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.
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.
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.
“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
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
Chileans are incredible chatters, and they don’t slow down for anyone. It can be pretty difficult to keep up, especially with all the Chilenismos and “po’s” thrown in. Within hours of my arrival, I humbly accepted just vaguely understanding most things in the coming semester. When I don’t know how to respond, or if I get lost in the conversation, my go-to response is, “Sí, claro.”
This response can get me into some interesting situations, and this weekend was the perfect example. Last week, my host sister and I were talking about how I love hiking and being outdoors, and Santiago’s vast opportunities for exploring and traveling was a huge draw to my decision to study here. Her boyfriend is a guide in the mountains, so she warmly invited me to join their outdoors group on a “hike” (this is at least what I pieced together). Naturally I responded, “Sí, claro.”
Come Sunday, I woke up at 5:30am to gear up for the long day of exploration ahead. Her boyfriend, Alexei, picked us up in his 4-seater Jeep, along with two other friends. We met up with the rest of the hiking “group,” about twelve 65+ year-old men. I’m not sure who was more surprised– me, or them when they saw the young, blonde “gringa.”
Two hours of windy roads, an outrageous amount of speed bumps, and a stuffed Jeep took us to the beautiful Cajón de Maipo. We pulled over at a roadside barren area, mountains surrounding us. What I thought was a pit stop to admire the grazing horses and mountainous views was actually our basecamp for the day, which I didn’t even realize until a few hours later.
Alexei began his lesson on map orienteering, compass skills, and GPS navigation. I tried to understand, but as mentioned before, Chilean Spanish is muuuuy rápido, and I can’t say that I got much out of it. I was also a little antsy for the long-awaited hike (that never came). Hours later, we began knot-tying. This is a skill I’ve been interested in picking up, so I eagerly participated. I can’t say I have really mastered the skill, but I’ve added it to my semester goals.
After 8 hours of Outdoor Adventure Orientation, we took a short drive to a mining town to hunt for fossils. Good conversations were had with my new adventure buddies as we admired Argentinian cordillera at golden hour, working up our appetites for the fresh empanadas that were to come.
On the late-night drive back to Santiago, my eyes batted heavily from the carsickness and exhaustion of only Spanish communication for the last 14 hours. However, I couldn’t help but laugh when I thought about how my expectations were quite different than the reality of the day’s events.
Language barriers are tricky, but I am excited to see what else comes from the things I accidentally respond “Sí, claro” to.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
When you are quite young, it is not unusual to imagine what your milestone birthdays might be like. Will I get a car when I turn 16? (Definitely not.) Will I have newfound freedom when I turn 18? (No.) Will I party til the sun comes up when I turn 21? (Ha! Still no.) When I was young, I could not have imagined that I would spend my 21st birthday in Athens, Greece. Secondly, I would have never imagined that my sweet aunt Malari would fly all the way from Portland, Oregon to celebrate my birthday weekend.
The celebrating began before that, even, on Thursday night when my entire Greek class met at the home of my Greek professor, Lida. We watched a Greek film called Πολίτικη κουζίνα and ate traditional Greek food. Lida was so kind and got cake and ice cream to celebrate two birthdays: mine and another student’s birthday which happened earlier that week. My professor gifted me a small book of children’s short stories in Greek. She handed it to me saying, “Maybe you will be able to read this when our class is over…” At least I can enjoy the pictures, right?
On Friday, when my aunt arrived, we took advantage of the warm and sunny day and hiked up the Acropolis to see the Parthenon.
On Sunday, my birthday, we went to a traditional taverna to enjoy the very last evening of the Carnival season, which is three weeks long. There was traditional Greek music and Greek dancing. Since I had (poorly) taken one (short) Greek dancing class, I thought I had what it took to join a group of women dancing. Many of you have come to me and said you actually read this blog, so it is with much hesitation I share this video of my dancing skills. Anyway, here goes (feel free to only watch a few seconds):
The weekend concluded with Clean Monday, the first day of fasting in the Orthodox calendar. Clean Monday is celebrated by eating special Lenten foods like unleavened bread and octopus. Traditionally, kites are flown on this day as a symbol of the soul being lifted up. My aunt and I climbed to the top of Philoppapou hill to watch the kites and enjoy the view. The hill is directly across from the Acropolis hill and offers a great view of the Parthenon. Here is a view in the other direction looking out over Athens. The very large green space in the left portion of the photo is the National Garden.
This week begins the 40 day Lent period. Since 95% of the population of Greece is Eastern Orthodox, it is a unifying time of discipline and increased devotion. I will fast alongside them in preparation for Easter, the biggest celebration in Greece! With the conclusion of this day, my fun birthday weekend/family vacation comes to an end and I am back to being the student I came here to be. I could have never envisioned my 21st birthday to be in Greece, but I am so happy it was.
Balancing academics, athletics, and social life is no easy feat. Student athletes certainly have a lot of on their schedule and often overlook studying abroad as it is seen as something unobtainable. The thoughts of, “My coach would not allow it” or “I would be missing spring workouts” often come to mind. This blog is to share my real experiences as a student athlete abroad through highlighting three main points on why athletes should study abroad… Especially in Barcelona!
You’re not alone. In my IES program in Barcelona, I have met countless student athletes going through the same journey as me. To illustrate, there are college athletes from Wofford College, Virginia Commonwealth, University of Redlands, St. Thomas, Connecticut College, Augsburg, the list goes on and on. Most of these student athletes, female and male, are soccer players. This mixes well with the city of Barcelona, which boasts a handful of leagues from professional to semi-professional, thus allowing every college athlete to not only watch the most elite players in the world, but also find a place to play and improve their craft.
You are challenged in different ways than before. It is no secret that the college soccer game revolves around fitness and athleticism. In Barcelona, these attributes fill the background as skill and craft lead the way through the Spanish “tiki taka” style of play. This challenges student athletes to sharpen other tools of their game, such as technical and tactical abilities. When returning to the college game, this will help make you a more complete player.
You can play outside, all year round. In my two months in Barcelona so far, it has rained three times for a total of approximately one hour. There is no snow or bad weather to stop you from training outdoors and on a full size field. Also with the sun out every single day, you will have a little extra energy in your step to get through your workouts… Especially during the February blues.. which do not even exist here!
These three points have been reiterated through my continuous experiences as a student athlete studying in Barcelona, Spain. I would not change this semester for the world and hope to inspire more student athletes to study abroad.
From the beach one day to the mountains the next, Catalonia is full of surprises. Earlier this week I travelled north to La Masella, a Catalonian-Pyrenees Alp that stands just above 8,000 feet tall. With bluebird skies, stunning panoramic views, and solid company to ride with, this trip could not be any better… Then again, we did the whole trip – transportation, day pass, and rental gear – for less than the price of a full tank of gas from the Holland Bp station. Not a bad way to spend your Friday.
Although the mountain is located way up in the Pyrenees, and a short drive from Barcelona, it is not a tourist location. La Masella is survived by many locals, with Spanish actually being the second language of the mountain; to Catalan (Catalan is the local language, a mix of French and Spanish). Oh, and no one spoke English. Because of these “locals only” vibes La Masella expresses, I found this trip culturally enriching. Encompassing myself in the tranquil mountainous spaces of northern Catalonia was an excellent change of pace from the hustle and bustle of the Cosmopolitan city of Barcelona.
Words cannot describe how much fun I am having this semester abroad. Do not get me wrong, I absolutely love Hope College and miss family and friends dearly, but learning and adapting to an entirely different lifestyle is a new challenge that I will never forget. Cheers to you, Barca!