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Gap Year Abroad

23 posts categorized "Elena Palermo"



“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” Eleanor Roosevelt 

Last week a bunch of gap students and I took a trip south to Pucón! Before we left I researched a little bit about the place and found it was known for having of different activities such as whitewater rafting, caving, zip lining, hot springs and more- activities that I had never done before! I love trying new things, especially activities that involve being outside and especially, especially activities that involve water!  So I knew I was going to love this trip!

These new activities brought up old memories and experiences that are near and dear to my heart. It was weird how these completely new experiences somehow felt so comfortable….

Travel frequently involves unanticipated situations and this trip was no different; the unexpectedness just happened to come VERY early on in the trip.

Maggie, Tommy, Anna and I arrived at the Viña bus station at 8:45pm for our 9:00pm overnight bus, but when we got there, there were two things missing. Andrew…and all of our bus tickets. We called Andrew who actually was at Valparaíso bus station. So after we laughed, cried and freaked out all at the same time we pulled ourselves together, got our luggage and sprinted to the metro, took the metro to Valparaíso then sprinted to the bus station. We got really lucky because the bus ended up leaving 20 minutes late so we were able to catch the bus right in time. But it was a little more excitement then we wanted. 

After a 10 hour bus ride overnight we arrived in the beautiful town of Pucón! We got off the bus, found our hostel, checked in, and decided to go out and explore the town! It was raining on and off so we dashed in and out of stores and when there was a break in the rain we walked around admiring the beautiful landscape of the mountains covered in clouds. I could feel myself glowing because the area reminded me of my favorite place in the world, Lake George. Every year my family goes camping in upstate New York on this beautiful lake, surrounded by the Adirondack Mountains, with campsites only accessible by boat. Lake George is such a special place to me so being able to make that connection was comforting. 

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The group minus Maggie, plus an adorable dog that we met

We found an amazing organic foods restaurant where we had lunch. I haven’t found organic restaurants in Viña and I really don’t go out to eat much so this was an absolute treat! I had an amazing lemonade, mint, ginger juice. When I tasted the juice I immediately thought of this juice my mom and I get at a juice bar in Maryland. I also ordered something that I had been craving, a nice big salad. Chileans really aren’t into just having a big salad for a meal. It was an absolutely delicious meal and we all left feeling very happy and content! 

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Ensalada (salad) 


After lunch we headed back to the hostel. Our hostel was perfect because not only were they really informative about activities but any time we wanted to book something we would just tell one of the workers at the hostel and they easily would call up a service for us. 

That afternoon we decided to go horseback riding. A van picked us up from our hostel and we drove about 20 minutes. When we arrived we got matched up with our horses, (mine was named Canela aka Cinnamon) and then started our trek up the windy roads of rural Pucón. 

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We eventually arrived to a path in the forest and while we let the horses rest, one of our guides, Rafael, took us down this steep, slippery, path to a beautiful waterfall! Like Luis from San Pedro, Rafael has had a lot of life experience. As we were walking up from the waterfall he was telling us about his experience in 1971 when the volcano Villarica erupted. He remembers his dad waking him and his eight siblings up in the middle of the night and running as fast as he could out of the house away from the lava. Pretty intense! I love meeting and talking to new people so it was really interesting talking to him and learning a little bit about his life. 


Cascada! (waterfall) 1465187_10203134230141737_280852001_n

When we got back to the hostel we had about an hour to relax before another van picked us up and took us to the hot springs. One of the workers at the hostel told us the best time to go to the hot springs is at night so you can relax in the springs while enjoying a gorgeous view of the stars and she was totally right. There were lots of choices because each bath had a different temperature but because it was freezing outside so they all felt really warm and delicious. It’s hard to compare natural hot springs to a hot tub but this experience brought me back to my elementary and middle school days when my friend’s and I would spend hours hanging out in my friends backyard running from her pool to her hot tub or in the winter lying down in the snow and then jumping in the hot tub as fast as we could… good times. I had never been to any natural hot springs before it was really wonderful and healing, and I can definitely say I want to go back…very soon!

The next morning we took our time waking up and decided we all wanted to go whitewater rafting. It was rainy again so we were a little hesitant at first but we all agreed we didn’t want the weather to stop us.  We got picked up from our hostel and drove to a place to get wetsuits and shoes. This was my second time in a wetsuit, my first being 2 weeks ago when I went surfing for the first time with my volunteer program Adapta. Even though getting the suit on is a bit of a process it’s pretty cool being able to swim in freezing cold water. Anything that allows me to spend more time in the water I like! We then drove to the Liucura River, which is where we would start our rafting adventure, and then move into the Trancura River. Rafting was really cold but so fun! I had never gone rafting before but it did, however, remind me of the times my dad and I would take our canoe out in the spring and summer and paddle down the Potomac River. Love and miss that good old father/daughter time.

The sun wasn’t out so it was very very cold but there was something so refreshing about floating down the river and inhaling the crisp air while looking up and being surrounded by mountains whose peaks were covered in a light blanket of clouds. When there was a break in the rapids one of guides turned  to us and said “okay who wants to jump in?” At first we all looked at him like he was crazy but the next thing I knew Andrew was doing a backflip off the raft into the water. In that moment I thought “why not?” so there I was jumping off the raft too! It was freezing cold but exhilarating so definitely worth it. All in all rafting was thrilling and the fact that our guide was yelling out the different commands at us in Spanish just added a whole other level of enjoyment! 

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The next day was another day filled with firsts! We went to the Parque Nacional Villarrica, where the big volcano, Villarrica, is located.  We saw some pretty incredible views of the volcano but also of the lakes surrounding the towns of Villarica and Pucón, before meeting up with our guide, Soledad, to go caving aka spelunking. I had never done anything like this before so I had nothing to compare it to, but the fact that we went caving in a volcano made it ten times cooler. We walked along a lighted path examining the different rock formations and talking about volcanic minerals. At the end of the path, Soledad flipped a switch that turned off the lights in the cave and we were left in complete darkness. I put my hand up to my face, and I could not see absolutely anything. Even though it was a bit off-putting there was also something really relaxing. To be able to take a moment in complete darkness and just be with you and only you was a great moment of centering. 577500_10203134233901831_192425157_n




Cueva Chocolate! 

After lunch we all decided to go canopying or zip lining, yet another first for me! We arrived to the course and our guides very quickly got us suited up and explained the rules. We then proceeded through this zip lining course in this forest, crossing a beautiful river. The course itself wasn’t anything spectacular but it was still really cool to try zip lining and I was impressed by our three guides who had a fast, efficient system, unclipping and clipping each one of us as we went through the forest.  They were all really friendly and you could tell they really enjoyed their jobs so it was fun to chat and crack jokes with them.



After that we headed back to the hostel and enjoyed the rest of the beautiful day in the backyard, reading, talking, drinking tea and playing with the enormous dog, Tomas, at the hostel. I’m not kidding; he is a bear! 


The next morning we woke up pretty early, packed up, made some lunch for the day and set out to find the bus station where we caught a local bus which took us to Parque Nacional Huerquehue….yeah I still really can’t pronounce the name. We went on a lovely, long hike up a mountain, veering off the path a couple times to go see some pretty waterfalls, until we finally arrived at “Laguna Verde”, a beautiful lake on top of a mountain. We hung out for a while, having lunch and basking in the sun before heading back down the mountain to catch the bus back to Pucón. 


Note the snow capped mountains in the distance! 





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Laguna Verde

Once we got back to our hostel, we quickly showered, gathered up our stuff and made our way to the bus station to catch our 7:30pm overnight bus back to Viña. Luckily there were no problems on this end of the transportation.

All in all, it was a trip of first which brought up memories of activities in beautiful, relaxing natural settings. 

Ciao for now! 



"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart." Nelson Mandela

Every week my grammar teacher has us write 20 lines on a free topic. I think the idea behind the assignment is to incorporate what we have learned in a conversational, realistic way. This week I deicided to write about learning to communicate while living abroad.

Here is what I wrote in Spanish and then below translated into English!

En español:

Una gran razón por la que vine a Chile fue para aprender español. Antes de que llegue a chile estudié español en mi escuela secundaria, pero como me di cuenta muy temprano estudiar y vivir son muy diferentes! Las primeras semanas eran muy difíciles. Tratando de comunicarme con los ciudadanos, mi familia y mis profesores era mucho! Pero mi familia ha tenido otros dos estudiantes de intercambio antes de mi entonces eran muy pacientes y compresivos! Muchas semanas más tarde mi español ha mejorado mucho! Puedo entender la mayoría, si no a todos mis profesores y mi familia están hablando durante clase y cena. Mi tiempo favorito es cuando mi familia y yo hemos terminado la cena y mi hermano va a su dormitorio a hacer tarea o jugar videojuegos y mi mamá, hermana y yo nos sentamos en la mesa tomamos té y hablamos! ¡Charla de chicas! He aprendido mucho español y cosas diferentes sobre las vidas de mi mama y mi hermana.

Bueno, los chilenos hablan muy rápido! Y tienen muchos chilenismos que hacen muy difícil entender a veces. Hay veces durante cena o pasando tiempo con amigos o cuando estoy en la playa o en el metro cuando no entiendo nada y es muy frustrante.

También conocer chilenos no ha sido fácil. Solo tengo clases en el campus del centro de idiomas, que es diferente al campus principal entonces nunca veo chilenos en la escuela. Pero por hermanos de mis amigos y otros conecciones he conocido a chilenos muy simpáticos y me he divertido mucho pasando tiempo con ellos!

Un día mi amiga Anna y yo estábamos pasando en la playa con nuestros amigos chilenos y jugábamos un juego donde anna y yo decíamos una palabra en español y los chilenos tenían que decir esa palabra en inglés y los chilenos tenían que decir una palabra en ingles y Anna y yo teníamos que decir esa palabra en español. Aprendí mucho vocabulario, por ejemplo “balbucear” que significa “to mumble”!

También hay veces cuando estamos con los chilenos y comienzan a hablar muy rápido y no tenemos idea de lo que están hablando. Entonces Anna y yo decimos que “podemos hablar muy rápido también” y comenzamos a hablar muy rápido en inglés pero los chilenos son mucho mejores hablando muy rápido! Hay días que son muy frustrantes pero…vale la pena! Cuando estoy en la clase de yoga y entiendo a mi profesora, Carolina, sin mirar a la persona a mi lado. O en la piscina cuando puedo explicarles a los niños como flotar y no me miran como si estuviera loca! O durante cena cuando puedo reír con mi familia y contribuir a la conversación. Estas son las cosas que me motivan para contiuar a practicar y aprender mi español!


In English:

One of the main reasons why I came to Chile was to learn Spanish. Before coming to Chile I had studied Spanish in high school, but I realized very early on that studying Spanish and living in a Spanish speaking country are two very different things! The first few weeks were pretty difficult. Trying to communicate with the people in the city, my family and teachers was overwhelming! But my family has had two other exchange students before me, so they were very patient and understanding! A couple months have passed and my Spanish has improved a lot! I can understand most, if not all of what my teachers and family are talking about during class and dinner!

My favorite time at home is when my family has finished dinner and my brother goes off to his room to do homework or play video games and my mom, sister and I sit at the table, drink tea, and talk. Girl Talk! I can definitely say I’ve learned a lot of new Spanish vocab, some useful…. and some not so much… but during this time I also love to listen and learn about what goes on in my mom and sister’s lives.

In general Chileans speak very fast and they have many Chilenismos (slang expressions that only Chileans use) that sometimes make it very difficult to understand. Of course there are times during dinner or hanging out with Chilean friends or when I’m in public at the beach or on the subway when I just do not understand anything because it’s too fast or there are a bunch of words I don’t know and that can get frustrating.

Meeting Chileans also hasn’t been that easy. I only have classes at the language center campus, which is different from the main campus and so I never really see any Chileans at school. But through siblings of my friends and other connections I’ve met some really nice, fun friends who I love hanging out with!

One day when we were all just hanging out at the beach we played this game where Anna and I would saying a word in Spanish and the Chileans had to say that word in English and then the Chileans had to say a word in English and Anna and I had to say that word in Spanish. Sounds more complicated then it is but it was a lot of fun and I learned a lot of vocab. For example the word "balbucear" means "to mumble"!

There are also times when we are all hanging out and the Chileans start talking really fast and we have no idea what they are talking about. When this happens Anna and I usually turn to the Chileans and say "we can talk very fast too" and start talking really fast in English but it just isn’t really the same. The Chileans are for sure much better at talking really really fast!

I do have those days when I get really frustrated because I don’t think my Spanish is improving and I feel like I don’t understand anyone. But I know the frustration is worth it when I’m in yoga class and can understand my teacher, Carolina, is saying without looking at the person next to me. Or when I’m at the pool and I explain to the kids how to float and they don’t look at me like I’m some crazy foreigner! Or for dinner when I can laugh along with my family and actually contribute to the conversation and not just sit there awkwardly smiling. These are the things that motivate me to continue to practice and learn Spanish!

Ciao for now! 


La Serena

"I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list." - Susan Sontag

Thursday was a feriado (holiday) so Anna and I decided to take a trip to La Serena, about 6 hours by bus north of Viña.

Wednesday evening I went to the pool and worked with the exuberant 6-8 year olds on backstroke! Each week volunteering is getting easier because each week my Spanish is getting better, so communicating and keeping the kids engaged in the pool is not as much of a struggle as when I first started. After that I had a challenging workout with the team running through a pyramid of different sprints. During one of our breaks I was talking with some of the guys in Spanish, asking basicquestions like what theirfavorite strokes are or when they started swimming, when one guy, Max, turned to me and in English asked “So what state in the US do you live in?” Kind of shocked, I responded “Washington DC”, to which he then replied “Oh I lived in Georgia for 4 years.” I laughed and replied, “That’s really cool but how come you are just telling me this now!? I had no idea you spoke English!” We continued talking in Spanglish, and he told me that he actually started swimming in the States and how it is a lot more intense there and that here there are a lot fewer options as far as teams. It was really interesting talking with him and hearing about his comparison between his swimming experience in the two countries. Of course I still cannot believe that he didn’t tell me before that he knew English, but maybe I should just take that as proof my Spanish communication skills are improving! I left the pool as I always do feeling tired yet refreshed.  As I walked down the hill of army base I sneakily snapped a picture of one of the prettiest sunsets I have seen in Viña so far! It was a delightful day in Viña and I looked forward to exploring a new area of the country the next day.


When I got home I had a yummy dinner and then finished up packing. At 11 pm Anna’s dad picked me up from my apartment and drove us to the bus station. We decided to take an overnight bus ride which is pretty typical and pretty easy to book anywhere in Chile. Our bus was a little late which was fine because when we got on the bus we were able to fall asleep right away. We arrived in La Serena at about 6 am on Thursday. In our groggy state we were still able to find a taxi to take us to our hostel. Once we got to our hostel we checked in and slept for a couple hours before going out to explore the town of La Serena! We walked around exploring the different artisanal markets and various shops even though a lot of shops and restaurants were closed because of the holiday. It was an overcast day so we were both craving some soup. We found a restaurant and Anna ordered the cazuela, the traditional Chilean soup with chunks of corn, potato, squash and meat, and I had the sopa de mariscos (seafood soup) which was fabulous, filled with an amazing amount of clams, shrimp, mussels and more! After that we walked around a little more before heading back to the hostel for an early night. 

That evening we were just hanging out when some strong shaking started. Before coming to Chile I was aware that it was an especially susceptible place for earthquakes and so far I have definitely felt around 5-6 small shakes here and there but nothing compared to the one on Thursday. Apparently the 6.6 earthquake was only about 40 miles from La Serena! Everyone was fine but it definitely fit right in with the scary theme of Halloween.

The next day we woke up and took a bus ride to Pisco Elqui, a town located in the Elqui Valley. The bus ride was about two hours passing by various towns including Vincuña and swerving through gorgeous mountains surrounding the valley.


When we arrived at Pisco Elqui, we walked around exploring the small town before picking a restaurant for lunch.  We both enjoyed the menu del día (menu of the day) which was salad, cazuela soup, and bananas with a honey molasses sauce. Throughout our lunch two different musical performances came in and did a quick show for the people eating, which was really wonderful especially because the restaurant was crowded so it took an extra long time for our food to come out. 


A girl at our hostel told us about this little known pisco distillery, 4 kilometers from the town. Pisco is the Chileans’ strong liquor made with the grapes grown in the Valle de Elqui. To make the pisco, the grapes are put through a double distillation process in order to get the strong alcoholic taste.  She told us it was very safe and easy to hitchhike from the main road to Los Nichos, the name of the pisco distillery. So after lunch we started walking along the road towards Los Nichos and sadly nobody stopped to offer us a ride, but it was really for the best because we enjoyed a lovely walk along the valley. 


Unfortunately the last pisco tour was at 4:30 pm, and because we didn’t catch a ride we missed it by about half an hour. We hung around and explored a little and got to listen to the last part of the pisco tour before heading back to the main town. 


Luckily as we were walking back two women were nice enough to pick us up and drive us back to the town, so hitchhiking wasn’t a complete failure. From there we hopped on a bus back to La Serena and enjoyed the bus ride back through the valley as the sun set between the mountains. 


That night we bought some rice and veggies and made ourselves a yummy fried rice dish at the hostel. Unfortunately it was a cloudy night but we still enjoyed the few stars that were out before heading to bed early, exhausted from the day.

The next day we packed up and checked out of our hostel before heading to the bus station and taking the 6 hour bus home to Viña.

Living in a country with such geographic diversity and being able to travel to the desert, campos, the big city of Santiago and now to the valley has been really amazing. And don't forget, I live five minutes from the beach!  Up next I head south to the city of Pucón for some fun volcano hiking, white water rafting, canopying and more!

Ciao for now! 




“Okay, we are different it's true. And I don't like to do all the things that you do. But here's one thing to think through, You're a lot like me and I'm a lot like you!” Robert Alan Silverstein


I came to Chile knowing that there were going to be cultural differences because that is part of going abroad wherever you are in the world! Here is a list of some of the differences between Chilean and US culture that I have noticed. Some I was more or less expecting and others were more of a shock...

  • When walking down the street and you make eye contact with a stranger, there is no form of acknowledgement, including a smile.
  • Lunch is the big meal of the day, not dinner.
  • When at the dinner table and food is served you don’t have to wait for everyone to sit down to start eating.
  • Scheduling and punctuality are not super important.
  • When meeting someone or every time you say hello or goodbye you give a kiss on the cheek. 
  • There are soo many stray dogs in the streets.
  • Restaurants charge for water.
  • And when ordering water at a restaurant you have to specify if it’s “sin”(without) or “con”(with) gas(bubbles). Chileans don’t typically drink a lot of water with meals though.
  • You have to pay to use the bathrooms in public.
  • When in the supermarket line you need to stand very close to the person in front, otherwise someone will come up and stand in front of you. 
  • It is normal for a house to have huge iron gates around it. 
  • They eat soo much bread. 
  • Chileans rarely eat peanut butter.
  • Recycling is just becoming a concept in Chile. There are no recycle bins inside, but on the streets they have huge structures where you can dump your bottles. 
  • The buses or micros have no schedule.
  • They have avocados coming out of their ears.
  • Chilean Spanish is super hard to understand because Chileans use a lot of slang for example “Cachai” which means “get it? or “yanno?” And po, which I still am not exactly sure what it translates to in English but they use it a lot after sí like “sí po”. There are so many more slang words but those are two of the main ones.    
  • Chileans use a lot of salt compared to what I’m used it. A typical salad is lettuce, palta (avocado), lemon juice and then a ton of salt. I’m lucky my host mom doesn’t put the salt on before serving because my family loves their salt!   
  • It is common to live with your parents until you are done with university.
  • Chileans use military time…and even after 3 months I still get confused.
  • Most Chilean families, no matter what their economic status is, will have a maid or nana. I have one, Anita, who comes Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and apart from cleaning the house, she cooks delicious lunches! 
  • There is so much PDA! No matter where you are walking through the park, on the beach, waiting to cross the street, on a micro you can always spot a couple passionately making out right in front of you.
  • The gap between public and private schools here is a lot greater than in the States.
  • Tipping: you do tip your waiter/waitress at a restaurant and you do tip the people who bag your groceries at the grocery store but you do not tip taxi drivers.


I’m sure as I go about my daily life and travel the country, I will continue to see similarities and differences between cultures, but that is one of the things that makes studying abroad so fascinating, educational and eye-opening! 

Ciao for now! 


A Week in the Life

"The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities" Stephen R. Covey 

The weeks here have been flying by, and it’s absolutely crazy to think that I am more than halfway through my time here in Chile! I’ve developed a weekly schedule, which keeps me really busy everyday and I love it.  So here we go, a week in the life: 

Mondays I wake up around 9:30, get ready, leave the apartment, walk to the main street, Libertad, and wait for bus 412 to come. The buses here have no schedule so sometimes I could be waiting 2 minutes and sometimes I could be waiting 10 minutes, you really never know. I flag down the bus, hop on, hand the bus driver my 360 Chilean pesos, (Don’t freak, the conversion from US dollars to Chilean pesos is approximately 1 dollar = 500 Chilean pesos) and find an empty seat on the bus. After about a 20-minute bus ride I arrive at the Paul Harris school, which is where I volunteer as a teacher’s helper in 5-8th grade English classes. I do different things when I’m there. Sometimes the teacher, Ms. Nataly has the volunteers read an excerpt in English as the kids fill in the blanks or work with the kids as they read through their books and pick out words they don’t know, or have trouble pronouncing. Whatever I do I love being there and working with the kids. They all are really sweet and have a lot of energy which makes every day fun and exciting!  

After volunteering I take the bus back to La Moñtana, which is the name of the street my school is on, and go to my first class of the week, “Chilean Culture and Communications”.  So far we have studied the differences between US and Chilean culture and values and different places in Chile, including Viña’s neighbor Valparaiso, the capital, Santiago, and Pucón, which is in the south and where I will be going in November! We have also studied “las Fiestas Patrias”, the Chilean independence week, the history of the mines in Chile, where we watched the movie “Subterra”, and now we are studying famous Chileans, including Isabel Allende, a novelist, Violeta Parra, a famous folklore guitarist and arpilleras (textile art) artist, and of course Pablo Neruda. One day we read one of his famous poems from his “Viente Poemas de Amor y una Canción Desesperada, or “Twenty Love Poems: And a Song of Despair”. In this class there are 3 US students and 3 German students so after we read the poem in Spanish, we then read it once in English, and then once in German! I really love having the German girls in the class because it gives another perspective. So instead of just comparing US customs and cultures, we can compare German, US and Chilean customs and cultures, which makes the class so much more interesting.

After that class I head over to the CIEE office for my CIEE culture class with the six other gap students. This class is centered around Chilean culture. We started talking about the differences between Chilean and US culture and then moved into focusing on different parts of Chilean culture and looking at different ways of expression. We’ve taken a couple of field trips through this class including heading into Valpo to a photography studio where we got to see the process of developing photos in a dark room!

After the CIEE class I usually have about two hours where I either hang out at the CIEE office drinking tea, eating fruit and chatting with the other students hanging out, or I just head home. At 7:30 I walk over to the Saint Dominic school and swim for an hour among the local swimmers. After that I go home and enjoy “once”, or dinner, with my mom, brother and sister.

Tuesday mornings are my day to sleep in! My first class doesn’t start until 12:20 so I wake up, make myself a cup of tea and some oatmeal with honey and banana, (it’s my new fav breakfast here) and then just hang out at home straightening up my room, meditating, or finishing up homework before heading to school.

My first class on Tuesday is my Spanish grammar class, which isn’t necessarily my most interesting class, but totally helps with my progression in Spanish. I have lunch at school and then at 2:00 I have my second class of the day, “Chilean Culture and Communications”. After classes I sometimes head to a park and hang out with friends or head home to work on homework or to relax for a bit.

At 6:30 I head over to one of my favorite places in Viña, the Savittar yoga studio! I absolutely love the time I spend at the yoga studio. My teacher Carolina is amazing and I’m learning a ton of new vocab because the class is taught in Spanish! Also there is something so soothing about having the class taught in Spanish. Even when I don’t completely understand everything, it is still easy to relax and unwind.  

The rest of my night is similar to Monday night. I go home, have “once” with the fam, do some homework and go to sleep. 

Again on Wednesday I am pretty lucky because my first class doesn’t start until 11:00. I wake up, eat breakfast and walk to school for my two classes. Then at 2:00 I head home and enjoy a delicious lunch with my mom and sometimes my siblings, depending on the day.

At 5:30 I take a bus to “las salinas”, or the marine base, to volunteer at the pool teaching kids how to swim! I spend the first hour in the pool working with 6-8 year olds on blowing bubbles, kicking on their back, floating and becoming comfortable swimming alone. It is a challenge to communicate with these kids and use my Spanish to teach them how to swim. It’s also really fun because it reminds me of my summer swim team; no matter where you are 7 year olds will be 7 year olds, full of energy and a little rambunctious!

After the little kids leave, I get to do some swimming myself! I jump into practice with the older kids, running through different sprint sets and working out with them, which I love!  

Being active is so important to me so even though it took some time to find the right fit, I am so incredibly happy I’ve found places where I can participate in activities that I love and keep me busy and active! 

Thursday is my longest day as I wake up at 7:30, head to Paul Harris for volunteering, then to UVM for classes until 5:30. I have my two regular classes, grammar and “Chilean Culture and Communications”, plus another class with just the CIEE gap students called Service Learning. We talk about different topics including our volunteering jobs, the education system in Chile and now disabilities. This class is really long, but our teacher does a good job at keeping us engaged in the topic so we get the most out of the class.

After a long day of classes it always feels so great to head to the yoga studio for a Thursday night class where I get to relax and unwind.

Fridays I don’t have any classes, which is so nice. I love having three day weekends! But we do occasionally have field trips through our CIEE culture class. For example we recently took a trip into Valpo to visit “La Sebastiana”, Pablo Neruda’s house, and to explore Valpo, looking at the different street art. 

Saturday and Sundays are spent volunteering and just hanging out with family and friends. The third program I volunteer with is an organization called Adapta, where I volunteer to teach children with special needs outdoor sports, such as surfing or slacklining. So far the weather hasn’t been warm enough to go surfing, but I’m excited because next week we will be able to finally go surfing! 

That’s basically my week in Viña. Busy but fun! I really love it and I look forward to each new activity everyday!

Apart from my busy life here in Viña I am also really excited to continue to travel. Anna and I are planning a trip to La Serena, north of Viña, which is where we will spend Halloween!  And as I mentioned earlier a bunch of friends and I are taking a trip south to Pucón, which I am also really excited about!

Ciao for now! 



“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.” Orson Welles

Being in a completely new country the amount of new things that you have to adapt to can be a little overwhelming sometimes. Everything is new from the language, customs, and people, to the schedule, values and environment…but most importantly the food!

Adjusting to the type of food Chileans eat hasn’t been a breeze. The United States is such a melting pot of cultures, so it’s hard to categorize one type of food that is solely known as typical American food. Growing up I was exposed to a wide range of foods from a variety of areas, including Indian, Thailand, China, Mexico and even Ethiopia. That is why I would say the hardest thing to acclimate to is the lack of variety as far as food here. Chilean food is simple, without a lot of spices or a ton of different ingredients in one dish.

I am not a picky eater so there aren’t a lot of specific foods I miss terribly from the States but there are just a couple that come to mind. No worries, the world didn’t come to an end when I got here. Chileans love their sushi, so there are plenty of options on that end. But here it seems very rare to have a big salad as a meal. My family always has lettuce on the table but it is never the main dish. So I'm definitely missing the “big salad” meal and my wonderful Sweetgreen runs with my friends back home. I also really miss hummus. After asking a couple of people Anna and I were told that there was this one place in Viña that made hummus so we went and bought some. Unfortunately I don’t think what we bought would be categorized as hummus in the States. It was just watery mashed up garbanzos, without any sort of flavor, really disappointing. We were able to go to Lider, the big grocery store that has some specialty foods, like peanut butter, that the local grocery stores don’t have, and buy all the ingredients for hummus! I also had a craving for quinoa so one night I decided to make a big quinoa salad with some veggies from the market- tomato, avocado, corn, scallions- and my family loved it! I also made it last night for the small birthday party the CIEE kids had for Maggie, and it was devoured within 10 minutes! 



A big part of Chilean culture is centered around food. Like I’ve mentioned before, meal times are spent with the family. Everyone gets together to catch up, talk, laugh and eat. The meal times are different from the typical United States’ meals. Breakfast is pretty much the same, except on weekends there is no big breakfast like there might be in the States. But here lunch is the big get together meal followed by dinner or “once”, which is usually just tea, coffee and some bread with avocado, cold cuts and cheese.

As far as food in general I really thought I would be eating a lot more fish since we are right on the coast, but that hasn’t exactly been the case. For protein my family eats a lot of chicken or beef. And as you can probably guess to go with that protein we eat a lot of rice and potatoes. But aside from that I’ve had some really delicious soups with lentils or garbanzo beans.

One thing I love about Chile is the fruit and veggies! Every Wednesday and Saturday there is a big fruit and vegetable market (feria de frutas y verdudas), which is where all the locals come to sell their fruit and vegetables. In my house there is a big bowl that is always filled with apples, oranges, bananas, kiwis, and, of course, avocados! I’ve also been enjoying different vegetables such as beets (remolacha) and artichokes (alcachofa), which I wasn’t necessarily a fan of in the States!

I’ve tried some new delicious typical Chilean dishes here as well!

Of course a classic is the empanada. An empanada is simply a typical pasty, stuffed with a variety of different foods, which can include meats, fish, cheese and/or vegetables. The typical empanada here is called Empanada de Pino, which is filled with ground meat, onions, raisins, hard boiled egg, and an olive. I’ve been told that in Concón, two towns over from Viña, there are the best shrimp empanadas, so I look forward to heading over there sometime soon to do some sand boarding on the dunes and afterwards grabbing a warm shrimp empanada! 

Empanada_carnePhoto Cred to dateungusto27yess.blogspot

Another typical Chilean dish I’ve had is called Charquicán. It is a stew-like dish filled with potatoes, squash or pumpkin, onions, corn and peas and sometimes served with a fried egg on top. I think of it as the closets thing the Chileans have to curry but it really doesn’t have any spicy kick to it. It’s a really wonderful comfort food that packs a lot of veggies in one bite!  

1280327399856_fPhoto cred to Fotolog 

A typical soup served in Chile is called Cazuela. The soup consists of a liquid broth filled with either rice or noodles, (when my mom made it we had ABC noodles!) and big chunks of corn, potato, squash and a type of meat. A very filling meal! 

Photo cred to Gourmet 

The next typical Chilean dish is called Chorrillana and from my understanding this dish is more like an activity than just another meal to eat. It reminds me of the Vermonster from Ben and Jerrys. You are supposed to get a big group together and head out to a restaurant to eat it. It is a huge plate of French fries, topped with slices of meat, onions and eggs, something I would hope not just one person could finish. I haven’t tried it and don’t really have a strong urge to…. but I just thought I would mention it because it is part of the culture! 

Chorrillana_del_J_CruzPhoto cred to 

Another typical Chilean “street food” is the Completo. This is just like a hot dog but on top of the ketchup and mustard the Chileans add chopped tomatoes, onions, avocado and A LOT of mayonnaise. Yeah, don’t ask me….but they love it! 

ItalianoPhoto cred to The Clinic Online 

Lastly, my favorite new dish that I’ve tried here has been Pastel de Choclo. Pastel de Choclo is a super typical dish served at the campos. It’s made in one of those clay bowls, (made in Pomaire) and is a layering of ground meat, onions, strips of chicken, hard boiled egg, olive, and then on top sweet mashed up corn. The dish is baked in clay bowls so the top forms a wonderful golden crust. I love corn so naturally this has been my favorite new dish I’ve had here so far! I was so happy yesterday when my mom said she was making it for lunch. It takes awhile to prepare but it is so worth it! 


The Pastel de Choclo we had in Pomaire, soo good!! 

I love trying new things, and I'm sure that as I continue to explore Chile I'll find more delicious foods to taste everywhere I go!

Ciao for now! 


San Pedro de Atacama

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” Confucius 

 I am a total water girl, so I would have never thought that I would enjoy my desert experience as much as I did in the driest place on earth! 

This past weekend was the big CIEE gap year student trip to San Pedro de Atacama, the desert! I decided to sleep over at Anna’s house the night before we left which probably wasn’t the best idea because we stayed up talking, so we got two hours of sleep, at most. On Friday morning we woke up at 3:30, got dressed, made some tea, and waited for the van to pick us up. The plane ride there was uneventful, as we all passed out right when we got to our seats. 

Once we landed in Calama we met our tour guide for the weekend, Luis. Luis is one of the most fascinating people I have met since I’ve been in Chile. He told us that in college he studied everything from philosophy to history to even rural medicine! Also aside from Spanish he knows three other indigenous languages from different countries in South America. This guy is incredible! If there was anyone you want to show you around San Pedro, it is Luis. He has been a tour guide in San Pedro for 33 years so he knows all the special places to go to, so even though we were only there for 3 days he was able to keep us on a tight schedule to make sure we saw the highlights of the area. It was also funny how when we were walking through town there were always at least 3 people Luis would stop and shake hands with or give a wave to. It sometimes seemed like we were with the father of San Pedro.

After we met Luis at the airport we began our hour long drive to San Pedro. On the way we stopped at two points which overlooked beautiful valleys, Valle de la Luna (which we would be walking through later) and Valle de la Muerte.



Once we got to our hotel we unpacked and then headed into town for some lunch. When I think of the word pueblo I think of a town exactly like San Pedro. The streets were incredibly narrow with one story, adobe-style buildings. San Pedro is very touristy town so behind each door was either a tourist agency, small gift shop or restaurant. Here is a picture to give you a better idea of the town. 


After lunch we drove to Valle de la Luna and hiked around, desert style! I live in Washington, DC so there is no such thing as desert anywhere near and I have never been to a desert anywhere in the world. The landscape was so completely different from anything I’ve ever experienced. No matter where you are, walking through Valle de la Luna, floating in the salt lakes, or just driving around, if you look out across the terrain, there is no form of civilization anywhere in sight! I’m so used to the crowded, busy city of DC and now Viña, so it was such a pleasant shock to be surrounded by nothing. I believe the desert illustrates how beautiful simplicity is. Even though I was in the driest place on earth I still felt so refreshed being in such a still, stunning, serene, environment. 


We walked around Valle de la Luna from sand dune to sand dune, snapping an endless amount of pictures. Of course my camera broke after our first stop, so a lot of the following pictures come from my ever so lovely friend, Anna. 






When we got back to the hotel we all took showers and headed out to dinner. After dinner we were all exhausted from our long day of travels and adventure, so we immediately passed out when we got back to the hotel.  

The next day we woke up and headed to a flamingo reserve where we walked along a flat terrain filled with salt. The flamingos weren’t that vibrant, stereotypical, pink color that you imagine flamingos to be. But we still had a lot of fun pretending to be flamingos, striking silly poses standing on one leg, while someone snapped a picture. 



After that we headed to a pueblo called Toconao, where we met this 74 year old woman who had been living there her whole life, making different artisanal crafts out of alpaca wool. Here is a picture of what she uses to make all the different hats, ponchos, scarves and socks!


After buying some souvenirs we headed back to San Pedro and had a delicious lunch, which included wonderful squash soup (sopa zapallo) and some yummy fruit juice. 



After lunch we put on our swimsuits and headed to Laguna Cejar, the salt lake! It was really windy at the salty beach and there were a lot of people just wading around the shore. But there was no way the 7 of us just going to get our feet wet. Swimming, well more like floating, around in the salt lake was such a cool experience. The salt concentration in the water is so high you don’t have to move your arms and legs and your head and feet will remain above the surface of the water. It was a really odd feeling for someone like me, a lifelong swimmer who is so used to treading water, to not have to move around at all…it really felt too easy. After we stayed in the water long enough that our skin and faces were completely covered with salt, we got out, ran to our towels, and headed back to the van.


That night we walked into town, ate a delicious 3 course meal and then headed back to the hotel exhausted from the full day of activities.

Aside from being a tour guide and the coolest guy around, Luis is also a ceramist! Sunday morning he invited us all to his house to try our hand at clay pot making! After a short demonstration by Luis, who of course made it look so easy, he helped us each create our own masterpiece and I was really proud of the flower vase and little jewelry box I made. Luckily Luis said he would fire our pottery and send them to Viña since we had to leave that day. He also had month year old adorable kittens that we had fun holding and playing with!





After saying a very sad goodbye to Luis we climbed into the van and drove through the desert back to the airport. The trip back was uneventful but long so I was happy just to get back to my house in Viña, make a cup of tea, and head to bed early. 

I really enjoyed my time in the desert; it was the perfect mix of short, sweet, and simple!

Ciao for now! 



"If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear religion and avoid the people,  you might better stay at home."  James Michener

This weekend my friend Anna and I decided to take a trip to Santiago, the capital of Chile! Buses from Viña to Santiago run about every fifteen minutes, so on Friday Anna and I met at the bus station, bought an 8 dollar ticket to Santiago, and within 15 minutes were on our way! We arrived in Santiago around 5:00 pm and took the metro to where we would be staying. My aunt has friends who are living in Santiago and they were nice enough to let Anna and me stay for the weekend! We got to the apartment and settled in before heading out for dinner in the Santa Lucia area.  Living in Valparaíso, which is a port city, I thought we would be eating a lot more fish. But so far we really haven’t eaten much fish here so we were both thrilled when Cheryl and Ron, my aunt's friends, took us to this quaint restaurant that had some really tasty fish dishes! After dinner we walked around a little and happened upon a fun art exhibit that was in the street! We also made our way to the Plaza de Armas, which is the main plaza in Santiago, before heading back to the apartment for a warm cup of blueberry tea before heading to bed!

The art exhibit right in the middle of the street! Photo cred to Anna  

The next day we decided to check out the fresh fruit and veggie markets as well as the always smelly fresh fish market! The markets are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before! Really, my senses were on overdrive. Endless amounts of colorful, fresh produce, herbs, meat, fish, grains, you name it, they've got it in the market. We dodged through the crowded aisles as each person is on their own grocery shop mission. Our mission, aside from experiencing the markets and getting some fruit (both familiar and unfamiliar), was to get a nice piece of fresh fish for dinner. Of course with the vast amount of choices, this mission was more than easy to complete. 

Some pictures from the markets 



Aceitunas (Olives)

Fruta Seca (Dried Fruit) 




After the markets we decided to explore some of the classic places in Santiago. We walked to Plaza de Armas, which was hopping! We walked around and enjoyed a puppet show as well as some live music! 


"Mira un tiburón!" ("Look a shark!") 

We then made our way over to the Bellavista area. We had lunch in the Patio Bellavista, which is a cute area with a lot of shops and restaurants! 


After lunch we headed to Cerro San Cristóbal, where we decided to take the funicular (an outside elevator) up the hill where we saw a beautiful view of Santiago! 

View from the funicular 

View from the top!  CIMG1211

After that we wandered and made our way back home. Once home we enjoyed a wonderful dinner that included the fish we bought from the market as well as a fruit I had never had before called a guanabana. The guanabana tasted tropical, like a mild pineapple mixed with coconut, and had a pear-like texture.1377343_10202190569029173_2128333763_n

The next day Anna and I woke up to a wonderful breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon. It was the perfect taste of home! We then walked up Cerro Santa Lucía. We wandered around the top exploring different areas and taking pictures. We even ran into another Placa de Darwin! 


After that Cheryl and Ron had the fabulous idea of heading to the little town of Pomaire, known for their clay dishes! So we hopped in the car and drove about an hour until we arrived at Pomaire. When we got there we were all hungry so our first stop was lunch! We sat down at a traditional restaurant and had a typical Chilean meal, pastel de choclo and all!

Pastel de Choclo! 

Enormous meat platter! 

After lunch we sauntered from store to store admiring the unique handmade crafts. In one ceramics store, we even saw a man working on a pottery wheel creating a pot!


After that we bought a Mote con Huesillo and headed back to Santiago. Mote con Huesillo is a traditional Chilean drink made with mote, which is a type of wheat or barley and huesillos, which are dried peaches! The drink was actually quite good, not too sweet and very refreshing!


Photo cred to "" 

Once we got back to Santiago, Cheryl and Ron dropped us off at the bus station. Anna and I bought tickets back to Viña, and within a half an hour we were on the bus, waving goodbye to Santiago.

One thing I learned from the weekend is that Santiago is huge! I for sure didn’t get to see all of the city but I am glad I still got a taste of what the capital is like!

Up next, San Pedro de Atacama! Next weekend is the big CIEE gap group trip to San Pedro de Atacama. I am very excited to leave the central region of Chile and explore the north for a bit!

Ciao for now! 



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! 

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