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.

Living Among the Dinosaurs

On Saturday I found myself eating tiny coconuts and sipping water from tiny shoe-shaped flowers. It was like a miniature tea party!

In fact, one of my favorite memories from childhood was the tiny tea-set that my sister and I shared. Even for 10-year-old fingers, it was teensy. And we would always drink tap water and eat baby goldfish. At that point in my life, real tea was a very grown-up concept.

Now, thanks to my roommate Sav, who introduced me to this drink and the constant presence of tea at our evening meals in Chile, I’m addicted. And a warm cup of tea was exactly what I was craving after Saturday’s adventures.

Let me back up.

On Saturday, my study abroad program took an excursion to La Campana National Park. It’s a magical place just a bus ride away from Valparaiso, where the ecosystem changes suddenly to remind me of Jurassic times.

Doesn’t it seem like dinosaurs would live here? I kept expecting a pterodactyl to come swooping by. This mix of vegetation has been here for hundreds of thousands of years, and the palm trees, or palmeras, are a species unique to Chile. Their presence here has to do with the microclimate in the national park, which receives a lot of rain.

I learned all these things from our tour guides, who were an incredible source of knowledge about the national park. They pointed out tons of wildlife, patiently answering all my questions about rocks and woodpecker species.

The part about the rain, though, I picked up on pretty fast. It was raining all day, starting just after we unloaded the bus in the parking lot. By the time we got back, about 5 hours later, we were slipping and sliding down the muddy hills.

On the plus side, the rain made the waterfall that we went to see absolutely gorgeous! Our guides noted that there was more water rushing down it than they had ever seen.

The rain also allowed us to see some more secretive birds, a tarantula, and flowers that would have closed up otherwise. These adorable bell-shaped yellow flowers generally last about a day, but with the rain, they were filled up to the brim. And they were the perfect shape to take a little sip out of!

The tiny coconuts that made up the other half of my tea party were from the Chilean palmera. They’re about the size of a quarter. Our tour guide found one on the ground and split it open with a rock. They don’t have water inside, but the fleshy white part tastes just like any other coconut!

Overall, I had a wonderful time in the land of the dinosaurs! Despite the rain and the cold, it was an amazing place to visit. And on the way back, we stopped at an authentic Chilean restaurant to warm up with a cazuela (a typical brothy soup) and, of course, some tea.

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!

Sappy October Feels

It’s one of those nights that I can’t stop gazing out the window. I pace back and forth between the terrace, which faces east towards the Andes cordillera and my bedroom, which faces south towards even more mountains that I am seeing for the very first time, thanks to yesterday’s rain. My study break is well-spent admiring the sunset over the cordillera, a view that never gets old and makes me temporarily forget about the Lake Michigan sunsets that I’ll return to in the blink of an eye.

The view from the terrace never gets old!

It’s one of those nights that I just want to hang out with my host mom because I still can’t believe I am living in an actual Chilean home and have semester-long access to speaking Spanish whenever I want (I’m not always this optimistic about that). I sit down with a bowl of cazuela and reminisce on the first day that I arrived in Santiago when my host mom and I conversed for hours over a bowl of cazuela (well, she talked and I nodded and pretended that I understood Chilean Spanish… some things don’t change). Two months later, I now know that you’re supposed to drink the broth first before digging into the meat and veggies, but I still stick to my old ways.

My host mom makes the best cazuela!

It’s one of those nights that I can’t actually get anything done because I am straddling between planning my upcoming trips and flipping through photos of the many adventures I have already had on the wild weekend trips. I am stuck in this weird in-between… it’s a nostalgia for the places I have yet to go and a longing to relive the moments that have already passed, all the while trying to be present in this very day of October 1.

Study abroad has been packed with new experiences. Here’s one I’ll never forget: skiing for the very first time… in the Andes!
Another great memory: the infamous stilt houses (palafitas) in Castro, a city on the mythical island of Chiloé. This was an IES-sponsored trip that most of my group went on last month.
The classic South American photo-op with a llama! This was taken on my spring break trip to San Pedro de Atacama, the desert region in northern Chile.

It was tonight that I realized how content I truly am. Disclaimer: study abroad is not all peaches ‘n cream and I have probably had more tough than easy days. There have been days of frustration, regret, and just wanting to throw in the towel on this whole “get out of your comfort zone” thing. However, I am learning that being content does not come from a compilation of good and easy days. It is a feeling that has come from trials and tribulations, from being forced out of the comfort zone day-in and day-out, and for the joy that arises from experiencing growth like I never have before.

One of my favorite Bible verses says,  “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want,” (Philippians 4:12). As I continue into my last couple of months, I cling to this: that the good and the bad and everything in between is all a part of the study abroad experience. Even more, it is a part of the life experience, and I am thankful for the growth that still is to come.

Ser Poeta

Los poetas odiamos el odio y hacemos guerra a la guerra — Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda es un Gran Chileno,” our history professor told us. Looking at his life and his world, I’m convinced. Pablo Neruda was a Chilean poet, writer, politician, and professor, but what Chileans love most about him, I think, is his personality.

He was a collector of many things, with a lot of personality quirks. For example, he always wrote in green ink pens, and he had a train relocated to his front yard.

The famous front-yard train.
A collection of odd-shaped glass jars in La Isla Negra, Pablo Neruda’s beachside home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So far, I have visited two of his houses (there were three) and have been very impressed by his whimsical style. I’m inspired by his fun approach to life, and his belief that “la risa es el lenguaje del alma,” or “laughter is the language of the soul.” Honestly, this makes sense coming from a poet who wrote odes to kitchen objects and various fruits.

I’ve been working on a few Neruda-inspired poems this semester that I wanted to share with you. I’m generally nervous about sharing my poetry, but I’m also reminded by Neruda not to take myself so seriously. 🙂 Ok, here it goes:

#8

Laughter is sweet

Like that first crunch of empanada dough,

An easy way to break through the initial awkwardness

Before getting to the meat.

#14

You are more fierce than a vicuña,

but I tried to make you a llama.

I thought I could compare you to a burro

But even those run salvaje.

Why do I try to put you in a caja

when even the universo

can’t contenerte?

 

La Cueca

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.

Here I am with my friends Gloria and Isabella (the little chiquita) dressed up in chinita costumes. My Chilean flag dress, borrowed from Gloria, made me feel very Chilean. 🙂

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.

My friends Camila and Juan Pablo dancing in the church’s cueca competition.

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.

Wonderful Limits

How do you find words to describe the Infinite? When I try to explain the beauty and majesty I saw this weekend, especially in Spanish, simplemente no hay palabras. I find myself struggling against my limits. And then the Voice inside me tells me to relax.

Tranquila,” it says. “We will have all eternity to discover that.” My mind is blown again.

I don’t understand the concept of eternity. But in my limits, I can wonder.

What I learned this weekend is that that’s enough.

Being in the most beautiful place we’d ever seen brought so much wonder to myself and my friends. The trip was filled with exclamations of “¡Guauu!“, “¡Mira!“, “¡Qué hermoso!“, “¡Es maravilloso!” and “¡No lo puedo creer!” We could only marvel at the beauty of the Atacama desert.

Take a look at my slideshow and marvel along with us! Fun fact: it’s the driest desert on earth.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Being somewhere like this also makes you ponder deep questions like why we experience the sensation of beauty. My friend Erin had a very wise and interesting response.

“It’s the size of this place that makes us reflect on our own smallness and insignificance.” And that’s what wonder is.  It’s being surrounded by something that’s too big to understand. It’s recognizing our limits of size and understanding.

If we knew everything, nothing would amaze us. If we were bigger or stronger we might not be dwarfed by the majesty of mountains.

Riding around the valle on bikes made me realize how big that corner of the desert was. By the end of the day our butts were sore and legs were tired. I had pushed myself to the limit, for sure. But there was a lot of joy in recognizing my limit; it made room for appreciation of God’s creation.

I think often times we try to push our limits, or forget them. In the process, we lose sight of our place in the world. Truly, we are just one second in the span of history, smaller than one grain of sand in a desert.

We have a choice to recognize that insignificance, or not. Either we accept our place in the world or create a worldview that puts us in the very center. Though it takes a lot of humility to wonder, I can’t help but think it’s worth it.

I met two slightly unpleasant people on this trip. And I feel bad judging them on some short conversations, but I wanted to share what left a bad taste in my mouth– their lack of wonder. A Finnish boy and Australian girl were in one of the hostels I stayed at, and what both of them said was: “I’ve already seen something like that.  I didn’t think it was that cool.”

To me, who felt awestruck at the sights I saw this weekend, this attitude surprised me. Maybe I’m just less cultured and important than (they think) they are. But if that’s the price to recognize beauty and value in a place, I’m willing to pay it.

I’d much rather be like our Brazilian roommate, Sabrina, who told me, “pienso que cada lugar que visito es lo máximo”, or “I think that every place I see is the coolest.” I want her sense of wonder to see lo máximo everywhere I go.