Hostels for the Holidays

This past Thanksgiving was the first time I have spent a major holiday away from my family. Chileans may be familiar with “el día de la acción de gracias,” but it is certainly not celebrated here. Seriously, I couldn’t even find a box of stuffing or a butter ball turkey on the shelf of the local supermarket. It was definitely strange to be away from home on such a significant holiday.

All semester I have pushed myself to learn and adapt to Chilean customs and traditions. This is something I really enjoy doing and is a large part of the study abroad experience, but it can be exhausting being out of your comfort zone for so long. Sometimes you just want someone who understands, who you don’t have to explain things to, and who relates to the feeling of misplacement and homesickness on a day like Thanksgiving.

Throughout Thanksgiving day,  I  yearned to be with my own family on one of my favorite holidays of the year. I even felt guilt for not being home– who else was going to make the sweet potato casserole, or set the table, or take care of all those leftovers in the fridge? I can’t even bear to think of how lonely the dessert table must have felt without its most loyal visitor.

Despite my wishes, I had set very low expectations for my Thanksgiving in Chile. It was supposed to be a travel day from Puerto Natales, Chile to Calafate, Argentina. However, we ended up not being able to get seats on any of the buses, so we learned mid-day that we would be stuck in Puerto Natales for another night. After scrambling for space in a hostel, we finally found a couple spots in a dorm and made our way over.

We set our things in our room, met our American roommates, and I hopped on Instagram and began scrolling through stories of food spreads, full plates, and family games. It was practically taunting, but was the dose of FOMO I needed to realize I didn’t have to miss out on one of my favorite holidays just because I wasn’t in the US.

We went to the grocery store, bought chicken, instant mashed potatoes, and ingredients for pebre, a Chilean salsa served at nearly every lunch (so maybe our meal wasn’t exactly “traditional,” but it worked for us!). After preparing everything in the hostel’s shared kitchen, we took our plates into the living area and joined the other guests snacking on salami, peanuts, and other trail snacks as they prepared for their Torres del Paine treks. Realizing we were all Americans, everyone raised a glass in the air and exchanged a “Happy Thanksgiving!”

It sure wasn’t my normal celebration, but I certainly was thankful.

Sí, claro…

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.”

Our basecamp for the day, surrounded by the beautiful Andes Mountains!

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.

I may need to retake this course in English…
Knot-tying competitions! Can’t say this was my forté…

 

 

 

 

 

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.

As much as I love admiring the cordillera from my apartment window in Santiago, it was so refreshing to see the Andes up-close and personal!

Language barriers are tricky, but I am excited to see what else comes from the things I accidentally respond “Sí, claro” to.

Disfruta el momento

The closest translation Spanish has for “carpe diem” is “disfruta el momento.”  Back at Hope, my friends and I tend to throw around “carpe diem” pretty often, but more as a joke or a dare than an actual mantra.  However, since being in Chile, I have learned that “disfruta el momento” is more so a way of life.  Here’s what I mean:

This morning was my first day of classes.  I began the day at a café in Barrio Italia, a quaint and artsy little neighborhood just five blocks from my apartment. I ordered a coffee, drew out my semester schedule, and journaled my anticipations for the coming months abroad.  Side note: I cannot believe my first day of class was this chill… no waiting in line at LJ’s to get a mug of 616, no scrambling to find a seat at Chapel, and my planner isn’t stuffed with coffee and lunch dates, meetings for student organizations, etc.  Disfruta el momento. 

It’s certainly not the warmth and familiarity of LJs, and I’ll admit that the latte I ordered was actually pretty bad. However, ya can’t beat the aesthetics of the café I stumbled upon today!
My two essentials: journal and “Lonely Planet” Chile + Easter Island guide book. Thinking this may be my only “textbook” for the semester…

While journaling, I realized how drastically different this semester will look for me.  It’s foreign not to feel stressed, rushed, and overwhelmed.  As an exchange student, I am here to learn from the people and place that I am in, and there are not a ton of expectations on me.  As much as I loved being so involved at Hope, there were plenty of times that I forgot how to disfrutar el momento because I got so caught up in the obligations and the resume-builders that became more draining than enjoyable. 

It took flying to the end of the world, being stripped of my roles in student organizations, and surrendering the fulfillment that comes from having a rigorous and overcommitted schedule for me to realize that disfrutando el momento is an invitation that I want to accept each and every day.  Life doesn’t have to be busy and/or productive to be satisfying.  I can merely just be… disfrutando el momento, and that should not come with guilt.

The classic “first day of school” photo for mom and dad. Although it felt odd not to be experiencing this at Hope, I think this photo encapsulates my excitement to be here!

I am so grateful for all the opportunities Hope has provided for me to use my passions to influence my community.  However, my encouragement is to recognize the gift it is to enjoy the moment you’re in.  Even if you’re not abroad, or if you find yourself looking at a crazy upcoming semester, find ways to disfrutar el momento exactly where you’re at!

Mi Familia Anfitriona (Host Family)

When looking at the various options for study abroad, I always knew I wanted to do a homestay.  However, I did not realize how pivotal this decision would be until actually being 10,000 miles from my own home and family!  Here’s a little look into my homestay in Santiago, Chile.

Mi mamá lives in an apartment in Santiago with her 30-year-old daughter.  In Chile, it is very common for young adults to live with their parents until their late 20s or early 30s!  Even universities do not have dorms or on-campus housing, so the majority of students commute to university while still living under their parents’ roofs.

The IES staff picked me up from the airport and took me directly to my host home to meet mi mamá. Within minutes of walking into the door, mi mamá insisted on taking a selfie to send to her daughter!

Host parents not only cook your meals (mi mamá happens to be an incredible cook… sorry, Phelps Dining) and do your laundry, but they are your support system and a dependable resource while abroad.  This is only my fourth night in my host home, but I can always count on a warm greeting with “un beso” on the cheek when I enter the door, a heating pad full of hot water to warm my feet at night during the cold Chilean winters, an invitation to watch a soap opera in our pajamas, and good conversation over a cup of tea or maté.

The seasons are opposite here in Chile as they are United States. Although Chilean winters are significantly milder than Michigan winters, energy is very expensive, so the majority of homes do not have central heating. Luckily, mi mamá makes my bed with 7 layers of sheets to keep me nice and cozy at night.

 

Host families are great at accommodating for your dietary preferences, but they will always introduce you to the local cuisine, too! Here is my first dinner: cazuela (a traditional Chilean stew with beef, potatoes, and other veggies), leche de almendras y ensalada. Muuuuuy rico.

As thankful as I am for the way mi mamá has welcomed me in and provided for me already, I am more thankful for the immense grace and patience she gives me!  She stays attentive in conversation as I wrack my brain for the English to Spanish translation, explains over and over how to get from our apartment to the bus stop, and is quick to forgive when I forget to unplug the space heater (again).

Here’s the kitchen where all the magic of Chilean cuisine happens! It’s a bit tight and surely nothing extravagant, but I love the coziness of our apartment!

It certainly is a transition to go from living in dorms and with friends to entering into a family’s home, but it is the only way to fully experience the warmth of South American culture!

This is not to say that I am not missing my own mom back home, but what a gift it is to have a mamá here, too!