Smells of the City

My friend Luisa has a very sensitive nose.  This is one of the first things I learned about her when we met three weeks ago.  She sampled my gnocchi and told me it had hints of sweet potato in it.  I had no idea.

Luisa’s nose has come in handy various times, like when we were in Santiago and she warned us to stay clear of a marijuana-smelling alleyway.  Or that time when she recognized the scent of Peruvian food just out the window and we spent the rest of our class period gazing longingly outside.

Her uncanny ability to distinguish scents has got me thinking about the smells of Valparaíso.  It is a city with a lot of different scents I’m grateful to experience. Now, where to start?

Mercado El Cardonal.


This is the big outdoor market in Valparaíso. Although a part of it is indoors, the market sprawls out across the neighboring streets until cars can no longer drive through, and every inch of sidewalk is covered with piles of fruit and vegetables, or vendors selling empañadas.  I walk by on my way to class, and I get a whiff of fresh lemons.  Another day, it’s bananas or eggplants that are the freshest.

The problem with the streets of Mercado El Cardonal is that at night they become dangerous.  It’s a place where lots of drunks hang out.  So, combine the smell of alcohol with some piss and leftover garbage scraps rotting in the gutters, and it’s not the most pleasant scent.  To be honest, I’d recommend visiting during the day.

Escuela Ciencias del Mar.


My marine biology class is in this building, and it’s my favorite because it looks like a castle.  Plus there are often sea lions lounging around on the nearby rocks. We get the smells of the ocean here, a salty misty spray might even hit you if you’re studying on the outdoor patio.  There’s also a large fish market nearby, so every time I come back from Escuela Ciencias del Mar, my clothes smell like fish. It’s really fresh though; the mariscos (seafood) here is the best!

Cerro Mauco.


Today we hiked up a very steep “hill” about an hour away from Valparaíso.  This area was home to the indigenous picunches, before being conquered by the Inca, then the Spaniards.  In their native language, mau means suspended and co means water; the suspended water the name describes refers to the low-hanging clouds.  While we were up there, we got a refreshing scent of rain, though the shower only lasted a few minutes.  The flowers along the way also gave a pleasant aroma, and as my friend Pablo remarked, “el aire huele más fresco arriba” (the air smells fresher up here).

Mi Casa.


This is the hardest scent to describe.  It’s definitely a homey smell, and when our nana, Elisa, is there, the kitchen is filled with delicious aromas of whatever she’s cooking.  The house is always spick and span, so I’m sure the cleaning chemicals contribute, and I know the laundry detergent we use is Ariel.  The funny thing is, I think I’m starting to lose the ability to distinguish the smell of mi casa.  I’m starting to smell like it.  It’s become a part of me.

My friends and I were talking the other day about how our houses back home don’t have a scent to us; that’s just the way we smell.  Here, too, mi casa es mi casa.  My house in Chile has become my home.

Cuidar la Tierra

Last week, when my Chilean family went on a hike with other families from the church, they turned it into a learning experience for everyone about caring for the environment.  It was so sweet how my Chilean parents took it upon themselves to educate people on how to “cuidar la tierra.”

One woman, Gloria, who organized the trip, was also very passionate about environmental issues.  I overheard her talking to my little brother, Camilo: “What is this stuff on the side of the road? It’s trash. Camilo, say ‘basura’.”

The group that went on the hike. My Chilean dad, Sebastián is the one in front taking the selfie.

“Tasuta,” he said back in his baby talk.

“And is it supposed to be here?”


“That’s right, Camilo.  Basura is bad for the planet.  But we have to cuidar la tierra.  We don’t leave trash everywhere.”

And there was more.  She talked with Camilo for a while, holding him on her hip, teaching him ways to take care of the earth, and telling him why.  This was my favorite part.  Gloria told him that God made the earth and entrusted it to us.  She said it was a gift, but also a responsibility.  In order to be obedient, faithful followers of Christ, we can’t forget about cuidar la tierra.

As we wrapped up the hike, Rocío (mi mamá) and Gloria gave us a little lecture on cuidar la tierra, and they mentioned the responsibility and opportunity we have to make positive changes that protect natural spaces like the one we just enjoyed.  I understood and deeply resonated with what they were saying, but as we turned to go I made eye contact with another American girl who had come on the trip with us.  Her face looked puzzled.

“They mentioned pizza, science, trash, and God.  Then we prayed.  What just happened?” she asked.

I laughed, because those things really are connected.  But not everyone I talk to sees it that way.  I’m really grateful that I’m part of a family (and church family) here that shares my interests and worldview.

In Chile, recycling isn’t picked up on the curb. Instead there are these giant bins for plastic bottles scattered throughout the neighborhoods.

In my time in Chile, I’ve met many more people who are interested in preserving and caring for the environment.  My lab partner brought in a collection of glass jars he had been saving to recycle, and yesterday I had a conversation with a friend about alternative energy in Chile. Additionally, cuidar la tierra seems to be a theme of national conversation.  There are political parties devoted to “green legislation,” and I’ve seen commercials on tv advertising the environmentally-friendly aspects of their products.

Despite this seemingly high level of public awareness, many Chileans I’ve spoken to want to see more.

Another example of creative Chilean recycling.

My host mom, as well as two of my professors, have lamented the lack of environmental education in the school system.  So Chileans are making efforts to change that.  This weekend, I went to a museum exhibit in the Parque Cultural de Valparaiso focused on environmental issues and innovative ways to cuidar la tierra.

The exhibit touched on themes ranging from biodiversity to pollution to consumerism, and displayed a variety of mediums, including film, false advertisements, and styrofoam cutouts.  It was really cool to see artists creating such remarkable pieces for the purpose of raising public awareness of environmental issues.

I think my favorite piece was a digital creation by a Scandinavian artist.  He combined a futuristic-looking technology with a beautifully peaceful nature scene.  To me, the result is a striking commentary on the interconnectedness of people and the land, and our need for preservation/conservation.  But what I liked most about this piece was that it was another conversation-starter on the topic of how best to cuidar la tierra.

My friend Sarah pondering the digital art piece.









Everybody has different ideas on what the best way to cuidar la tierra is, and why (or if) it’s important.  I’m just grateful to be participating in the conversation here in Chile.  And I hope it’s continuing back home too.  I’m excited to bring my new perspectives back to the US in a few months — maybe this blog post can serve as the first link 😉

Mary, not Martha

I’ve learned that I’m a pretty task-oriented person. If you would have asked me before I came here, though, I would have said that I appreciate the journey. However, even thinking in terms of a journey implies that there is a direction and a destination. That’s different than simply being present.

In Chile, people are really good at being present. They abandon what they’re doing to hang out and talk, and often end up staying late. Chileans are Marys, not Marthas.

But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:40-42

Martha is the sister that worries about serving her guests, getting things done and making them perfect. Mary, on the other hand, positions herself at the feet of Jesus. That’s where I want to be. But often times, I let my culture get in the way. American culture is very focused on appearances and people-pleasing. But here in Chile, people are willing to leave things imperfect. They accept the messiness of life. And they sit with people in the midst of it.

I’ve learned a lot this semester about the idea of Biblical suffering. My Chilean church has taught me what it means to thank God for hard things and trust Him that there is a purpose in all of it.

When Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus, died, Mary stayed back and sat in the suffering. She wept and mourned. Her emotion affected Jesus; the famous verse “Jesus wept” is His response to seeing Mary hurting. God hurts when we hurt. How wild is that, that He cares for our pain?

Our response to other peoples’ pain should be to sit with them in it. To love them well, and pray with them. My church community here is really good at this. We are always praying for the brothers and sisters who are going through hard things. We go and visit them in the hospital and comfort families at funerals.

I think the pace of life here allows for more genuine love and community. Rather than rushing around from event to event, Chileans are present in the midst of everything. In the good and the bad, they stay and talk. They sit and rest at the feet of Jesus.

They are Marys, not Marthas.

Surprise! Congratulations! We’ll miss you!

Last night I walked in on a bridal shower/going away party.  Honestly, I had no idea my host mom was hosting one.  I just had finished making the long trek up the hill to our house and, worn out from my first day of classes, I was looking forward to relaxing on the couch in the living room.

Instead, my host mom was making heaping plates of sandwiches and chatting with two women who were the first to arrive.  About an hour later, once everyone had trickled in, we sat down at the table, pulling up approximately seven extra chairs to accommodate all of the guests.  The kids, mostly younger than ten, and all extremely rowdy, were exiled to “la mesa de niños.” (The kid table was also a staple of my childhood.)

Anyway, the guest of honor was this woman named Jackie.  From what I gathered, she was about to marry this Spanish man named Raul.  They had met over the internet and started chatting and Skyping.  Both had fairly young children from previous marriages, and weren’t expecting anything to happen.  But they fell in love, started dating long-distance, and now, a year later, are getting married. What a romantic love story!

Here’s a glimpse of the “despedida” party. My Chilean mom, Rocío, is the one on the left, and Jackie is on the right.

Even though the bride-to-be was glowing, and her friends teased her lightheartedly about lingerie and the wedding night, there was a bittersweet sense to this gathering.

After people were finished eating and plates were cleared, we began going around the table and saying sweet things about Jackie.  Everyone wished her well for her wedding, gave some tips about moving to Europe, re-lived favorite memories with her, and expounded upon her good characteristics.  Additionally, since these women were all from my host mom’s church, they prayed for Jackie, praised God for her, and spoke truth into her life.  It was a truly beautiful night. Lots of tears were shed and laughs were had.  I was glad to be a part of the celebration of this woman’s life.  I also learned some things about Chilean culture through this experience.

1. It’s okay to be late.  Here, people often arrive an hour after something is about to start.  Time is viewed very differently in this culture; it’s not something to be controlled.  Delays happen.  To be on time is somewhat unexpected.  In light of this, it’s not important to be ready on time.  My host mom was still cooking when her guests arrived.  So they joined in.  It wasn’t a big deal, just another opportunity to socialize.  Which brings me to…

2. Chileans love to talk.  From the moment I walked in the door, the chatter was constant, with only a slight pause to pray for the meal.  As we went around saying nice things to Jackie, everyone had lots to say.  Sometimes people would jump in, interrupting with a side story, but overall the whole thing lasted almost an hour and a half.  And then Jackie wanted to do the same for everyone there! So we spent another hour receiving complements and well-wishes.

3. Family is everything.  When the women at the party called Jackie their “hermana” that was the biggest compliment they could have given.  For someone to be made part of the family is the greatest honor in Chilean culture.  Families here are big, and very close.  I am so grateful to be part of a Chilean family myself!  And I felt honored to be included in Jackie’s special night with her church family.  Surprise!  Congratulations Jackie!  We’ll miss you!

Faithfulness and Ebenezers

Back home I have a rock that sits on my bedside table. Written on it is the word “faithfulness.”  My rock’s role is to remind me of God’s faithfulness.

Though I didn’t really intend this, that rock has become my Ebenezer.  In the Bible, an Ebenezer is a physical representation of God’s goodness to remind His people what He has done.  And God has been faithful in His promises to me, especially this year.

Coming to Chile, I didn’t have very many specific promises to cling to.  I prayed a lot for my host family, and that I would find a church family.  And I tried to trust God, my Provider.

Guess what, friends!  God does provide!  And He is faithful!  This past week I have seen His thoughtful handiwork in arranging the details of my new life in Chile.

To begin, He brought me to the most incredible family!  We share many of the same interests, including a faith in Jesus Christ.  They have been nothing but warm and welcoming and kind.

My family took me to their church this weekend.  I was introduced to a beautiful community of believers, and I got to worship in Spanish with Chileans.  What a dream come true!

Here I am with my new friends at the “bridge of dreams” at the beach in Horcón. Everyone who visits ties ribbons with their wishes onto this bridge, hoping they’ll come true.

Finally, I took a day trip to a nearby beach with a group of students from the church.  They were kind, adventurous, and fun.  We laughed a lot and bonded over empanadas.  But on the bus ride home, as we listened to worship music, it was evident that we shared something more profound in common: our passion for Jesus Christ.
That day at the beach, I picked up a seashell.  Now it’s sitting on my nightstand, a new Ebenezer to remind me every day of God’s faithfulness to me.

An Insider look into CIEE Open Campus-Berlin

CIEE’s Open Campus Berlin program is a brand new program; they just opened their doors last semester! It’s pretty cool to know that I am a part of one of the first groups of students to participate in this program. Throughout the semester, I’ll be referencing different aspects of the program and I wanted to give you all a run down since it’s a new and interesting concept.

G27 Macro Sea 4
Entry Way into CIEE G27 (Photo from Photo by Chris Mosier. Courtesy of Macro Sea.)
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First floor lounge which now has a TV; great for chill night. (Photo from Photo by Chris Mosier. Courtesy of Macro Sea.)

CIEE created this open campus concept first in Berlin (Yay!) then later London and Rome; which allows students the ability and flexibility to study abroad in whichever facet they need. The semester is broken up into three blocks (six weeks each). If you wanted, you could spend one block in each location which I think is pretty amazing. Each students is given the opportunity to choose an academic track; business, communications, health sciences etc.

Each block I take two classes of my choosing. It’s really nice to have the freedom to take classes that interest me for example, International Marketing and Grimm’s Fairy Tales, while also pursing my major. Another perk is that CIEE makes possible for everyone to have the opportunity to take German classes. I’m currently in Survival German which is a 0 credit, fun, low pressure environment to pick up some Deutsch.

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CIEE G27 (Photo from Photo by Chris Mosier. Courtesy of Macro Sea.)
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What you see when you first walk in; not pictured is the little cafe and cozy fireplace. (Photo from Photo by Chris Mosier. Courtesy of Macro Sea.)

We live, eat, and take classes all in this amazing old renovated factory. There are at least 120 students here. Between 2-4 students are placed in a room and each room has a personal bathroom. We have 4 kitchens, 1 laundry room, a café, and multiple classrooms and work spaces. The building is filled with amazing art work from Berlin artist. If you are worried about safety they have plenty of security measures in place and we have 24 hour security guards on duty.

We have German RA’s and students living with us which is great to already have an insider’s perspective into the city. They plan weekly dinners for us if we’d like or even let us tag along on their daily activities.

One of the rare moments the kitchen is empty. The bright side of sharing a kitchen with so many people is that our rooms come with microwaves and mini fridges 🙂
One of the many works of art we’re surrounded by.
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Every room is a little different. (Photo from Photo by Chris Mosier. Courtesy of Macro Sea.)

Our program plans optional weekly excursions around the city to places like the Outdoor Turkish market, or more serious places like the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It’s a great way to learn Germany’s history and get to know the city. Also we have plenty of clubs, or even better- you can get out and get connected to Berlin.

Exploring Berlin
Class excursion to a local brewery, great way to start the day.

CIEE Open Campus Berlin is a great program filled with lots of opportunities. I hope this helped you to understand my program a little better!

Until next time,


First Impressions

Wow the time has finally come; I’ve made it to Deutschland! It’s Friday and I arrived in Berlin on Monday and it has been quite a week to say the least.

My good friend from Hope and I getting ready for take off!


Studying abroad is crazy because everything is new; the country, the school, the language, my luggage (thank you Macy’s Black Friday sale), my roommate (she’s great), the food and even water! (99% of Germany’s drinking water is carbonated for some reason.) All the new can be overwhelming if you don’t have the right mindset, but it should make you excited! It is the most amazing feeling to know you have so many new experiences ahead of you, especially in such a great city. Berlin is bursting with character; there are so many quirky little cafes, shops and anything else you can think of all around you. There is so much street art and of course Germany is filled with a rich history. For instance, CIEE set up a city tour for us around Berlin during which I learned that Germany is a country that truly acknowledges and embraces its past, despite its dark history.

One of the last remaining pieces of the Berlin Wall; this is where the most people died attempting to escape East Berlin.

We’ve been going nonstop between orientation and trying to soak up the city. One thing that I truly love about Berlin already is the vast array of restaurants from all over the world (it’s all delicious). I’ve been doing more than eating though. For example, I’ve visited the mall of Berlin in all its beauty, started some really interesting classes and have been meeting so many new people; American and German. All while trying to learn some basic German to better navigate the city which has been challenging but I’m loving every second of it.

Berlin has so many great restaurants! This Thai place was delicious and so close to my program center.

Even though I have only been in here for a couple of days, I can already tell Berlin is a very unique city. I feel that anyone and anything is accepted here. You can be who you are. My program center, where I will be living and taking classes, is in the up and coming neighborhood of Kreuzberg. It’s great to be close to the heart of the city; only 3 train stops away from the Brandenburg gate, but also far enough to really experience Berlin away from all the touristy sites.

best window
The view from some of my friends window.

I can’t wait to explore and truly know Berlin and share my experiences with you all. From what I can tell, it’s going to be an amazing semester in a one of a kind city.

Until next time,



Packing Up

I take a quick break from studying and packing to write one final time from my new home in Spain.

This is it! The bag is almost packed and the number of days left is withering.

This week has already been such a whirlwind of emotions and thoughts and I don’t even hop on the plane until Friday morning. Excited to get home? Yes. Ready to say goodbye? Absolutely not. Ready to be back at Hope College? Of course. Excited for the semester to be over? Not sure….

Most of all, I think I’m sad that the experience as a whole is over. Studying abroad has been something I’ve looked forward to for what seems like years! It’s always been something I’ve wanted to do. And now that these four months are over… so is the whole thing. The reality of my life is that I will mostly likely never have the chance or time to do something similar to this, again. But wow, am I glad that I have been fortunate enough to do so.

While yes I get to go home to the things that are oh-so familiar, the school that I love, and my wonderful family and friends… I have to leave behind the things that have become oh-so familiar, the program that has taken such great care of me, and my new family and friends. Crazy.

The rest of my week looks a lot like it has these past few days. Exams on Wednesday, more packing, and last hours with friends before we head home to various places around the country. And more packing. And more goodbyes.

And then I’m off!

It’s been better than I could have ever imagined.

Until next time, Alicante.

An Italian Weekend.

It was the first time that I, personally, had left Spain for another European adventure within these months abroad. Many of my friends had left multiple times, but with there being so much to do and see in Spain, country hopping was not something I had much time for. Or money if I’m completely honest :).  With that said, I thoroughly enjoyed my time exploring Rome and learning about the civilization that so much of our world, today gets its roots from.

Rome is amazing. The architecture. The atmosphere. The language. The Food. Everything. This trip was something I had dreamed about since before coming abroad, and had planned, with 7 other friends, 2 and a half months in advance!

We did so much. A few highlights include the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain (which is unfortunately under construction), the Spanish Steps, Colosseum, Vatican City Museum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, we saw the Pope, The Roman Forum and The Palentine. Not to mention the pizza, pasta, gelato and my personal favorite: cannolis.

The Colosseum was less than a 10 minute walk from our hotel!
The Colosseum was less than a 10 minute walk from our hotel!
Pope Francis speaking to those in St. Peter’s Square.
A quick break down by the river.
The Roman Forum and Palentine
St. Peter’s Basilica, where we also attended Sunday mass.

The rich history and excitement of the city was enough to make me want to stay for months! Obviously this wasn’t possible as the 3 day weekend came to a close and we hoped on the plane back to Alicante.

With just over a week remaining in my abroad experience I’m struck with a million conflicting thoughts. Am I excited to come home? Do I want to stay? Answers: yes. I’m eager for the Holiday season and to spend time with family, as well as get back to Hope and enjoy the presence of wonderful friends and get back to a normal routine. Yet, I can’t fathom saying goodbye to all the wonderful people who I have met here and accept the fact that I won’t see the majority of them ever again. Crazy. And to think about packing. That I dread. Nonetheless, it’s time for that to all begin.

My gratefulness for such an experience are never-ending. A few friends and I were just talking about how this abroad experience is something we’ve looked forward to for years, and then with the snap of a finger, it’s over. But I already know that the impact is greater than I could have ever imagined. And for that alone, I am forever thankful.


Adventures, Thanksgiving and Thankfulness of the Adventure


I’ve now been stationary in Alicante the past three weeks and wow, has it been busy!

Last week we finished up our last week of normal classes at CIEE as the next few bring presentations, paper writing, review sessions and final exams. I write, now, with the knowledge of exactly 3 remaining weeks. I cannot fathom that fact. It’s going too fast!

Just the other day, one of my host family members asked me if I was ready to return to the United States. My answer? “No.” A week, or two, ago my response would have been along the lines of, “I’m getting ready…” but the present truth is not that. It’s hard to imagine returning home and quite possibly never seeing the majority of my fellow students and new friends, the professors, program directors and my host family, ever again. I don’t even want to think about that. Leaving home and Hope in August was hard enough, but I can only imagine what it will be like leaving Spain.

As for the recent adventures? They’ve all taken place here in the province of Alicante. Like I had mentioned before, I was able to spend a weekend with my parents! We had such a great time. I must say it is kind of strange having parents come visit your “new life.” – but a fun weekend, nonetheless.

Last weekend, myself and five friends took a quick day trip and rode the tram to the very last stop, a small town called Dénia. We visited the castle, there, walked along the pier, which felt like a little slice of home (Holland State Park), and had paella and tapas for lunch. “Muy typical eSpanish.”

Dénia Castle
Dénia Castle
Dénia Pier
Dénia Pier

Another fun little tidbit for my Literature and Film class, I went with my classmates and professor to see the new Hunger Games movie! Having felt slightly deprived of American Culture, it was very nice! It was the first time I’d been to a movie theatre since being here and I was extremely surprised by its resemblance to an American cinema. We watched the movie in its original version, but with Spanish subtitles.

And Thanksgiving… let me tell you. Just another reason for me to rave about my CIEE program. Early that morning, all students went to lesson on making Turrón. Turrón is a typical Spanish Christmas treat. Similar to Christmas cookies, for us Americans. We taste tested all different types and then made cookies! Mine failed miserably, but hey, it was all for the fun! But the best part of the day came later.

Taller de Turrón
Taller de Turrón

Our student services director did a more than fabulous job collaborating with a restaurant out on the marina at the Regata Club, putting together a delicious and oh-so American Thanksgiving meal. It was just another obvious example of how much the program cares about each and every one of us. Our directors both spoke and made sure that all of us students knew that we have become part of their Spanish families and that they were honored to be sharing an American tradition with us, in their country. Then 6 students spoke and shared their thankfulness. Needless to say, it was amazing. And even after Skyping with family back home and realizing that I couldn’t be there with them on this day, I was overjoyed with thankfulness to be with my new family.

CIEE Alicante students, Fall 2014
CIEE Alicante students, Fall 2014

That’s all for now, friends. I hope each of you had as wondeful of a Thanksgiving as we did here in Spain.

Hasta luego.