My First Cricket Match

In the first week of classes, the University of Aberdeen hosted a refresher’s fair aimed at introducing new students to its large number of clubs and societies. I went to the fair and signed up to be notified about when most of these groups met. Fast forward one month, and I am bowling my first over in a university cricket match.

Having played baseball my whole life, I had never actually played a game of cricket before. I still don’t understand the rules, and yet, this past weekend I had an absolute blast playing in my first ever game. I have messed around playing cricket with my friends at home before; however, we have never played by the actual rules or used proper form for bowling or batting. Here, I have learned a lot from the players and the coach on proper form, and I am getting much better (though I am still pretty terrible).

I have even earned myself a nickname: baseball player. This nickname can be used as a compliment or an insult. When I accidentally bend my elbow while bowling (and throw more like a baseball pitch), I get called “baseball player” as an insult (though typically it is sarcastic). When someone decides to bowl it in full toss (without bouncing) against me, and I swing as if I am holding a baseball bat, I get called “baseball player” as a compliment.

My first game was filled with extremes. I hit a six (basically a home-run) and then I immediately popped up for an out on the next bowl (which is way worse than popping out in baseball). I bowled an out (basically a strikeout) and then a wide (basically a walk). I was probably one of the worst players on the field, but I had a lot of fun. The guys on the team have been incredibly welcoming to me, and they could not be any more supportive. The other players are always willing to help instruct me on how to improve my form or to explain instructions that the coach gives using non-cricket terms that I can understand.

I am really appreciative to the players on the team for how kind they have been to me. Several of them are some of the best friends that I have made since being here. I am also really appreciative for the opportunity that studying abroad has given me to learn something that I would otherwise have never gotten involved in. I can’t wait to learn more about the sport and to spend more time with the team over the course of the semester.

Study in study abroad?

Wait, what? There’s studying in study abroad? Yes, there is! Let me assure you that school does not go away. However, even though I still have homework, projects, and exams, it is definitely different from Hope College. To begin, all of my classes are in Spanish. This was a big transition for me. During the first few weeks I felt overwhelmed and frustrated that homework took longer than normal and I couldn’t fully understand the lectures, but since then, I have adjusted to the constant Spanish. Second, the hours are not what I am accustomed to. During the first 2 weeks in Sevilla, all CIEE students were required to enroll in a mandatory 2-week intensive Spanish grammar class which lasted 3 hours every day Mon-Fri. My class was from 6-9pm, the best time to have class according to my professor. There’s nothing more exciting than conjugating verbs in the vosotros subjunctive at 9pm on a Friday night, as long as it is celebrated afterwards with a trip to La Abuela ice cream.

The first day of class, my professor introduced herself using her first name. It’s interesting that in Spain, when a student addresses the professor, it is normal to use his/her first name. There is no formality of using señor/señora or profesor/a. In the United States, it’s customary that students speak to professors using “professor” or “doctor” followed by their last name. Even by the end of the 2 weeks, I couldn’t bring myself to call my professor Ana.

One aspect of study abroad that I am incredibly grateful for is the amount of outside of class activities assigned. Throughout the 2-week course we were required to do three activities outside of the classroom and write an essay about each one. The first activity was to conduct an interview of students at the University of Sevilla. This definitely ranks in the top 10 most awkward study abroad moments. But I’m glad I did it. I basically walked up to random students and asked them questions, in Spanish, about their goals and aspirations for after college, the cost of tuition (which I discovered is very inexpensive, around 800 euros), and study habits. All of the students were very nice and willing to share some information about their lives. The second activity was a visit to the Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts) and the third was a visit to the Flamenco Museum. Both were amazing but I think the flamenco was my favorite! I learned all about the traditional Spanish dance including its origins, its many varieties, and the clothing. I was even able to see a flamenco show! The singer, guitarist, and dancers were fantastic! I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to learn how to dance flamenco in the future!

 

Es una Broooma

I’m anticipating that when I get home, people will ask me what my favorite thing about Chile was. My answer for them will be this: the sound that Chileans make as they’re waiting for you to get their joke. It’s a very specific “aaaaah,” and it’s shared by basically everyone I’ve met! I love this particularity of their culture, and I appreciate that I’ve gotten to experience it on the daily.

Chileans have a remarkable sense of humor. They are always making jokes and teasing one another lightheartedly. My house, the church, and even my classes are absolutely full of laughter.

My two-year old brother loves to play pranks and poke fun at the rest of our family. He has a catch-phrase that he says all the time: “es una broma,” which means, “it’s a joke.” Or, with his cute baby-talk, it generally comes out more like “es una brooooooma.” I think it’s the cutest thing ever! Here’s a quick video:

The sense of humor is also present in their language. Chileans have added many words and phrases to the Spanish that I learned, which makes it their own unique dialect. As we say in my phonetics class, they speak chileno, not español.

Many of the “chilenismos” have to do with animals, which is pretty fun. For example, young men are called cabros (goats) and hacer una vaca (cow) is to raise money. Another one of my favorites is echarse el burro, which means to lose motivation to do something.

One thing Chileans do is call each other names. A lot are endearing nicknames–there’s the classic mi’jita (mi  hijita), cariño, or amor that even people in the grocery store will call you. There’s also modifications of your given name– I’ve gotten Moni, Mo, and Moquita. My friends are Isa Pizza and Juan Papa (to incorporate food). And also Chileans often use adjectives ironically, like feo (ugly) or gordito (fat). When I first heard my friend Rodrigo talking about his daughter, la gordita, I remember being shocked. But it’s actually a term of endearment, some light teasing. A reminder not to take everything people say completely seriously.

I tend to be an over-thinker and I value pondering deep life questions. But simply being in another culture has brought a lot of that to mind. So I’m thankful that I get the chance every day to laugh it off, take joy in relationships, and watch Camilo’s face light up when we fall for another one of his pranks.

What does it mean to be mujer?

Today I let myself cry about the gender inequality I see in our world. I felt a little silly sitting on a park bench with the tears streaming down my face, but I think this issue is something that needs to be recognized and deserves to be cried about.

My tears were spurred by an encounter I had with two older men as I was leaving my literature class. Just outside the university, one yelled at me, “Hola linda! You speak English? What is your name?” I ignored him and kept walking. However, that catcall seemed to give permission to the man beside me to start talking to me, also asking where I was from and telling me about his business. Despite my refusal to respond or even make eye contact, he kept pestering me until we reached a corner. There, I turned to avoid him and take a different route.

But why should I have to change my walk home from school? I should be able to feel safe on the streets. I was fuming and frustrated that those men had the power to make me feel so vulnerable and targeted.

The other problem with that encounter is that it wasn’t just a one-time, isolated thing. Catcalls happen to me almost daily here, and my foreign friends have experienced the same thing. In fact, I was coming from my literatura latinoamericana class, where we had just finished sharing our experiences of gender roles. To close the unit on feminist literature, my profesora asked us all to write down moments where we saw gender roles play out. The sad thing was, every person in the class had those experiences. We talked about guys acting aggressively in bars, male coworkers getting paid more than female counterparts, “mansplaining,” family members giving stereotypical gender-based gifts, and of course, the plethora of catcalling.

In Spanish, the things people yell are considered piropos, and the phenomena is generally called acoso callejero (street harassment). El machismo is how they describe this gender-unequal society, where men are over-masculinized and women are relegated to the home. They also have a word for crimes against women, los femicidios, where women are actually targeted for their gender.

While I’m frustrated that these are things that happen here, I’m glad there are words that describe this experience. I feel like in Chile, it’s something I can talk about and process freely. The other day I had a really good conversation about catcalling and gender roles with a male Chilean friend. He was so sympathetic and the first thing he wanted to do was tell his other guy friends about the things I’d experienced. That made me really happy because it’s something people are realizing needs to change.

Here, the conversation about feminism is happening. Perhaps because gender inequality is more evident. However, when it’s subtle, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Back home, women experience the same things, though often it’s disguised as something that’s normal.

Emma Watson said, “we think that we live in a post-feminist society, where we don’t need feminism anymore, but actually that’s really disconcerting.” There are a lot of things that happen to women that they blame on themselves because they don’t see the bigger narrative. We need feminism; we need to talk about the things that women experience that should not be normal.

That’s why I’m sharing my story. It’s frustrating that this encounter happened to me. I don’t think it should be normal, and I don’t think it’s right that all the time women feel targeted or unsafe like I did today. Hopefully, together we can create a society that affirms the dignity of all its members. The first step, though, is joining the conversation.

Here’s a photo of two women that I consider to be some of the most powerful Chilean women ever. On the right is our pastora, Oriana, who has had to face a lot of criticism being a female leader in the church. My host mom Rocío is on the left, and she is working on her doctorate in environmental law. I wrote an interview question for her the other day: “what is it like being mujer and abogada (lawyer)?” and it occurred to me that this would never be asked of a man, since they are assumed to dominate this career path and don’t have the same occupational challenges related to gender.

Despedirse

In Spanish class we learned that the way to say goodbye is “Adios!” At least in Chile, though, that’s not how you do it. Everyone says “Chao!” as goodbye, and it’s accompanied by a kiss on the cheek, maybe a hug, cuídate, nos vemos!

Despedirse is something you do every time you leave a social gathering. And it’s required for everyone there. You have to go around the room and say goodbye to all the people you’re with before it’s okay to leave.

At the beginning of my time in Chile, this was really uncomfortable for me, because I wasn’t sure how to insert myself in someone’s conversation to say goodbye. I always felt like I was interrupting something. Or that I was holding up my family from leaving. The truth is, though, that they’re never in a hurry, and the cultural value of acknowledging others trumps the extra inconvenience.

For me, this shift in cultural values requires extra effort, and to be honest I’m still not the best at the practice of despedirse, but that’s something I want to keep working on until I have to leave.

The end of my study abroad program is coming up just on the horizon. We have a month and a week before we all part ways. I’m anticipating that this goodbye will be very difficult.

In my time here I have made a lot of wonderful friends. Both my amigos gringos and amigos chilenos have made a remarkable impact on me. I have been greeted with such kindness, invited into a new family, and accepted for who I am. I can share my heart and soul with the people I have met here, and for that I am so grateful.

I’m not ready to say goodbye.

Here I am with some friends from my program on a trip to Mendoza, Argentina. I love that the other gringas are always up to travel and share cultural experiences!
My community of jóvenes from my church in Chile. Here we are at a weekend retreat. My host dad Séba is the one taking the selfie.
These are my host family’s relatives. From aunts and uncles to abuelos y nietos, everyone came together for fiestas patrias and they’ve done an incredible job of including me in their family.
Some of my chilean church friends and I at a despedida (farewell party) for Gabriel (not pictured) who’s leaving to learn English in the US for a couple months. This was the first of many goodbyes for me and it got me feeling super sentimental.

Thumo? Fumo? Or Zumo?

Since I have been here I admit to having my fair share of misunderstandings, which have been awkward and uncomfortable in the moment, but looking back on it now, make me laugh. These small moments may seem insignificant, but they contribute to making my study abroad experience unique and memorable.

My favorite mix-up happened my first morning in Seville. I woke up around 8am and went to the kitchen where Maria, my señora, was making herself breakfast. When I walked in, she greeted me with a “buenos dias” and eagerly told me all of the breakfast options. There was pan con aceite y mermelada (bread with olive oil and jam), galletas (Belvita biscuits), magdalenas (muffins), fruta, leche, and “fumo”. When she said the last item I was a bit confused; “fumo” means smoke in Spanish. I learned from my previous night of orientation that smoking is a social norm here, but I was surprised Maria would offer that, let alone on my first day. Maria saw my uncertainty and continued explaining that the student who was here last semester loved “fumo” and would have two magdalenas and “fumo” every morning. I was about to explain to her that I don’t smoke but rather I was content with just the two magdalenas, when she walked to the fridge. She pulled out a juice box declaring “thumo”, which is when I had the big realization she was saying “zumo” with the Castilian accent. Not “fumo”. Whew!

The Castilian accent, also called the Castilian lisp, is when certain “s” or “z” sounds are enunciated with a “th” sound. For example, the Plaza de España would be pronounced the “Platha de Ethpaña”. Fun fact: this accent is only in Spain and not in any Central or Southern American countries.

I’m slowly but surely adjusting to the new accent! Thanks for listening! Grathias por escuchar!

 

School is different here

The view out my window on the train. You could see the cordillera of the Andes the whole way there.

School is different here. For example, my art class today was a field trip to the south of Chile. We spent about 9 hours in train, and 3 in bus so we could appreciate a mural painted in the small town of Chillán.

We weren’t allowed to take photos of the mural we went to visit, but here’s one from outside the library where it was located.

This smaller mural was painted by a Mexican artist and says “Gobernar es educar” (to govern is to educate).

I went with my 5-person class, made up of students from 4 different countries. Funnily enough, none of them are Chilean. Apparently the exchange students are more interested in learning about Chilean art than they are.

Regardless, the topic of education came up while we were waiting for the train. I was very curious; “como es la educación en tu país?” (What is school like in your country?)

I learned that in Ireland, computer science students learn at a slower pace than their Chilean counterparts. In Colombia, few scholarships are available, and most majors last 5 years. In Mexico, community service and internships are required for all degrees.

One thing we all agreed on is that school is different here. For me, one of the biggest changes to get used to has been their grading system. In Chile, they use a scale from 1-7, with a 4 being a passing grade. Most students strive for 4’s, rather than 7’s, which are rarely handed out.

This is not the same as our inflated grading system in the United States. A 4.0 GPA is the ideal back home, and was achieved by at least 15% of my high school class. The GPA is also an important measure in terms of deciding a student’s future. However, here, the important thing is that you get a degree. Employers don’t care much about the grades you get in school, just that you pass.

This leads to highly different cultural attitudes about school. At Hope, which is admittedly more academically rigorous, there’s a fixation on the exact number you are given and a competition to out-perform other students. In Chile, though, there’s a relaxed nature about school, and much less of a student’s identity is wrapped up in their performance.

This is also likely related to the fact that most Chilean university students still live at home. They participate a lot in family life. Though they are less independent, they often have responsibilities that have nothing to do with their schoolwork. My classmates have to run errands to buy things for their parents or pay the bills. This is something I never have encountered with American classmates, but I think it helps create a balance in life where school isn’t all-consuming.

There are other differences, like the way professors communicate, the structure (and sometimes lack of structure) of classes, and the frequency with which my classes meet. Now that I’m about half-way through my semester, I think I’m adjusted to this Chilean version of school. And I like it a lot.

I’ve had fun opportunities to travel; I’m working in groups with Chilean students; we visited the aquarium for marine biology; I crushed my first big exam; I got a compliment on my Spanish after a nerve-wracking presentation. All these things and more are what make studying abroad totally worth it!

Here are my notes and study materials from my first marine biology exam.

 

The final slide of a presentation I gave.
Las estrellas del mar, or starfish, in a tidepool at the aquarium. We even had the chance to touch them, which was really cool!