Tag Archives: Chile

Overcoming Loneliness in Chile

The past three weeks of my study abroad program have been spent traveling. We spent a week in Putre and then had one day back in Arica to unpack and re-pack all of our things before we headed to the south of Chile. Our first stop was Temuco area. Here we spent most of the out time in Maquewe, which is a town 20 minutes away from Temuco. Despite it’s proximity to a city, Maquewe has no cellphone service, most houses don’t have internet, and there is no store or plaza around. It’s a very rural, spread out town that consists essentially of houses, farms, a hospital, and a school. Each day, for me to get to the hospital for class it was a 25-30 minute walk on the “highway.” There are buses that go from Maquewe to Temuco but other than that there was no public transportation system. Here is where my feeling of loneliness started. The house I was staying at was one of the farthest houses from the hospital. While I was staying with one other girl from the program, I felt very separated from my friends and I missed the ability to leave my house to just walk around small shops near the plaza.

Things didn’t really get any better when we left Maquewe to do our small group study of one of the other small towns around Temuco. I was in a group of three other girls going to Chol-Chol. Within the group, I definitely felt like I was an outsider. Most of the conversation came back to sororities or other topics of conversation that I could not really join in on. It didn’t help that in the afternoons we got trapped in our hostel because of the pouring rain. Again we had no internet but there was no cellphone service. For the entire time that I was in Chol-Chol I still had a feeling of isolation. I was really looking forward to our time in Pucón and hoping that it would be better and in reality Pucón did end up being a better situation. Maybe it was because we traveled as a group to some waterfalls, lakes, and hot springs. I was also just really excited to have a two days of free afternoons to explore and take a break from the constant class and lectures that we had the week before.

 

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Hot springs in Pucón!

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Some of the waterfalls we went to see in Pucón.

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Nicole and I on the other side of the falls.

 

After our two day mini break in Pucón, we headed to Santiago. This is where my feeling of isolation hit me the hardest. During check in, I somehow ended up without a roommate. The second night in Santiago I had spent an hour in an Entel store trying to get my phone to work since I can’t receive phone calls. I was with a group of people from the program who were also trying to fix their phones. When we got back to the hotel, the other girls I was with rushed out to go to dinner with a friend who was studying in Santiago. It was getting kind of late at that point and I was trying to find someone who was still around the hotel and hadn’t eaten yet. I didn’t have much luck and the messages that I sent out to people weren’t getting responses. After about another hour I heard back from one group of people who were in the city eating. I headed out to try to join them. I got on the metro and then was using my phone to get me to the restaurant address when my phone suddenly lost all data. I couldn’t find my way to the restaurant so I had to call my friends to find me at a street corner and I sat there for about 20 minutes.

This was really the pinnacle of my loneliness. I was sitting in front of a bank on a dimly lit street corner in Santiago at 9:00 at night alone, just waiting for people to find me. During this time I really felt alone and forgotten. However, this feeling was about to finally lift starting the next day. The next night I asked one girl to let me know what her plans for the night were, instead of trying to make last minute plans and sulking in my room. She texted me around 8:30 and we went out to dinner with three other girls and then we walked around Santiago looking at different restaurants and cafes until midnight when we returned back to the hotel. The following day, a girl came to my room and told me that she had somewhere that she needed to show me. So we put on our running shoes and she took me to a park. I was a little confused why we were there until I saw the climbing holds on a building. She had run past this the other day and thought of me. I was so happy, not just to have found a climbing wall but also I was happy to know that she had thought of me. We hung around to watch people climb and then jogged back to the hotel.

 

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Some of the climbers in the park in Santiago.

 

That night was the birthday of a girl in the program and so we went out to dinner with her at a Mexican restaurant nearby the hotel before buying ice cream at a grocery store and working on homework in the hotel conference room. However, it wasn’t really until Saturday that the feeling of isolation completely lifted. Saturday was our one free day in Santiago so eight of us decided to take a bus to Valparaíso for the day. We took the bus in the morning and made the 10:00 am walking tour of the city where we got to see the former prison, many murals, a cemetery, and hear a lot of the history of Valparaíso. The tour ended around 1:00 and we found a lunch place right by the street fair. Our lunch was very disappointing – our soup was just fish broth, and my friend’s seafood bowl tasted like nothing. But the food we found at the street fair made up for that. After touring the fair and getting little gifts for friends back home, we headed out to explore more of the city’s famous murals and see the open air museum which is a collection of murals created in the 1990s.

 

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A mural we found in Valparaíso

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Song lyrics painted on stairs in Valparíso.

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“We are not hippies. We are happies.”

 

By the end of the day, we were exhausted and ready to get back on the bus to Santiago. As I sat on the bus, I realized that I hadn’t smiled or laughed that much since we left Putre. I had probably laughed more that day than for the entire two weeks of traveling we had done before. It wasn’t that people hadn’t wanted me around or had forgotten about me, it was that I had let it get to my head. I let all the little moments, the little accidents, build up in my mind and turned them into a much more extreme situation that it was in reality. Before, I felt like I was being pushy asking if I could come along to dinner or on little adventures, but that day in Valparaíso made me realize that I needed to make the effort to be part of the group. I needed to ask if I could come because otherwise I wouldn’t do anything and that, above all, made me feel isolated and like an outsider. There was, in reality, no one stopping me from participating except myself.

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Goodbyes are the Hardest Part

Have you ever met someone and within a very short amount of time felt an immediate close connection with them? I have thought I felt something like this before but I never could have imagined just how close you could get to someone in five days.

Five days ago my program traveled to Putre. Putre is a small rural mountain town on the border of Bolivia. For our five days there we were staying with a homestay family in groups. There were three other girls and myself staying with a family in Putre. Throughout the entire time we were there, our host family was so welcoming and caring.

Our mom gave us small flutes that had llama/alpaca designs and said Putre on them at lunch the first day together. The first night at dinner we had an amazing conversation about religion. Our mom asked us if we were religious. This can sometimes be a very touchy subject but she was very open to hearing everyone’s opinions and beliefs. We talked about being spiritual without adhering to a specific religion and about Buddhist beliefs as well as Christianity. At the end of the conversation she even said to us that our differing beliefs about religion would not separate us. After dinner we even went to the Evangelical church that she is the pastor of and participated in the service. It was very different from religious services I have attended previously. The majority of the time we were in the church we were singing. For every song there was a video that accompanied it. Some of the songs we sang in Spanish and for these the lyrics were part of the video projected up on the wall of the church. Many of the other songs we sang came from a hymn book. In the book each song was written in both Spanish and Aymara, the native language of a large majority of the people who live in Putre. Because we were there, they decided to sing in Aymara for us. These songs all had videos to accompany them with images of people in traditional clothing in fields with different animals or in water playing instruments and singing. We followed along in our hymnals trying our best to sing in Aymara. For the first two songs it was really challenging but it got much easier as we started understanding the pronunciation. After singing two songs in Spanish and four or five songs in Aymara, our host-mom read a gospel passage and started her homily. Then came the Sign of Peace. After that we all headed over to another small building next to the church that had a kitchen and an dining room with several long tables. On one table there were three plates of sopapilla that had been made before church and cups of tea. We sat there for about 20 or 30 minutes just talking to the other members of the parish. They were all so welcoming of us.

 

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The view from just outside my homestay in Putre.

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A mural depicting llamas and alpacas.

 

Throughout the rest of our time in Putre I consistently felt so welcomed by our host family and also by everyone we met. Part of the program was talking to the Aymara traditional medicine providers in Putre. Señor Teófilo is the yatiri. His role in traditional medicine within Aymara culture is to communicate with different spiritual entities. He does this to read hojas de coca (coca leaves) for people. Within these readings he can tell you about your health, your job, and your love life. He can use this to help figure out if someone has an imbalance within their body that is causing them to be sick. Additionally, Señora Fausta is the qulliri/usuyiri of the town. A qulliri is the person who uses herbs to help cure illnesses and prevent illnesses as well. A usuyiri is a traditional midwife. Both of them were very welcoming and taught us so much. I even went to Señor Teófilo one morning to get my coca leaves read and Señora Fausta made me a jarabe (a solution of eucalyptus, honey, and a root of an herb called yareta) for my cough and bronchitis as well as a cream for muscle aches. I feel like I learned the most from them. Through them I saw the potential for intercultural medicine to succeed. They worked with the local health center to treat patients and they were so open to learning about and incorporating occidental medicine in their traditional practices. They used occidental diagnoses to help cater traditional remedies and medicines for their patients and they also understood which types of illnesses they were able to effectively treat and which ones they were better treated by occidental doctors. However, this system does not yet go both ways. The medics at the clinic in Putre change a lot. At least every four years there is a completely new medical team in Putre. This means that some of the doctors that come are more open and accepting of traditional medicine and its benefits than others and it presents even more of a challenge in creating a sustainable system of reciprocity between the two types of medicine to best benefit the patients in Putre and surrounding towns.

 

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Welcome pawa with the yatiri and qulliri/usuyiri of Putre.

 

The last night that we were in Putre the group of girls that I was staying with went stargazing and on the way back we saw that our host parents were in church so we stopped in. It was just about the end of the service so we stayed. At the end our host mom said that she was so happy we had come to Putre and that she hoped we learned a lot while we were here and that she had learned a lot from us. After that she asked us is if we wanted to say a few words about our time in Putre. We all said that we felt we had created a very strong connection with the people and the place in the short time we had been there and that we learned a lot about the Aymara culture. Then another woman from the parish started to close the service with a prayer. Her prayer lasted for five minutes or so. I have never heard so many well wishes for strangers in my life. A large part of her prayer was directed at us and wishing us well in life and in our studies. It was amazing to see someone who thought the best of everyone, even people she had only met twice for very brief instances. By the end of her prayer I was almost in tears and one of the other girls I was staying with was crying. The rest of that night was spent saying very heartfelt goodbyes to our host father since we wouldn’t see him the next morning. Our sister-in-law gave us hair ties that she had made for us. They were flowers made out of fabric with traditional patterns.

The next morning we left at around 9:30 but as we walked to the bus we saw our sister-in-law again. She was in a store and beckoned us in. Once we were in the store she asked us if we wanted any snacks for the ride home. As we started to get out our wallets she quickly told us no, she would be paying for whatever we wanted. It was very sweet. We each ended up getting a lollipop for the drive up Lauca National Park, where we were visiting before returning to Arica that day. It was very hard to get on that bus and leave behind Putre and our family. I don’t think I have ever connected to someone so quickly and with such strength before in my life. I couldn’t have imagined an better first trip out of Arica.

 

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Volcano of Parinacota in Lauca National Park.

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More mountains in Lauca National Park.

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Selfie with some vicuñas in Lauca National Park.

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More vicuñas in Lauca National Park.

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A viscacha in Lauca National Park.

 

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Beauty and the Beast

Arica is a beautiful city. The coast and the ocean are amazing. There are beaches with dark golden sand and the waves are perfect. El Morro, a large, rocky hill that overlooks the city and coast, has breath taking views of the city and from anywhere in the city you can see the massive Chilean flag that flies on the top. You can’t see it from the city but there is also a huge statue of Jesus Christ on top that looks out at the ocean. It is a symbol of peace between Peru and Chile after territorial disputes were finally settled.

 

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The view of the beach from the top of El Morro.

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The group taking pictures of the massive Chilean flag at El Morro

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Closer view of the El Morro Chilean flag.

 

Outside of the city is pure desert. Sand dunes and almost nothing else. Years ago, an artist was commissioned to create several sculptures in the desert to the south of Arica. The statues that the artist created are massive, sand colored creations that are the only things that stand out for miles. His inspiration was the idea of people living in space. There is even a “landing pad” for extraterrestrial aircrafts that is a design made of rocks.

 

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Statues representing male and female figures in the desert south of Arica.

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Another statue found in the Arican desert.

 

There are also murals all over Arica. I’ve seen many around the University of Tarapacá and also around the old University Républica where we have our Spanish classes. Most of them seem to be memorials to people who lost their lives during the violent 1973 Chilean coup. All of the murals are very detailed and many are very colorful. Some are more abstract and include depictions of owls and colorful designs.

Besides all of this, there are just wonderful people. Everyone I have met so far has been very welcoming and kind. Everyone has been patient with me and my Spanish speaking abilities which I have been really grateful for. Most Chileans speak really fast and with so much slang that it’s hard to understand what they are saying even if you understand all of the words they are saying. My host family has been exceptionally welcoming. They have helped me a lot with my Spanish and they are very generous. I am really enjoying my time with them and getting to know them more. My host dad just came back from vacation the other day so I just met him but so far he seems very friendly. He’s been super funny so far. I also got to meet my cousins the other day. They are from Santiago but are currently in Arica. Two nights ago we went over to my abuela’s house for “once” (dinner). The next night we had a barbecue at our house. My host dad prepared fresh fish that he bought at the port that morning. It was delicious. The fish was reineta, a fish common in the ocean off of Chile. I am looking forward to trying more of the local fish while I’m here.

 

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Reineta being sold fresh at the market at the Port of Arica.

 

The other night I went to El Centro, the main shopping street in the center of the city, to get ice cream with a few other students from my study abroad program. When we got out of our colectivo (a carpool style taxi with a set route), there were several events going on in the plaza. One of the events was a traditional African-Chilean dance to celebrate the African heritage of Chileans in Arica. The dancers were amazing and there was a band of men and women playing drums and singing. I felt so lucky to have arrived just in time to watch the last few dances and experience this tradition.

 

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Dancers celebrating African-Chilean traditions.

 

While everything has been amazing and interesting so far, I have noticed that in the midst of all the beautiful places, there is a lot of trash. Arica’s tap water is safe to drink but most people who can afford to buy bottled water do because the tap water doesn’t have an appealing taste. I was told it’s because of the amount of minerals in it but I’m not really sure why it tastes bad. Most people buy bottled water and many families have the stereotypical office water cooler-type dispenser in their homes. Arica doesn’t have a very good recycling program and many of the people who live here are not very environmentally conscious. This means that there is a lot of plastic waste and garbage everywhere. I have found myself needing to buy bottled water occasionally and I feel really wasteful. Over the past week I have been better about filling up the water bottles that I brought with me and using those as much as possible but it is challenging because I drink a lot of water during the day. I do want to work on improving my environmental footprint while I am here though.

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Arrival and Orientation

Yesterday I arrived in Arica, Chile after spending the night in a hotel at the Santiago airport. Traveling was long and stressful. I left on Sunday from Jackson, Wyoming and arrived in Santiago early Monday morning. Customs and Passport Control was a bit shocking. I figured that everything was going to be in English but I wasn’t ready for how fast everything was going to be. At customs I got in trouble for not declaring the two packages of beef jerky that I was bringing for my host family, but was fortunately allowed to keep them. Then when I checked in to the hotel, I was informed that Passport Control was supposed to give me a piece of paper but I never got one. This made me really anxious. At that point, I was very overwhelmed and starting to doubt whether or not I was prepared for this semester abroad. I decided to take a nap and relax at the hotel pool to try to de-stress. Then I went to dinner at the hotel restaurant. One of the waiters started speaking to me in Spanish and we had a conversation about how I was a student from the United States who was studying abroad in Chile for the semester. He told me that my Spanish was good and that was what I needed to hear. Then I went to bed since my flight was early the next morning, but I wasn’t able to sleep.

At 12:40 am I decided that it was useless to try to sleep anymore and I got up. I packed up my stuff and checked out of my room and headed to the airport. I was there a bit too early so the line to check bags at Latam wasn’t open yet. I waited about 10 or 15 minutes before they opened the line up to people on the 4:25 am flight to Arica. Then I went through security. I was anticipating security to be similar to the United States but when I got there it was very different. It looked similar but I wasn’t asked to show any ID, only my boarding pass. Then I watched as the people in front of me simply placed their bags down to walk through the body scanners with their jacket, shoes, belt, and jewelry still on. I was given strange looks for putting my phone in my backpack before going through. At the gate I was even more surprised to see a Dunkin’ Donuts.

As we started the boarding process, every announcement was in Spanish. I didn’t really understand that much but I was able to figure out what was going on based on what everyone else was doing. Once we where on the plane they started saying the announcements in English as well which was nice. The flight was about three hours long and I was excited that they not only had drinks but gave us a choice of four pastries for breakfast. And we were allowed to pick two! I was starving at that point so that made me really happy.

We landed at 7:00 am and the earliest pick-up time that my study abroad program, SIT, had given us was 9:00, so I was shocked to see a taxi driver holding up a sign with my name on it. I was honestly a little unsure of what to do but I figured that he had to have been sent by SIT. As we were leaving the airport, the sun was starting to rise. All around me were sand dunes. Only sand dunes. It looked like Mars or a scene from Star Wars. I knew that Arica was in the desert but I wasn’t expecting it to look quite like that. As we approached the city, a colorful arrangement of crowded houses appeared. The taxi took me to a small hostel where three other girls who had arrived early were spending the night. I was brought up to their room where we did brief introductions before I fell asleep for an hour in one of the beds. Around 9:00 am, one of the other girls woke me up to get breakfast. Despite having had food on the flight I was hungry again. The owner of the hostel had set up a table for us with several types of rolls and coffee and tea. He then asked us if we would like eggs and made us scrambled eggs. The other girls filled me in that SIT was picking us up at 11:30 am to go back to the airport to pick up the rest of the group.

The rest of the day was spent meeting everyone and getting settled. The Program Director and Director of Student Affairs picked us up and brought us to a gorgeous hotel in Arica. We were paired up for rooms. My roommate for orientation is a girl named Allison who spent the week prior to the program backpacking in Patagonia with 4 other students. The room was small but nice. However, the patio and the view are the best part. The hotel is right on the ocean. There is a patio with a pool that overlooks a rocky stretch of coast and right next to the hotel is one of the best beaches in Arica. After getting set up, we headed to lunch on the patio. We were sitting with the Program Director, Brian, so all the conversation was in Spanish. I felt like I understood most things but I wasn’t feeling confident enough to join in very much. I was also starting to feel the affects of only getting two hours of sleep. However, after lunch we had two hours of free time before orientation really started and I joined a group of students who were headed to the beach. Being from Wyoming, beaches aren’t something I see on a regular basis and I was excited to be there. The water was cool but felt really nice. There were tons of people there. Most of them seemed to be Chilean. There were also people selling drinks and fruit salad out of rolling coolers that they were walking across the beach with as they yelled out what they were selling.

At 5:00 pm we started orientation. We went over the schedule and structure of the program, then we moved on to icebreakers and get-to-know-you questions. At this point in the day I was feeling a lot more confident in my ability to hold a conversation in Spanish and I felt like I was understanding most of what was being said. Afterwards, we launched into a few mini-lessons about Chilean history and several famous Chilean artists like Pablo Neruda and Violetta Parra, among others. This all lasted about three hours.

After orientation ended for the day, we headed to dinner. I was starving at this point despite the massive lunch we had earlier. However, for most Chileans and other Latin Americans, lunch is the largest meal of the day, so dinner was not as filling despite being three courses. Again, conversation was all in Spanish and this time I was a much larger part of the dialogue. By the end of dinner I was exhausted from the past few days and headed straight to bed.

The next morning my roommate and I got up around 7:30 for breakfast. Breakfast was buffet style and the tables were filled with fruit, rolls, slices of bread, and various spreads for the bread. There were also crepe-like pancakes, scrambled eggs, and chorizo. One of the spreads for the bread was dulce de leche which was delicious and very thick.

After breakfast we headed into Arica for a guided tour of some historical sites around Arica. We visited a church designed by Gustave Eiffel that is made completely out of metal. We went to several markets. We visited the location where some of the oldest mummies in the world were found. We also went to the Port of Arica and saw some sea lions. The tour was really informative and it was awesome to see so many places in Arica but I also felt very touristy. We were given bucket hats and nametags. We already stand out as a large group of Americans based on clothing and appearances, but this really made us stick out. Local people would often pass us and speak in English welcoming us to the city. It was very exciting to see that so many people were happy to have us there and willing to speak to us.

 

Fishing and tourist boats at the Port of Arica.

After the tour was over, the group was split in half. Half went to the police station to begin the process to receive our temporary Chilean identification cards and the rest of us went back to the hotel. The rest of the day, and tomorrow is going to be spent in sessions covering program policies and classes, including information about SIT’s Independent Study Project and the Healthcare Practicum. The rest of the group is going to go to the police to get their Chilean IDs and then we are going to visit El Morro, where Chileans won a battle against Peruvian forces in 1880, as well as Playa Chinchorro, another popular beach in Arica, and the ex-island Alcarán. Alcarán used to be an island but has been converted to an artificial peninsula. I’m excited to see more of the city and I can’t wait to be able to explore it more myself.

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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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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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