Orientation! …In the outback?

After 20-odd hours in multiple airports and various planes, I finally made it to Sydney, Australia! …only to leave this beautiful city less than a day later to fly to my program’s orientation at a resort surrounding Ayers Rock, also known to the aboriginal people as Uluru. For those of you who don’t know what that is – I definitely had no clue before I came here – it is a giant red rock in the middle of a very flat desert! Sounds thrilling, right? Yeah, I was a little concerned too. Flying to the middle of nowhere in a country I have never been in with a group of people I have never met did make me a bit nervous! However, when we arrived, there was nothing to be worried about.

We arrived at what seemed to be the world’s smallest airport (with only two gates) and hopped on a bus that would take us to our hotel for the weekend. Little did I know that this was actually a very nice resort! We weren’t roughing it in the outback as I had expected. We had normal hotel rooms surrounded by the gorgeous red sands of the desert. There were multiple small hotels, a few restaurants, and the town square with some shops and even a grocery store.

After finding our rooms and a bit of exploring, it was finally time to eat! We met at the main bar/restaurant area where it was an Aussie self cook BBQ dinner. I do not know how to grill, yet they handed me a plate of raw steak and kangaroo, and happily showed me to the rows of grills stationed for us to use. I was worried that I would kill this meat many times over on this grill, but I was so hungry I had to do it! Thanks to my many years of experience watching food network, I actually grilled up a pretty decent steak and kangaroo! I highly recommend trying kangaroo – it was quite delicious.

 

Grillin’ kangaroo like a champ!

 

Kata Tjuta

The next day we took a tour at Kata Tjuta (another giant rock in the middle of nowhere). We hiked with our guide to a couple of different stunning viewing areas, but had to leave quickly in order to get back in time for our other planned events. We stopped at a viewing area of Uluru in order to watch the sun change the color of the rock as it set. It was amazing but again, we

Made it to the top!

had to hurry to our last stop before dinner. This last spot was one of my favorites because it was incredibly unique. It is called the Field of Lights, and it was just that – a field of lights! There was a sea of little handcrafted bulbs that changed colors as you walked around them. It was such a peaceful and gorgeous experience to have in the middle of the desert. After that, we finished our adventure back at the resort and were treated to a five star interactive buffet dinner! It was just as amazing as it sounds and yes, I ate just about one of everything! After dinner, we called it a day because the next morning we had a sunrise hike around Uluru that we definitely did not want to miss!

When we arrived at the rock, the sun was just starting to peek out on the horizon. Our tour guide, Jason, moved pretty quickly as he informed us that this would be a 12 km walk around this rock. He took us to places where we could stop and gawk at this desert wonder; however, there wasn’t much time for standing around and taking pictures because Jason would already be on the move! He would stop and tell us some of the stories that the aboriginals pass down to their children about a certain section of the rock, and there were quite a few! All of the stories are meant to teach some sort of moral to the children, just like we do in our culture. We also saw many cave drawings that depicted characters from these stories being told to us. Popular drawings would be of emu tracks (hunting image), people sitting, and their version of what we would call the devil. The hike took about five hours to complete, and by the end of it we were entirely exhausted. We got back, slept for a few hours, then got up for another incredible dining experience – this time in the middle of the desert.

 

Our dinner was truly an experience. We started on a hill overlooking Uluru, so we were able to watch the sunset against it for a second time. They had endless drinks and hors d’oeuvres including crocodile, chicken liver, kangaroo, and smoked salmon – all irresistibly amazing! After the sun was almost set, we were escorted to our tables to enjoy our three course Sound of Silence dinner experience. Another beautiful buffet was offered and as the night progressed, we were entertained by a didgeridoo player and, for the main event, an astronomer talked to us about the countless stars in the sky. I have never seen so many stars in my life – I even saw the milky way! We had a moment of silence to appreciate the quiet of the nature around us. That moment quickly became my favorite moment of the weekend. After a long day, we made it back to our hotels for our last night of the trip.

After a hearty breakfast and some last-minute exploring, we finally made our way back to the airport for our short flight back to Sydney. We got back just in time to see what orientation has in store for us at ICMS!

 

Causey Farm

I awoke Saturday morning with a start.  I realized that today I was going to a place called Causey Farms. I did not do any prior research on the destination but was looking forward to a fresh experience. I am still trying to figure out travel plans, foreign and abroad, but Causey was the perfect place to go to take my mind off of those fears. Me and my fellow Study Abroaders boarded a bus and trekked the 90 minutes to the farm.

  

When we arrived, I stepped off the bus and was immediately greeted by a friendly black and white dog. There was a beautiful white lab that was extremely friendly and was just chilling, enjoying the landscape and the day herself. Meanwhile, it began to rain, and the ground turned to muck, but we continued on. I was glad that I wore the boots that I bought for 12 Euro at a thrift store (shoes and clothes are pretty cheap in Dublin, guys and girls).

  

We petted animals, fed donkeys, milked a cow, and best of all, jumped into a bog (actually I didn’t, but you get the point). Then, when it was all said and done, we collected and ate the bread that I forgot to mention we made at the beginning of our journey. I needed some butter for it because it is quite tasty! What a eventful day in the life of a Study Abroader in Dublin! Stay tuned for more adventures.

  

  

P.S. Causey Farms is a great place. If you are ever in Ireland and you need a place to visit, stop by and explore another interesting facet of the great country of Ireland. Then I slept the 90 minutes back to Dublin. It was a pretty good Saturday afternoon. There will be more from me soon!

 

Wonderful Limits

How do you find words to describe the Infinite? When I try to explain the beauty and majesty I saw this weekend, especially in Spanish, simplemente no hay palabras. I find myself struggling against my limits. And then the Voice inside me tells me to relax.

Tranquila,” it says. “We will have all eternity to discover that.” My mind is blown again.

I don’t understand the concept of eternity. But in my limits, I can wonder.

What I learned this weekend is that that’s enough.

Being in the most beautiful place we’d ever seen brought so much wonder to myself and my friends. The trip was filled with exclamations of “¡Guauu!“, “¡Mira!“, “¡Qué hermoso!“, “¡Es maravilloso!” and “¡No lo puedo creer!” We could only marvel at the beauty of the Atacama desert.

Take a look at my slideshow and marvel along with us! Fun fact: it’s the driest desert on earth.

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Being somewhere like this also makes you ponder deep questions like why we experience the sensation of beauty. My friend Erin had a very wise and interesting response.

“It’s the size of this place that makes us reflect on our own smallness and insignificance.” And that’s what wonder is.  It’s being surrounded by something that’s too big to understand. It’s recognizing our limits of size and understanding.

If we knew everything, nothing would amaze us. If we were bigger or stronger we might not be dwarfed by the majesty of mountains.

Riding around the valle on bikes made me realize how big that corner of the desert was. By the end of the day our butts were sore and legs were tired. I had pushed myself to the limit, for sure. But there was a lot of joy in recognizing my limit; it made room for appreciation of God’s creation.

I think often times we try to push our limits, or forget them. In the process, we lose sight of our place in the world. Truly, we are just one second in the span of history, smaller than one grain of sand in a desert.

We have a choice to recognize that insignificance, or not. Either we accept our place in the world or create a worldview that puts us in the very center. Though it takes a lot of humility to wonder, I can’t help but think it’s worth it.

I met two slightly unpleasant people on this trip. And I feel bad judging them on some short conversations, but I wanted to share what left a bad taste in my mouth– their lack of wonder. A Finnish boy and Australian girl were in one of the hostels I stayed at, and what both of them said was: “I’ve already seen something like that.  I didn’t think it was that cool.”

To me, who felt awestruck at the sights I saw this weekend, this attitude surprised me. Maybe I’m just less cultured and important than (they think) they are. But if that’s the price to recognize beauty and value in a place, I’m willing to pay it.

I’d much rather be like our Brazilian roommate, Sabrina, who told me, “pienso que cada lugar que visito es lo máximo”, or “I think that every place I see is the coolest.” I want her sense of wonder to see lo máximo everywhere I go.

Some Final Words for My Beloved City

It was about 2 weeks before I left and I was already ready to leave my second home in Santiago de Chile.  I was anxious to see my family and friends and to be able to wake up under my own roof again.  As much as I loved living with a host family for my 5 months abroad, I really missed my family.  Quite honestly, it was the very first time I had felt truly homesick.  Maybe I had felt this way because the idea of returning was becoming so real to me or because I had been too busy to think much about returning home that I never felt the urge to go back.  At this point, I felt satisfied.  So much so that I was ready to say goodbye to a city that had given me so many wonderful memories.

So, on my second to last day of my stay in Santiago, I went for a hike on the city’s second highest mountain, Cerro Manquehue, and it was truly the most emotional hike I’ve had.  No tears, I promise, but it was just a reflective memory walk.  I remember the day that I moved in a day earlier than everyone else and I remembered the emotions I was feeling so rawly that it felt that I was feeling them for the first time again.  I remembered how overwhelmed I was moving from the airport to my hotel on my own speaking purely in Spanish without any help.  I remembered how alone I felt that evening as well.  The most alone I had felt in my life, but at the same time I remember feeling a sense of excitement and thrill for what I would be experiencing my following 5 months, and every moment of it was beyond what I expected.  So, as an ode to my beautiful city, here is what I wrote for her.

A note for my beloved city:

Chao, Santiago de Chile. No puedo decir lo suficiente cuánto te voy a extrañar. Gracias por todas las experiencias que me has dado. Desde las horas pico horribles en el Metro, temblores y días lluviosos hasta los cerros hermosos que abrazan tu alrededor y tu hermoso paisaje que me bendice cada mañana con tu cordillera y amanecer. Te quiero y ya te echo de menos.  La única cosa que te pido es que tus ciudadanos ayuden a limpiar todo el smog para que todos puedan ver tu belleza. Yo sé que ha sido una experiencia difícil a veces pero me ha enseñado mucho a travez de mis desafíos. Gracias también por haberme dado amistades fuertes en mis últimos meses en mi estadía. Aunque los meses al principio fueron muy arduos, a través de esa temporada me has enseñado a sentirme contento estando solo. Ahora, veo que hay algo hermoso en eso. Que nunca he estado solo, que siempre he tenido un compañero. Y ese compañero soy yo. 

Goodbye, Santiago. I can’t say enough how much I will miss you. Thank you for all of the experiences that you have given me. From horrible rush hours in the Metro, tremors, and rainy days to your beautiful hills that embrace you along with your beautiful landscape that blesses me every morning with your mountain range and sunrise. I love you and I already miss you. The only thing I ask of you is that your citizens help to clear your smog so that everyone can see your beauty.  I know that it has been a difficult experience at times but you have taught me a lot through my challenges. Thank you also for giving me strong friendships in the last months of my stay. Although the first months were tough, through this season you have taught me how to be content with being alone. Now, I see that there is something beautiful in this. That I have never been alone. That I have always had a companion and that companion is me. And for once, I got to know him really well.

Un Paraguay en Chile | A Paraguay in Chile

 

Photo at our “Despedida Paraguaya” or Paraguayan goodbye party. In the back, we decorated the wall with a Paraguayan flag with Paraguayan jerseys against the wall on every chair.
Araceli, who always went by Ara, loved psychology, reading, and watching old movies. Fascinated with old film, she would always invite Vero and I to vintage film showings and we even had movie marathons. We always enjoyed talking about books, window shopped, had deep conversations about feminism and world justice and vented about our struggles studying abroad and our unreasonable amounts of homework.

As I blogged in one of my first blogs, “It’s Hard to Immerse And Why It’s Okay” I talked about my difficulty finding friends of my age that I could relate to other than my IES classmates. Though I was taking classes at a local university, I only really made acquaintances which was fine and to be expected. I was always told that making friends among local students can be sometimes difficult as friend groups are pretty much set while Chileans are known to be somewhat timid when talking with new people. Though I heard this many times, I didn’t think it would really be a problem and still to this day I still think the problem was with me. I was a little scared to be honest. I have always put unrealistic expectations on myself to speak very good Spanish and I was nervous about being teased because of my American accent. Silly, right? But luckily, regardless of this fear I ended up meeting a great group of friends that I stay in touch with even after my program ended. I met two of them, Araceli and Verónica, in a volunteering meeting at the local university where I took my Religion course and they were super friendly and asked everyone around them for their names introducing themselves saying they were from Paraguay.  Right before I left this meeting, we ended up exchanging numbers to stay in touch about campus events that were coming up. At the moment, I didn’t think much of it since I had met many students from class and ended up forgetting their names or never hearing from them, but it was within weeks that I began to spend a lot of time with them, and eventually I began feeling like I was a part of something. They would often invite me and some of my friends to school functions and places around the city to explore.  I would always thank them profusely for extending their invitations because it really meant a lot to me and even more so when they began teaching me about their culture.

“Eventually I began feeling like I was a part of something”.

One of the first Paraguayan friends I met in Santiago: Verónica or Vero, we would always call her. She was always super energetic and loved ballet and was always down to go dancing salsa. Before I left to return to the United States, she gave me a keychain from Paraguay and mentioned that she had her own from Panama (where many of family is from) so that we remember that we have a home to stay at when we visit our family’s countries.

I learned a lot about their country’s second language, Guarani, which is just as official as Spanish and originates from its indigenous population. In Paraguay, these cultures are not separate but are one, as its blood flows mixed with the two. My friends Ara and Vero, who are Psychology majors, would often tell me that Guarani is important to connect with their patients. Sometimes when addressing a patient in Spanish, he or she can be closed and not as open to communicate; but as one speaks in Guarani, one can communicate more emotion and raw sentiment. It really allows for a deeper interaction. I also found Guarani to even be part of my communication with them as they taught me many words like purrete which means cool or maena which means triste or sad, or my favorite one, mopio, which we would always say after someone said something unbelievable or that was a lie. I still will never forget the first time I used it. One day I was invited to their apartment that they rented out along with other Paraguayan exchange students and they burst out laughing. At first I felt that my fear of being teased of language had been realized but they were actually laughing with me, so excited that I had been learning Guarani. At this moment, one of my friends, Sayra had clapped in glee saying that I had already become Paraguayan.

A parting gift given to me about a few weeks before I left for the United States to remind me that I will always have a home or many in Paraguay.

If I ever felt like I had found friends before, I felt like I had found something greater, like a second family. I truly felt home. It was where we would all vent to each other, share our dreams, bake our own pizzas, dance and watch movies until we were always reminded of the homework that was due the next day or the test we had to study for. Like all my family reunions that scheduled for a time, we would always gather at least an hour late and leave hours after we say it’s time to go. We loved food, we loved to dance, we loved to eat, and we loved to talk. To be honest, their apartment was something that of a symbol for me: that whenever I felt I needed a friend, it would be there on Calle Paraguay. To this day, I think it so ironic that the very street they lived on is named after their country, but it made it easy to find and I never had to look hard to find it. It was truly a home a way from home. It was my Paraguay in Chile.

 

 

 

Chi Chi Chi le le le, ¡Vamos Chile!

I’ve never been prouder than when I saw Chile make it all the way to the finals of the Russian Confederation’s Cup. It was a Sunday morning full of excitement as all of the streets were full of vendors selling merchandise for the game. The game was scheduled at noon so I thought that I would make it to church right before the game so made sure I caught the earliest bus headed towards Quinta Normal about 10 minutes away from my church. To be honest, I did not expect anyone to be at the service but it was the most full that I had ever seen it and everyone were dressed in red and white with team-wear. I was not able to stay for the sermon but only the worship and prayer which prayed over not only the game but also the primary elections which were taking place that very day.

So, after the prayer I quickly left so that I could beat the traffic before 30 minutes before noon to make it back to my host family’s home and help prepare lunch before the game. On my return with a newly bought jersey and team scarf from the streets, I found the house unrecognizably reorganized as my host dad was cleaning frantically around the house. The TV was blaring with the pre-game interviews and analysis while I heard chanting and screaming outside. Everyone was ready and excited for the match. And within 30 minutes, it all began. All was clean and all food was set. Not a movement was made. Everyone was glued in front of the TV. Every minute was more painful than the next, giving all who watch much anxiety with every silly mistake that the Chilean team made against their young Germany opposers. Unfortunately, it all ended in a loss. It was not a shoot out like Chile’s prior match but it ended with dirty and rough play by Germany. I was crushed. I honestly wanted to cry. Never have I ever been so emotionally invested in a game. I truly felt like I was a part of it, that I would be able to witness a country that I had grown to love so much make and write its own history.

Los primeros días

Hi, everyone! I am thrilled to announce that I have arrived safe and sound in Seville, Spain! It was my first time traveling alone internationally, so I was pretty scared about checking in bags, going through passport security, and finding the right gates. Unfortunately, I had a rough start in the Chicago O’Hare airport; I ended up riding the transit to three different terminals before finally finding the Iberia flights check-in. It’s terminal 3 in case you were wondering. I then successfully made it to my gate where I met some other students who were also traveling to Seville for the CIEE liberal arts program. We were all so excited to begin our adventures!

When I arrived in the Seville airport, I was greeted by the CIEE orientation guides who are students at the University of Seville. They gave me the orientation folder which contained the orientation schedule, the address of my host family, my CIEE student ID, and a map of Seville. They also helped me and 20 other anxious students fill out the missing luggage form. (Thankfully, my suitcase arrived 2 days later.) I now understand why people pack extra outfits in their carry on.

From the airport, the CIEE bus took me to my alojamiento (homestay) where I met my señora, Maria. I am known as Alison to Maria because Alli is difficult to pronounce. Maria lives alone, next door to her older sister, and has one married daughter who has kids. Because Maria’s daughter lives nearby, she enjoys walking there to play dolls and soccer with the grandchildren.

When I met Maria, we greeted each other with dos besos (two kisses) and she welcomed me to Seville and to her home. In Spain, it is culturally appropriate for women to greet men and other women with dos besos and for men to greet other men with a handshake or dos besos if they are family or good friends. Like most sevillanos, Maria lives in a small apartment equipped only to sleep, eat, and do laundry. Entertaining guests at homes is not a thing here like it is in the U.S. If a group of friends want to hang out, they will go to the bars or the plazas.

For breakfast, Maria and I normally eat toast with olive oil and jam or a muffin and drink milk or juice. Lunch and dinner has varied from veggies to pasta to soup to fruit, but I can always count on a basket full of bread or pretzel-like breadsticks…sorry Coach Cole. Maria and I eat lunch and dinner in the living room while chatting (in Spanish of course) and watching some of her favorite TV programs: “Yo soy del sur” (a singing competition for southern Spaniards), “Parejas” (contestants go on a blind date hoping to start a relationship), and “Cámbiame” (contestants receive an extreme makeover and wardrobe alterations). It has been so great getting to know Maria and she has been very sweet and understanding about my imperfect Spanish. I’m excited to spend more time with Maria, learn more about the culture, and improve my Spanish!

Orientation fun and sightseeing will be coming up soon!