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 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!

Nothing says Family Bonding like… PEANUT BUTTER! :)

hey everyone!

It’s been awhile I know, but these last few weeks have been CRAZY! To recap what I’ve been up to… I went North, where I lived with an Aymara family for five days and worked in the fields (stay tuned for a separate post on that experience!) and after returning to Viña de Mar, I moved in with a new family a week ago! Right now I am in the midst of my Independent Research project period, where I am investigating the use of non-formal education programs in urban school settings. I love my topic, so it makes spending most of my days now working on research a little easier! Now that I kind of dictate my own schedule , I have had time to hang out and bond with my new host family! (I switched for my research period because I wanted to experience life with bigger family than I was with.) My new adopted Chilean family includes my mom, Wale, my dad, Andrés, and my siblings, Victoria (14), Benjamin (12) and Magdalena (5) and Bosco (2) (the family Great Dane!) I honestly couldn’t have asked for a more welcoming, kind, and loving family. From day 1, we instantly clicked!

I’ve only been in my new house for a week but I’ve already had some great times with the fam! This past Wednesday, all of us attended the “Día de la Familia” presentation at the school of my littlest sister. All the kindergarteners sang songs about family in English (it’s a British school) and then we headed to the school patio to enjoy lots of sweets and goodies. YUM!

Last night was the first of the weekly “Cenas Americanas” (which I have initiated, making an ‘American’ specialty once a week). This week’s special was Peanut butter toast with banana and honey! Simple, but quality peanut butter was the key! Although peanut butter DOES exist in Chile in the big name mega super markets (in small quantities), the main ingredient is hydrogenated palm oil. Yuck! (Probably why it’s not a big seller here). However, with the Natural Jif creamy peanut butter one of my best friends sent me, I was able to assemble one of my favorite post run (or anytime) snacks! The verdict from the fam: “Super rico!!! Delicioso” You would have thought I prepared a four course dinner. They said they would have never imagined such a combo! And for most of them, it was the first time they had ever tasted peanut butter. EVER! As a lifelong fan of the nutty butter, I was shocked!

chilean fam enjoying pb&b toastthe Chilean fam enjoying pb&b toast

This simple meal was turned into a documented event with pictures that captured the process and first bites. After everything they have shared with me, I’m glad my little gift of peanut butter and banana toast was well received (seconds were requested and even my littlest sister, a picky eater, said she could eat “miles” (thousands)!) Family bonded doesn’t require a five star vacation, just a little peanut butter, bread, and a willingness to share.



Chileanismo: al tiro! : Right away!.. (Contrary to its exact translation “like a shot”)

Bosco says "Hola!"Bosco, the family dog, says, “Hola!”

“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 😉