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 😉

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.

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!

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!

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.

Yeah, I can do this

As I brought my luggage to the bus, where the other students were waiting, the mountains greeted me like an old friend. I thought, “yeah, I can do this.”

The view of the Andes on my flight to Santiago.

A few minutes later, I panicked, the scene on the bus like a flashback to middle school. Where do I sit? Who looks friendly? Can I make new friends?

By the time the 2 hour bus trip to Valparaíso was finished, I was once again feeling confident. The girl I shared my seat with was friendly, intelligent, and kind.  We were experiencing similar kinds of emotions. I thought, “yeah, maybe I can do this.”

But don’t let the length of time sink in.  As we sat down to lunch, the girl on my left mentioned, “Can you believe we’re gonna be here 5 months?” Nope.  I started worrying again.

The whole first day I went back and forth between these emotions. Confidence, panic; feel good, start worrying. Constantly conflicted, I had no idea what my life here was going to be like.  I just had to trust that things were going to fall into place.

Then I met my host family.  In Chile, people greet each other with a kiss on the cheek.  After a warm “bienvenido,” we went back to my family’s apartment, where I was also introduced to the grandparents, aunts, and other family members.  After a few hours chatting and eating, I overheard my host mom say to her sister-in-law, “Monica speaks Spanish very well.”

You know what? Yeah, I can do this!


My Pluscuamperfectos: Si Hubiera… “If I Had…”

So one of the tenses a Spanish student will learn is called the Pluscuamperfecto which is as complicated as it sounds. The structure of this tense usually requires that the user use the past perfect tense in the first clause (I would have…) followed by a conditional perfect tense in the second clause (If I would have…). In Spanish if one wanted to say that they would have gotten an A if they had studied it would be said like so: “Si hubiera estudiado yo habría sacado una A”. But why am I even writing about this? Well, sometimes this sentence structure is used with sentiments of regret, when reminiscing and thinking about other possible outcomes. As it has been the last few weeks for me in Santiago, Chile, I have been having many thoughts in this tense. Si hubiera sabido cuánto me costaría para vivir en Chile habría ahorrado bastante más dinero. Si hubiera tenido más tiempo… Yo habría recorrido más si… Pucha, también habría conocido más chilenos si… And my thoughts continue.

I’ll explain what I am thinking. So I have written down a list of things I wish I had known or done during my time here in Santiago. I also wrote this for those who are hoping to study abroad in the future so that they would not share my same regrets at the end of their program, so I have written some advice for each one.

  • Study hard but make sure you leave time to explore. Study abroad is what it sounds like. Yes, you will study. But you are also abroad, so take advantage of it! If I had focused a little less on my studies, I would have had more time to travel. Nonetheless, I am more than satisfied with the amount of traveling I was able to do.
  • Spend more time with people your age, get to know the youth culture, learn what is in, and find a group of friends that live and know the area. If I had taken more courses at the local university, I would have met more Chileans of my age. I would have been able to practice my Spanish with them more.
  • Be wise with your money but don’t hold on to it to the point you miss out on priceless experiences. If I had worried less about how much everything costed, I would have focused on what I truly wanted to see and do and go ahead and do it. Stretching your dollar abroad is taxing and stressful.
  • Spanish-majors, try to spend less time with your American peers, especially the ones who only speak English. If you are going to, hablar en español, really. It will not only help you but those around you who want to practice. Fortunately, I was able to meet a group of Paraguayan foreign exchange students that I am proud to call some of my closest friends during my time in Chile. I was not able to see them all the time but it was extremely invaluable to be able to spend time with people who spoke the language and talked about the same age group things. But at the same time, be balanced. I am also guilty of speaking in English with my American friends. Overall, if I had spent more time with Chileans and less with my American classmates, I would have improved my Spanish even more.
  • And on learning the language, I wish I had not put so much pressure on myself to become fluent. Any linguist will tell its student that it is impossible to become fluent during a study abroad semester even in language immersion for 5 consecutive months. Instead, I recommend focusing on your weaknesses, the technical errors that need to be addressed and learning a few words a day writing out their different applications. Take your time. Breath. Tranquilo.
  • Do what you are passionate about, what you would do at your hometown or university. If I had done more extracurriculars, I would have been more integrated into the community.
  • Journal. I wished I had journaled more. If I had, I would have documented more of the emotional journey I’ve had while being here. Write down the strong emotions that you experience during your time abroad. Sadness, excitement, inspiration, loneliness, everything. In the moment, you might be so joyous that you don’t even have the time or reason to stop and write it down or so depressed that you can’t even muster the energy to pick up a pencil, but let me tell you in hindsight those emotional moments teach you many things. For me, my excitement taught me how much I loved pediatrics and maternity when I shadowed at my local hospital. My loneliness also taught me how to entertain myself and develop my spiritual life. My frustrations taught me patience and control.
  • Ask questions. I wish I had done this more. Ask without shame and do not be satisfied with just one answer. Learn about everything you can. If you do not know about it, don’t just nod your way off until the topic goes away. Ask about it. Go on the internet and then go back and ask informed questions.

Though I have many pluscuamperfectos, “what if”s and “if only”s, I have many more “I’ve done”s.

So these are some of the many pluscuamperfectos that have been occurring in my mind. As the day of my flight back to the United States has been approaching, I have been tempted to do everything I haven’t done yet but I have not. I have decided that I would leave Chile, having done what I could, and what I couldn’t do or just didn’t do, I am confident, will be done in the future. The experiences that I was simply unaware of or refused to take advantage of I know will be available in other opportunities in the States, even in my hometown and college.

I have decided that I would leave Chile, having done what I could, and what I couldn’t do or just didn’t do, I am confident, will be done in the future.

Though I have many pluscuamperfectos, “what if”‘s, “if only”‘s, I have many more “I’ve done”‘s. I have been able to see almost all of Chile’s geography from its driest desert in the north to its beautiful marshes in the south. I have been able to co-write a public health article that is on its way to being published. I have made many strong friendships that I believe will last a lifetime even across borders. I have been able to improve my Spanish to point of functional fluency. I am making less errors and am more conscious of them when I make them. Though my phone was stolen in the beginning of my program, I have been able to film many short projects with borrowed equipment and will be submitting one for a film festival. And this only scratches the surface. I can continue to even list off more of my regrets, but I can say with confidence that I am truly satisfied with my time here in Chile.

It’s Hard to Immerse and Why It’s Okay

Finding a home away from home has a two month struggle with little success but, despite them, I have gained much more perspective. The thought of “a home away from home” is one that my classmate and I have been mulling over on one of our themes for the documentary we are producing for our program.

And if you are struggling to get there, it’s okay.

We have talked to many of our peer students that despite having improved their Spanish connecting with Chileans is still difficult, especially if one isn’t taking university courses with them, finding a niche, or just struggling to communicate with host families. With this is added another struggle of truly immersing one’s self into the culture and into what Chile has to offer.

What exactly does immersing oneself even mean anyways? Is it going on excursions enjoying the beautiful sceneries of the country? Studying with local university students? Staying up to date on local pop culture? All of these sound right, but how many times does one need to do this to arrive at “immersion”? To me, it sounds like an over-glorified, spiritual state that only a select few can reach, but what I have come to discover is that it does not come like a wave or as an epiphany would but in stages, like a lot of small epiphanies. These epiphanies, as beautiful as the word sounds, instead, have hit me when I have made mistakes, missed cultural cues, at my lowest hours, or the times I have thrown myself into social scenes being the only foreigner.

“He who does not travel, who does not read,
who does not listen to music,
who does not find grace in himself,
she who does not find grace in herself,
dies slowly” – Pablo Neruda

And it’s not to say this is everyone’s immersion experience. But one common denominator of the ways to attain this, said Nirvana, is that one have patience. I arrived to Chile quickly wanting to find a community to fit in to fill longings for ones at home, but like starting college or moving to a new city, it takes time to find your niche. And if you are struggling to get there, it’s okay. You are not alone, it might even be that on the plane ride home you will reflect and discover just how immersed you were.

Recap: In the past few months, I have already experienced so much, already having had my first exam at my local university in theology, visiting Templo Ba’hai (the only one that stands in South America), witnessing my first birth in my clinical observation class and learning kickboxing for the first time. With all of it, more so my experience in my health studies and clinical observations, I have been beginning to discover passions that I never had before.

At Templo Bahai