Tag Archives: orientation

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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Filed under Brooke in Chile, south america

Goodbye Wilderness, Hello University of Canterbury

My five-week field camp is over. Our final week was spent mapping lava flows on Banks Peninsula. The work was similar to the volcanology we did on North Island, with one major difference: Whereas Taupo Volcanic Zone is one of the most active systems of its type in the world, the volcanoes of Banks Peninsula are extinct. Enough time has passed for the flows to become overgrown with vegetation, which makes them much harder to see. The upshot is an inviting, pastoral landscape, nothing at all like the foreboding, otherworldly terrain you saw in my last post.



Akaroa Harbour, Banks Peninsula.


The town of Akaroa, Banks Peninsula.


The town of Akaroa, Banks Peninsula.


The town of Akaroa, Banks Peninsula.


Fishermans Bay, Banks Peninsula.


Fishermans Bay, Banks Peninsula.


Fishermans Bay, Banks Peninsula.


The seal colony on this shore platform is home to dozens of seals, many of them newborn pups!


The beach at Le Bons Bay. These local boys have erected walls of boogie boards and are now throwing sand at each other. As we passed, we overheard one of them call out, “It’s the U.S. vs. Mexico!”


Some of the students from my group wade into Le Bons Bay, which is extremely shallow. Even 100 meters from the shore, I could still touch the bottom.


This Maori war canoe, called a “waka,” paddled upstream as part of Okains Bay’s Waitangi Day celebrations. Waitangi Day is February 6 and celebrates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. The treaty gave England sovereignity over New Zealand while granting some rights to the indigenous Maori. Unfortunately, the English and Maori language versions of that treaty differ slightly, so there is debate over how to interpret them. Maori make up 15% of New Zealand’s population, but account for 50% of the prison population. On average, their income is only two thirds that of European New Zealanders. Still, they are better off than Native Americans. Many of New Zealand’s largest companies are Maori-owned, and 20% of New Zealand’s parliament is of Maori descent.


Children’s foot races at Okains Bay’s Wataingi Day celebrations.


Unlike nearby Australia, the wild animals in New Zealand are relatively harmless. Instead, it’s the plants that will get you. Gorse (pictured here) is the mildest. It’s sharp, but flimsy, so the best tactic is to walk quickly through it without pausing. Matagouri, on the other hand, is sharp and stiff, so it requires more caution. Worst of all is ongaonga, which grows only in shady areas and is covered by poisonous hairs. One look and you know its dripping with menace. Our professor described it as “stinging nettle on steroids.” The burning sensation lasts for up to three days!


Full days in the field require plenty of food. Fortunately, we were well fed. This sandwich has sausage, chicken, ham, cheese, cucumber, tomato, lettuce, mustard, and hummus. My typical lunch would have two sandwiches like this, two pieces of fruit, and two granola bars.


Our group plops down for an extended lunch break next to Coffin Rock (on which I was standing to take this high-angle photo), Banks Peninsula.


The wind played an active role in many of the landscapes we visited. On one particularly bad day in Castle Hill Basin, gusts reached almost 100 mph! The wind was not as bad on Banks Peninsula (pictured here), but you can see it’s still strong enough to rake this bush into a sort of natural topiary.


Our final stop was an old school that had been recently converted to a campground.


The best part about camping at a school was getting to use the playground. Besides this soccer field, there was also a tennis court.


As fascinating and educational as field camp was, it was starting to wear on me by the end. The constant stimulation and weekly location changes were a little much for an introvert like me. I prefer to have my own space and a predictable schedule. Now I get my wish.

For the next four months, I get to settle down in the largest city on South Island, Christchurch (population 375,000). The city has been a hotbed for geology ever since 2011, when it was shaken by a deadly and highly destructive earthquake from which it is still recovering.

Three miles west of downtown is the University of Canterbury (UC), where I’m now one of 12,000 full-time students. It’s many times larger than Pomona College, but it’s not entirely unfamiliar. Before Pomona and before the Marine Corps, I spent a year at another UC: Berkeley.

I spent only one year at Berkeley because it was a poor fit for me at that time in my life. I struggled academically and socially, and ultimately withdrew. During this first week of class here in Christchurch I’ve had a few flashbacks to that overwhelming experience eight years ago. Thankfully, my work ethic and study skills are better now, and the students here are not workaholics, something I disliked about Berkeley.

I live on campus in a five-bedroom flat. Surprisingly, I’m younger than all four of my flatmates. Matt is a 32-year-old Kiwi undergrad who used to work in the wine industry but is now changing careers to become an accountant. Marius is a 27-year-old postdoc mechanical engineering student from Germany. Rounding out the flat are two PhD candidates: Calvin, a chemical engineer from Malaysia, and Jasper, a botanist from the Philippines. Although we’re still getting to know each other, we’ve already had some good conversations in our flat’s common room. It’s nice living with older students.



After five weeks of sleeping in bunkrooms and tents, this spacious bedroom is a major upgrade. It’s mine for the next four months.


There are five of us who share this five-bedroom flat. The common room has a fully stocked kitchen, a table with chairs, and a couple of sofas. It opens onto a balcony that faces another four-story building just ours. The front door to our flat is at the end of the hallway.


There are about 1,000 international students at the University of Canterbury. This map shows where they call home.


International Student Orientation was held inside the University’s largest lecture hall, the same room I use for Physics 101 and Statistics 101.


Two days after orientation I went to the Central Library for enrollment. The domestic students get to enroll online, but we international students had to do it in person. I waited in a series of lines for more than two hours. Fortunately, I got into all four classes that I wanted to take.


Special events are common during orientation and extend into the first week of classes also. This game reminded me of the pugil stick bouts that are important rites of passage for Marine Corps recruits at boot camp. The purpose of those pugil stick bouts is to teach aggression, but this game is just for fun. The building in the background is identical to the one in which I live.


The area of campus west of the academic buildings has expansive lawns and gardens. Chalk advertisements are everywhere this week because the student clubs are recruiting new members. Here you can see one for the largest club on campus, EnSoc, which is short for Engineering Society.


The Puaka-James Hight building houses the University’s Central Library and is one of the tallest buildings in Christchurch. Its blocky concrete architecture is typical of the rest of the campus, which was constructed in the 1960s.

I’ve been told that classes here are much easier than what I’m used to at Pomona College. That’s held true for the first week of class. This semester I’m taking two geology classes and what I fear will be two boring electives: Physics 101 and Statistics 101. They might not hold my interest like the Spanish and dance classes that were my go-to electives at Pomona, but they are prerequisites for graduate school.

Outside of classes, I expect that my biggest time commitment will be biking. This semester I’ve made it my goal to become an avid cyclist.

I need wheels. I feel trapped without them. I want to get out and explore the city, but anything more than two miles from campus is too far to walk, and I hate waiting on buses. My study abroad program doesn’t allow me to own a motor vehicle, so a human-powered one is the next best thing. With the right bike, I can expand my radius from two miles to twenty. Nothing will be off limits!



I have all the gear I need for the perfect commuter bicycle: Helmet, lock, gloves, high-visibility vest, and cycling shoes with compatible pedals. All I need now is the bike. Every time I ride a new road, I’ll cross it off on the map that’s pinned to the wall.


Once I have a bike, visiting attractions like this farmers’ market will be much easier. It took me 28 minutes to walk here from campus. With a bike I could do it in less than ten.


The farmers’ market in the previous photo is held every week at Riccarton Bush, a park that is home to the last old-growth forest in Christchurch.


Over the last week, I’ve spent hours each day researching my options. I’m looking for a good, used road bike. Ideally, it will be fast enough to beat the bus, but cheap enough that I won’t be devastated if it’s stolen. This morning I test rode a 2006 Kona Zing that might fit the bill. I found it on Trade Me, a hugely popular New Zealand website that’s like Ebay and Craigslist combined.

Once I have a speedy bike for zipping around the city, I look forward to learning every neighborhood, visiting every park, riding all the way east to the ocean and south to the mountains of Banks Peninsula. By the end of the semester, I want to know my way around this city better than the locals. I’m stating that goal here so that my readers can hold me to it.

Until next time, that’s all the latest from Down Under!

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Filed under Oceania, Trevor in New Zealand, Uncategorized

Pavese Got it Wrong

According to poet Cesare Pavese, “Traveling is a brutality.  It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends.  You are constantly off-balance.  Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending toward the eternal or what we imagine of it.”  As an American student in a studying in Barbados, I would have to disagree with Pavese’s assessment of travel.

Of course the actual travel can be extremely brutal.  Between layovers, cramped seats, bad service, struggling with luggage, going through security, and having to deal with rude people, it is a wonder people go anywhere at all, but I don’t think that traveling makes one constantly unbalanced or that is something that make you lose sight of the familiar.  If anything travel can make you more balanced, put the familiar in perspective, and help you to appreciate what is yours.  In my time abroad, my experience on the grub line is my best counter to Pavese’s quote.

At the University of the West Indies, when you move into the hall for the first time your first week is an initiation. It is tradition for the first year/new residents ‘freshers’ of each hall to stay up all night for the whole week while the older residents on the hall ‘super seniors’ teach them the mottos, songs, and chants for their respective halls.  It all leads up to a battle at the end of week to see which hall has the most spirit. This process is called grubbing or being on the grub line.  It is seen as a way to immediately integrate new students into their new environment and jump-start friendships among new residents.

I was not looking forward to grubbing.  I figured that it would be a bunch of cheesy activities similar to my orientation during my freshman year of college back in the States.  Participation is not mandatory; however most people do participate and as the only American/foreign student in my hall I thought it would look bad if I did not. I did not want to be known as the ‘stuck up American girl’ or disrespect a tradition, so in spite of my reservations, I decided to participate.

On the first night, at about 3am, I was rudely awakened by the super seniors who were running up and down the hallways yelling and banging on pots and pans.  The freshers were summoned to the TV room where we were given names that we were to be referred to for the rest of the week.  It was more or less the same for the rest of the week. The super seniors would wake us up at odd hours with pots and pans and we would sound off with the motto, the song, and the chants.

As the American girl; however, my accent interfered with my learning the songs and the chants, though most of the verses would be in standard English, some verses would be in a dialect.  Most of the time, I would just move my mouth and imitate the sounds other people were making.  It was like singing along to a song where you know everything but that one line and you ad lib as you go.  It was funny, but I felt so foolish.  I felt even more foolish when I asked someone how to pronounce the words and what they meant and could not understand what they were saying because of their accent.

By the time we had to battle the other hall, I knew some of the words better and in other places I had perfected the ad libs.   For example, in one of our chants there was a line that said “wi nuh tek chat watch di words weh yuh fling” (we don’t take chat, watch the words where you fling) I kept saying what I was hearing which was, “we no ton chant watch the worth when yuh fling.”  Luckily, I have adjusted to the various Caribbean accents that I am exposed to on a daily basis and I now know how to properly pronounce our chants, but I still have many moments where I mouth the words.

To date, grubbing has been my most unique experience in Barbados.  Though it was something that was completely out of my comfort zone and completely different from anything I had experienced at home, I never felt as if I were off-balance.  Even in the moments when I missed home the most, I still felt as if the experience was giving me a new perspective.  The grubbing process also did not make me lose sight of what was familiar.  It made the familiar more endearing. I have a greater appreciation of home and have a better concept of what home means to me now that it is so far away.

Pavese was almost right when he said that nothing is ours when we travel except for the essential things that tend toward the eternal.  Except for what I brought with me, and the room I am paying to keep it in, nothing in Barbados is mine.  Even though ownership of these things is far from eternal or essential, being able to claim them as mine gave me a small place and space in a country where I can claim nothing.

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Filed under Caribbean, Gena in Barbados, Writing Prompts

A Whole New World

For someone that has never left the United States of America, studying abroad should seem like a frightening concept.  I came to the conclusion that books, documents, and online tutorials were limited in their educational capacities.  Rather than trying to build up an expectation for what this experience would be like, I consciously decided to go into this culture with an open mind – completely ready for the challenge ahead.

Upon arrival,  my group clamored to baggage claim, breezed through customs, and hopped on a bus that would take us to the Elon University Center – where the thirteen of us would be studying for the next four months.  We had half an hour to relax before our Costa Rican families arrived to retrieve us.  Excitement overwhelmed me as I imagined my home-stay family.  All of a sudden I was a kindergartener again, waiting for my mom to pick me up in the car pool line – except I did not know a single thing about her.  Tales of her cooking glory had been passed down to me as I waited, so naturally my excitement grew.  Finally, she arrived.  The traditional Costa Rican greeting is to lean in and kiss each other on the cheek.  The language was a huge barrier because I did not have the vocabulary to conduct a casual conversation, but she understood.  We called for a taxi, and were on our way.  The bright red taxi was caught in traffic for the majority of our excursion, and the driver would honk at fellow taxi-drivers when they would pass us on the opposite ends of the road.  Although I did not understand what he would shout out of his window, I could tell they were friendly exchanges.  The roads were not the most elegant site as they appeared to be gashed open in part due to plumbing replacements.  My eyes were darting from one thing to the next as I took in my surroundings.  Hooters and McDonalds should not have surprised me, but I was caught off guard by the immediacy of their presence.  Another disturbing sight was the barbed wire and metal gates encompassing every house that we would pass.  I had just entered an entirely different world.  The taxi driver made his last left into my neighborhood, and finally, we had arrived.

As Noemy and I approached the jailed entrance to her home, my mind began to gallivant across the possibilities that could lie at the heart of this place.  The final key turned, and we crossed the threshold into her humble abode.  There were tile floors, pleasant furnishings, hardwood ceilings, and multiple rooms that seemed to be puzzle-pieced together in a somewhat methodic manner.  At that moment, I learned that Noemy was lending her home to three other students as well.  I would be living girls from central Costa Rica, Japan, and Peru.  I was overjoyed at the chance to take in so many different perspectives.

Currently, I have been living here for two weeks, and have never felt more at home in a place that was not my own.  This house has a summer camp feel to it, and the area is much different than any I have ever experienced.  Throughout the afternoon and into the night, sounds of cars accelerating, sirens ringing, and dogs barking are fully audible through my paper thin walls.  When I glance out of my bedroom window at night I can see the city lights from the other side of the mountain that San Jose sits upon.  During the day, my view is composed of  a mismatched conglomeration of colored tin foil roofs that are without separation.   Doña Noemy, cooked a delectable meal of arroz con pollo with beans and vegetables the first night, and has continued to amaze me since.

In a matter of fourteen days, I have witnessed certain universal constants.  Whether it is something commercial, such as Hooters or McDonalds, the relational nature of people, or the simple interactions that make us quirky as individuals – some things are noticeably consistent. The differences that are so apparent (ex. language) are so minute compared to the nature that brings us together. Once upon a time, I heard a the phrase, “Growth is always two steps outside of your comfort zone,” and that could not be more true.  The diversity that should separate us appears to be bringing us together, and as we all strive to learn more about each other, we grow.


Filed under Central America, Dan in Costa Rica