Sappy October Feels

It’s one of those nights that I can’t stop gazing out the window. I pace back and forth between the terrace, which faces east towards the Andes cordillera and my bedroom, which faces south towards even more mountains that I am seeing for the very first time, thanks to yesterday’s rain. My study break is well-spent admiring the sunset over the cordillera, a view that never gets old and makes me temporarily forget about the Lake Michigan sunsets that I’ll return to in the blink of an eye.

The view from the terrace never gets old!

It’s one of those nights that I just want to hang out with my host mom because I still can’t believe I am living in an actual Chilean home and have semester-long access to speaking Spanish whenever I want (I’m not always this optimistic about that). I sit down with a bowl of cazuela and reminisce on the first day that I arrived in Santiago when my host mom and I conversed for hours over a bowl of cazuela (well, she talked and I nodded and pretended that I understood Chilean Spanish… some things don’t change). Two months later, I now know that you’re supposed to drink the broth first before digging into the meat and veggies, but I still stick to my old ways.

My host mom makes the best cazuela!

It’s one of those nights that I can’t actually get anything done because I am straddling between planning my upcoming trips and flipping through photos of the many adventures I have already had on the wild weekend trips. I am stuck in this weird in-between… it’s a nostalgia for the places I have yet to go and a longing to relive the moments that have already passed, all the while trying to be present in this very day of October 1.

Study abroad has been packed with new experiences. Here’s one I’ll never forget: skiing for the very first time… in the Andes!
Another great memory: the infamous stilt houses (palafitas) in Castro, a city on the mythical island of Chiloé. This was an IES-sponsored trip that most of my group went on last month.
The classic South American photo-op with a llama! This was taken on my spring break trip to San Pedro de Atacama, the desert region in northern Chile.

It was tonight that I realized how content I truly am. Disclaimer: study abroad is not all peaches ‘n cream and I have probably had more tough than easy days. There have been days of frustration, regret, and just wanting to throw in the towel on this whole “get out of your comfort zone” thing. However, I am learning that being content does not come from a compilation of good and easy days. It is a feeling that has come from trials and tribulations, from being forced out of the comfort zone day-in and day-out, and for the joy that arises from experiencing growth like I never have before.

One of my favorite Bible verses says,  “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want,” (Philippians 4:12). As I continue into my last couple of months, I cling to this: that the good and the bad and everything in between is all a part of the study abroad experience. Even more, it is a part of the life experience, and I am thankful for the growth that still is to come.

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:


Laughter is sweet

Like that first crunch of empanada dough,

An easy way to break through the initial awkwardness

Before getting to the meat.


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.

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.

The First Bout of FOMO

I began dreaming of my college study abroad semester pretty early on in my high school Spanish classes (what else would have motivated me to get through all those “preterite versus imperfect” lectures?). During Hope prospective student visit days, I sat front row at every off-campus study info session, stored away all the pamphlets, and talked to countless students about their experiences abroad.  When I arrived at Hope in Fall 2014, I plotted out my 4-Year Plan based entirely upon my semester abroad.  However, when it came time to actually make the plans a reality, fear and anxiety crept in.  It wasn’t that I lost the desire to go abroad, but rather that I didn’t want to leave Hope for a semester.

Clearly, events occurred that changed my mind, because here I am writing from Chile.  I can confidently say that I am exactly where I am supposed to be– being challenged, humbled, and left in wonder by this new home of mine.  However, I will break the myth that every day abroad is as much of an adventure as an Instagram picture or blog post may convey.

This past weekend at Hope was Orientation Weekend.  Having been a part of the Orientation Staff for the past two years and loving freshman orientation myself, it has been incredibly difficult to miss out on the best weekend of the year.  Flipping through all the Instagrams and Snapchats, the reality hits that life goes on without you.  When your friends are all moving in together and reuniting after summers apart, you’re not a part of the group texts to meet up at New Holland, Captain Sundae, or a Lake Michigan sunset.  No matter how much we glorify FaceTime and Skype to keep us connected, nothing adequately compensates for the 10,000 miles of distance that exists.

Amidst the FOMO, I am reminded of the gift it is to have a place and people to miss.  I would not trade this adventure abroad for anything– even for my long-awaited senior year fall semester at Hope.  As I write this, I fear that this is just the beginning of the FOMO.  There will be an abundance of things to miss out on, and plenty more anticlimactic days abroad.  However, when I allow myself to sit in that ache to be with the people that know me the best and in the place that I feel the most at home, I am grateful to carry that sense of belonging with me.  Best of all, it’s what will welcome me home in just a few months!

2 ears, 1 mouth

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” James 1:19

My host mom has a Spanish-English Bible, which I think is great. But the translation is definitely more old-fashioned than what I usually use.

If you know my personality, you know that I am often a better listener than talker. I’m slow to contribute to conversations, and it seems like when I do speak, my words come out jumbled.
In Spanish, this is ten times worse.
Especially at the beginning of my time here, I was often frustrated by my inability to express exactly what’s on my mind.  I forget words like cuchillo (knife), bolsillo (pocket), and silla (chair), and realized I never learned how to say “spill” or “hip.”
When it comes to Latin American poetry, though, my vocabulary is impressive. The words you learn in Spanish class (like dictatorship, military coup, and communism) don’t come up in daily conversation as much, however.
Oddly, I’ve come to appreciate the limits of my Spanish.  I’ve also come up with strategies to get around them.  But, you know what, listening is an important skill. James tells us to practice listening and practice being slow to speak.
I came to Chile not knowing anything about the culture.  Sure, I read up on some history, but I still have a ton to soak up.  Which is why I need to listen to people and hear their perspectives.  Luckily, Chileans are buenos para hablar– they’ll talk your ear off.

A candid taken at my weekly Bible Study/communidad.

On Wednesday, when that verse from James came up in Bible study, my Chilean hermanos took it as a challenge.  For me, I’m already living the challenge.  I’m thankful to God for the way He’s using this experience to make me better at listening and forcing me to be even slower to speak.  After all, that’s why we have 2 ears and 1 mouth.

I’m a bad vegetarian

I’m a bad vegetarian.  I’m not Catholic, but I’m feeling a need to confess.

This last month here in Chile has really tested my commitment to my self-imposed dietary guidelines, and truth be told, they haven’t stood up to the test.  I have three (kinda funny) examples of the challenges of being a vegetarian while traveling.  Ready?  Here we go.

  1. Sushi.  (Or as Chileans call it, “su-chi.”)

I guess I’m not the strictest vegetarian to begin with because I’m ok with eating fish.  Especially here, in a seaport town, I’m not opposed to a little fresh salmon or ceviche.  So, when my host aunt/sister Flo texted me that she was gonna order in sushi for our anime night, I was all in.

“Go for it,” I told her.  “I’ll get you back.”

It didn’t even occur to me to mention that I was a vegetarian (or pescatarian).  What more is in sushi than a little bit of fish?

Apparently chicken.

In Chile, it’s common to have sushi with chicken or pork.  Flo ordered us “handrolls” which had cream cheese, avocado, and a few massive hunks of chicken, all wrapped in rice and seaweed.  It wasn’t even cut up in little slices, which I thought was funny.  That’s the most distinctive thing about sushi, right?

This isn’t THE handroll that confused me on anime night, but it’s a pretty good example of what sushi in Chile is like.

That, and the fish.

I felt bad when I realized what had happened.  And I was too hungry to make a fuss about a little bit of chicken, not when she had ordered me some yummy sushi.  So I ate it, and it was good.

Sushi here might not be what I’m used to, but it’s funny.  I was glad to have discovered a cultural quirk of Chile.  Mixing cultures always ends up being entertaining, and I guess a bit weird.

2. Completos. The Chilean hot dog.

Here’s another cultural mash-up.  Imagine an extra-long hot dog slathered with mayonnaise, and topped with an entire avocado, mashed-up of course.  Add your typical ketchup and mustard and, if you’re feeling adventurous (or just particularly German), sauerkraut. There you have a completo.

After about two weeks of hearing my gringo friends get excited about this culinary discovery, I was feeling intrigued and interested enough to try a completo for myself.  It wasn’t like I went looking for one though.  An opportunity fell in my lap one afternoon when I was working on a marine biology project with my Chilean lab group.  It was late afternoon, and we were all starving.

Usually in Chile, people eat almuerzo (lunch) at 2 or 3 pm, but once the clock hit 4, we gave up working on our project, resolved to meet another time, and jumped on the bus to Sergio’s favorite completo place.  They were really excited for me to try my first completo and since there was a special deal that day (2-for-1) Sergio bought me two, convinced I would love it.

An advertisement for a completo and drink. Only 1700 pesos!

I did.

For a hot dog, it was amazing!  A completo is the perfect twist on the American classic.  Though I wouldn’t eat it regularly, I’m really glad I tried the completo with my Chilean friends.  Since then, I’ve had a couple completos without the hot dog (the meat part isn’t the best anyway), but I don’t regret trying it the authentic way first.

3. An Asado (Barbecue).

Did you know that here, people spend Christmas barbecueing on the beach?!  And they’re jealous of us for having snow!  Personally, I would trade the freezing Michigan winter for a Christmas asado.

Here, we’re reaching the end of Chilean winter.  Which I guess means it’s asado season.  My friend Sergio invited me again to try some authentic Chilean meat.  And I said yes.

We went to his house in a little beach town about 30 minutes away. Then we started cooking.  I loved how everyone got involved in the process, but I felt a little useless because one of the tasks I was given was peeling tomatoes.  I had to admit I had never peeled a tomato.

My friend Jean on the beach after our asado.

About 2 hours later, the pinchos were on the grill.  I wish I had a picture, because the amount of food there was impressive.  And the meat was rico and juicy.

I had at least 7 skewers.  Not to mention the multiple salads, soup, rice, and bag of potato chips I munched while waiting for the meat to roast.

On the bus ride home, I had an awful stomachache.

After that pound-of-meat shock to my system, I think I’ve learned my lesson on staying vegetarian.  Sometimes it might be worth it to break it, but I think from now on I’ll stick to salads and veggies to keep my tummy happy.