The ultimate paradox of being an exchange student is that while you’re growing up, maturing faster than you ever knew was possible, and becoming independent in countless aspects, you’re simultaneously reverting back to being a child in others. For me, this is especially true in the world of communication. There’s so much I’ve learned, I’ve experienced, I’ve witnessed, that I want to share and to express, but alas I can barely speak and understand at a five year old’s level. However, fortunately for me, I am not alone here. It takes a village to raise a child as they say, and five year old me has exactly that here to help me along the road. Welcome to my village!
Really, I have the most attractive friends. We spend a lot of time together, relaxing, grunting, occasionally flopping into the ocean, and the best part is, we understand eachother flawlessly; there's none of this language barrier nonesense. I'm hoping when summer finally comes (because it IS coming), I'll see these guys even more.
Up next: My family. My mother, Monica, is in every way a mother to me. For example, yesterday was a long day, a tiring day, and a day where I felt as if my level of Spanish was going nowhere (a universal experience when learning another language), and when I finally got home, I was low on energy and self confidence. She immediately noticed something was wrong, so she sat me down in the kitchen, made me some hot tea with lemon, and gave me a mother talk. At the end, she concluded with the promise that as my mother, she is here to support me in times of difficulty, to celebrate with me in times of success, to listen to me when I need to talk, and to love me throughout the entire wild ride that we call life. I love her. She's also one of the strongest women I know, and despite everything she’s been through and going through now, she still maintains a practically flawless, cheerful disposition, one like which I aspire to have one day. She works in the nearby city of Concon doing some sort of complicated paper work for the oil refinery, but she's usually home for lunch which I really like. Four reasons this photo is perfect: 1. It's family love, mother and daughter. 2. We're in her bed. That's something that's completely normal here that I was not used to when I first arrived. Chileans spend a lot of time in their bed rooms, particularly in the bed of their parents, and when company comes over, there's no shame in inviting them into the bedroom as well. 3. FOOD. Siempre comida. We are always eating here, and I'm super excited because it's strawberry season. My mom has promised me I'm going to be sick of them; ha, let her try! 4. I'm wearing her scarf. My mom in the US and I share scarves, and my mother and I in Chile share scarves (although I have less to offer in return here..). What's mine is yours, what's yours is mine. We really do live like a family.
My sister’s name is Catalina, but we all call her Cata. She’s fifteen, and in many ways reminds me of my brother back home: wise beyond her years, smarter than most her age, passionate about reading, introverted, and my best friend in Chile. If it wasn’t for her...gosh I can’t even imagine. Especially in the first couple of days, and even now, her infinite patience with me is incredible, and I can always count on her to help me with everything from the daily language struggles to my lack of suitable footwear. We watch movies, cook unusual foods together, wander around the city, have really slow but wonderful conversations, and basically live the sibling life. There have been multiple nights where Cata, some tea, the cookie jar and I have our own little party. Also, she LOVES cats. Today we had a snow fight with those fascinatingly horrible packaging peanuts; I haven’t cleaned my room since so every time I enter, squuiiiish.
Currently her hair is what we've described as sandwhich purple, because the top of her head is quite purple as are the tips, but the middle section is lacking sufficient dye. She's a confident one (normal is boring she once explained), and I love her smile and style.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted an older brother. Here in Chile, I have just that. His name is Christian, and he is 24 years old, studying to become a veterinarian, living at home (which is the normal here for many college students), used to have crazy hair, and is definitely is brother like. There’s this game we have in which one person makes the okay hand symbol and if the other person sees it, they get punched. There are a couple other rules, but they’re not worth explaining. I’ve spent several nights hanging out with him and his friends, and when we go out, he’s an excellent protective brother. He, like Cata, knows a solid amount of english and is helpful when I’m searching for a word, but unlike Cata, he prefers to not slow down his rapid spew of Spanish or enunciate his words more than necessary, which is both annoying and helpful at the same time (although probably more helpful in the long run).
This photo was taken during our make shift band concert. It's very, very Christian, especially the look he was giving me when I snapped the photo.
Beyond my immediate family, there’s my extended family. I’ve made empanadas with my abuela, discussed Chilean politics with one of my uncles, ate ice cream with my twin cousins, gone out with my second cousin, and just this past week, I met the ENTIRE extended family. They’re all incredibly welcoming people, and despite my low level of spanish, they were excited to talk with me and interact with me. They also have officially all invited me back to their houses whenever I want, which is something I hope to take advantage of in the future, as I would love to get to know them more and perhaps go surfing! Really, they’re great.
These are ALL my cousins here (and me!)
This is one of my casi primos (literal translate almost cousin, aka second cousin). He stopped by one afternoon for a scrumptious salmon meal and a little bit of live music. (He's studying theater and works as a chef)
Another relationship in which language barriers don't exist. We got along wonderfully! Although playing with him reminded me of my little cousins back in the states who are probably growing up awfully fast while I'm here..
Then there’s my running family, mi equipo. Through a series of connections and emails, I found a group of runners, most of which are university age, that meet several times a week to train. It’s an extremely relaxed atmosphere which I like, and I enjoy being the gringa of the team. Plus, they are wonderful, WONDERFUL people. They’ve welcomed me into their community, and helped me along step by step, occasionally explaining the workout four or five times or coming to pick me up from the metro station so I don’t get lost. We’ve ran one race together, and I got to wear a Nike Chile Run jersey! They also were the first to introduce me to terremotos (the drink named after earthquakes and for a good reason), completos (low quality hot dogs with tons of tomatoes, onions, avocado, mayo and ketchup), and drinking jenga. Joining the team is definitely the best decision I’ve made here thus far.
Those who run together...
PARTY together :)
One of the benefits about going abroad through a program like CIEE is the connection and support that comes along with it. There are seven of us GAP kids, and I think that although we all have different personalities and backgrounds, we all have something bigger in common; it takes a certain type of person to partake in an adventure like this. It’s comforting to have friends who are going through similar situations, and we all have eachother when we need a cheering up or a second opinion on culture bizarreness. Then there are the 40+ CIEE college kids who, although are studying at a different university here, are still very much part of my village. In addition to being friendly people, they are more than willing to share their insight on both living independently and traveling independently that they’ve gained in their years of college. And of course, the organization CIEE itself has its own assets. We have group excursions (like the Campana hike or photography studio), cookies and coffee in a comforting and always inviting office/study/library/computer room/balcony space, and a web support from the people who work there.
Some GAP friends in La Serena! Hazel (one of the sweetest people you'll ever meet). Tommy (hilarious and guaranteed to tell you exactly what he is thinking). Maggie (always willing to share her amazing adventures and down for everything)
Other GAP friends at La Campana! Elena (definitely the mother of the group, responsible, caring, and prepared for whatever comes her way). Anna (our friendly, giggling friend who almost always has her mate drink). And me.
More GAP! (photo credit-Maggie) Simon (a true lover of adventure and everything climbing) And the boy climbing, Andrew, is a gap year student as well, just not through CIEE.
This is Nicolas, one of the college CIEE kids who also happens to practically be my neighbor. He took my backpack on it's first adventure in South America last week when he went to Machu Picchu, and this weekend, I'll be wearing his hat. It's nice to have someone who's got your back (and a converter) when you need it.
Gloria! One of the people who works at the CIEE office. We've spent a lot of time together recently trying to set up one of my volunteer projects, and throughout the process, I've learned a couple of fun spanish phrases. Saca la mochila de tu cabeza (get rid of the backpack in your head) means more or less, don't worry, throw away your troubles!
So if I’m not only studying with other gap students, and I’m obviously not in basic spanish classes with Chileans, who then are my classmates? Even more intercambios! (exchange students). In my class, there are six Americans and four students from Germany, but at UVM, there are also students from France, Austria, Mexico, and Spain. I definitely have not met them all, but everybody who I have talked to has been great, and I've made some very close friends.
This is from when we went to Santiago, and it was on this trip that Maggie and I met two Spanish boys who we later cooked scones with.
(photo credit-Hannah) This is Dana, one of my best friends in Chile. We spend every Tuesday together, usually exploring Valparaiso. She has an incredible sense of curiosity that has gotten us into some cool situations and places. We're on opposite ends of the college spectrum (she having just graduated, and me having yet to start), but we get along really well, and I'm excited to see where else our adventures will take us!
Edvin and I in Santiago. He is from Finland, studying medicine there, really enjoying surfing here, and is my Tuesday morning hill concuring buddy. We speak in English together, and through our conversations, I've learned a lot about Finnish culture. Moose burgers are a thing.
The best thing about Chile, in my opinion, are the Chileans. Every day, on my way to school, the metro man smiles and waves to me (he works in the booth where you can charge more money onto your card). The friendly elderly couple who owns the used book store on the main street in Vina know me by name and always have suggestions for what should be my next piece of classic literature (for those under the age of 10...). Dana and I discovered one of the only libraries within miles after the woman sitting next to us at a concert started up a conversation with us, and another time we met a student from Santiago who was working on his PhD here when we joined us for a casual (and delicious) Indian style lunch. I met two students at a bar the first week I was here, and they’ve taken me out a couple of times since, introducing my friend and I to the best local bars and their friends as well. People here know how to make you feel welcome, and these are only a few of the examples of how Chileans have gone out of their way to introduce me to their culture, help me with the foreign language, and even just make me smile.
Angelo, Sebastian and I on one of our bar excursions. Amen for their patience in conversation...
And then of course there’s everybody back home in the United States. I may be the furthest I’ve even been from home, but that doesn’t stop the incredible amount of love and support I’ve received. I love getting updates about how the college experience is treating my friends, and the occasional hi, hope you’re doing well letter makes my day every time. Because speaking English is not something I should be doing all that often, I don’t get to talk to family and friends as much as I would like, but I treasure every opportunity I get. There are little things here that remind me of people and places back in the US, and I love that. Words like gunwale, places like sand dunes, activites like push ups, drinks like mate. To me, one of the most essential parts of traveling is having a home to eventually return to; it's what separates a viaje, an adventure, from just wandering.
My family in the US. Oh how I love them. It's hard sometimes, especially to not be there for your brother's first day of high school, or your mother's birthday, and I miss our family dinner time when we shared our day to day experiences, but they have been amazingly supportive nonetheless. We get to skype every Sunday, and for that, I am hugely greatful.
Finally, there’s Uri (remember him?). We’re still pals. Yes I’ve had to drag myself out of my cozy bed to let him inside or outside and other times we’ve fought over who gets the best spot on the couch, but I must admit, I love being greeted by his ecstatic bouncing when I’m coming home. Also, a little update on that metaphor I mentioned oh so long ago about the dog circling around before laying down.
Today is the start of month number three (I can’t believe it either...!). Although there are still new surprises every day, I am much more familiar with my surroundings than when I first arrived (duh), and I’ve started to establish a bit of a routine. However, I definitely don’t feel ready to lay down. I’m too stubborn to admit that I’m experiencing culture shock (and in all honesty I don’t think it’s quite that level), but this week was a bit more rough. It was week three of this annoying, and seemingly endless cold, and because it gets worse before it gets better, I’ve spent several nights coughing instead of sleeping (trust me, sleep is essential when you’re living somewhere where you don’t speak the language). I also was forced to learn an important lesson this week. One of the reasons I took this gap year was to learn how to disfruitar (relax), but fun fact, no matter where you go in the world, time is the same, and it’s just as elusive. But I survived of course (much thanks to my village :) ), and although there will still be times of trouble in my future, at least I’m this much stronger and more prepared. So, I’m still sniffing my newish home out, loving almost every minute of it, and looking forward to my trip this weekend to the DRIEST DESERT in the world!
And there you have it, my village. I've learned you should never underestimate the influence you have in other people's lives, and I owe much of my happiness to these people. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And thanks for reading!