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Gap Year Abroad

8 posts from September 2013


Obvious or Curious?


The image above (brought to you by an HSBC advertisement) was the hot topic in my CIEE class last week, as it demonstrated how the same object (or value) can be viewed in extremely different ways depending on culture, background, personality, and whatever else makes you, you and me, me. Part of living happily in a new culture is being able to identify your own culture and then recognize and accept the differences in your new environment. Almost always, like in the example above, there is no right or wrong way; it’s only a matter of personal opinion. Our homework assignment for the week was to take 10 photos in Valparaiso, five of which struck us as “Obvious” (things we immediately recognize and understand), and five of which were more “Curious” (things that puzzle us or made us wonder) and then discuss the photos with a Chilean.  Here is my collection of photos along with a little bit of what my host mother and I talked about. Feel free to quiz yourself as well along the way; what do you think of each photo? Obvious or curious? 


Obvious. There’s of course the houses, the street art (which is something that has become normal for me), the cars, the winding, narrow road, the electrical wires, but what my host mother and I talked about most was the mother and daughter walking. Even though we're from different cultures and even have different perspectives (her being a mother and a daughter while I've only experienced the second), we both can relate to this relationship and understand what's going on. 


Curious. We agreed that this photo was curious because neither of us are “acostumbrada” to seeing houses  like this one. Based off its old, and run down appearance, one could guess that it has been abandoned, and it doesn't look particularly livable (at least based of what we are both used to). But then again, there’s a flag in the window...


Obvious and Curious. To me, this photo is obvious; it’s something I immediately recognize and understand. There are parts of supermarkets here that are wildly different (like jam and ketchup and mayonnaise in a bag and the cheese selection), but this particular produce section is practically identical to what I'm used to seeing in stores back home. However, my host mom found this photo curious. She explained that because the grocery store is so common, so normal, so habitual, when she sees this photo, it makes her stop and think; it’s so ordinary that it's curious, if that makes any sense.


Obvious and Curious. To my host mother, of course this image is obvious; she recognizes the street, she knows the stores, and the stop sign is something that has been a part of her life for as long as she can remember. I still find this image curious though, because of the stop sign. It makes sense for it to be in Spanish, as Chile is a Spanish speaking country, but the stop signs in every other country I’ve been to say “STOP” regardless of what language is spoken. Germany, France and the Netherlands have stop signs identical to those in the US, but here, although the shape is the same, the wording isn’t, and I find that curious.

Obvious. My mother found this image of a mural obvious because she is familiar this exact location, and I found it obvious because of its strong connection to Van Gogh’s work, both in content and style (I love how art can be so universal). Different reasonings but same conclusion.


Curious. Here is another picture of street art in Valparaiso, but one that we both found curious. Although the central image has the body and hair of a usually beautiful creature, its face is one of a monster. We discussed whether or not the painting is supposed to have a deeper significance or message (what is true beauty for instance), what was the artist’s inspiration, and what the surrounding graffiti could possibly symbolize.


Obvious. Clothes hanging up to dry is something that wasn’t obvious to me when I first arrived, but now that I’ve seen almost the exact same drying system in all the houses here and have dried my clothes the same way for the past two months, this image is as obvious to me as it is to my mother. Plus red doors are special to me because they are something that reminds me of my family back home; my aunt always says they’re the most inviting.

Obvious and Curious. Having lived next door to a port for practically all her life, the unloading process of new cars is something that is normal and obvious to my mother. However, for me, watching a worm like stream of cars drive off the boat and into perfectly aligned rows was new and intriguing. I learned during our conversation that the cars weren’t coming to Chile permanently like I had assumed. Soon another ship would arrive, and they would all be driven right back on board and sent off to a different country, most likely the US.


Obvious. My host mother and I agreed that this image is obvious. I took the picture, not because of the flutist, although the mural is familiar as well, but because of the smaller painting on top. It’s the symbol of Valparaiso, and I’ve seen it all around the city, on buildings, on fliers, in the classroom, and on menus. There are even large statues of it along the roads leading into Valparaiso. 


Curious. A street market stand selling paintings of different musicians is not something that’s unusual on its own, but my mother and I both found this particular grouping to be curious. Violeta Parra, Marilyn Monroe and Violetta together mixes cultures, decades and types of music, and of all the people, why them?





There are some images that less than 2 months ago would have been completely foreign and different to me that I would now classify as obvious, and there are other images that will always remain curious regardless of how long I stay here. I think the same holds true with values and ideas. Although I came here to learn about Chilean culture, I've found that along the way, I'm learning more about my own culture as well, and while I can morph certain aspects of it and add to it as I learn, ultimately it's who I am, and I'll never be able to change that. How about that for obvious or curious?












"I think I see a Mountain!"

Last week I was talking with my host mother when I mentioned that I wanted to go skiing sometime in Chile. She warned me that the season was nearing its end, especially for most of the ski resorts close to where we live, and she explained that if I wanted good snow, I should probably go sooner rather than later. Five days later, on Friday morning, my new friend Evert and I paid the equivalent of five dollars each and hopped onto a coach bus, destination Santiago. We arrived in the capital city about two hours later, dropped our stuff off at a hostel near the center of the city (and smack dab in the center of all the nightlife, the reviews promised), and began to explore the area. After some aimless wandering around the dead quiet neighborhood (apparently there aren't many people out before noon on a Friday of vacation..), we decided to hit up some of the places suggested by a traveler's best friend, Lonely Planet. We took a tour in Spanish of Pablo Neruda's house in Santiago, ate lunch at the restaurant across the street from a famous seafood palace (because the prices were one third the price), walked through the central park, admiring the statues and the graffiti on the statues, went to the Plaza de Armas, but didn't go into the museums because they were all still closed due to the holidays, and ate ice cream at a Chilean chain ice cream shop that claims to be one of the top 25 ice cream parlors in all of the world. We also visited Cerro St. Cristo. I had been before, but Evert hadn't and the view is a must. This time though, instead of taking the ascensor, we hiked up to the top; it wasn't Campana level by any means, but it was a lovely walk. 

A taste of the different street art found in Santiago in the Bellavista neighborhood.

Evert reading one of Pablo Neruda's poems outside his house in Santiago (more on Pablo to come another day) 

Fairly typical dining atmosphere in the Capital city-one man band included. 

Cerro Cristo a second time. 

Packing our tuna and avocado lunch for the next day. Points for resourcefulness!

Friday night was a night of relaxation (in anticipation for a crazy Saturday), and instead of going out, we hung out in the hostel and met our 10 other roommates, listened to their adventure stories and learned all the cool things people are doing in Chile these days. For example, one boy from the US was about to go on a three month trip to Patagonia, backpacking for half the time and sea kayaking the other half. Cool, huh? I love hostels!

Saturday morning, we woke up before the sun and headed off to Ski Total, a sketchy looking store about a 45min bus ride away from the hostel. After gathering all the equipment we were going to need, we boarded a large white van with some other eager future mountain skiers, and off we went. It practically never rains in Chile, at least where I live (it's rained once since I've arrived), but of course Saturday was the second time, and as we began our ascent, the rain began to fall. It was not looking promising.

  IMG_0515Photo taken from the bus ride up-notice the cactus covered in snow!! 

But I shouldn't have worried. Once we passed the tree line, the cactus line, and the pretty much everything that's not snow or rock line, it became quite obvious that a lack of snow was not going to be a problem we were going to encounter. In fact, it was almost the opposite. I wish I could show you an incredible view, of me standing on top of a snow covered mountain with the most amazing Andes view stretched out behind me, perhaps the small ski village off in the distance, and the sun sparkling on freshly groomed snow. But I can't. Here is the closest I have…



As you can see, everything was WHITE! We could barely see one chair ahead of us on the chairlift, and despite the fact that we were at the LARGEST SKI RESORT in all of South America, we probably saw less than 200 people total on all of the slopes. In the middle of one of the less frequented runs, I stopped. All around me was pure white. I couldn't see anything in front of me, behind me, on either side of me or even above me: only whiteness. And silence too. It was one of the most impressionate moments I've ever experienced, because it felt as if I was completely and utterly alone in nowhere. Incredible.


I'm sure some would argue that the ski conditions themselves were less than ideal, but for me, skiing in the Andes in almost two feet of fresh powder (not even groomed), was more than I could have asked for. Quite often, I was blazing my own ski trail, and when I would look down at my feet there would be no evidence of skies; they were completely buried under the blanket of rapidly moving snow. I wipped out, full on face first, rolling dives, probably 7 or 8 times, but none of them hurt even the least because there was so much fluffy snow. On the more popular runs, the trails of all the skiers formed almost powder moguls which were a wonderful adventure for me. In their trails, the conditions were perfect for carving and speeding down the hill with control, but as soon as I'd hit a powdered section, the momentum of my lower body would slow much faster than my upper body could register, and BOOM down I'd fly. Snow eating time! It was fantastic.

Skiing on one of the main slopes after the sky cleared up enough to take pictures.

Yo me caí !

About an hour before we had to leave, the sky started to clear up. We were able to make out the sun, the chair lift wires and poles, the occasional other skier, and I think, I´m not 100% sure, but I think I saw a mountain!

On the drive back, when we stopped to take off the snow chains, then there was a stunning view, and despite the fact that we were all drained of energy, everybody hoped out of the van to take pictures.  Funny how we spent the entire day skiing in the Andes, and it wasn't until the way down that we could distinguish a moutain from white.    


Evert and I napped on the bus ride back to the base and then concluded our day with some live music at a local bar (a mix of spanish pop and 80s classics) and some drinks. By 4am, we had reached maximum fatigue and headed back to our home for the night. The word asco in Spanish means gross or disgusting, and my grammar teacher once explained that some people have nicknamed the capital city as Santiasco, because it is a big city, full of big city characteristics, like pollution, graffiti (but not the beautiful Valparaiso kind), busy people, noisy traffic, etc. My first experience in the city was more Santiasco like; I was not impressed. However, after this weekend, I have a much greater appreciation for the city. The beauty perhaps is not a clear as it is in other cities, but it does exist, and it has successfully captivated me;  I am already planning my next trip.

Sunset on the mountains in Santiago (photo credit-Evert)


When we returned to Valparaiso, we had one last mission. Because the weather is acting slightly unusual here (like it is in many other parts of the world..), it was not quite as hot as we were hoping, but none the less, we did the Chile thing; within 24 hours, I went skiing in the Andes and swimming (well almost swimming) in the ocean. Not too bad, eh?

  IMG_0565One of the beaches near my house. 


Go with the Flow

"Sigue la onda" ~ "Follow the wave"  

Yesterday I had my first volunteering session scheduled to help kids learn how to swim! As always it was an adventure getting there. I was told to take a bus to Reñaca and to get off at the bus stop las salinas. This is where I would meet the swim instructor, Boris, and head to the pool. I had no idea where the bus stop was so when I got on the bus I asked the bus driver if he could let me know when we arrived at las salinas. We drove along the beach into Reñaca and then pulled off into a small city area where the bus driver signaled for me to get off, but when I did I was very confused. It didn’t look like there was a pool anywhere nearby. I asked a young lady where las salinas was and made my way back to the main road. I finally arrived at las salinas and called Boris.  

Boris answered the phone and began speaking very fast in Spanish, obviously from an indoor pool given the enormous echo making our conversation even more difficult. From our conversation I understood that the pool was located at the army base but that was about it. I asked a man at the bus stop where that was, and since he was going in that direction he offered to let me know when we arrived at the base. With the assistance of that kind man I finally made it to the army base. I followed signs to la piscina (the pool) up a long hill passing numerous army men giving me strange looks but….

I finally arrived at the pool and felt a rush of relief and excitement because after all these years of swimming, any sort of pool feels like a comfortable place and almost like a second home to me. I found Boris, who showed me where the locker rooms were and then asked if I had goggles and a cap to which I replied yes but was a little confused because teaching young kids how to swim doesn’t require a cap and goggles.

I am almost two months into my semester here in Chile so I've gotten used to “going with the flow”. I got changed and came back to the pool deck where Boris introduced me to the group of swimmers he was coaching, all boys ages 15 and up. Then the next thing I knew I was thrown into a sprint set. I spent the next hour working out alongside the group of boys going through a typical swim practice. I can understand enough Spanish at this point that following along was no problem, even though it did take me a second or two to convert the distances in my head. I was so happy to be doing something I know and love so I wasn’t even thinking about questioning the fact that I thought I was supposed to be volunteering helping kids learn how to swim, instead of swimming myself!

After practice I did talk to Boris who explained to me that starting next week I will be helping out with the younger kids. He also said that I am welcome anytime to stay longer and practice with them! Getting home went very smoothly, and walking down the hill from the army base was really beautiful overlooking the ocean and watching the sun set on another beautiful day in Viña.

I don’t think a lot of people realize how universal so many things in life are, music, clothes, food, dance, and definitely sports. Of course every culture has its differences. But this was a perfect example of how even though I’m living in foreign country where I don’t speak the language or look the same, I can still connect with people and participate in the same activities that I know and love back home. To be honest, during the practice there were times I forgot I was even in Chile!   

Today really wasn’t what I expected at all, and navigating a different part of the city alone was really tough. I felt like there were many times where I could have easily just given up and gone home. But I’m so glad I stuck with my mantra “go with the flow” because I got to experience my first Chilean swim practice, something I will never forget! I can't wait to get my feet wet teaching the kids la próxima semana (next week)! 

Ciao for now! 


Fiestas y Familias


“Rejoice with your family in the beautiful land of life!”– Albert Einstein


On September 18, 1810, Chileans met to create a government independent from Spain, marking the beginning of the road to independence for Chile. To celebrate, the Chileans don’t just take the day off on September 18th. Instead, the whole week is a big celebration with tons of parades, festivals, dancing, eating, games and just good ole’ family time. 

Family is such an important part of Chilean culture and since my host family has played a big role in my experience thus far, I thought I would reintroduce you to my host family! At home I live with my mom Maria Eugenia but everyone calls her Maru, my sister Francisca (15) but everyone calls her Fran and my brother Cristóbal (12) but everyone calls him Cristól. In the United States, I live with my mom, dad and brother in a house in the suburbs, so it has been interesting to experience something different. Here, we live in an apartment in the city four blocks from the beach. Another difference I’ve experienced, is unlike the fast- paced lifestyle in the United States where dinnertime can be solely about the food, here in Chile dinnertime is truly a family event. In my house both my siblings have a really close relationship with their mom and genuinely enjoy spending time together for example chatting at the dinner table and catching up about their day. I am so grateful for my mom and two siblings because they have been so welcoming and have really made my transition into their home such a pleasant experience! I really don’t feel like I’m walking on eggshells or that I watch what I have to say, which has made my experience so much more enjoyable! 

Sibling Selfie! 

Me and my mom in Portillo! 

My mom also has another son Jorge (21) who doesn’t live at home but occasionally comes over for dinner during the week or lunch on the weekends. I’ve also seen a lot of my host mom’s ex- husband, also named Jorge, who also occasionally comes over for dinner during the week or just to hang out. I really like Jorge and whenever I see him he always greets me with a big smile and says “Ahh Elena from USA!” He is constantly singing, which I love, and we always have great conversations comparing different artists or songs. I always know when he’s coming over because as he walks up the steps to our apartment you can hear him singing some Frank Sinatra song. It’s great! Over the past month and a half I’ve also met many of my host cousins, aunts, and uncles during weekend lunches.

On Wednesday, the 18th, we drove to my host grandma’s house in Olmué, which is about an hour from Viña for an asado aka BBQ! It was a huge family event where everyone helped prepare the amazing amount of food! From empanadas to choripán (chorizo on bread), potatoes, corn salad, beans, chicken, lamb and pebre (salsa), we were all muy satisfechos at the end! Afterwards we sat around talking, enjoying each other’s company while a few of the boys went into the yard to fly kites. Besides playing with little wooden toys called el emboque and el trompo, flying kites is a big activity for the week of independence. We then played some fútbol, or soccer, another very popular activity here in Chile. It was guys vs. girls and even though we weren’t keeping score the girls totally won. We said our goodbyes and drove home listening to some traditional cueca music watching the sunset! Later that night a few friends and I went out to the fondas, which is basically a huge area that is converted into a fairground where you can go on rides, buy local crafts, dance, and buy traditional Chilean foods and drinks. 

Here are some pictures from my week!

These are the little wooden toys, el emboque and el trompo, that kids play with during independence week! 

Food prep for the asado! 

Photo 1My mom doing some grilling! 

Photo 3 

La Fonda in Valparaíso 

Photo-1 copyFlying kites on the beach with Hazel! 


This week has been really fun, filled with a lot of family, friends, and fiestas, and I can't wait to continue exploring this beautiful country! 

Photo-1 copy 2
¡Viva Chile!    

Ciao for now! 


La Campana

Last week I told my host mother that I was going to La Campaña on Sunday with a group of students in CIEE. Every day after that, she’d ask me, “Donde vas domingo?” and I’d patiently respond with the same answer: La Campaña. Only when we were both home late on Sunday night did I learn that there is a difference between la Campaña and la Campana. The first is just a campground in general, and the second is where I actually went. La Campana, a cerro in the Andes. 

Standing on top of a 6,168 foot tall mountain, overlooking miles upon miles of mountains, forests, cities, and even the ocean. Friends? Check. Endorphins? Check. Homemade bread and spinach tortilla for lunch? Check. Fresh mountain water? Check. Favorite running shoes? Check. Chilean flag? Courtesy of two friendly Spanish hikers who were enjoying the view as well. I couldn't have asked for anything more really.

On Sunday, a group of CIEE students and I climbed Campana, my first mountain climbing experience. The first three hours of the climb were hike-like; the trail was a skinny, dirt and rock path, shaded by trees and interrupted only by the occasional large boulder, and although it was steep, the trekking was straight forward. We stopped a few times to fill up our water bottles in the fresh water stream, and thanks to a plaque on a rock, the only male student on the hike, and a little bit of imagination, we were able to hear the words of Darwin himself, describing his thoughts when he traversed the same mountain we were struggling up. 


Then came the real climbing. For the last two hours of our journey, we looked less and less like hikers, and more and more like bears, scrambling up the field of rocks on all fours, sweating, stomachs growling. (below is Caterina-one of my hiking comarades with a beautiful name) 


But of course, it was all worth it, for when we arrived at the summit, the view was stunning. 



Coming down was, in my opinion, much more difficult, and despite my arm flapping balance strategy, I fell 6 times. Also on the way down, yo toque una tarantula! Toque does not mean stomped on, or crushed, or ran away from, or screamed at, or pushed off the cliff; rather, it means touched. When we were about half an hour from base camp, somebody spotted this little guy (later named Carlos), and after much convincing on Ceasar’s part, the tarantula was passed around several pairs of hands. It’s hard to say who was more scared, us or Carlos. Here’s a photo of Ceasar and Carlos when they were first getting acquainted. 


Here are my hiking companions!! IMG_0640

And here's what La Campana looks like from the base camp. 


The bus ride back was quite, as most us were either eating fruit and cookies or sleeping. When I returned home, the house was empty, and my dinner was waiting patiently for me on the table. Turns out my family had gone out for “once” at a nearby cafe, and so instead of eating alone, I had a skype dinner date with my mother and brother in the United States. Over my chicken, rice and salad, I got to listen to my brother’s first week of high school experiences and hear about my mother’s week of work; it was almost like I was back in my living room, eating dinner with them in Wisconsin. I always miss them most after our weekly skype session, but it’s an experience I’m extremely grateful for. Needless to say, I slept well that night. Yet another great day in Chile :) 



Las Montañas

“Time flies in the mountains”

"I cannot believe I have been here for over a month!" I have read this over and over again in blogs but did not fully realize how living abroad could make time fly. And now here I am finding no better phrase to express how I am feeling. So of course here it is…"I cannot believe I have been here for over a month!" On one hand it feels like I just got here yesterday and everything is still new. Every day I find myself learning something different about the city, people or the language. On the other hand it feels like I’ve lived here for forever!

Living life as a city girl has been thrilling! I know it’s no New York City but it’s a new, exciting feeling to leave my apartment each morning and walk to school among businessman, loud buses and taxis, and pass by the pushy street vendors selling hot churros. It gives me a new feeling of independence, which I really like.

 City life is fun and upbeat but there is also something so soothing about being in the mountains....

 Two weekends ago my host mom told me we were taking a day trip “to the snow”. Since we don’t have a car my host mom reserved seats through a carpool service. On Saturday morning my brother, sister, mom and I left our apartment at 7 am and met up with a few other families before we piled into two vans, ready to head to the mountains! We drove for about three hours before we stopped and pulled over on the side of the road.  I was thinking there was something wrong with the van but then my mom turned around and told me we couldn’t continue driving on the road because there was snow blocking it. Before heading home we drove to Santuario de Auco, the home of Chile’s first saint, Saint Teresa de los Andes. We were all tired so we just walked around the church and explored a few of the exhibits before heading home. Here is a picture of me and my two siblings outside the church. 


Our mountain trip was rescheduled for the following Saturday. So again we all pilled into the vans and headed for the mountains. This time we were able to make it the full 5 hours to Portillo. The drive up was beautiful, especially the last hour where we were completely surrounded by mountains. We slowly winded up and around each new mountain until we finally reached our destination of Portillo! Portillo is known for its skiing but we just spent the day hanging out, having snow ball fights, drinking hot tea, and of course enjoying the absolutely incredible views of the Andes! Here is a picture I took from the car ride up as well as a picture of the beautiful Andes.

Photo 1-6
Photo 2-6

Speaking of incredible views, this past weekend I was able to see the Andes from a different point. On Sunday a group of nine from the CIEE program traveled to Parque Nacional La Campana and hiked the, 1,880 m (6,168 ft), Cerro La Campana mountain.  Fun fact: Charles Darwin hiked this mountain in 1834. Here is a picture of his plaque with a few words he wrote about the hike!


 The first three hours of the hike were long and monotonous with a pretty steady incline. Then we got to the “fun stuff”. The next two hours of the hike were spent scrambling up rocks like billy goats, tough stuff! I remember I kept looking up the mountain and thinking is there really a top? It felt like we were climbing forever…. but at last we reached the summit and boy was it worth the climb! From the top all you could see were mountains, on mountains, on mountains, including a wonderful view of the Andes in the distance. It was definitely an “I feel on top of the world!” kindof moment. Once we ate lunch and took photos of every spectacular vista imaginable, we started our three hour descent down the mountain. After one too many slips stumbling down the mountain, we were all relieved when we reached the bottom. Here are a couple of pictures that only come close to capturing the unbelievable views from the top!


The mountains are incredible but next week I plan on staying put in the city. Next week are Chile's independence day celebrations, Las Fiestas Patrias and I am more than excited to experience the explosion of Chilean culture all week long! 

Ciao for now!


Universidad Vina del Mar

In honor of my brother’s first day of high school, this blog post will be centered around classes, classes, classes. (Good luck Karl!) 

 My first class starts at 8:20am sharp every Monday morning. Well, maybe not sharp, as punctuality is not of great importance here, but nonetheless it is an early beginning to a full week. And it’s Gramatica. Fortunately my teacher is a young Chilean woman with a glowing energy and a genuine interest in teaching us what we need to know to survive here grammatically wise, so it’s not hard to stay awake and focused. We’ve reviewed (and in some cases learned) the basics of Spanish grammar such as present conjugations, agreement, ser vs estar, and other similar topics thus far, but we’ve also learned some Chilean grammar “rules.” For instance, a Spanish student in the US would say, “Cuantos anos tienes?” but here, you hear, “Cuantos anos teni?” There’s even a Chilean author who, in his books, writes the tu form verbs like teni, quieri, vivi etc, because it’s so Chilean. This class meets three times each week, and there are 7 students in it, five from the US and two from Germany. 

 My next class is Cultura, which meets four times a week. Just like our grammar teacher, our Cultura teacher speaks to us only in Spanish unless we’re specifically asking for a word translation. The first week we learned different adjectives to describe people, and then we used them to describe the differences between Chileans and people from the US (you don’t say Americans here because Chileans are Americans too). One day we had a debate over whether the street art in Valparaiso should be considered art or if it’s actually graffiti and vandalism, and all of us students have given a ten minute presentation on a city somewhere in the country. I gave my presentation on Pucon, which is a tiny, tourism centered, adventure town about 10 hours south of here. It’s on my list of places to go, the main attractions being an active volcano you can trek up, more hotsprings than there are colleges in Boston (although I’m not sure if I believe that or not..), horseback riding, and white water rafting. 

 Ortofonia just started up this week (and today was my first day!). My teacher, Pedro,(yep, that’s his name-I can’t say it properly..yet..) is hilarious, and he studied in France for a semester, so he understands personally our struggle with pronunciation. Today we repeated words after him, individually and as a group, and there was already plenty of laughter among us. One girl is from Texas, so imagine her accent! Plus, over half the class is German, so there were a couple of times when I found myself repeating the words with their accent rather than the correct Chilean way. Oops! Phonetics is something we use everyday, but never think about (or at least I hadn’t until today), and I can already tell that this class is going to make a world of a difference for me. For a taste of our class, put your hand flat upon the top of your head. Then say “eeeeee” and then “eehhhhh.” You’ll probably notice that during the first noise, you can feel a sort of vibration. Interesting, huh?

 Once a week, I have another culture class that’s taught through CIEE. We meet at their office rather than the university (which isn’t too bad considering there’s always free coffee, tea and cookies available), and only the GAP students are part of it. Sometimes we speak english, sometimes we speak Spanish, but most often we use both, mixing the two even within sentences; that’s my favorite. This class is all over the place, but not in a bad way. We have three different teachers and tons of different topics that are all being taught at the same time, but it means we get quite the variety. We’ve talked about names, cultural differences, traditions, learning styles, and yesterday we went on a field trip to a dark room studio in Valparaiso. We got to develop a photo, and afterwards we went out for a delicious (and free) meal. Yum! 

 I have another class that’s only for us Gap kids that is taught on Thursdays by a psychologist. Throughout the semester, we’re going to be talking about the education system, what life is like for children and adults with disabilities here, and the orphanage system. It’s a really long class, but I think once we get more into the information, it’ll be interesting and worth the time. Here there is a law that allows families to choose where they send their children to school (instead of school districts). However, because there are certain schools that receive more applications that they can accept, the reality is that the schools get to pick their students too. Public education is free; private is not, and schools can see how much money families make. Thus what tends to happen is those who can pay go to the best schools in the area, and the rest usually go to the school that’s closest. There’s a lot of unrest about education in Chile right now, and I’m interested in learning more about what individual students and parents think. 

 So there you have the basics of my education here in Chile. It’s more work than I was expecting coming into the program, but usually there’s less homework than an average college class would give. I’ve also signed up for two things called tallers, which are similar to classes but less intense. One is about general politics and the other is a book binding class. These specific tallers last for one month, meet in a community park in Valparaiso, and instead of straight up paying for them, each student brings some sort of nonperishable food to exchange. I’m excited and nervous, as they will be my first and only classes with Chileans thus far. I hope I can understand enough to get by! 

Also: Today one of my host cats, the one that helped me eat breakfast in the morning, enjoyed the comforts of my clothing drawer, and never ceased to find the smallest things in life entertaining, was hit by a car outside our house. She died on the spot. Rest in peace little Mancha, mi manchita. However, with today’s sorrow came joy as well, as we welcomed a new baby into the world, the daughter of my host brother’s friend. Welcome to Chile, Ailenen. I hope you love it here as well. 



“Traditions, traditions. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as... as... as a fiddler on the roof!” Tevye (Fiddler on the Roof)

On Friday the 23rd we went on a field trip to a flower farm in Rabuco. All we were told was the point of the fieldtrip was to experience and learn about some of Chile’s traditional activities, to wear comfortable clothing, and bring a big appetite! 

At 8:30 am we, meaning the gap year students plus all the college students studying in Chile with CIEE, met at 4 Norte and 1 Oriente and boarded a bus to Rabuco! One of my favorite things about Chile is how quickly the landscape changes. One minute you’re looking into the Pacific Ocean and then a short bus ride, an hour or so, you’re surrounded by beautiful mountains and green farm land as far as the eye can see. Here is a picture of the beautiful but crowded city I’m living in, Viña del Mar, versus a picture I took at the flower farm only about an hour away, where there is not one house in sight! 

Photo-1 Photo

Once we arrived we were divided into groups to start different activities. The gap group plus a few others started in the kitchen, where we learned how to make sopapillas! Sopapillas are a traditional Chilean fried pastry made with squash, flour, oil, and water. Super simple but super delicious! Sopapillas can be made either sweet or savory based on the topping. Our choices were a salsa-like topping with tomatoes and cilantro or just plain powdered sugar! We all of course had both! 


After we had about 10 warm, delicious sopapillas (they are so addictive), we went over to make mandelas also known as god’s eye. This is an art craft that requires at least two sticks and colorful yarn. Basically you take yarn and wrap it around the sticks in a circular direction going from stick to stick so the yarn surrounds the sticks and makes a pretty pattern (it is a lot easier to just show what to do rather than trying to explain it through words….both in English and Spanish!) You can use different colors and wrap the yarn in different ways to make it look the way you want it, but the most important thing is to make sure you wrap the string tight, otherwise the string will just fall off the sticks, as some of us learned the hard way! Here is a picture that shows some of the different patterns you can create! 


I then walked around the farm and saw the flowers that they grow for various special events. I saw some of the animals on the farm including a rooster, goats, and horses including a baby foal. We also ran into some puppies that were about 8 weeks old and I got to hold one. She was the most precious thing! 

Photo 1 Photo 2

After that, lunch was served! The Chilean’s main meal is lunch it’s the equivalent to American’s dinner meal. Personally I like having the bigger meal in the middle of the day because it gives my body time to digest. For lunch we ate rice, chicken (from the farm), and lots of vegetables, corn, tomatoes, lettuce, potatoes, and of course avocados, another thing I love about Chile, there are so many avocados! At lunch there was also freshly juiced banana-orange and pear juice. They both were really delicious but I definitely preferred the banana-orange juice, yum!

After lunch some people played soccer and some flew kites, another popular activity in Chile. I was told it’s especially popular during the independence week in September, where there are competitions and various games using them!  We then played a relay game. There were about 6 different stations with tasks that your team needed to complete in order to get points. One station had a bean bag jump, and another where your team needed to stand in a circle holding hands and pass a hula-hoop around the circle. I don’t think it had anything to do with Chilean culture but it was still a lot of fun!

We then watched a couple dance the cueca, which is Chile’s national dance. The couple preformed three different versions of the dance. And then we were all taught the dance! The dance is predominately preformed with the feet and there is not that much contact between partners. It almost looks like a game of tag where the man is "it", trying to tag the woman who is "running" away. It was a fun time but definitely a lot harder than it looks, a lot of spinning and different combinations with your feet. Here is a picture of what the classic attire is for the dance, as well as a still shot of what the dance looks like in action! 


By the time we finished dancing the sun was starting to set and it was getting cold, fast, as it normally does in the mountains. We thanked and said goodbye to our hosts and boarded the bus back to Viña.

It was fun to spend a day learning about different Chilean traditions, especially in a culture where tradition is so greatly valued.

Ciao for now! 

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