“Up North” Chilean Style

It’s 10:09 PM local time, and I’m curled up on the couch in the lodge of Hotel Q’antai in my North Face zipped to the top. You would never know that scorching sun beams filled the air at 4 pm, as it’s probably around 0 degrees Celsius now.  Belly full of vegetable soup, quinoa, mate, and I’m still cold.  I’m cold, but I couldn’t be more content.


Currently, I’m exploring Putre with half my program on an excursion “up north” where we are learning about the indigenous people that have historically inhabited this part of the country, the Aymara. Putre, about 3,500 meters above sea level, is a quaint, rural pueblo of 1, 800 people, no more than 70 km from the Bolivian border. Putre, with its mate de coca (tea made from the coca leaf), snow-capped mountains, and tiny artisanal shops, has me mesmerized. It’s not much, but Putre feels like another little world above the clouds (and at 3,500 m, its close). The sun is more intimate and so are the friendly smiles of the people. The constant car alarms and barking dogs of Viña and Valparaíso are filtered out at this altitude, replaced with the occasional bleeping sheep, tricking canal. But most of the time, a peaceful silence fills the altiplano air.


Above: me at Lake Chungara, close to Putre!

One of my favorite nights in Chile took place two days ago when we participated in an intercultural ceremony with a group of Aymara from the smaller local village of Guallatire. Together, we feasted on llama jerky, toasted corn, and sopapillas (traditional and delicious fried bread). Our group had also prepared a “typical” American dessert of homemade apple crisp to share (which was a hit!) The evening was also filled with learning typical Aymara dances and our group’s performance of Smashmouth’s “All-Star” (it was the only song we could think of that represented “our generation” and that we all knew the lyrics too!)


Above: Aymara dancing to “Tinku”

Just yesterday afternoon, our group also performed a short play for about 80 kids at the local school. We depicted a traditional Aymara folktale about a condor and a fox (I was one of the narrators!). The kids absolutely loved it and one boy asked if we could come back the next day with a new play! Adorable!DSCN0453_434DSCN0453

Above: performing “El condor y el Zorro” at Liceo de Putre

Yep, I may have to sleep in a hat and three layers of shirts at night, but I wouldn’t want it any other way! Viva Chile!

Amor y Paz,

Leah 🙂

Chileanismo: fome- Lame! (haha)

Soccer School, Puppy Chow, and Dunes!!!

Hola a todos!!

So this past weekend marked my 6th (and busiest!) weekend in Chile. It was packed with awesome people, events, and everything that makes studying abroad an experience you will never forget!

Saturday, I woke up at 8:30 for school. Yep, school on Saturday. But this was not a typical school day. At 9:15 I left my little house on the hill in athletic short and tennies. When I arrived, I  warmed up with the group with a light jog, some agility drills, and stretching then scrimmaged on the pint- sized astro turf field. So, if you haven’t caught on, Saturday was my first day of soccer school! The school is organized by the church I attend in Vina del Mar and is made up of about 40 guys and girls of all ages and abilities. Together, we condition, do drills, and play small sided games from 10am-12pm. Playing soccer (something I gave up to run XC at Hope) is something I still miss a ton and I was so excited for the opportunity to share my love of the game with other Chileans. I truly think “futbol” is a universal language.

That same night, I attended an exchange student potluck hosted by the youth group of the same church (awesome church, right?) On the roof of one student’s apartment over looking Vina, we all shared American, German, and Chilean food we had each made from our respective countries (my contribution was peanut butter oatmeal cookies, which were a hit since peanut butter is a hard to find and is basically absent from the Chilean diet). The highlights of the night included explaining to the Chilean students that “Puppy Chow”  (comida de perro) was not actually dog food, a dance party featuring top 40 hits intermixed with bachata, and 20 questions in Spanglish.

group picfood


The next evening, a smaller group of us from the same youth group took a micro*  to the nearby town of Con-Con, famous for its rolling Arabian-desert like sand dunes that overlook the ocean. Laying in the cool sand, we watched as the sun dipped below the horizon. Without the sun, our bare feet numbed quickly and we headed across the street to one student’s house, where her mom had hot chocolate and fresh baked bread waiting. YUM!!! Sitting around a table, hands wrapped around a hot mug with my new Chilean and American friends was the best way to wind down an awesome weekend!



With opportunities for fellowship in a new place, I finally feel part of a Chilean community, not just an observer of it.

Amor y paz

Leah 🙂

Chilenismo de la semana: Since I didn’t add one last week, here’s two!

Micro: buses that run locally

Guagua: baby. not to be confused with the guagua in other parts of Latin America, which coincidently refers to a bus 😉

At the heart of Valparaiso is Cerro Rodelillo

parade!Pasta lunch in Plaza Renacer!a peek at the mural!kids help hang the sign for the new Plaza Renacer!me and one the kids takin a break from painting!

Hey everyone!

So  this past weekend, I had an amazing community service opportunity with my program here in Valparaiso, and could not wait to share it with you! I defiantly would say it is one of my favorite things I’ve done in these past five weeks in Chile!

SIT is a study abroad program that is sort of unique in that we are not directly enrolled in a university, but participate in tons of cultural excursions and community service opportunities. Our first community service project was this past weekend in Cerro Rodelillo (Cerros are the neighborhoods that make up Valparaiso.) This cerro in particular is home to  a largely lower-class population, where many of the houses are made from scrap metal and children play in streets glittering in glass. Its defiantly not where the city tour buses will take you. More recently, on feb 14th, 2013, Cerro Rodelillo was the site of one of the most massive fires in Valparaiso in fifty or so years. Hundreds of houses were completely burnt down, many losing all of their material possessions.

Our job in cerro Rodelillo was not to rebuild every demolished house nor solve its the economic hardships. It was much simpler…and larger than that. As a group we cleaned and re-purposed a tiny space, a “plaza” . This dusty plaza was not only where kids could play soccer and swing, but where the community could now come together and start anew.

On Friday, our group of 25 gringos split up in several groups;  some were assigned to clean and prepare the rock wall for mural painting the next day while others played with the kids that congregated there. When the work was finished we hopped on a “micro” (bus) and back to our homes where we showered with running water and ate the “once” * our Chilean moms had prepared for us.

Saturday, however, was the day I will never forget. The wall, we had cleaned the day before was ready to be painted. Together with the kids we painted flowers, rainbows, and even the local club soccer team logo (the Santiago Wanders) with a few paint brushed and lots of bare hands. Although the finished product lacked a theme which we had originally planned for, it turned out better than we could of hoped. Then came the fun part when the kids found even more fun if they painted their “tios/tias” (us!) than the wall. By the end of the painting session everyone was covered in paint (I sported a beard painted on by one of the boys!)

After the painting session, a few of us walked up to a house that had prepared food for the whole community as part of the celebration of the “opening” of the plaza. This “house” was partly burnt to the ground by the fire, tarp walls surrounded the small kitchen area, and a Chilean flag flying above. Inside, an aproned woman inside two huge pots full of spaghetti, lettuce, and tomatoes for us to bring to the plaza. And there we sat the new found plaza, eating, laughing with kids, and conversing with moms and holding their babies. After lunch, there was a mini parade with live music, face painting, and goody bags.  The community also decided on the plaza name: Plaza Renacer, which means “rebirth”, foreshadowing the new life this plaza would bring to the area after a huge tragedy.

It was hard leaving this community which we had now felt a part of the last two days, but it was a heartwarming, too. It was not that we looked at our work as our “good deed” of the week, or that we had given this neighborhood something they could not have done. Instead, we were honored that they welcomed us with open arms, shared their stories, and invited us to be part of a celebration of hope, joy, and renacer

Amor y paz

Leah 🙂


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/

Buenas desde Chile!

¡Buenos Finalmente desde Vina del Mar, Chile!

After spending what seemed to be a second summer vacation at home in eastern Michigan ( expect for the snow part 😉 ) I am finally in Vina de Mar, starting my semester with SIT Study Abroad. After only a week here, I have had too many new and exciting experiences to count! Here’s just a recap of some of them!

I arrived and met up with the rest of the 25 students in the program last Monday, commencing a week long orientation period in Valparaiso, Chile. During this period of time we stayed in a hotel and spent 3 days in a conference room learning everything from “chileanismos” to how the bus system works to peso conversions to remembering not to pet the street dog (I have a really hard time with the last one!) All that sitting and listening may sound dull, but by Friday, not only was my brain exploding with new information, it had to process all the Spanish! It’s hard to believe, but after basically hearing only Spanish for a few days straight, I think my comprehension and speaking have improved (a bit)! It goes to show that although language classes provide a base, nothing can replace “living” the language.

When Saturday came, we were oriented as much as we could be and were ready to meet our host families!! At 12:00 pm sharp, my host mom and dad, a sweet older couple, arrived at the hotel and lugged my oversized suitcases into the taxi. We were then off to their home in Viña del Mar, the neighboring city to Valparaíso. It’s  a quaint lime-colored house atop one of the area’s many “cerros” (hills) and only a few minutes’ walk from the ocean!

After a whirlwind of a week, I woke up on Sunday and went to a church recommended to me by a Hope alum. that studied abroad in Vina del Mar called “La Union Cristinana”. There, I met up Hope friends Kelsey and Kimberly. The music was by far my favourite part because I recognized some of the songs we sing at the gathering, expect they were in Spanish of course.) After a sort of stressful week, it was good to rest in God’s presence and know that even in a foreign country he’s never far away.

“Chileanismo” of the Week: pololo/a: boyfriend/girl

Saludos muy amables,

leah 🙂

Ps. pictures to come, technical difficulties!