Cultural Shock..Hurts!

Welcome to Valparaiso/vina!
Welcome to Valparaiso/vina!
the view everyday (sun almost always included!)
the view everyday (sun almost always included!)

Despite the title of this blog, I am thankful for and LOVING everyday here in Valparaiso! Waking up to my host dad having toast, cheese and coffee all set out for me (breakfast of champions, right?), rounding the corner of my barrio and seeing the sparkling Pacific and the faint shape of Battleship game pieces floating on the horizon. And everyday I get to study Spanish, history, culture, and community development all together, the perfect combo of everything I love learning about! Not to mention, most days I get to end my day with a scenic run on the pier and sometimes a helado on the beach with friends. In those moments, I have found myself asking, “Is this real life?” But the answer…

is “No.”

While these picturesque, vacation-like images I have described to you are one of the reasons most students desire go abroad (myself included), they come with a cost, a cultural shock that follows.

It begins a week or two into your trip abroad, about the time when you start to see underneath the empanadas and sunny beaches of the country , witnessing also the effects of its history, its social problems, completely unknown by average tourist. Cultural shock affects everyone differently, but it’s felt when you realize the world in which you now find yourself is drastically different from your own, or that it doesn’t match how you originally pictured it. Here are some of culture shocks (big and small) I’ve felt over the past week…

1.) Grocery stores here are not like…(insert name of a specialty U.S. grocery store here). This is actually a sort of big one for me. I am a bit of a health nut and enjoy my greek yogurt, whole wheat pretzels and kale salads (not all together though). Those luxuries are simply hard to come by here in Valparaiso (trust me, I spend 30 minutes combing the local supermarket for them today.) Despite this, you’re never far too far from “home town” favorites (there is a Starbucks ,McDonald’s and Ruby Tuesday’s a block away.) Oh, globalization.

2.) A group of 25 Spanish- speaking gringo kids draws attention on the streets. Our group’s blonde hair and North Face backpacks are not daily occurrences in Chile. We are  in a place where we no longer “blend in” to say the least.

3.) Tear gas spreads fast and education is not a cheap. Last Thursday we witnessed a smaller sized,  student protest from a window in our program’s  headquarters. Education, especially at the university level, is extremely expensive in Chile and many middle class families cannot afford it.  While for the most part we watched the protest  at a distance, the tear gas sprayed by the police wafted through the window causing wide spread coughing fits and headaches, though store owners and small children below got the worst of it. Social and political unrest are not isolated occurrences.

Yet the postitive from this ongoing process of adapting, and change, and cultural shock is that each day, my eyes, mind, and heart are opened a little wider. Not to mention I’m not in this alone. My comfort has been in this:

 “This is my command-be strong and courageous!  Do not be afraid or discouraged.  For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

Amor y Paz,

Leah 🙂

“Chileanismo” of the week: Buena Onda: /cool, good vibe/

Cultural Differences – By the Numbers

17 minutes – How late my class at University of Granada usually starts. Spain is quite relaxed with their sense of time, and it takes so much of the stress off. 

106 people – The capacity of the normal sized bus in Granada that would probably hold 50 or 60 people in the US.

Twice – The number of times I do my Michigan Nice smile to fellow pedestrians in the street each morning before I remember they think its weird. For Spaniards, it’s weird to look into strangers’s eyes, let alone smile. Well, hopefully the people who walk close to my house in the mornings just think I’m friendly! 

50% – The percent of Americans in roles Spanish singers imitate during a popular reality TV show. The influence of American shows and movies is everywhere! Almost everyone knows what Jersey Shore is, and the Simpsons (dubbed version) even has a prime time spot during lunch.

Zero – The number of times that politicians are asked about their religious leanings. Here it is considered very taboo to ask religion when talking to a politician because that is considered more or less a violation of secular government and the separation of church and state. That is one of the reasons that some people consider the US government to be non-secular, a thought that would astound most US citizens.

3 pm – Normal lunch start time. Needless to say, I’m always hungry. 

Exploring Freiburg.

Compared to the big cities I have travelled so far, Freiburg is not as populous or “touristy” but that doesn’t mean there is not much to do here. The past week has been pretty calm but I got to explore Freiburg and I was surprised by how much I could be occupied by the small city itself.

One of my favorite things to do right now during the weekends, if I don’t have much homework, is to go to the Black Forest nearby the town. The cake “Black Forest” was actually named after this part of Germany and I would not have guessed that when I munched on the desert few months ago. I have managed to sneak out of the town couple of times now to enjoy the hike trails the mountains and forests have to offer. So far all the parts I have been to have been snowed on which makes the hike always difficult. However, I got lost once in the area and a random stranger passing by told me that it should not be that difficult for someone who is from Nepal. Regardless of the mountain climbing stereotypes associated with Nepal, the hike was very challenging and being from Nepal did not prevent me from getting half my body stuck inside the snow.


It has always been my favorite pass time even before I came to Germany but watching FOOTBALL (soccer) has been a completely different experience with a crowd who really care about the game. Every time there is an exciting football game going on, the bars are packed. I have hardly watched a game sitting down in a chair. The football fanatics make the atmosphere incredible and there is no doubt that watching football in Europe is a memorable moment. I managed to go watch the Freiburg team play in the German Bundesliga and the passion shown by the player along with the supporters is breathtaking. Football is one thing that all of my flat mates are passionate about and starting a conversation talking about a random game never goes wrong. 



P.S.- Having stayed in America for a year and half, it has been hard to say football and not soccer while I have been in Germany. I wrote soccer frequently in my post above just to scratch it out after I realized what I had done. 

Happy New Year!

Sunday was the Chinese New Year, or since China now follows the Roman calendar, Spring Festival (Chunjie). Chunjie in China is like the American holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s all rolled into one. Life in Beijing stops as the migrant labor force (about half the population) returns home to other provinces. We had Monday through Wednesday off of classes this week to enjoy the festivities. Here’s how I enjoyed my Chunjie:
Saturday- New Year’s Eve is the big day, where we have a huge meal. Some other kids from my program came over to my homestay and our housekeeper actually said that she wanted us to eat so much that we would explode (I think we came pretty close!). Then we watched the traditional New Year’s Eve “talent competition” television event. It involves singing, dancing, and skits. Celine Dion even made an appearance. No, I don’t understand that one either. It would have been better if we could have understood what was being said and sung! Another key feature of Chunjie is fireworks. Not just your average driveway fireworks, but the big ones that could be used in an actual fireworks show. Here they can be bought by anyone off the street. Starting around 5 o’clock they were going off all around the city just about non-stop, culminating in an earth shaking racket at midnight that went on until about three. Thankfully, I’m a night owl!
Sunday- A friend of my homestay family invited me and a friend to go with them to a temple fair, which is the traditional gathering at Chunjie. There were a LOT of people, and stalls to buy souvenirs and street food, as well as sedan chair rides and other carnival games. We walked around the Old Summer Palace (where this temple fair was being held). It was awesome to meet a Chinese family and spend part of the traditional Chinese holiday with them. Their daughter is 14 and speaks English- love for Taylor Swift is universal!
Monday- I went with my host dad to visit his brother and his family. It was so much fun! His sister in law and her daughter were also there and they even have a dog. The girls were practicing their English with me and I got to practice my Chinese with the parents. The warmth of a welcoming and hospitable home is universal. The family sat around the table and laughed and even though I wish I could understand what was being said, I could understand that the family loves each other’s company. For dinner, I met up with a group from my program and we went out to an American restaurant that was way too expensive, but I had a quesadilla and it was magnificent. Cheese is not easily found in China at all. As much as I love Chinese food, its good to have something different every once in awhile. Trust me, no matter where you go, you will miss the tastes of home eventually!
Tuesday- I hung out with the same family that I did on Sunday and had lunch at their house. They heard from my host family about a dish that I really like called tangyuan (rice flower balls filled with red bean paste), and made some just for me! I ended up watching The Hunger Games with their daughter, and it was really interesting to explain the premise behind the story to someone with limited English, and the themes about government to someone who lives in a country with a very different government than ours, and enjoyed a relaxed evening of great conversation with my friends. Every day is something new!
Wednesday- Today I went to another temple fair with some kids from my program. More masses of humanity, more overpriced food, more ridiculous items for sale. I also went shopping with a friend. I must also add that the fireworks have carried on every night so far. I never thought I could be bored of fireworks, but there’s a first time for everything!
I’m so glad that I got to be in China for Chunjie, to see something that is such an important part of their culture, and to experience the family aspect that the holiday brings. I’m thankful for the families that have graciously invited me into their homes and filled me to bursting with delicious food, for the time spent getting to know friends better, and for God’s provision in bringing me here!

When History Leaves You Speechless: Ronda and Seville


This is the fountain we saw in the center of the patio of the Cathedral in Seville. It looked like an average fountain, with children playing and old men chatting. However, as our professor explained more about the history of the this place, this fountain has been a part of a sacred meeting places for more than 1500 years. They have proof that this fountain was part of a Visigoth Church and after the place for the sacred washing before the Muslims would enter their church an now a fountain in the third largest Catholic cathedral in the world. Who would of thought that a simple fountain could have that much history!

There were many other examples of the mix of Muslim and Christian history and architecture. The one on the right is a tower in Ronda. Where the Christians destroyed and the rebuild the tower can be seen where the rock at the bottom switches to brink halfway up. A similar event occurred at the mosque that used to be where the Seville cathedral is now. On the left you can see a picture of the inside of the top of the tower. After an earthquake destroyed the outer layer of the tower, the Christians rebuild the outside to house bells. The impressive arch can be seen dating from about the 13th or 14th century. As well columns visible are from the mosque at Cordoba to have continuity of the faith, so they date from about the 10th century!  As cool as all the history, the best part of the trip was definitely getting to hangout with my new IES friends!