Es una Broooma

I’m anticipating that when I get home, people will ask me what my favorite thing about Chile was. My answer for them will be this: the sound that Chileans make as they’re waiting for you to get their joke. It’s a very specific “aaaaah,” and it’s shared by basically everyone I’ve met! I love this particularity of their culture, and I appreciate that I’ve gotten to experience it on the daily.

Chileans have a remarkable sense of humor. They are always making jokes and teasing one another lightheartedly. My house, the church, and even my classes are absolutely full of laughter.

My two-year old brother loves to play pranks and poke fun at the rest of our family. He has a catch-phrase that he says all the time: “es una broma,” which means, “it’s a joke.” Or, with his cute baby-talk, it generally comes out more like “es una brooooooma.” I think it’s the cutest thing ever! Here’s a quick video:

The sense of humor is also present in their language. Chileans have added many words and phrases to the Spanish that I learned, which makes it their own unique dialect. As we say in my phonetics class, they speak chileno, not español.

Many of the “chilenismos” have to do with animals, which is pretty fun. For example, young men are called cabros (goats) and hacer una vaca (cow) is to raise money. Another one of my favorites is echarse el burro, which means to lose motivation to do something.

One thing Chileans do is call each other names. A lot are endearing nicknames–there’s the classic mi’jita (mi  hijita), cariño, or amor that even people in the grocery store will call you. There’s also modifications of your given name– I’ve gotten Moni, Mo, and Moquita. My friends are Isa Pizza and Juan Papa (to incorporate food). And also Chileans often use adjectives ironically, like feo (ugly) or gordito (fat). When I first heard my friend Rodrigo talking about his daughter, la gordita, I remember being shocked. But it’s actually a term of endearment, some light teasing. A reminder not to take everything people say completely seriously.

I tend to be an over-thinker and I value pondering deep life questions. But simply being in another culture has brought a lot of that to mind. So I’m thankful that I get the chance every day to laugh it off, take joy in relationships, and watch Camilo’s face light up when we fall for another one of his pranks.

What does it mean to be mujer?

Today I let myself cry about the gender inequality I see in our world. I felt a little silly sitting on a park bench with the tears streaming down my face, but I think this issue is something that needs to be recognized and deserves to be cried about.

My tears were spurred by an encounter I had with two older men as I was leaving my literature class. Just outside the university, one yelled at me, “Hola linda! You speak English? What is your name?” I ignored him and kept walking. However, that catcall seemed to give permission to the man beside me to start talking to me, also asking where I was from and telling me about his business. Despite my refusal to respond or even make eye contact, he kept pestering me until we reached a corner. There, I turned to avoid him and take a different route.

But why should I have to change my walk home from school? I should be able to feel safe on the streets. I was fuming and frustrated that those men had the power to make me feel so vulnerable and targeted.

The other problem with that encounter is that it wasn’t just a one-time, isolated thing. Catcalls happen to me almost daily here, and my foreign friends have experienced the same thing. In fact, I was coming from my literatura latinoamericana class, where we had just finished sharing our experiences of gender roles. To close the unit on feminist literature, my profesora asked us all to write down moments where we saw gender roles play out. The sad thing was, every person in the class had those experiences. We talked about guys acting aggressively in bars, male coworkers getting paid more than female counterparts, “mansplaining,” family members giving stereotypical gender-based gifts, and of course, the plethora of catcalling.

In Spanish, the things people yell are considered piropos, and the phenomena is generally called acoso callejero (street harassment). El machismo is how they describe this gender-unequal society, where men are over-masculinized and women are relegated to the home. They also have a word for crimes against women, los femicidios, where women are actually targeted for their gender.

While I’m frustrated that these are things that happen here, I’m glad there are words that describe this experience. I feel like in Chile, it’s something I can talk about and process freely. The other day I had a really good conversation about catcalling and gender roles with a male Chilean friend. He was so sympathetic and the first thing he wanted to do was tell his other guy friends about the things I’d experienced. That made me really happy because it’s something people are realizing needs to change.

Here, the conversation about feminism is happening. Perhaps because gender inequality is more evident. However, when it’s subtle, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Back home, women experience the same things, though often it’s disguised as something that’s normal.

Emma Watson said, “we think that we live in a post-feminist society, where we don’t need feminism anymore, but actually that’s really disconcerting.” There are a lot of things that happen to women that they blame on themselves because they don’t see the bigger narrative. We need feminism; we need to talk about the things that women experience that should not be normal.

That’s why I’m sharing my story. It’s frustrating that this encounter happened to me. I don’t think it should be normal, and I don’t think it’s right that all the time women feel targeted or unsafe like I did today. Hopefully, together we can create a society that affirms the dignity of all its members. The first step, though, is joining the conversation.

Here’s a photo of two women that I consider to be some of the most powerful Chilean women ever. On the right is our pastora, Oriana, who has had to face a lot of criticism being a female leader in the church. My host mom Rocío is on the left, and she is working on her doctorate in environmental law. I wrote an interview question for her the other day: “what is it like being mujer and abogada (lawyer)?” and it occurred to me that this would never be asked of a man, since they are assumed to dominate this career path and don’t have the same occupational challenges related to gender.

Despedirse

In Spanish class we learned that the way to say goodbye is “Adios!” At least in Chile, though, that’s not how you do it. Everyone says “Chao!” as goodbye, and it’s accompanied by a kiss on the cheek, maybe a hug, cuídate, nos vemos!

Despedirse is something you do every time you leave a social gathering. And it’s required for everyone there. You have to go around the room and say goodbye to all the people you’re with before it’s okay to leave.

At the beginning of my time in Chile, this was really uncomfortable for me, because I wasn’t sure how to insert myself in someone’s conversation to say goodbye. I always felt like I was interrupting something. Or that I was holding up my family from leaving. The truth is, though, that they’re never in a hurry, and the cultural value of acknowledging others trumps the extra inconvenience.

For me, this shift in cultural values requires extra effort, and to be honest I’m still not the best at the practice of despedirse, but that’s something I want to keep working on until I have to leave.

The end of my study abroad program is coming up just on the horizon. We have a month and a week before we all part ways. I’m anticipating that this goodbye will be very difficult.

In my time here I have made a lot of wonderful friends. Both my amigos gringos and amigos chilenos have made a remarkable impact on me. I have been greeted with such kindness, invited into a new family, and accepted for who I am. I can share my heart and soul with the people I have met here, and for that I am so grateful.

I’m not ready to say goodbye.

Here I am with some friends from my program on a trip to Mendoza, Argentina. I love that the other gringas are always up to travel and share cultural experiences!
My community of jóvenes from my church in Chile. Here we are at a weekend retreat. My host dad Séba is the one taking the selfie.
These are my host family’s relatives. From aunts and uncles to abuelos y nietos, everyone came together for fiestas patrias and they’ve done an incredible job of including me in their family.
Some of my chilean church friends and I at a despedida (farewell party) for Gabriel (not pictured) who’s leaving to learn English in the US for a couple months. This was the first of many goodbyes for me and it got me feeling super sentimental.

Living Among the Dinosaurs

On Saturday I found myself eating tiny coconuts and sipping water from tiny shoe-shaped flowers. It was like a miniature tea party!

In fact, one of my favorite memories from childhood was the tiny tea-set that my sister and I shared. Even for 10-year-old fingers, it was teensy. And we would always drink tap water and eat baby goldfish. At that point in my life, real tea was a very grown-up concept.

Now, thanks to my roommate Sav, who introduced me to this drink and the constant presence of tea at our evening meals in Chile, I’m addicted. And a warm cup of tea was exactly what I was craving after Saturday’s adventures.

Let me back up.

On Saturday, my study abroad program took an excursion to La Campana National Park. It’s a magical place just a bus ride away from Valparaiso, where the ecosystem changes suddenly to remind me of Jurassic times.

Doesn’t it seem like dinosaurs would live here? I kept expecting a pterodactyl to come swooping by. This mix of vegetation has been here for hundreds of thousands of years, and the palm trees, or palmeras, are a species unique to Chile. Their presence here has to do with the microclimate in the national park, which receives a lot of rain.

I learned all these things from our tour guides, who were an incredible source of knowledge about the national park. They pointed out tons of wildlife, patiently answering all my questions about rocks and woodpecker species.

The part about the rain, though, I picked up on pretty fast. It was raining all day, starting just after we unloaded the bus in the parking lot. By the time we got back, about 5 hours later, we were slipping and sliding down the muddy hills.

On the plus side, the rain made the waterfall that we went to see absolutely gorgeous! Our guides noted that there was more water rushing down it than they had ever seen.

The rain also allowed us to see some more secretive birds, a tarantula, and flowers that would have closed up otherwise. These adorable bell-shaped yellow flowers generally last about a day, but with the rain, they were filled up to the brim. And they were the perfect shape to take a little sip out of!

The tiny coconuts that made up the other half of my tea party were from the Chilean palmera. They’re about the size of a quarter. Our tour guide found one on the ground and split it open with a rock. They don’t have water inside, but the fleshy white part tastes just like any other coconut!

Overall, I had a wonderful time in the land of the dinosaurs! Despite the rain and the cold, it was an amazing place to visit. And on the way back, we stopped at an authentic Chilean restaurant to warm up with a cazuela (a typical brothy soup) and, of course, some tea.

School is different here

The view out my window on the train. You could see the cordillera of the Andes the whole way there.

School is different here. For example, my art class today was a field trip to the south of Chile. We spent about 9 hours in train, and 3 in bus so we could appreciate a mural painted in the small town of Chillán.

We weren’t allowed to take photos of the mural we went to visit, but here’s one from outside the library where it was located.

This smaller mural was painted by a Mexican artist and says “Gobernar es educar” (to govern is to educate).

I went with my 5-person class, made up of students from 4 different countries. Funnily enough, none of them are Chilean. Apparently the exchange students are more interested in learning about Chilean art than they are.

Regardless, the topic of education came up while we were waiting for the train. I was very curious; “como es la educación en tu país?” (What is school like in your country?)

I learned that in Ireland, computer science students learn at a slower pace than their Chilean counterparts. In Colombia, few scholarships are available, and most majors last 5 years. In Mexico, community service and internships are required for all degrees.

One thing we all agreed on is that school is different here. For me, one of the biggest changes to get used to has been their grading system. In Chile, they use a scale from 1-7, with a 4 being a passing grade. Most students strive for 4’s, rather than 7’s, which are rarely handed out.

This is not the same as our inflated grading system in the United States. A 4.0 GPA is the ideal back home, and was achieved by at least 15% of my high school class. The GPA is also an important measure in terms of deciding a student’s future. However, here, the important thing is that you get a degree. Employers don’t care much about the grades you get in school, just that you pass.

This leads to highly different cultural attitudes about school. At Hope, which is admittedly more academically rigorous, there’s a fixation on the exact number you are given and a competition to out-perform other students. In Chile, though, there’s a relaxed nature about school, and much less of a student’s identity is wrapped up in their performance.

This is also likely related to the fact that most Chilean university students still live at home. They participate a lot in family life. Though they are less independent, they often have responsibilities that have nothing to do with their schoolwork. My classmates have to run errands to buy things for their parents or pay the bills. This is something I never have encountered with American classmates, but I think it helps create a balance in life where school isn’t all-consuming.

There are other differences, like the way professors communicate, the structure (and sometimes lack of structure) of classes, and the frequency with which my classes meet. Now that I’m about half-way through my semester, I think I’m adjusted to this Chilean version of school. And I like it a lot.

I’ve had fun opportunities to travel; I’m working in groups with Chilean students; we visited the aquarium for marine biology; I crushed my first big exam; I got a compliment on my Spanish after a nerve-wracking presentation. All these things and more are what make studying abroad totally worth it!

Here are my notes and study materials from my first marine biology exam.

 

The final slide of a presentation I gave.
Las estrellas del mar, or starfish, in a tidepool at the aquarium. We even had the chance to touch them, which was really cool!

Ser Poeta

Los poetas odiamos el odio y hacemos guerra a la guerra — Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda es un Gran Chileno,” our history professor told us. Looking at his life and his world, I’m convinced. Pablo Neruda was a Chilean poet, writer, politician, and professor, but what Chileans love most about him, I think, is his personality.

He was a collector of many things, with a lot of personality quirks. For example, he always wrote in green ink pens, and he had a train relocated to his front yard.

The famous front-yard train.
A collection of odd-shaped glass jars in La Isla Negra, Pablo Neruda’s beachside home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So far, I have visited two of his houses (there were three) and have been very impressed by his whimsical style. I’m inspired by his fun approach to life, and his belief that “la risa es el lenguaje del alma,” or “laughter is the language of the soul.” Honestly, this makes sense coming from a poet who wrote odes to kitchen objects and various fruits.

I’ve been working on a few Neruda-inspired poems this semester that I wanted to share with you. I’m generally nervous about sharing my poetry, but I’m also reminded by Neruda not to take myself so seriously. 🙂 Ok, here it goes:

#8

Laughter is sweet

Like that first crunch of empanada dough,

An easy way to break through the initial awkwardness

Before getting to the meat.

#14

You are more fierce than a vicuña,

but I tried to make you a llama.

I thought I could compare you to a burro

But even those run salvaje.

Why do I try to put you in a caja

when even the universo

can’t contenerte?

 

La Cueca

Is there a national dance in the US? No, claro, los gringos aren’t very good at dancing.

This was my excuse this weekend when I was asked that question. But the truth is, Chileans aren’t always good at dancing either. It doesn’t stop them from trying, though.

Chile’s national dance, called the cueca, is an obligatory part of every fiestas patrias celebration. For five days, the entire country gets excited about their national traditions. People dress up as huasos and chinitas, eat a lot of empanadas and choripán, and drink a lot of wine. This weekend, I went to a lot of parties where the cueca was danced.

Here I am with my friends Gloria and Isabella (the little chiquita) dressed up in chinita costumes. My Chilean flag dress, borrowed from Gloria, made me feel very Chilean. 🙂

This unique Chilean dance tells the story of the conquest of a woman. It’s danced in parejas, a boy and a girl. At first, the girl acts shy. They circle around each other, coming near and turning away. The guy is supposed to follow her around and stomp near her feet. Finally, at the end of the dance, he sticks out his arm to ask for another. Most times, the girl hooks his arm in his and the audience applauds. I learned that if she wants, though, she can throw her pañuelo on the ground and walk away.

My friends Camila and Juan Pablo dancing in the church’s cueca competition.

The pañuelos are an important component of the cueca. They are little handkerchiefs that the dancers have to hold in their hands and twirl around. I made sure to have my pañuelo before the festivities began, but Chileans aren’t always that prepared. They improvise pañuelos all the time. It could be a napkin, a scarf, maybe some toilet paper.

In the end, it makes for a pretty unique spectacle. I love watching the Chileans stomp around, twirling their mismatched pañuelos and getting into the character of the dance.

Ask me to dance, though, and I’m a little more hesitant.