Samoa: First Impressions

Posing in front of the main Apia bus station, dressed in a traditional sulu: men's wraparound sarong.
Posing in front of the main Apia bus station, dressed in a traditional sulu: men’s wraparound sarong.

I have now been in Samoa for one week, and it is quite an adventure. We arrived in Apia, the capital, early in the morning after a 6 hour red-eye flight from Honolulu, and went straight to the University of the South Pacific, our new home. After checking into our rooms, we left for downtown Apia, being dropped off with partners at random points in the city so we could navigate on our own. My new friend Danielle and I were the first to be dropped off, and after walking for a solid forty minutes in the opposite direction, we decided to catch a bus to get downtown, and finally explored the city.

I would like to stop here for a minute and talk about one of the best experiences I have had so far in Samoa: the bus. The busses in Samoa are a real treat for any adventurer.

A view of the inside of one of a bus in Samoa.
A view of the inside of one of a bus in Samoa.

They look almost like brightly decorated school busses on the outside, but on the inside they are made of wood and have open windows, all the while blasting Samoan reggae-pop. The busses are often overcrowded, and when this happens, many Samoans practice what I learned is called “stacking.” Complete strangers may come up to you and sit on your lap (speaking from first-hand experience). It seemed odd at first, but with a good attitude and some humor, you get quite used to it. And with busses picking up anyone on the side of the road who wishes to get on (letting them off wherever as well), and for an extremely cheap rate (about two tala or 1 dollar), why wouldn’t you ride the bus?

More brightly painted busses...
More brightly painted busses…

After getting adjusted to the university, the city, and the transportation, I have come to really love Samoa. The scenery is beautiful, and everyone is extremely friendly and hospitable. Whenever I walk down the road I am continuously greeted by smiling men, women and children who find my broken Samoan and my “palangi” (Westerner) status one of the most amusing things one could imagine. Though it has been quite an adventure, I am now beginning to feel more adjusted to Samoa and the Samoan culture.

And even MORE busses!
And even MORE busses!
The beautiful Upolu coastline from the air.
The beautiful Upolu coastline from the air.
The beautiful Upolu coastline from the air.
The beautiful Upolu coastline from the air.

And even MORE busses!

Fish Fry

On Wednesday, a friend and I went to a fogata, which is Spanish for “bonfire.” The fishermen in Valparaiso put it on once or twice a year. It involves lots of food, a giant fire, and good music. My family told me about it and I wanted to go, so I dragged a friend along.

Each fisherman has his own little stand where they fry fish right there in front of you. You can pay 2.000 pesos (roughly $4) and it gets you a fried fish, a dinner role, and a glass of wine. The fish was fried whole, skin and bones and everything—just missing its head. The fish was SO GOOD! I cannot even explain the joys of fresh fried fish, super hot and crispy, and a nice glass of cool wine to wash it down.IMG_0351

The bonfire was probably my favorite part, and naturally I was enjoying myself so much I didn’t take pictures of it. There was a wood pile that I am pretty sure was taller than me, and about five or six people standing together. They poured some lighter fluid on it and had a little countdown, and when the fire hit the lighter fluid, there was a little explosion! I was not the only to let out a scream of surprise. But then there was this amazing fire to accompany the night.

I was pretty surprised at the number of people there. Thinking about it, I really should not be, because obviously it is a well-known event that happens here, and fishing is an important part of life in Valparaiso. My host parents knew about it, and when I told my host sister where I was going, she was upset that she had forgotten it was that night. So clearly it is a thing people look forward to. And it was packed! We finally left because there were just so many people and my friend and I are both a little uncomfortable in big crowds. But overall, a really great experience—something I could never experience at home! IMG_0350

Ancient Polynesia in Hawaii

Aloha from Hawaii! I cannot believe that week one has already drawn to a close, and even though I have not yet gone abroad to Samoa, (I am in Hawaii right now for a pre-departure orientation), I have already had a wonderful taste of Polynesian culture. On Saturday, my group and I took a tour of the island of O’ahu. Although I love Honolulu, it is nice to finally escape the heat and congestion of the city, and experience some off-the-beaten-track destinations. One of these that we were fortunate enough to visit was the Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau. A heiau is an ancient Hawaiian temple, where people could pray for success in war and agriculture. This heiau had a direct connection to Pele, a Hawaiian volcano goddess. Though many heiaus were destroyed after the introduction of Christianity (especially on the island of O’ahu), the Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau has survived since it was built in the 17th Century. All along the side of the heiau were small rocks with a ti leaf tied around them. When I asked our guide about the significance of this, he said it was an ancient practice that has made a resurgence since the Hawaiian renaissance of the 1970’s where one offers the rock to Pele, and either says a prayer, or makes a wish. It felt truly special being in a place not many tourists in Hawaii are able to go, and I feel that by being able to see a real heiau and ask a local about the significance of it, I was able to better appreciate the native Hawaiian culture on a deeper level.

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An offering to Pele.

Dancing Through Life

Dancing is such a fun activity. It is crazy to think that there is dancing all over the world, and people use it in celebrations, in weddings, in death, and just as a social event. I am not certain how big of a role dancing has played in Chile’s history, but it is playing a big part in my travels here!

I have been participating in a samba group that meets on Saturdays pretty close to where I live. One of the program employee dances, and she invites anybody who wants to come and learn a bit. Samba is a pretty fun dance. I do not think it is necessarily pretty, but it is fun to watch and to do. The group is all Chileans, and then the few of us from the program who want to learn. There is also a drum group that practices with us so that we can practice at tempo. There is a whole lot of fun involved, too!

I am also in a dance class called “Traditional Chilean Dances.” That class has been a blast since day one. It is only available for study abroad kids, so we are all incredibly awkward and not great dancers. Most dances involve a lot of hip action, trying to be “flirty and sexy,” and that just makes us all even more awkward. That class is a good time all the time.

The one dance we definitely need to know is called “La Cueca.” It is Chile’s national dance, and during their independence days, September 18 and 19, it is danced all around the country! La Cueca is very fun to do, but it takes a lot of practice. I have always been able to pick out the beat of a song and move to that beat, but Cueca is not like that. It is more following your partner and what feels right. I like it, but it has been a challenge. Whether I am moving my feet or my hips, or some combination of the two, I am glad that I have been dancing since I have arrived. It is great exercise, and motivates me to make friends.

Some Favorites So Far

It continues to be a busy yet fun time here in Chile! Last weekend my familia and I went to Santiago. They have a daughter that lives there with her family, so we visited. It was a lot of fun but quite busy, and I had a lot of homework due this week, so I have not gotten much of a chance to do anything else!

I am trying to put together a list of my favorites so far here. Some things are very difficult, but others are not quite as hard. Like my favorite mode of transportation is easy: the metro. There is only one metro line here in Valpo, and it is super easy to use. With our student passes, it is also super cheap! The exchange rate is about 582 Chilean pesos to every US dollar. The Metro only costs me about 126 pesos, depending on where I am going. That means it only costs about $0.22! The only problem is it is not always consistent, coming around maybe every ten minutes or so. But it is close to my house and drops me right off at the university, so I am not complaining!!!

My favorite food that is Chilean so far has to be manjar (pronounced “mon-har”). It is like liquid caramel, and I cannot get enough of it! Put in on bread or crackers; it is great as ice cream, too. My favorite “adult beverage” is probably anything with Pisco in it. Pisco is liquor that is available in Chile, and they love it. Mix it with Coke for a Piscola or there is also a PiscoSour, which is delicious.

And my favorite Chilean word is weon (pronounced “way-own”). It means literally anything. It can be a verb or a noun or an adjective. It is pretty awesome. When used to describe a person, however, it has bad connotations, so with friends it’s fine but careful with anybody else.

I think that’s about it for now. I am sure I will develop new favorites as I continue to explore this amazing country! Ciao!

The Beginning of a Spanish Adventure

I’m here! I made it! And it has been just over a week since I moved in with my host family. I am a participant in the CIEE- Liberal Arts program and here in Alicante, so my fellow program participants and I attended a three-day orientation before moving in with our families.

Orientation was just that. An orientation. We were introduced to Spanish culture, learned all we needed to know about living with a host family, traveling within Spain and Europe, and what our classes would be and look like. I’m thankful for those three days to acclimate myself to the time change and to meet friends in my program before moving in with my host family.

I live in a first floor apartment with a Spanish mom, sister and cousin, who lives with us as he attends the University of Alicante- where I will also take one class. We live in the city, a ten minute walk from my tram stop, the beach and only a 5 minute walk to the main shopping strip. I can’t complain! Life with my family, thus far, has been wonderful! The food has been absolutely wonderful! They are all so welcoming and take time to explain things to me when our language barrier gets in the way. And despite temperatures upwards of 85 degrees, humidity levels at 70%, and no air conditioning- I truly feel “at home.”

The beach in Alicante, and the Santa Barbara Castle that overlooks the sea. IMG_0319

I have now had classes for a whole week and I’m working on the second! I’m enrolled in a two-week, intensive language course before my regular class load that starts next week. I’d be lying if I said living and learning in a country of a foreign language was a breeze, but it’s also just the beginning of my adventure and I can already sense improvement in my Spanish.

On Tuesday my CIEE program took a hike up to the top of the castle. It was hot! But totally worth the views of the city and sea. We conveniently made it just in time for the sunset over the mountains.

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As the days are flying past, I cannot help but be thankful for this opportunity to spend a semester in Spain. I am already in awe of all that I have seen and learned and I am thrilled to continue doing what I’ve been doing.

Hasta luego!

It’s Almost Adventure Time!

“Are you excited?” “Are you packed?” “Are you nervous?” “Are you ready?” The four questions I don’t seem to mind responding to. The answers? “Do you want this week’s or last?”  Truth is, my emotions about leaving for Alicante, Spain are all over the place. I am thrilled, nervous, confused, worried (a little), happy. All of those things. And they change daily. From the travel time, to the arrival, to my life transitioning to Spanish, to moving in with a family I’ve never met, to starting classes in a foreign land, to being completely independent in a place far, far away. You could say there is a lot going on in my mind. This week- I’m mostly excited, if I am honest. Why wouldn’t I be? I’m about to embark on the greatest adventure I’ve ever taken- that’s for sure. I’m excited for a new culture, family, cuisine, school, group of friends, set of opportunities, way of life. And I’m sure I will discover more new things to enjoy.   Since I am a Holland resident, I have frequented Hope’s campus this past week to spend a few more hours with my friends as they trickle into town. It’s been both a blessing and a hardship. A blessing to enjoy their presence and see them one or two times more before I leave, and a hardship as I watch them unpack their dorm rooms and cottages knowing I won’t be able to share in the joy of the Fall semester and greeting new faces on campus. All the while, I feel extremely joyous to be stepping out of my comfortable Holland, MI bubble. I’d be lying if I denied that I was feeling lots of different things. But I’d also be lying if I said I wanted to stay. I guess I should say- I’m sad to leave, but I’m so ready to go. And I may or may not be packed. 🙂

The First Few Weeks

It has been a pretty hectic couple of weeks here in Valparaiso, Chile! I have already learned so much about the city and the culture and the way things are done. It has been an adventure, to say the least, and I have a long way to go before I will be a master of this city.

Our group (there are 38 of us) arrived in the Santiago airport on the morning of July 17th. I am the only one from Hope; other students are here from all over the United States. Chile is in the same time zone as Michigan, so I did not have to adjust my internal clock. We spent our first three days in a hotel for our orientation, in order to get accustomed to the city and the program and the idea of being abroad. It was a lot of information, but I like everybody in the program, so that makes everything easier.

That Saturday we met our host families. I live with a couple slightly older than my parents and their daughter, who is married and has kids. The house is a two-story house, and the daughter’s family lives on the first floor, and the parents and I on the second. We always have at least one meal together during the day, either lunch or dinner. I have no problem with being in a big family because I am the middle child of five kids. I am very used to being around little ones and having people around all the time.

The meal times are a bit different here, with breakfast when you wake up, lunch around 2 pm, and dinner around 8 pm. The life here is just later, too. My host dad does not leave for work until 8:15 or so, and my host mom likes to sleep until 11.

There has been a lot to do and figure out, like public transportation and school and the dialect they use. It has been a difficult couple of weeks, but I am sure that in a month I will have it all down. I cannot believe how much I have already learned, and I look forward to having even more adventures!

The Countdown

It is a beautiful day here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. And here I sit, stressing about the next few months because, well, I leave in July to go study abroad! I am excited and terrified and so, SO pumped to go. It has been a dream of mine to study abroad since I was very young. Spanish is not my first language, but it is pretty close to being my first. I went to a Spanish immersion school from kindergarten through high school. Basically, I studied all the academics like a normal kid, except I learned it all in Spanish instead of English (until middle school, when I had some classes in Spanish and some in English). I consider myself very blessed to have had that opportunity. And while I have had a few practical uses for Spanish here in the States, like helping out at food kitchens or with the ESL program at Hope, I cannot wait to fully apply my Spanish that I have worked so hard to learn!

Getting to this point has not been easy. I am so thankful for everything my family, friends, and even professors have done for me. They have written me letters of recommendation, helped me with endless paperwork, and have supported me through this slightly stressful time. I would not have gotten to this point without them.

And now I am playing the waiting game. I want to just hop on the plane and go now, but I have a lot to do in the meantime. I will be doing summer research right up until I leave, and packing will have to wait for later. I have some essentials that need purchasing, and some lists that need writing, so I suppose that is all for now!

The Cyclops: Greek Theater in Center Stage

Getting ready for our big debut!
Getting ready for our big debut!

The semester is finally winding down, and that means due dates of final papers, exams, and projects and looming closer by the day. One of the more enjoyable final semester projects has been the ancient Greek theater performance for my Attic Tragedy class. Throughout the semester, we have been reading through the works of famous ancient playwrights like Euripides, Sophocles and Aeschylus. While there are a couple classes at CYA that work on just translating these works from their original ancient Greek script, our class instead reads the translated versions of these plays and focuses understanding the breadth and variety of performances that survive today. Tragic performances usually tell the stories of Greek heroes and noble characters who experience misfortune upon misfortune, usually culminating in death. If you think this sounds particularly depressing, you would be right, it is. To balance out the sadness of tragic performances, ancient Greek theater competitions also included a satyr performance. The main difference between a satyr play and a tragedy is the in the supporting cast. While tragic plays used a chorus, or group of singers that had a theatrical role, sattr plays instead relied on a band of satyrs which would provide comic relief in otherwise serious situations. These creatures were often depicted as half-man, half-animal, often intoxicated and always up for a party. Though satyr performances were a key facet of ancient Greek theater, Euripides’ play, the Cyclops, is the only play of this genre that we have in its entirety. It was this work that our class chose to perform in front of the whole CYA program as our final project. .
Though our professor told us at the beginning of the semester that we would understand the plays much better by actually performing them, I did not fully appreciate his words until we actually got to try it out. There are so many aspects of the play that you don’t think about until you have to put on the performance. The chorus is a perfect example. When you just read through a play, you skim over the chorus’s lines as ordinary dialog of a story. For a performance, however, you have to considering if you want the chorus to take turns saying the lines, or all speak in unison. Even the tone of voice used, whispering, shouting or speaking, can dramatically alter the overall effect of the lines. Since the chorus also danced, there is also extensive choreography to plan out and stage directions to take into consideration. By acting out the Cyclops, the story suddenly becomes 3-dimensional and ancient Greek culture opened up in a way that it couldn’t by simply reading words on a page.
Even though I am absolutely not an actor (and never will be) I had so much fun playing a sailor that got eaten by the Cyclops. This has definitely been a semester for trying new things and hands-on, active learning. I am so thankful for opportunities like the play that have enabled me to experience Greek culture in a very tangible and memorable way.

Our Cyclops backstage waiting for her cue
Our Cyclops backstage waiting for her cue