this? (Synonymous with “What is this?”)
  3. What is Chilean food?

I do not believe that any of these questions have specific answers. This post aims to explore the realm of possibilities for question #3 of my FAQs.

The question “what do the inhabitants of [insert country here] eat?” is tricky no matter the geographical coordinates. It’s a question of great importance, but requires you to acknowledge that a country is not one homogeneous culture, but a group of individuals with different tastes and interests. Inhabitants of the United States may eat pizza, french fries, and hamburgers, but that answers also veers towards over-generalization. One must trod on the topic of food and gastronomy with careful feet and a conscious mind!

I can admit with some amount of shame that my idea of Chilean food before leaving the United States was based on what I found at local Mexican restaurants and the inaccurate correlation of Spanish-speaking individuals and rice and beans. I briefly looked up images on Google before I departed for my semester abroad. I arrived on the Chilean food scene with a mix of ignorance, naivety, and a big case of never-been-out-of-the-country. Fortunately, I’ve tried enough food in the last two months to share a bit of my observations.

Fast Food

I’ve been living with a host family who provides me with a lot of my meals, however this post is focused on the food I’ve eaten outside of my house which I’ve deemed here as “fast food” for a lack of a better term. I mean no negative connotations.

While Vina Del Mar does yield a surprising amount of mainstream fast food joints such as McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and Popeye’s Chicken, I believe that Chilean fast food is something different altogether. I’ve tried both McDonald’s and Pizza Hut out of curiosity and an insatiable urge to eat pizza. Though the McDonald’s here in Chile is gigantic– containing a large playland, a separate cafe for their coffee-related drinks, two stories of seating area, and the occasional weekend DJ– the menu was limited, my burger was lukewarm, my french fries uncharacteristically under cooked, and the bill was a reflection of the trend rather than the cheap.

My experience with Pizza Hut was slightly better. I had a personal veggie pizza that cost way too much money and included corn as a topping. I’ve learned now to expect corn on pizza here and have become quite fond of it. Also my friends and I ordered the cinnamon dessert sticks to treat our homesickness, dreaming about the creamy icing, however when they arrived at our table they were presented without icing and instead accompanied by a small bowl of jelly.

The real treasure of fast food in Chile is the underwhelming, often overlooked tiny “diners” that are numerous and often offer what appears to be a continuous cycle of similar specials. Here you will find completos, chorillana, empanada, and all sorts of variation on the sandwich that will probably come with a bebida y papas fritas (beverage and fries).

While none of these fast food joints immediately seem to be blue ribbon options, I’ve learned that Chileans know what they’re good at, and they stick to it. They don’t need to wow your socks off because they already have loyal followers.

Completo

 

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My friend Brittany and the famed giant completo. Yes, she ate the whole thing.

 

The completo is what I thought to be a glorified hot dog upon first arrival to Chile. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that it’s not even about the meat, but everything that comes with it. The completo, generally coming in both a normal size and a giant size, is a hot dog on a bun with mayonnaise, avocado, tomatoes, and usually a form of sauerkraut. Completos are consumed for lunch, for dinner, at 3 am, on your way to class, when you want to grab a snack with your friend, etc. Many are prepared with a bit of variation but one consistent factor is there are never enough napkins and generally a lack of plate. Extra points if the bun is toasted.

Chorillana

 

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This plate feeds 2-3 people. Look at the flavor.

 

Imagine french fries. Imagine french fries topped with sauteed onions. Imagine french fries topped with sauteed onions, chopped hot dog, and cuts of beef. Now imagine this in large portions. You’ve got the chorillana. I visited the christened birth place of the chorillana, a restaurant in Valparaiso by the name of Jota Cruz. It’s located at the end of a long skinny alley and the walls of the restaurant are collaged with passport photos and customers’ words of thank you and other really random but exciting junk. The restaurant is not large and when you sit down at the wooden tables with table cloths littered with previous customers’ scribbles, you feel as if you are sitting down to eat dinner in the center of the local flea market. The only thing the waiter asks is if you want the large sized chorillanas or the extra large sized, which may be an inaccurate recount of the sizes because I only remember the way he motioned his hands to demonstrate the monstrous plate sizes.

 

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The interior of the famed Jota Cruz is part of the perfect dining experience.

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Impossible to be bored while eating.

 

Sandwiches

I cannot say too much about the sandwiches here in Chile because I am still working my way through trying several. I can only say that the common factors of all types of sandwiches, no matter the meat, are a lot of cheese and even more avocado. And of course good ol’ Chilean bread. Yum. I’ve discovered a restaurant that serves giant sandwiches that I want to try. The buns are about the size of a dinner plate and they are grilled to perfection.

Empanadas

 

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Pictured here is one Chilean ID, one happy human (me), and two empanadas.

 

While the empanada is found in many Latin American countries and also parts of Europe, Chile is a major player in empanada consumption just as well. Recently I took a trip to the small town of Pomaire, home of many artisans and also the 1/2 kilo empanada. The empanada is a stuffed bread or pastry and the possibilities of fillings are endless. My favorite is the cheesy, scrumptious shrimp empanada I occasionally buy from a small family run shop half way up one of Valparaiso’s hills. The typical Chilean empanada would be the empanada de pino which includes beef, hard boiled eggs, onions, olives, and sometimes raisins. The best part about empanadas being in abundance is that you can get a fantastic empanada for less than $1.

 

I’ve found that navigating restaurant menus and trying foreign foods is one of the most painless ways to dive into a new culture. It’s also a reasonable excuse to spend too much time at bakeries. Nonetheless, consider this a brief, surface introduction to the world of Chilean culinary arts. Expect more to come!

 

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