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Gap Year Abroad

22 posts categorized "Katerina Stephan"


The Final Countdown

The top FOUR things I’ve done since I returned to the United States:

 1) I continued to travel.

Throughout the semester, I had a couple of opportunities to stretch my wings once again, and I took them. During my cousin’s spring break, we drove off on a road trip to DC, and during my brother’s spring break, my family went to Colorado to ski in the mountains and visit family. I also went on a handful of smaller trips. One of my friends was studying at a small college in Chicago, and I spent a couple days with her. She introduced me to real macarons, the movie Frozen, and what life is like at a religious college. Another week, my mother, brother and I went on a spontaneous adventure up to the ice caves along Lake Superior. We left our house at 4am, drove for 6 hours, bundled up like little eskimos, hiked for a couple hours, took copious amounts of photos, drove on Lake Superior (my first lake driving experience!!) ate a fantastic fish dinner, and then drove home. All in one day. The caves were incredible to say the least, and I loved being able to just drop everything and go.  

IMG_1792Skiing in Colorado (I got to actually see the mountain this time...!) IMG_1555 Ice caves on Lake Superior 

2) I volunteered. Extensively. 

Thanks to family connections and family suggestions, I found two perfect volunteer opportunities. For just under two months, I worked Monday through Wednesday and Friday at a local Catholic Multicultural Center teaching English. I had zero experience before I started, but with good instincts, a positive attitude, and a little bit of trial and error, I learned just as much as my students did. One day I worked with a woman who had been a refugee in Bhutan. We spent a solid hour working through the sentence, “You’re welcome,” how to write it, how to pronounce it, when to use it. She had recently learned to write, and although the pencil shook in her frail hand and it took a long time to finish, the beaming smile she gave me when she had finished was a perfect reminder of why I loved that job. The love for learning is universal. 

On Thursdays, I spent the day in a dual language immersion classroom for second graders, working as a teacher’s assistant. The students were taught exclusively in Spanish, except for during Science and English, and about half the class spoke Spanish at home while the others spoke English. It was fantastic. I had just enough responsibility to make me feel like I was contributing, but not enough to make the days feel like work. I’d get to help students one on one during class, listen to the teacher explain addition in Spanish, plant semillas (seeds) in the classroom garden, lead small group activities, and play with the students. During some lunches I’d sit in the teachers lounge and listen to the daily joys and sorrows and the planning of future lessons, and other days I’d eat with my students, chatting about topics that interest second graders in Spanglish and playing basketball and four square during recess. It was truly the best of the both worlds of school. 

3) I earned my TEFL.

If you remember to way back in September, I mentioned in one of my blog posts that a young woman who had stayed with my host family years ago stopped by to visit on her way home from Argentina. She had shared a mountain of experiences and advice, and one of the things she strongly suggested I look into doing was earning a Teaching English as a Foreign Language certificate (TEFL). So I did it. 

What is a TEFL you may be wondering. It’s a certificate that, coupled with any college degree and proof of English fluency, can help somebody get a job teaching English in whichever beautiful country around the world their heart desires. It’s a great thing to have on a resume for anybody who wants to try living abroad at any point in their life while being paid. For more information, google TEFL. 

There are all sorts of different programs in all sorts of different places, but I opted for an intensive five week program at an institute close to my home town. “Intensive” felt like an understatement. Needless to say, I did not sleep much during those five weeks, but I feel that between the four different core classes, a handful of seminars, real teaching observation, lesson planning assignments, practicum teaching with an observer, one on one tutoring, and a ton of feedback, I was able to scrape the surface of what it takes to be a great teacher. Plus it was an enormous smack upside the head with a dictionary of academia. The program kept me busy for at least 8 hours every day, and I was quickly reminded how to deal with staying organized, doing homework, prioritizing plans and learning in a classroom setting. No regrets there.  DSC01398 2

A couple of my ESL students and I on our last day of class!

4) I reconnected with family, friends, and my home city. 

The classic saying is “you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” After living in a different country with a different family and different friends for half a year, I came home with an even greater appreciation for the community I have in my Wisconsin home. In one of the original gap year plans, I was going to go abroad once again, and although there were moments the travel bug hit, I’m really glad I decided to stay local. Free time was scarce when I was in high school, and for the first time in years, I was able to really take advantage of everything the city I live in has to offer.  IMG_1942

Even more importantly though, I had the opportunity to spend tons of time with my family and friends. With my closest friends and extended family, I had the freedom to both celebrate the big events, like birthdays and performances, as well as go on spur of the moment adventures like to ballroom dances, Brewers Games, treks and open mic at the Union. I was also able to hang out with my mother and brother way more than I ever had before. We played frisbee, cooked elaborate meals, went to plays and just spent quality time together. Because I’ll be leaving Madison again in the fall, I’m extremely grateful for all the time I was able to spend with my family and friends in the city I love. IMG_3272My family and I after Karl's first 5K race! Early morning freezing cold icy runs=excellent family bonding. 


 The top THREE tips I’d give to anybody living abroad

 1) Expect to give up most of the comforts from your old day to day life, but find a way to do at least one thing you love. Two families living right next door to eachother can have completely different lifestyles, so when you join a new family in a new culture, of course you're going to be bombarded by change. Just remember that different doesn’t necessarily mean right or wrong, and an open mind goes a long way when everything from meal times to family roles are not what you’re used to. That being said, find a way to continue to do something you are passionate about. Whether that’s finding a sports team or an art class or a group of people who do yoga on the beach, sharing a common interest is a great way to meet local people and bond over something even when your language skills are developing. Plus it’s essential for your mental health. Joining a running team was hands down the best decision I made during my entire semester abroad. It gave me an opportunity to keep running with people, something I love, and through the team, I met some of my best friends. 1398384_10202077714721867_372955876_oStretching before a run along the ocean. A causal Tuesday afternoon. 

 2) Don’t be afraid to ask. I’m not going to lie, it’s hard to ask for help or ask strangers questions even in your first language, but if you can overcome your fears and become comfortable asking questions, it’ll make your trip even better than you imagined, guaranteed. I took three freezing cold showers before I finally worked up the courage (and the language skills) to ask my host mother about it. She showed me the secret way to lessen the water pressure and thus increase the temperature, and that same night, as I was enjoying a nice hot shower, I decided I was not going to let cowardice prevent me from having the time of my life. By the end of the semester, I had no issue asking questions. Of course, keep safety in mind, and don’t be obnoxious, but sometimes asking locals questions is a fantastic idea; they have great recommendations on where to go to find the best cueca club, or what drink to order, or what book to read, or what activities are must do’s in the area, and they can help you to find the right bus, or avoid tourist traps, or understand directions. People are generally very kind and eager to offer help or advice, but they can’t read your mind. All you have to do is....ASK!  IMG_0646Room decor at one of the tea shops that was recomended by a local. The things we could have missed out on.... 

 3) Document document document! Take photos, keep a personal journal, write love letters, share a blog, draw pictures, record your voice, whatever it is that you want to do to record your feelings and experiences, do it! It’s a great way to see progress, see how you’ve grown and how your language skills have improved, and it’s essential if you want to remember all of the once in a lifetime moments, even those that seem unforgettable at the time. You will have incredible experiences left and right, guaranteed. However, there is no guarantee you will remember all of them come 3 months, three years, thirty years. It’s only been half a year, yet I’ve already had to depend on my journal to remember certain events and feelings. I also highly recommend keeping a blog. Anybody who is interested can follow along at their own leisurely pace, and even if only your mother always reads it, it’s still worth it; I’ve already gone back and re-read blog entries multiple times, and it’s an excellent blast down memory lane. Definitely do not let documenting prevent you from going out on an adventure with your host family, but it is worth a little time sacrifice, I promise. IMG_1499One afternoon Dana and I went on a photo shoot around the neighborhood we called home, taking pictures of everything we'd walked past over the previous months. This is the Reloj (clock), and it's a huge tourist photo op. Especially in the summer, there was always a crowd with cameras. 

The top TWO things I miss even more than sopaipillas:


Spanish snuck up on me. One moment it was a completely foreign language that sort of soared in through one ear and out the other, and the next it had become part of who I am. When my family and I boarded the plane, I knew I was going home, but it wasn’t until we landed and all of the signs in the airport were only in English, and the advertisements in the bathrooms were in English, and the radio played English pop songs, that it a wave of sadness hit me. Before day one of being back was over, I had already begun to miss Spanish. I love the way the language rolls off my tongue for familiar words, but that I have to concentrate to say new ones. I love the funny errors I make or the tangents I have to take to get around a word I don’t know. I love the challenge of forming sentences and listening to others speak. And I love the way the language sounds, especially the familiar Chilean Spanish with all the mumbling, slurring and “po” and “weon”-ing. Spanish has become an important part of my life, and I plan on keeping it that way for years to come. 

2) Valparaíso. 

Paraíso means paradise in Spanish; it’s a fitting name. I miss the ocean and the brightly colored houses that paint the rolling hills, the expressive street art murals that kept me wondering, the little shops full of surprising purchases and people, the winding cobblestone roads that I could wander without ever getting lost (thanks to the hills), the street vendors with those crispy, deep fried disks of flaky heaven (sopaipillas!), the night life that exploded from the clubs onto the streets, the view I saw overlooking the city, especially from the balcony of Pablo Neruda’s house, the stories and legends and history that seeped out of every corner, and even the edgy-ness that made the city dangerous in certain parts. Even the people who live in Valparaíso are distinct, and I miss them too. Sure parts of the city are dirty and there are signs of abject poverty, but there’s also a strong collective culture, more so than any other city I’ve been to, and that really drew me in. I miss paradise.  IMG_0643And I miss the stairs of course! 

The top ONE decision I’ve made thus far in my life:

1) Taking a gap year! 

The term “year off” could not be further from the truth; it would be better described as a year on. I could talk about the past 12 months of my life for hours on hours on hours and still not cover all the lessons I’ve learned, all the memories I’ve made, all the ways that I’ve grown, all the things I’ve discovered about myself, and perhaps most importantly, all the confidence I’ve gained. I’ve experience first hand that it’s okay to stray from the beaten path if that’s what your heart desires and that not knowing is absolutely okay. I’m done waiting for when the “real world” begins, and I’m living right here right now.

In my first blog post, I described myself as someone “looking for some adventure, a revived love for learning outside of the traditional classroom setting, new friends, a clearer sense of self, and memories that will last a lifetime.” I definitely found all of that and more in Chile. Very few people have the opportunity to drop everything and do exactly what they want to do, and I’m extremely grateful I was given the chance. When you’re young, curious, and free of serious responsibility, hay que aprovechar*, and that’s exactly what I did. (*Spanish phrase for seize the day!)

  Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 10.03.31 PM

Well, that’s all folks. The end of the blog. A BIG THANK YOU to all who have taken the time to read a post here and there. Thank you again to my mother and my brother and all the rest of the loving people who made up my support web. Thank you Julies for the Wifi and electiricy in the middle of the Wisconsin woods. Thank you Chile.

And now.

FOUR, THREE, TWO, ONE............. 526012_481374128562870_612439598_n-2

My gap year has come to a close, and I am moving on to the next chapter of my life. Bring it on college; I am so ready.


When Two Worlds Collide


The best presents I’ve ever received arrived on Solstice morning at the Santiago airport with more luggage than energy, but huge smiles and hugs and love none the less. Their flight was delayed (something I was not aware of), and having no means of communication, I was equally relieved as I was excited to see them exit the security section, the exact same door I had walked through just five months before. Welcome to Chile Mom and Karl!!!

It’s true, sharing stories is fun, but to be able to show my family a first hand  glimpse of what I had been living for the past semester was beyond wonderful. We had an absolute blast. And I, as the tour guide and trip planner, felt an even stronger connection to my life here in Chile, because they were the foreigners, and I was the “local.”



They say that life is cyclical: that we find ourselves in parallel situations either with our own memories, or with new generations. La Serena was the destination of my first trip in Chile, and it was also my last. A couple hours after their flight landed, we headed over to the bus station to take another $24 coach bus. This time, in place of my gap friends, it was my family by my side, and instead of Chris Martin’s voice complimenting the view, it was my mother’s. In hindsight, it might have been cruel to schedule such a long bus ride after all the air travel, but we didn’t have much time, and thankfully we were all sleep deprived enough to appreciate the cozy seats. It’s a good thing I slept too, because the next week was filled with novelty and repetition, as my world from Wisconsin collided with my Chilean home.

Last time I was in La Serena, we stayed in a resort on the beach. This time, I chose to introduce to my family to the Hostel style of life. We didn’t have the best of luck as far as roommates go, but it could have been worse. Overall the Aji Verde was a successful choice, and  we met some extraordinarily cool travelers (for instance two young women who were traveling around the world until their budget ran out) and listened to some good stores (what bus trouble in Nepal can mean and the difficulties of being a tourist in parts of the US), and the staff were helpful in planning out our adventures.

Day one we did what I had failed to do last time; we took a tour of Valle Elqui. From seven in the morning, until just past midnight, my family and a handful of other tourists traveled around the valley in a tour van, visiting what makes this place so famous.

1. Its rich agriculture and impressively fruitful growing seasons. They can grow, for instance, four crops of potatoes in the same time other places harvest once, and they have millions of dollars worth of avocados, papayas, vineyards and whatever else the local farmers are interested in growing. The soil and the climate are practically perfect according to our tour guide. There was always farm land in sight, and the base of the mountains were black with avocado forests. Below Karl and I are eating a peculiar local cactus fruit called a copao. It reminded me of a kiwi, except it was so acidic that it could only be eaten with equal parts sugar and fruit. IMG_2770

2. PISCO! The Chilean (or possible Peruvian -- but we don’t mention that..) alcoholic drink that reminds me of a vodka made from grapes (technically a grape brandy). On our tour we went to the Capel Pisco Distillery to see how the 80 proof drink is made. The grapes, one or more of the select seven types, are fermented exactly like wine, but then the drink is distilled rather than bottled and stored immediately after. Also, Chilean pisco can ONLY be called pisco if it is made in Valle Elqui, which means this valley supplies the entire country with pisco sour, piscola, etc. And if you drink pisco product before it's at the correct proof, it's poison. Here we are in the pisco distillary. IMG_2789

3. Natural Therapy. They say the center of the Earth’s magnetic core, in the current age of Aquarius at least, is located in Valle Elqui in a small town called Cochiguaz. Although we did not visit all the modern day gurus or participate in the hundreds of natural energy, meditation, soul cleansing, spa options, we were able to feel a bizarre tingling feeling in our palms when we opened up our hands face up. Perhaps it was placebo, but since it would be REALLY cool if it was real, I'm going to believe. 

4. The home of Gabriela Mistral, a famous Chilean poet and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature in 1945 (also a close friend of Pablo Neruda and a teacher around the world). We visited her home town, and read a bit of her poetry in her old school house that is now transformed into a museum. She is also on the 5.000 (five thousand pesos) which is roughly $10.  200385_grande

5. And last but certainly not least, the Observatories! This was probably one of my favorite parts of the trip. Imagine what the sky looked like before light pollution, and you can have a pretty good idea of what we saw. I have been to the north of Wisconsin, miles from any large civilization, but still, the amount of stars we saw that night blew me away. Plus we got to go to one of the famous old observatories and use their telescope. Did you know Orion is upside down in the southern hemisphere? Or that Venus goes through phases just like the moon? We got to see constellations, planets, galaxies, star clusters, and so much more at a quality I never could have imagined. Below is not the moon, but actually Venus! IMG_2826


Day two we did what I had succeeded in doing last time, but with our own twist. I took my family through same street markets, but this time, instead of only looking, we bought some of Chile’s piercingly blue national rock, Lapislazuli, as well as papaya candies and other gifts. We went to the same cafe central where I had eaten four months ago, but this time I translated the menus, instead of my dictionary. We walked to the beach along the same path, and sun bathed in the same sand, but with our own ridiculous, laughter-filled conversations. We ate dinner while watching the sun set over the Pacific, but trading Italian food for good ol classic empanadas. And just in case I didn't have enough of the wonderful circle of life, my family and I stumbled upon a Japanese Garden, one that was surprisingly similar to the Japanese Gardens we wandered around in California, two winters ago. It was fun for me to see how much my point of view had changed since I was last in La Serena, and it was beautiful to see how much our family had grown since we last stared at koi fish under a Japanese bridge. Here is my family outside of the Garden of the Heart.IMG_2882

Our La Serena adventure came to a close as we boarded an overnight bus back to Vina del Mar, on to our next chapter of winter break.



Five months wasn’t enough time for me to uncover even a portion of the treasures of Vina del Mar or Valparaiso (I doubt a lifetime would be sufficient), but my next mission was to give my family a taste of these cities and my life there in a day and a half. We arrived in Valparaiso at 6am in the morning after a successful overnight bus journey, and after a cab ride, and a short nap, we were off into Valparaiso. I took them to the port, through the market, around the plazas, past some of the famous buildings I could remember, and finally to Pablo Neruda’s Valparaiso home. The only problem was the ascensors were closed (again), so we were forced to conquer the enormous hill with endless stairs and steep roads. It was a good hour of work, but ultimately worth the trek, as my mother and brother both enjoyed the incredible view, the quirky house decorations, and the funny life tidbits provided by the self-guided listening tours. My brother also accompanied me up another hill in order to give a little Christmas gift to my friends at Ancora (the place where I used to go for Friday night dinners). Our walk back down the hill was anything but direct, but we managed to eventually find Cerro Concepcion which is the hill most famous for its street art. Although it was a long walk, once again, it was worth the struggle, and my family greatly enjoyed the murals.

The view from Pablo Neruda's Valparaiso home and his housePicture 5And some street art.. 

The downtown part of Valparaiso (which is the flat part at the base of the hills) was packed with people doing last minute Christmas shopping and whatever else they wanted to be doing. It was loud. It was crowded. I think it was the busiest I’ve ever seen the city. Vina del Mar, the next day, was exactly the opposite. 

On Christmas day, my family and I headed out once again, but this time I took them around Vina del Mar. I almost didn’t recognize the city. Because it was a national holiday, ALL of the restaurants and stores were closed, and there was almost no one on the streets. There was no sopaipilla lady, no street musicians, nobody selling wrapping paper, no street artists, no sushi or food carts or street vendors of any kind. There were hardly any cars, and despite the fact that it was a Wednesday, the metros and the buses were empty. It was like a post apocalyptic city. Shocking. So the weather was less than wonderful and my bustling, vibrant city was a ghost town, but other than that the day was a success! The street below is Calle Valparaiso, and it is always PACKED with people. Except today.  IMG_3077

Our first official stop was the sand dunes, one of my favorite places. Karl and I trudged all the way to the top, and then decided to race down the other side. Letting our legs spin as fast as possible, we flew down the mountain of soft sand towards the ocean, arms open wide. Well that’s how we started at least. He actually made it to our declared finish line, but I pushed myself just a little too fast and ended up eating sand about 15 seconds into the race. Literally. I knocked the wind out of myself and coated every inch of my body in sand, and despite our best efforts to brush off all the sand, I ended up trudging back to my mother a black sand monster. We sat in the dunes for a while after and just enjoyed the view, and then we tried to go down the other side of the dunes, towards the ocean, instead of back the way we came. Possibly a mistake. At first it appeared that we had walked all the way down the dunes only to be greeted by massive cliffs. However, instead of turning around, we kept looking and eventually we found a tiny, extraordinarily steep path with minimal spines and trees. A likely chance of survival. Laughing out of terror and amusement, we slowly slid down the sandy cliff. It was good family bonding. IMG_3011 IMG_3027When we got down to the shore, we walked along the road until we found the perfect rock jutting out into the ocean. Before I left Wisconsin, a family friend gave me a lei from Hawaii. It draped around our rearview mirror until I carefully put it in a plastic bag and brought it with me to Chile and the Pacific. From what I’ve heard, by throwing the lei into the ocean I am respecting the friendship of the person who gave it to me, promising I’ll return, and commemorating a loved one who has passed away. So I tossed it into the breeze. IMG_3053

I also took my family to my university, and showed them where I volunteered or met with my running team. There are tons of additional places I would have loved to show them, but we were limited by time and a lack of rapid transportation. Instead, on my last night in Chile, a couple of friends came over for a small barbeque with one of my favorite foods (choripan!), and we played Uno. Sometime in there I packed all of my things too. Eventually everybody drifted off to bed, and I went out for my true last night in Chile.

The next morning, my host mother dropped us all off at the bus station. We gave our teary goodbye hugs and then boarded yet another coach bus, this time to Santiago. After dropping off all our luggage in the airport, we headed out into the city, one that I was not nearly as familiar with, and one that was as busy and chaotic as usual. Having already had a FULL week, my family wasn’t too interested in a crazy tourism day, so instead we met up with Diego! If you don’t recognize the name, he’s the Chilean I went to Chiloe with a couple of weeks before. Whenever my mom is talking about the trip, she always references this afternoon as being her favorite; it truly was special. Even though Diego met my family that day, we all got along like we had known each other for years. He seriously is a fantastic kid. We went to the grocery store to buy all the typical Chilean foods, we went to a Human Rights museum that focused on the dictatorship (which was fun for me to explain the history to my family or translate words with Diego), we ate sopaipillas on the street, we wandered through the city and the metro system, and we ended the day sitting in a park, eating delicious cookies and just talking talking talking. Throughout the entire afternoon we spoke Spanglish, constantly learning from each others’ mistakes, laughing, and making up jokes. That was another hard goodbye for all of us. When the sun set, we headed back to the airport for the last time, and off we went. IMG_3105



The last important part about our trip was that my family came down on Solstice, and we left on the 27th. It’s common sense that the holidays are always a difficult time to be an exchange student, and I missed both my mother’s and my brother’s birthdays and Thanksgiving. However, I avoided the holiday blues during Turkey day by celebrating my first ever Hanukkah with Dana and a group of her friends, making homemade latkes and applesauce (which her Chilean family had never had before…!), lighting a makeshift menorah, and listening and participating in the traditional songs with her family through Skype.

And for Christmas, my two families were together!

My host mother, my host sister, my mother and I all chipped in to make a Christmas dinner feast, a mix of Chilean foods and American foods. We drank cola de mono, sitting around the huge dining room table, with Christmas music in the background and the tree’s beautiful decorations lighting up the room. At midnight, as it is custom to do in Chile, we opened up presents. My mother had brought some gifts down with her (based of my suggestions), and my host mother had even gotten some for my family. There was much laughter and thank yous and smiling people. A huge success. Even though my mother and brother didn’t know much Spanish, they knew enough and did their best, and I was finally able to be a translator. A great Christmas it was. IMG_2972 My Mothers!!IMG_2987Cata and I IMG_2974My brother and one of the kittens


That concludes my trip to Chile. Done. Goodbye. Leaving home was hard, but in a different way because I knew my life would pretty much be waiting for me when I returned. Leaving Chile was worse (I would have “missed my plane” had my family not been there to take me home…). I know someday I will go back, and I’ll see my friends again, stay with my host family, run with my running team, swim with my sea lions, eat my sopaipillas, shop at my stores, take my metro, dance at my discos, walk through my streets, climb up my stairs, but it will never be my life like it was. I’ll be more of a tourist than a local.

However, I also left having had the time of my life. It was an experience I will NEVER regret, where lifelong friendships were born, a love for a new language took root, and a lifetime’s worth of memories were made.

Chile, hasta pronto.


El Idioma--ESPANOL

Me llamo Katerina (yamo)

Tengo 18 anos

Soy  des de Estados Unidos

Quiero ayudar.

As a parting gift, one of my friends gave me a little notebook to fill with vocabulary on my trip; what you see above is what is written on the first page. For better and for worse, when I arrived in Chile, I did not speak Spanish.



  • My learning curve was exponential which was motivational throughout the semester. There’s no question of whether or not my Spanish improved.

  •    The first time my brother met my host mother on skype, he had a really hard time understanding her because of her Chilean accent, but having never heard a different way of speaking, I never had to to go through an adjustment phase. And a bonus for learning Spanish in Chile: they say if you can understand a Chilean, you can understand any other Spanish speaker in the Americas (because they all speak clearer and slower and with better pronunciation). This I’ve already found to be true after watching Spanish TV.
  • I was never embarrassed to ask questions about really basic concepts, nor was I ashamed when I made simple mistakes (partly due to my personality and partly due to the fact that I was new to the language).

  • Sometimes Spanish classes teach words that are either not useful or not ever used (or only used in Mexico), but because I never learned Spanish in a high school classroom, these words were not part of my vocabulary and they weren’t floating around in my head. For instance, asi asi does not exist, at least in Chile (they say mas o menos).  

  • I will never again have a problem asking questions or for directions because if I could do it in Spanish, English should be a breeze.

  • It is a huge confidence boost. And a great story.. I went to Chile without knowing Spanish!



  • I don’t know the difference between universal Spanish words and words that are only used in Chile (known as modismos). For instance, cereza is the Spanish word for cherry, but guinda is the Chilean word.

  • The entire first month was a REAL struggle.

  • I don’t have any vocabulary except for what I’ve learned here which can be limiting, and if I want to have a conversation on an entirely new topic, I have to learn all the vocabulary (for instance, I don’t know any “Going to the Doctors” vocabulary).

  • For every word I’d learn, it felt like I’d also forget one, just because there were always a million new words. I had to start from square one.

  • I cannot carry even the most basic conversation in French anymore; it has completely disappeared. I can read some, and translate the occaisonal word, but that’s actually it; five years of French, gone. Some people say it would come back really fast, and others say you can only really focus on learning one language at a time until you’re proficient (especially when they’re so similiar). I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do (try and relearn or drop it for now).

  • And finally, I’m not going to go home fluent. Or even anywhere close. I understand a decent amount but not every conversation, and although I can usually get my point across, I don’t always do so gracefully or correctly. Plus, writing is still quite difficult for me as well.


Do I regret coming here with no Spanish? Absolutely not. To be completely honest, I’ve loved the struggle and the daily adventure of just trying to figure out what was going on around me, and it’s incredible to look back over the last couple of months and see my progress.  I’ve also loved watching people’s expressions when I told them I came knowing almost nothing of the language,  especially in the beginning, and their complements were some of the most motivating. There’s no comparison between how much one learns studying in classroom versus living abroad, and I absolutely suggest stepping out of the traditional comfort zone to learn a new language. It’s not always easy, but it is always worth it.


And as an additional bonus, learning a language through using it (with a little bit of instruction on the side), has lead to enough humorous moments and light bulb realizations to have kept me laughing the entire semester. Here are a few examples of the language battles I’ve faced.

Sometimes I have to read a word out loud before I know what it means because my brain doesn’t recognize the spelling, but it does recognize the sound. Preba was one of those because it sounds more like preva.

I make funny spelling mistakes. Mida instead of mira because that’s how it sounds.

I use words that I couldn’t translate or even define because I’ve only heard them in context. I have no idea what ‘¿cómo amaneciste?” actually means but I ask it in the morning because my host mom always asks me then.

I’ll learn the grammar rules behind why I say certain phrases after. “Que le vaya bien” was part of my daily conversation long before I knew what subjunctive was, and when we did finally learn the basics, I had no problem remembering the irregular conjugations because, like “vaya”, I use them.  

I’ve made some really silly mistakes and had some bizarre problems. One time I was trying to say “you’re going to like this,” and although I’ve conjugated the verb gustar a million times, I didn’t know what it was in its infinitive form.. So it came out more like, lo vas a emm ahh emm gusta gustar?


So how is my Spanish then..?

On the airplane down to Chile, I was proud I remembered tal vez (maybe). On the way back, a young Chilean guy and I had a lovely five hour conversation, completely in Spanish. And I understood everything.

We read a book in French Five, and I depended heavily on my dictionary. I read the same book in Spanish after three months, and while there were words I wasn’t familiar with, it was an easy read.

About two and a half months into my stay, I was working on homework in my host mom’s room when I realized I had understood the conversation on TV. I flipped out. It was the first time I had understood more than a word or two. Now I can watch Vampire Diaries with my host sister and understand almost all of it.

Basically, I understand lots; I can write some; I can say enough; and most importantly, I’m addicted to the language. I can’t wait to learn more!


High Five

And the low ones as well (to keep it real).


This is an easy one. I can not emphasize enough how much I have LOVED living next to the ocean. Having never lived on any body of water really, I was not aware of what I was missing. Until now. In addition to going surfing and kayaking and swimming and boating and all those other water fun activities, I also get a priceless view every time I leave my house. I love it when the water sparkles in the bright sun. I love it when the sun’s last setting rays change everything into warm colors. And I even love the cloudy days when I can’t tell where the sky separates from the ocean. Always beautiful. Captura de pantalla 2013-12-18 a la(s) 12.12.36 PM

I do not like looking at the garbage piles in the streets of Valparaiso. Despite the fact that the city a World Heritage Sight because it’s so special, and there are trash cans all over the place, and there’s a public trash service, there are enormous piles of garbage all over the place. It’s disgusting and sad. I also don’t like sick street dogs, mangled street dogs, starving street dogs, deformed street dogs, or dead street dogs and I hate seeing them chase cars in the street (it always looks like they're going to get hit), attacking (and sometimes killing) eachother or cats, and being threatening towards people.   IMG_1491Note: Not all the garbage piles are bagged so "nicely," nor are they piled quite as well, but this photo serves as an idea at least. 


The best smell hands down is outside of any Panaderia, especially right after they’ve just finished baking bread (it never smells quite as good inside). Luckily for me, there is no shortage of Panaderias or bread or this heavenly smell, and sometimes when I’m walking home, I’ll stop and just enjoy.   IMG_2125This street corner is really close to my house. There's the OK Market and the Cruz Verde that you find everywhere, as well as the delicious smelling Panaderia. 

Dying mariscos. There are certain places along the beach where it just reeks to the point where I choke if I inhale too deeply. One of my chilean friends said the smell comes from the mariscos that are left behind by the fishermen, rotting in the sun. I have no idea if that’s true or not or if it’s a combination of smells, but whatever it is, it’s horrible.


I love the feeling of laying in hot sand or crawling into my warm bed after a long day (or into my host mom’s bed with my cup of tea and a book), but I think my favorite touch is petting our kittens. Living with cats and dogs is something that is new for me, and I’ve come to really enjoy it when one of the kittens or Blancito (the big, white cat) jumps up into my lap while I’m working on homework or this blog or whatever else. The tiny furballs that arrived about a month ago have grown into quite the playful and curious (and occasionally destructive) bunch, and their fur is incredibly silky. Last night, two of the kittens slept in my bed throughout the night for the first time; this place really is my home. IMG_2154

The worst touch is probably any sort of physical contact with anything in the bathroom of certain bars or clubs. The level of bathroom dirtiness isn’t even on the same scale of anything that I’ve seen in the United States, and I’ve learned to avoid even entering particular bar bathrooms at all costs. 


This is a hard one because certain foods are better than others depending on the company, the temperature, the time of day, the location, etc and foods vary immensely depending on who cooked them. However, my favorite savors here are sopaipillas, choripan, pebre, homemade bread, arroz con leche and ice cream. Below is a photo of pebre which is a hugely popular salsa like food which is put on rice, choripan, sopaipillas, meat, bread, and pretty much anything else. It's made of tomatoes, onions, cilantro, aji sauce, olive oil and a little salt, and it's delicious! (it's also probably the spiciest Chilean food even though it's normally not spicy at allllllll.)IMG_1547

Although I am not really a fan of saltwater, a big bowl of unfrozen lentil mush that has been left out all day is less appealing. Let me explain. Lentils are hugely popular here (like eat on at least a once a week basis), and because Dana and I always ate lunch at her house on Mondays, and her family is really superstitious (more so than the average Chilean family), and once upon a time somebody started the idea that eating lentils on Monday is good luck, between her house and my house, I’ve eaten more than my fair share of lentils. Plus, although there are hundreds of recipes with lentils (I checked), we always eat them in the same form-a soupish mix of lentils, a little rice, a little squash and on the rare occasion a little meat). And, if you freeze and then thaw lentils, they become even more oddly textured and lose whatever flavor they had to start, making lunch a little too similar to cardboard. I think lentils and I will take a short break... On the left is gormet lentils (the same mix with a bit more rice, some cheese on top and a beautiful side salad. On the what the lentil dish normally looks like.)  Captura de pantalla 2013-12-19 a la(s) 12.04.22 PM


Honestly, my favorite sound is probably the sound of the waves, but since I’ve already expressed my love for the mar, I’ll talk about my second favorite sound here: live music. I hear live music every single day, and I love it. In addition to all the concerts (if somebody good is coming to Chile, they either come to my city or Santiago which is a short bus ride away..), there are people in the micros or the metro who sing, play guitar or another instrument, or rap every day. And usually they’re talented too. My personal favorite is a woman who sings Violeta Parra songs while somebody else plays the guitar; her voice is amazing, and I like the folkloric feel (Violeta Parra is an important Chilean-listen to one of her songs here:)


Sometimes voice overs are painful to listen to, and I’m not particularly a fan of the Simpsons’ voices in Spanish (an unfortunate situation because my host sister really enjoys them), but the worst sound here is this cat call. There’s of course the typical whistling, which I’m not a fan of by any means, but it alone doesn’t bother me all that much. However, some guys will make an almost clicking, almost ‘phhschh’ noise that I’ve only ever heard when my host family is, well, calling their cats to come in for the night. It’s hugely disrespectful and just plain creepy (especially at night or when you’re walking by yourself). Old guys (and even young ones too sometimes) whispering their snide little comments, cars honking, and just the looks in general, not going to miss any of those either.  



How to go to CHILOÉ!

And other possibly helpful travel tips.

Get a Great Group. Regardless of where you are going, the people with whom you are traveling with will make or break the journey. Chiloe is incredible on its own, don’t get me wrong, but I think the reason I had such a wonderful time during the last week was because Olivia, Diego and Nicolas are truly a Great Group. There was enough seriousness and planning to get us where we needed to be at all times, and there was enough humor and silliness to keep us all smiling, if not full on belly laughing, throughout the trip. They’re amazing. And as an additional bonus, Diego is a patient Chilean who is considering becoming an English teacher, which means we were all able to practice a foreign language. He’d help me translate songs during a bus ride (one of the best ways to practice/learn new vocabulary), we all spoke spanglish, and he’d correct us when needed or explain the grammar behind verb conjugations. In return, Diego was able to practice his English with us, and during the trip we helped him learn several key English phrases like “sucks to suck” or “you had one job.” These are people I’d like to stay in touch with long after we all leave Chile. IMG_1941From left to right. OLIVIA-always a blast spending time with her. DIEGO-trustworthy, and ready to lend a hand whenever there's need. NICOLAS-talented and insightful, and a valuable friend to have. 


From Here to There: Chiloe is located in the South of Chile, so south that I’ve now been closer to Antarctica than anybody in South Africa or Australia. There are buses that will take you there, but we opted for an airplane ride because thanks to LAN, it was about the same price and a whole lot faster (Plus it was Diego’s first plane ride experience!). We flew from Santiago to Puerto Montt which is about a 2 hour flight, and we got free airplane food (that was actually tasty) as well as an incredible view. Definitely worth it. Those tickets we obviously bought ahead of time, but for all the bus rides between cities and such we bought on the spot at the bus station (highly recommended). 1476160_10151533750392706_566993712_nThis photo was not edited, nor was the view distorted by the camera; from the plane window, this is what the sunset looked like as we were leaving the south. Incredible, right? 


Hostel it UP! Always stay in Hostels; they’re the best. All of our hostels were booked before we even got to the airport, which means we had beds guaranteed for every night. Also, always print out the name of the hostel, the address, and if possible, directions from the local bus station BEFORE going on the trip because it makes the getting to each one a whole lot easier, and after a long bus ride, it’s great to not have to worry about where you’re going or how to get there with all of your stuff (Shout out to Olivia and Nicolas for that one). Olivia and I decided to play it safe and stay in Santiago the night before our flight (because as you’ll find out, buses are not always flawless), and due to its proximity to the airport and our genuine curiosity, we booked two beds in the Princesa Insolente. It was all pink. But the staff and other travelers were friendly, the hostel was cozy and had a great central location to hang out and meet people, and the rooms were clean (I give it 8 stars). In Puerto Varas we stayed in Margouya Patagonia (a perfect hostel), in Ancud we stayed in Hostal Mundo Nuevo which felt very much like a hotel for better or for worse, and to conclude our trip, we stayed in Palafito Sur in Castro which was a newly opened hostel on stilts over the water (amazing except for the loud construction work that began bright and early in the morning). In each hostel, we met people from the around the world who shared their adventure stories and insight into what to do in each city, and if you happen to speak another language (like Swedish perhaps), hostels can be a great place to encounter native speakers. IMG_2044This is the view from our deck at the Hostel in Castro. 

Plan Less: This depends on where you’re going and what type of trip you’d like to have of course, but for us it worked out best to just go with the flow. Thanks to an organized Olivia, we had a Google doc laying out where we’d be each night and a couple of options of activities in each city, but without any concrete plans, we were able to decide what we wanted to do each day based off the weather and how we were feeling. Also hostels usually have suggestions of what you can do, and that doesn’t require much advanced planning (yet another reason they rock). 883246_10152058526731602_18905668_oOlivia on one of our spontaneous adventures. The day was absolutely gorgeous so we went to see some water falls. 


Pack: This is a complicated one. Before we left, the mothers all suggested bringing really warm clothing, like a jacket and boots, because normally winter clothing is necessary for trips down south. However, we struck gold; apart from a couple of rainy hours, the sun shone and shone, and sometimes it was warm enough to wear shorts and still be hot.. If you go during the Chile summer, with a good warm hat, a raincoat, a sweater, and comfortable shoes, you should be fine. Also a backpacking backpack is worth the investment (or borrow one), because it makes all the bus rides and walking to hostels much more pleasant and comfortable. IMG_1988Gringos in a BOAT! Nicolas is modeling the rain coat (well a windbreaker that multitasks), I've got the cozy hat, and Olivia's rocking the all purpose sweater with a cute scarf combination. 


Food: Our food experiences can be divided into four groups: restaurants, picnics, street food and romantic starlit dinners. Because culture and food are so intimately intertwined, it’s worth the little bit of extra money to eat out at a local restaurant a couple of times. Curanto is the most famous dish in Chiloe, so one afternoon we splurged and bought the plate that’s filled with all sorts of shellfish, fish, potatoes, chicken, other meats and some sort of bread/potato plops. It was enormous and delicious! During the trip, we also bought salmon (fresh!) and empanadas de loco. For the rest of our meals, we each contributed $20 to a food fund. This was great because then we didn’t have to divide up every purchase every day, and we were able to buy foods to make picnic lunches to take on our adventures (like chicken/chorizo sandwiches), ingredients for Nicolas’ famous tomato sauce, and the necessary snacks. We also invested in the street food economy, trying the zapallo-less sopaipillas, another traditional Chiloe food called Milcao (which is like a potato/bread pancake stuffed with meat and then fried), apple empanadas, completos, and street popcorn. Our last night, we celebrated. Olivia and I made crepe/pancakes with homemade hot apple sauce, manjar and granola, and with some smooth jazz seeping out from the hostel and a fresh ocean breeze in the air, we ate our meal and drank our cola de mono on the dock outside, with candle light, under the stars, in Castro, Chiloe, just us four. Try and beat that.

IMG_1965This is Kuranto where we ate Curanto. Recommended for sure. 


1502163_10152058528021602_594845637_o Nicolas cooking tomato sauce (for the first time...). 1501311_10152058555406602_565097622_oOur romantic dinner. 

And now.... WHAT TO DO:

-Take advantage of Government funded exercise equipment. Every city I’ve been to in Chile has been equipped with these brightly colored playground/exercise structures, but not all of them have views like this.  IMG_1975

-Always bring your swimsuit. Or at least wear your favorite (non-white) undergarments. Chile is basically one long beach, and when there's not access to the ocean, there's usually a lake or a river or water falls that are oh so inviting. Although none of us brought our swimsuits, we went swimming twice, once in the ocean, and once in the waterfalls. 1487701_10152058555071602_1577001971_o

-Run up at least one hill. Chile is full of them.  One afternoon Nicolas and I went exploring in Puerto Varas, and we were curious as to what was at the top of one of the hills. However, instead of walking up the road like normal people, we ran straight up this little path, arriving at the top completely out of breath. But like always, the view was worth it, and it was good to get a few endorphins going. 1476227_10151533751052706_63896412_n

-Always enter the museum, especially if it’s free. We went into numerous churches (because there are no shortage of those in Chiloe), and we stumbled upon a neat art museum full of paintings of old houses as well as notecards made by people who had visited before. Some had pretty sketches or deep messages or fun play on words that make you think. One example is "no midas tu riqueza por las coasa que posees, sino por aquellas que no cambiarias por dinero." (Don't measure your wealth by what you own, but instead by what you have that you wouldn't change for money). IMG_1858

-Eat ice cream. Or chocolate cake when it’s available. There's a city in the south that's supposedly very German (although that depends on who you ask really). We spent an afternoon there looking for the last German speakers (there are two but we didn't find either) and eating delicious desserts. 1495411_10152058527946602_1412221623_o

-Be a good person. The world is small, especially for a traveler, and you will see people you know. I offered my seat to a man on the bus to the National Park, and before the trip was up, I saw him three more times. We also ran into two students who had been studying at the same university as Olivia and Nicolas. Here's a photo of them hitchhiking with a friendly family.   1421188_10152058553081602_983187090_o

-Just keep walking, just keep walking. When you're not really sure what else you want to do in a city, pick a road and just keep walking. See where it takes you. It's a great way to see more of the city/countryside and pass time enjoying eachothers company. Plus you may end up somewhere cool like at a famous beach a couple kilometers away from Ancud called Lechagua for example.  IMG_1976

-Sing like nobody else is listening. Throughout the trip, we had several great moments where we just beleted songs like there was no tomorrow. Now Nicolas is actually a singer (has his own songs and everything), and Olivia can successfully carry a tune, but as for me...well it was fun let's just say. We brought out our Louis Armstrong voices, practiced our spanish (by singing spanish songs), and challenged our memories (trying to remember Christmas songs). Here is one that I really only know the chorus to but it has been stuck in my head for way too long anyways. Enjoy!  

-Meet kind French men with Cars who will drive you to see PENGUINS! Over homemade bread and jam one morning, we struck up a conversation with a friendly man who was in Chile working on a forrestry project. He was interested in going to see the penguins and happend to have a little car, and he invited us to go along with him. So we took him up on his offer.  We got to see two different types of penguins (Humboldts and Magallanes), lots of native birds (whose names I don't remember unfortunately), and an otter! IMG_2021

-Befriend street dogs. I've seen them in the north of Chile all the way down to the south; there's really no escaping these creatures. During a normal day, street dogs don't bother me. They let me be, and I let them be, and sometimes they even accompany me as I'm walking down the street. However there have been cases of violence here where a person gets bit or a cat gets killed, so you have to be careful. This dog (named Stitches) was quite friendly though and became our pal when we were admiring the volcano.175235_10152058523506602_1347988326_o

-Watch the sunset. I asked one of the people working at the hostel where the best place to watch the sunset was, and he directed me to this little park up the hill in the center of Castro. From there Nicolas and I watched the sun set behind the clouds (shooting out magical looking rays) and then again behind the hills. This photo is also a great representation of Chiloe as it has the hills, the greenery that you don't find in the north/central,  and you can even see some of the palafitas (which are the wooden stilt like structures the houses along the shore are built upon). IMG_2093

-Be a good Catholic (if you’re Catholic). And even if you're not Catholic, going to a church service in a cathedral that was originally built in 1567 is pretty freaking cool! Because of an impressive list of fires, the building has been rebuilt quite a few times, but the exact structure that we went to an hour of service in on Sunday morning was still over 100 years old. Going to service in Spanish was another worthwhile experience. There were parts where I didn't understand anything, but overall I caught I lot more than I thought I would. Plus I really enjoy hearing common expresssions directly translated into other languages, for example the Lords Prayer.  Ah and the colors. The south in general is brightly painted, but when I first saw this church, not only was I shocked, I also didn't really like it. But it was located in the center plaza, and we walked past it numerous times, and eventually the children's castle like color scheme grew on me. I can appreciate it now. IMG_2051

-Cave in and just take the tourist picture. It’s worth it. Here's me playing the piano (that's hollow..) on the shores of Frutillar, Chile with one of the volcanos (Osorno) in the background. The view looked photoshopped in real life.. IMG_1947

-Buy at least one souvenir. There are little artisian markets all over Chile, but Castro, Chiloe has a particularly good one that's definitely worth a visit. We went twice and along with several goodbye gifts, I got a pair of super cozy llama socks! Even Diego bought a comfortable, stylish and hand made wool hat. Unfortunately I failed, and somehow I managed to go the whole time without taking a single picture of the market. And neither did any of my companions. And so, for the first time yet, here is a photo brought to you by a google search!  You can see the wooden crafts (Chiloe is famous for those), as well as the selection of wool/llama knitted appearal and other trinkets. The fairs aren't cheap per say but they're not too outrageously expensive either. Castro35

-Dont be afraid to put your technology away. One of the notecards in the Art Museum said "Naci para vivir en una epoca donde la tegnologia me permite hacer todo menos vivir" or "I was born in a period where technology allows me to do everything except for to live." The majority of my gringo friends gave up the use of their smart phones (except for when there is wifi) while in Chile and instead bought a really cheap, really basic, indestructable Nokia phone to communicate. I think that's made a huge difference in my experience here and especially on trips like this one. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate technology; I just think it has its time and place (that's not everywhere and always). We spent more time goofing off with eachother on bus rides and long walks and while we were hanging out at the hostel than we would have had we been in the US. IMG_1855


And that concludes my trip to Puerto Montt, Puerto Varas, Frutillar, and Chiloe (Ancud and Castro). At first I wasn't sure if I was going to take any trips to the south of Chile, but now having gone, I absolutely recommend the adventure. It's STUNNING, and there is a slight difference in the language, the food, the way the people look and the culture in general that's worth getting to know a little bit. Throughout the trip, it was entertaining hearing everybody's opinions on what the countryside looked like (everything from Finland to New Jersey to Austria to California depending on who you asked). However, what it definitely doesn't look like is the rest of Chile.

Now I have a couple of days back in Vina and Valparaiso before my worlds collide and my family in the United States comes!!!!!!!!!!!! 



On Thursday afternoon, Dania, Yoe (two of my best friends here that I met through running), and I went to Valparaiso to spend some time together in the city. It was a wonderful afternoon, full of laughing and delicious foods, and, as I realized when I was describing the day to one of my friends, a great way to explain a bit more about where I live. 1400222_472482326193616_1961524912_o

Valparaiso: Our original plan was to meet up at around 1pm outside of Estacion Puerto. I arrived in metro a couple minutes early; Dania and Yoe arrived in Micro about half an hour late.

BREAK IT DOWN NOW-There is only one metro line here, and it runs from the port in Valparaiso all the way to Limache. I’ve never ridden the whole line, but my guess is that it would take around an hour and a half. Santiago has a complex web of metro lines more like the ones in Boston or DC, but because there is the ocean on one side and hills on the other, the line here is limited to one little worm-like stretch. I’m fortunate enough to live really close to a metro station (about a three minutes walk), so I probably use it more than the average person. When I’m lucky (like this particular Thursday), I arrive at the station right before my metro arrives; those times I arrive at my destination on time. However other times, if I just miss the train, it can take up to 15 minutes for the next one, and I have no idea of this delay until I’ve already swiped my card. Those days I arrive Chilean style.

Punctuality is not usually important here, something I learned very quickly and adapted to shamefully well. To be early does not exist. To be on time is to be early. And to be late, well that’s normal and absolutely perfect.

As for the micros, they’re a whole system of crazy. There are some bus stops that look like what you’d expect, but that doesn’t mean that the micros will stop there or won’t stop in a different place. To catch one of the wild creatures, you have to flag it down by sticking your hand out like you’re waving. That part is not too bad. The complicated part is trying decide if the micro that’s barreling down the road is going to take you to where you want to go or not based off the little writing that’s on its windows. I’m good at getting home from both Vina and Valpo, and I can get to the places I usually go to, but whenever I need to go somewhere new...that’s a whole new battle for me. Also, micro drivers are crazy themselves. One night when I was coming home, I rode on a micro that was blasting music, breaking all speed limits, blowing through red lights, and arguing with other micro drivers about who got to pick up the customers. That same micro also almost squished a guy between another micro. Granted the normal ride is much more calm than that, it’s still a type of driving that I don’t think would be legal where I’m from. Everytime you pay the micro driver, they give you a little ticket which is usually worthless and a bothersome piece of garbage. However, in the event that the micro crashes, the little ticket will pay for whatever medical attention you need, and once somebody boarded my micro asking to see everybody's tickets (once..). As far as prices, I have a student metrocard which makes each of my trips less than half the normal price, but for the micros I pay the normal full amount. For local rides, that's about 300 pesos, or the equivalent of around 50 cents.  IMG_1569Here's a picture of a micro. Notice the tiny little writing next to the 901...That's where this one is heading. 

Back to Valparaiso: We greeted eachother and then set off on our adventure. Dania was the tourguide in this case, explaining the basic history of the city to both Yoe and I. I’ve heard the general story several times now, but I catch a little something more each time, and I don’t mind hearing the history again and again. We were going to go to a little cafe up on one of the hills but first the ascensor was closed, and then, after we climbed up all the steps, we were instructed to turn around and go right back down by a van full of cabaneros. With that option closed off, we headed towards another hill, climbed another similar set of stairs, and arrived at a beautiful vista point, overlooking the city, the same one I went to one of my first weeks here.

BIDN-Chileans greet friends and meet strangers with one cheek to cheek kiss (although some guys actually give you a kiss on the cheek and leave you sort of kissing the air). Sometimes, depending on the friendship level, there’s a quick hug like action accompanying the hello smooch too, but not always. Guys normally greet eachother with a handshake or a bro hug if their really good friends, although I do see the traditional cheek kissing occasionally; I’m not really sure of the rules as far as that goes. Then there’s the hey, how are you part which could either be “Como estas,” “Como estai,” “Que onda,” “Que tal,” or a variety of others (some of which are only used between VERY good friends).

Ascensors are something I’ve never seen before outside of Vina and Valparaiso. I believe at one time there were 16 working ascensors in Valparaiso, and although not all are still functioning, those that are are used daily by the people who live there and are much much more than antique artifacts. You basically enter in a little box with benches, and then thanks to the magic of the machines, the box moves up the railroad tracks, up the cerro. It takes about a minute and costs less than 25 cents, and I’m sure it is a prefered option for a lot of the people who live in Valparaiso. Currently the ascensors aren’t functioning due to a city wide protest. This means that not only did we have to take the stairs, but so does everybody else who lives in the area, including the handicapped and the elderly. On our way up this time, we passed a grandmotherly woman with her walker, slowly making her way up the same climb that had us three young, athletic girls out of breath. This country does like their protests, but stopping the ascensors is borderline dangerous for those who can’t take the steps. IMG_0119This is one of the ascensors, probably the most famous. Each box has an eye and so when the boxes are moving up and down, they meet in the middle for a second to look out over the city. 

We arrived at the top only to turn around and head right back down at the orders of the Cabaneros or the Chilean Police. They all wear the same green suit, and their vans are green and white with flashing red lights. One time, when a Cabanero was helping me contact my host mother after my phone died, one of his superiors walked by. He stopped was he was doing and snapped to an attention stance until he was out of sight. Very orderly. Anyways, they instructed us to go back down because it was too dangerous where we were going. In Valparaiso, the general rule is the higher up you go in the hills, the more poverty there is, and the more likely it is you’ll be robbed. Past exchange students who have lived with my family have lost cameras and money up in the hills, in broad daylight and in crowds of people. There have been a couple cases of muggings and robberies this semester as well, although fortunately none that I’ve been the victim of.

Instead we went to a different cerro, one that’s much more tourist-friendly and thus also more secure, and began climbing those steps. One thing that there’s plenty of in these cities are stairs. Everywhere! They say the women who live in Valpo have some of the best legs because of all the stair climbing, and although I live in Vina, I still get my share in every day. Early on in the year I decided I would know I was in shape when I could make it up the set of stairs that leads up to my neighborhood without being out of breath; four months later I’ve decided that day will probably never come. Oh well. Most of the staircases are beautifully painted, some with poems, others with little motivational tips and others with just pretty colors.

Captura de pantalla 2013-11-30 a la(s) 11.36.38 AMThe stairs on the left were discovered during a class fieldtrip. The ones on the right were part of a Tuesday excursion with Dana. And the ones in the center are the ones Dania, Yoe and I conquered.

Back to Valparaiso: After sufficient photos were taken, we ventured off to the Navy academy/museum that was close by. This time we didn’t go in, but that’s something I would like to do in the near future. We walked around a little bit more and around 2:30 headed off to get some lunch and ice cream, because as Dania put it “Guatita llena, corazon contento” (full stomach, happy heart).

BIDN-The Armada (Navy) is a big deal in Chile which makes sense considering its geographical characteristics. It’s normal to see members of the Armada either running up and down the shore in t-shirts that say Armada or walking around the city in full uniform, and there are almost always anywhere between one and five enormous Aramda boats in the bay. The only National Holiday to recall a military feat commemorates Arturo Prat, for his exceptional heroism in the Naval Battle of Iquique on May 21st, 1879. IMG_1582

As far as meals, 2:30 is a pretty average time for lunch, and it’s generally the biggest meal of the day. My family usually does not eat this meal together during the week because we all have different afternoon schedules, but on the weekends, we set the fancy dining table and all sit down together for a feast. On this day, we had empanadas with a little shot of wine and then ice cream. Empanadas are just as popular here as they're made out to be, especially during the week long independence celebration and when walking around the city. The most common type is called Pino, and it has meat, onions, egg and an olive, but I prefer the Napolitana which has tomatoes, cheese, ham and oregano, the Concon ones with crab and cheese, or simply the plain cheese one. YUM! People here rarely eat when they’re walking in the streets, except for ice cream. On the hotttttt days, everybody seems to have either a cone or ice cream on a stick or some sort of ice cream sandwich. We ordered a big bowl of ice cream at a sit down restaurant to eat, and boy o boy was it good. The ice cream here is different, a little more gelato like, but not quite as richly flavored. It’s hard to explain, but none the less, it’s delicious. Captura de pantalla 2013-11-30 a la(s) 11.56.43 AM

And finally, the saying Dania said. For those who have studied Spanish before, you might not recognize the word guatita or guagua. That’s because it’s a Chilenismo. I think the only thing that exists more in this country than street dogs is modismos. Every time the conversation topic of languages come up, Chileans always comment how they talk really fast and use a bucket loads of words that are specific to this country. My favorite example for now is “Vamo no maahpo weon” (vamos no mas ‘dude’ or lets go!). They drop the letter s in a lot of words, use weon in a sometimes sentencely basis, and throw a po on the end of a variety of different words. Po comes from the word pues, and I hear it all the time in siipo, yaaapo (a good “yeahhh whatever” kind of phrase) and nopo, although it can be thrown in anywhere really. There’s definitely a difference between Spanish and Chilean Spanish, enough that sometimes the Mexicans here get confused (que es una frutilla??-ohh una fresa..) and my grammar teacher promises that once we understand everything here, we’ll be able to understand Spanish almost anywhere in the world (because they all speak better than Chileans).

And that was my afternoon as well as a little peek into what it's like to be living in Vina/Valparaiso. If you guys have any questions about my experience, the cities, the country or whatever else, let me know please :)




Hola buenas! Today I’m going to take you on a little voyage throughout the last couple of weeks here in the fifth region of Chile. Here are a couple snapshots of what what I’ve been up to.


One evening, my friend Hazel and I were on going out to dinner in the hills of Valparaiso. There was a miscommunication of when we were supposed to arrive which left us standing a ways up on Calle Ecuador without any real plans and about an hour and a half to kill. So we went for a walk. As we were looking for a bathroom, we found a dusty trail that looked adventurous, and because none of the shops in our sight were open, we decided to try it out. Long story short, we ended up discovering for the first time for both of us, the Parque Cultural de Valparaiso. Once a prison, the cultural center still has the the crumbling remains of the cell blocks, the prison yard (although I’m sure it didn’t have the lovely trees and benches that now spatter the courtyard), and public (and free) bathrooms. As we were leaving, a crowd of people were entering. I stopped and asked somebody who was handing out little tickets what was going on, and as it turns out, Hazel and I had arrived 10 minutes before the famous dance company Danzalborder was about to perform-for free. The group, directed by Elias Cohen, is a contemporary dance company born in Concepcion (a city a bit south of where I live), and that night there were performing Furia Feria or fury fair as part of a world wide touring program (there were other groups from around the world that had their performances the following nights). It was an incredible show, full of dance and humor, and even a fashion show like no other I’ve ever seen. The group’s aim was to “investigate and imagine the human body as a zone of interactions using elements of the traditional Chilean markets through a visual and cultural metaphor.” I think my favorite part was when they tied chairs and a broom to one of the actors in such a way that made him appear like a chicken! To get a little taste of the art, I invite you to watch this youtube snippet (it says it’s 20 minutes long, but that’s a lie-it’s two minutes-and worth your time). 



Only in Valparaiso do you find slides like this one.. On one of our Tuesday excursions, Dana and I found this little artsy park for all ages on our way up one of the hills. Valparaiso is FULL of stairs, and I guess the people in this specific area got tired of walking up and down the steps. For us, the effect was the opposite though, as we ended up climbing way more steps for the sake of whipping down the slippery slide again and again and again.


Captura de pantalla 2013-11-23 a la(s) 12.42.58 PM
Concon is the name of the city right next to Vina known (to me at least) for three things: Surfing, empanadas (specifically at this restaurant called La Deliciousa) and sand dunes. I’ve now climbed the mountains of sand a couple of times, but I think my favorite time was when I went with Nicolas. After eating amazing crab and cheese empanadas, we raced up the dunes to watch the sun set over the Mar, my home city Vina, and Valparaiso. A beautiful and peaceful experience.


Exercise + homemade bread + a group of friends (both new and old) + headlamps + lots of sliding down a dirt path + another sunset experience (I realllllly like sunsets..) = Just another weekday night in Chile.

One Thursday evening, Hazel and I met up with a group of outdoor enthusiasts to climb Cerro Mauco, one of the larger hills on the outskirts of Vina. Even though we had never met any of them before, nor did we have a good idea of what we were getting ourselves into, we decided that a little adventure here and there is healthy and off we went. We met Guillermo, the tourguide of the trip in Vina and crammed into his funny little car with three environmental tourism majors and two of Guillermo's friends for the hour drive to the base of the hill. After befriending a goat and three dogs, we began the trek (we left the goat behind at base camp despite its desperate crying, but the dogs followed us up the entire hill-one of them looked like a hot dog because its proportions were so off, earning it the name Completo). The hike took us about an hour and a half (we did it in half the time it normally takes!), and we made it to the top just in time to watch the last rays of the sun stretch across Vina, Concon, Valparaiso, Renaca and all the places in between. In addition to the breathtaking view of the sunset, we also were lucky enough to have an almost full moon and a sky clear enough for us to see the TALLEST MOUNTAIN in all of the Americas-Aconcagua! No big deal.


Once upon a time, three guys decided that they wanted to create a space of creativity, connections, comfort and community, a place where people could go to work on their projects or business, meet new people to form friendships and to share ideas/skills and to ultimately just have a good time. They bought a house way up in the hills, did a little renovating, and voila, Ancora was born. I was first introduced to this place on a fieldtrip with our CIEE class lead by Barbara, one of our teachers, and I fell in love immediately. Every Friday a local chef comes, and for 3.000 pesos (or $6) one can drink some wine, eat an incredible three course meal, and meet all sorts of people with fascinating stories and dreams. I’ve been quite a few times now with a variety of different friends, and every time is amazing. My favorite foods have been squash soup, a Thai peanut stir fry with traditional Chilean vegetables, and strawberry basil mousse with dark chocolate fudge. I know the people who live there well enough that we stop and chat when we see eachother in the streets, I’ve heard some inspiring stories like one from a Scottish man who started his own business and was spending the week in Chile to promote his product, and I’ve meet some life long friends. The last time I went, I met a girl named Camila who’s from 18, from Mexico, and is traveling around South America for a gap year like experience by herself. We’ve hung out a couple of times since, planned a couple of adventures together, and I’ll probably see her again in either Brazil or Mexico, or Chile or who knows where, a couple months or years down the road. Ancora is definitely my favorite place in all of Valparaiso. 1412673_640147089341074_568214472_o


The sun was shining in the flawlessly blue sky; the water was unusually calm and almost the same color blue; there was a gentle breeze, but otherwise the day was hot enough to appreciate a splash of cold water here and there. It was a perfect day for a relaxing kayaking adventure in the ocean. Dana and I took the metro to Valparaiso, rented a little plastic kayak for each of us, sat down in the already provided puddle of water covering the seat and pushed off into the blue blue blue. We paddled up and down the shore, waving to the sea lions flumping and grumping and groaning and sleeping in the sun on the island pier on our left and to the people sun bathing on the rocky shore to our right. We splashed eachother we water, sang a little Billy Joel (thankfully nobody else could hear us..), and paddled all the way out to one of the huge ocean barcos; inspired by Buscando Nemo, we both made sure to “touch the butt” despite the weird looks we got from the confused people on board. The entire time we were out in the water, we were the only ones within our range of vision, and to us, it was our ocean. IMG_0566

I didn't have my camera with me when we were out on the water unfortunately, but here is a picture of the ocean and the "butt" that we touched way off in the distance.


Wednesday night, around one hundred of the international staff and students at the University of Vina del Mar gathered on the rooftop of one of the campus buildings to celebrate the closing of the spring semester 2013 (remember, the seasons are flipped). We started off the night with a potluck style dinner. Each student brought a different plate of food to share, and there was a competition for the best dinner dish and the best dessert. True, competition only sometimes brings out the best in people, but it always brings out the best in food; the meal was delicious! The best dinner dish ended up being a Mexican Salad and the best dessert was Caramel Apple Cheesecake. I made homemade macaroni and cheese (made Chilean style, meaning without a recipe and without cheddar cheese and elbow noodles), but I ended up only bringing half of what I made because I left the dishes unattended in a house where there was a hungry boy.. After the enormous meal, we all gathered around to watch a local salsa band play. At first that was all it was: watching. But after our stomach digested a little bit, and the stars came out, people started to sway a little bit, and then suddenly everybody was dancing. For a good two hours, the band rocked the night, and we danced danced danced. I danced with my friends, with people I’ve talked to maybe once or twice and with people I’d never seen before. It was wonderful. 823426_10151672634886486_587721042_o


Along with all these other little adventures, I’m also still attending school and volunteering. We have three weeks left of classes with at the University, but this week marked the end of our CIEE class. Our final project was a 10 page paper in either English or Spanish about a research topic we chose and then an 8 minute presentation in Spanish about that same topic in front of a panel of our peers and four teachers (three from our class, and one from another university). I spent one Friday night at Hazel’s house, both of us working on our papers together and chatting with her host family, and I pulled an almost all-nighter another night to finish up the project. My topic was legends in the city of Valparaiso, and for the research part, I read some books, did a little google searching and interviewed professors, friends and people I met in the streets. It was a lot more work than I was expecting, but I must admit I did learn a lot throughout the process, and it was a nice reminder of what it feels like to have real homework again (and not just read this page and answer 6 questions). For the creative part of the final, I decided to write my own legend about how the Cerro Lecheros got its name. (for those of you who would like to read it, I’ll post it at the end of this blog).

So there you have it, a little taste of what’s happening in my life these days. I have one month and three days left of my Gap year abroad in Chile which sounds like a decent amount of time, but really it’s nothing. I miss my family and friends in the United States more now than ever before, and I cannot wait to see them all again. I miss biking in my city, really good chocolate, fields of just grass, Indian food, the Big Dipper, hugs, and clothing variety, but I know that I’ll be back soon enough. The truth is that I’m settled in here now; this dog has laid down, peaced out (Unfortunately for Uri, my mother was so disgusted after she cleaned my bed comforter that he is no longer allowed to sleep in my bed. But now he has his own bed, just like me). I have a life that I have created here, and I am just as comfortable in this house, with this family, with these friends, in this city, with this lifestyle. It’s finally become my home, and I am truly happy :) IMG_1341

 Here's the LEGEND. 

Hace mucho tiempo en los cerros de Valparaíso  vivía una familia, una mamá, un papá y su hijo, Pedro Pérez. La familia no tenía mucho dinero, pero aún así era feliz porque estaban juntos y eran muy unidos. Pedro era muy inteligente y sus padres lo querían mucho.  Cada mañana, la mamá preparaba panqueques para la familia y todos venían a la mesa para comer juntos. (Algunas noches, el papa tenía que trabajar hasta muy tarde, por eso  solo la mamá y su hijo comían juntos). El desayuno era el momento  más importante del día para la familia. 

 Pero un día, cuando la mamá abrió el refri ¡se dio cuenta que había olvidado comprar leche la noche anterior! Sin leche no podía hacer sus panqueques. Ella corrió a la tienda que estaba en la parte baja del cerro, pero tampoco tenía leche. El sol estaba a punto de salir y la mamá  no sabía qué hacer. De repente ¡tuvo una idea!

 Ella siguió corriendo hasta otro local, pero ese local era raro porque los animales venían algunas veces de otros países. Esa tienda, aunque estaba cerca del puerto, tenía gallinas, caballos y vacas. Compró una vaca rápidamente y juntos, la mamá y su nueva vaca, regresaron a la casa en los cerros.  

 Con su vaca la mamá tenía leche y cuando su hijo y su esposo se levantaron ¡había panqueques calientes para todos! Pero se acordó que ellos vivían en los cerros y  todavía no había ascensores en esa época. Entonces el día siguiente, cuando la mamá intento devolver la vaca, ella no pudo. Solo había escaleras y como todos saben, las vacas no pueden bajar las escaleras. Tristemente a la vacas no les gusta vivir en los cerros (prefieren el  campo plano) y por eso  todos los días la vaca lloraba---MOOOOoooo. 

 Si va a ese cerro,  aún se pueden escuchar sus aullidos. En honor a la vida de esa vaca, el cerro se llama Lecheros.


Vamos a La Playa !

Playa Uno: Casa de Primo.

In Spanish, the verb “esperar” means both to hope and to wait and a couple of weeks ago, that’s exactly what I was doing, waiting and hoping for the chance to surf. The weather here has been extremely unusual this spring according to everybody I’ve asked, and unfortunately not in a too sunny, too warm sort of way (there have been a couple of beach days, but they’re few and far between). Tomorrow, I kept telling myself. Tomorrow the sun will come out, and there will be waves, and I’ll go surfing. But this “tomorrow” didn’t seem like it was coming anytime soon, and of course the handful of sunny days were already full of other activities, leaving me esperando. There’s a point though, where you’re done waiting, and even if the conditions are not what you were imagining, no importa, it’s time to give whatever you want to do a shot. That’s what happened to me at least.

And so on a cloudy Saturday morning, mamá, Cata, my abuela and I piled into my family’s little car, and off we went. We drove along the coast for almost two hours (beautiful with all of the fog, but not so beautiful for my easily carsick sister), until we reached la casa de primo. Rodrigo is one of my second cousins here. He’s incredibly outdoorsy and adventurous (loves to surf, four wheel, sail etc), he’s an amazing cueca dancer, and he’s part of the Chilean Navy (which means he passes through Vina almost every week and spends a night on our couch). His family close to the shore, right next to several enormous summer houses of some VERY rich families, and they have access to the same private beach area. It was there I tried out my surf skills for the first time.

Rodrigo y yo heading back in after my first surfing lesson. 

The water was freezing and there weren’t too many waves, but none the less, I had a blast. The first couple times, instead of trying to stand up, I’d just lay on the board as it rushed forwards with the wave (even more fun than it sounds/looks). Then after a while, I made it to my knees, and then to my feet! Professional surfing is not in my future, and based off all the shared laughing, I’m not even at a proficient level, but I at least got to throw on a wet suit, dip my toes in the water, and swallow my fair share of salt.

To and From Beach transportation method. Notice the size of her smile (it's either because she's a happy person in general or because the rest of us had to walk, you choose). Also, don't worry, I got my first four-wheeling experience in too, both on the dirt paths and on the beach sand :) 

This, friends, is what surfers eat before surfing, aka a real Chilean barbeque (un asado). So incredibly delicious. 

Playa DOS: Zapallar

This weekend was a long weekend here because Thursday and Friday were holidays (Thursday being Dia de las Iglesias Evangelicas and Friday being the Dia de Todos los Santos). Halloween happened, but just barely; it’s a baby holiday still, only a couple years old. I saw maybe 10 tricker treaters, a little bit of candy in the store, and a few costumes being sold on the streets, but it’s really nothing in comparison to the normal Halloween festivities (and they don’t have the same pumpkins here, so there isn’t any carving to be done). None the less, I celebrated a little bit with a costume party at one of my friends apartments, and to help the holiday spirit, we made some finger cookies.

  1403626_10152330975298761_147703552_oThe team dressed up. Everything from a Captain America to a Captain Jack, and from an angel to a devil.  


Anyways, back to the beach! On Friday, my mother and I drove to a different beach town (because Chile is long and thin, there are a LOT of beach towns…) where the family of my sister’s friend Karla (the same girl who makes the KILLER lemon pie) has a second house. Although there are other beaches much closer to Vina, the advantages of this one are that there are less people and the shore is splattered with incredible rock formations to scramble up and climb. When Karla’s grandparents first moved to Zappalla, there was only one street. The pueblo isn’t that big now, but it’s expanded quite a bit since then and is now a popular summerhouse town (empty for most of the year, bustling during the summer vacations).

We arrived at around 2:30, ate some lunch, chatted for a solid chunk of time, and then my mother left and drove back to Vina. And thus began my weekend living with a different Chilean family in a different Chilean town.

The first day, Karla and I went for a multi-hour hike along the shore (image above). She's a wise one and fun to talk to, and one day she'd like to trek through New Zealand. When we returned, Karla, her sister, one of their friends, and I flopped onto their couch and made something very similar to a human weave, and although we started off watching television, the end result was much more like a slumber party. After our nap, we had a little once (some bread and cheese), and then, just before midnight, we headed out to a party. It was a very relaxed party, but fun none the less, and I met somebody named Javiar who's really good at making movies and has invited me to see penguins sometime soon!  

The next day was filled with beach bumming, strolls through the city, meeting up with friends, ice cream, family cooking parties, snooze sessions, annnnd...  IMG_0823horseback riding along the beach! It was awfully kind of Karla and her family to welcome me into their house for the weekend. They're one of those families that just works, and I felt honored to be a part of it, even for only a short time.  

In addition to being a wonderful weekend all around, this trip was monumental to me in two other aspects. First of all, remember when I arrived here, I spoke next to nothing. It didn’t take me long to become comfortable blubbering some sort of mix of languages to communicate with my family, but talking with other people was a bit terrifying and really embarrassing. Now jump ahead to this weekend. My mother drove with me, and stayed for lunch yes, but then she left! I spent the entire weekend with a family that I had met maybe two or three times before, and while I didn’t talk as much as I would have had we been speaking English, I was part of the conversation and I was almost always able to communicate what I wanted to say. And I felt comfortable. Confident.

The second is while I was on the micro, watching the trees, the dunes, the little pueblos wiz by the window, I was not thinking, “Time to go back to Vina,” or “I’m ready to be with my host family again.” Instead I was thinking, “I can’t wait to be home.”

Playa Tres: Mi Playa

Just so my beach doesn't feel left out, here's a picture of its shore one sunny afternoon (pre-lunch it's not too crowded, but only because summer hasn't started. After school's out, it's packed!). All our grumbling about the cold must have paid off, because recently it's been much sunnier and much hotter. One afternoon Dana and I threw around a frisbee, cooling off in the cold cold water after. Another day a group of us went to the beach to play in the waves, listen to Nicolas sing and play guitar, and meet an Argentinian (the last part wasn't planned; it just happens sometimes). I've even been to the beach a couple times by myself to read in the sun or "do homework."   IMG_0703

Now you've met the most important beaches in my life these days. This week is busy week, but after that, I'm hoping to spend even more time getting to know my new friend: the mar! 

Two Little Updates...I have now gone surfing a total of TWO times, and the second was ridiculously more successful. There was sunshine. There were waves. I probably ate more salt, and wiped out more, but I also made it onto my feet, into a pretty decent surfing position more times than I can count on my fingers. Not too bad, eh? :)

Also. We still have our five cats (two old ones, two kittens and one itty bitty tiny one who is adorable and orange and eating in the photo below). Plus there's still Uri. And the brand new addition: BIRDIES!



A La Feria

Almost every Saturday back home in Wisconsin, one of my best friends Sarah, my mom and I head downtown to the Dane County Farmers Market to buy fresh food for the week and spend some quality time together in the incredible environment. We are regulars at certain stands, so much so that Farmer John doesn’t ask need to ask what we’d like (he just hands us a bag of fresh squeaky cheese curds), the biscotti couple updates us about their newborn grandchild, and Mr Voss takes a moment out of his busy plant sales to exchange a few French words with us. Our Saturday morning excursions are one of the most important traditions in my life and it’s an custom I frequently explain when asked what I miss about my home state.

After three months of my Saturday mornings were filled with volunteering, traveling and family activities, when this weekend rolled around with a wide open schedule, I almost begged my host mother to accompany me to the Feria. As we were leaving the house, she explained that because she had gone to the supermarket earlier this week, we had a sufficient amount of food, and all we really needed was potatoes. Remember that.

The Vina del Mar feria experience was homely enough. Afterall, food is food everywhere, farmers are farmers, and farmers markets and farmers markets. However, each area has its own little spark, its own personality, and in as many ways as the experience was similar, there were differences. In the midst of the normal "couples holding hands, kids running around, parents chasing fruit and children, and elderly shoppers with their little rolley baskets" crowd, here there were also clowns, men selling ice cream and cigarettes (what a combination..), students selling plastic crabs made out of recycled plastic (may have bought one…), and we even ran into the mayor! (election week is right around the corner, and there are signs and campaign groups EVERYWHERE). My mother insisted that we get a picture, and so here we are, her, me and Virginia Reginato, the alcaldesa de Vina del Mar.  Captura de pantalla 2013-11-09 a la(s) 4.41.22 PM

A couple other differences…

“Let’s go to the Farmers Market early tomorrow,” in the US means we set our alarms for 6am. Granted there are the days when after a full week of school and a Friday night concert, or movie, or food party or something of the sort, 6am is a bit lofty of a goal, and the reality of our departure is more like 7 or 8. However, even in the laziest of days, 11 is the latest we’d ever consider heading out. Here, when I asked my mother what time I should be ready for, she sort of smiled and asked if I was okay with going a bit early so that there would be less people and more fresh fruit. Early, she said, maybe at 12?

So at the ohsoearly hour of noon, off we went. IMG_1531

On days when it’s not raining or unbearably cold, Sarah and I hop on our bikes and pedal downtown. Because most people are sleeping at such a time on a Saturday, the roads are much quieter than normal, and it’s an incredible ride. Here, my mother and I also did not drive, but rather than the tranquil, fresh air experience, we flagged down one of the wild micros (buses) and held on. Same adrenaline rush, different source… IMG_1532

In Wisconsin, all of the food is grown or made locally and organically, so depending on the season, there is a different selection: more apples and cherries in the fall, and strawberries and blueberries in the spring and summer. In addition to the variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers, there are stands of honey, maple syrup, Amish bakery, and of course, cheese curds! For breakfast, we munch on some fruit, veggies and some sort of baked good, like a scone or a muffin. Most foods are more expensive, but with the higher price comes higher quality, and it supports the local farmers.

In Vina, resale is allowed which means that what you’re buying is not necessarily grown in the area or even Chile, and it’s not organic unless it’s explicitly labeled so. There were the expected apples, oranges, strawberries, green beans, lettuce etc but we also found foods like pineapples and bananas which do not grow in Chile. For breakfast here, I got mote con huesillo, which is mote in a sweet juice with a dried peach. It’s a very common street food, especially in the summer. Here, we also didn’t get the option of choosing our own fruit; my mom would ask for a certain weight and the vender would throw a handful or two onto the scale and then into a bag. The quality is not as guaranteed with this manner of selection, and because of this, even though the market is much cheaper, half the price in some cases, my mother prefers shopping at the supermarket. Also, there were no samples.. IMG_1528

The Farmers Market in the states is spread out around the capitol building, and there is a general current of people in one direction as people make there way around the square. The venders are usually pretty quiet and wait for you to approach them (except for the spicy cheese bread guy whose voice can be heard a mile away). Here, there was no order. People were walking in every direction, bumping into eachother without any acknowledgment or apology, and shoving when there were others in the way. About half the venders were shouting a mile a minute about what they were selling, at what price, and the other half were engaged in conversations with 6 different customers all at once. My host mother and I walked within an arms length of eachother the entire time, and even then we almost lost eachother a couple times.

All the people, all the colors, all the noise, all the smells, it was a wonderful to be part of the farmers market chaos again. However, my favorite part was definitely returning home afterwards and laying out everything we had bought on the kitchen table. I recognized the work of art all too well; it was suspiciously similar to when my mother in the United States promises, “This time we’re only going to get a few things because we have plenty of food.” So much for just papas; in some ways all mothers are the same.. <3 IMG_1540




Con Una Sonrisa

Elevando sueños, construyendo oportunidades (Lifting dreams, constructing opportunities). That’s the motto of one of the volunteer organizations I’m working with throughout this semester: ADAPTA Chile. I don’t know much about the logistics of the program, but from what I understand, ADAPTA was founded and is still run by a group of university students. They’re original purpose was to help kids with down syndrome go surfing, but now it has spread to all sorts of discapacidades and a variety of sports, such as kayaking, slacklining, trekking, and of course, surfing still. The best part (well besides all the smiles of the students of course) is that as monitors, we’re expected to have just as much fun!


Learning how to sit on a slackline with the help of Tommy (on my right) and Jean-Pierre (on my left)

All of us GAP students went through a couple training sessions, and now almost every weekend, we work with other university monitors and different groups of about 10 students, some returning veterans and others new faces. We begin with a quick warm up, a game and then a group stretch. Then we break up into smaller groups, usually one or two monitors per student, and off we go, either hiking around a lake, hopping onto a surfboard, or walking, kneeling, sitting, jumping etc on a slackline. I’ve gone on a couple of hikes with a six year old boy named Vincent and his twin brother. Vincent has more energy than everybody else combined, a short attention span, and the cutest cheeks, and a good majority of the time when we’re not walking, the other monitor and I are taking turns playing catch the run away child! At one of the slacklining sessions, a girl named Rosalina approached me and said that my shoes were beautiful; we’ve been buddies ever since. I’ve particularly enjoyed working/hanging out with her because throughout the past couple of practices, she’s gone from holding the hands of two monitors while shakingly walking across the line, to confidently striding forwards and backwards with the help of only one finger (a feat some of us have yet to accomplish…). And one week she brought me a bag of Chilean candy.

The bros. (photo credit-Maggie)

Rosalina and I (and the notorious shoes..) Also, notice the landscape. Not too bad of a view, eh? 

When we first discovered that we were going to work with ADAPTA on the weekends as our mandatory volunteer organization, I was slightly disappointed because, like the other students, I had been looking forward to traveling on our three day weekends (our classes were specifically scheduled with the intention of giving us an extra day to explore). Then, the first several times brought about mixed feelings, because although the organization seemed like a good idea, I didn’t feel like I was contributing much; in addition to the language barrier (times 100000 when you’re talking to children with ADHD or vocal impairments…), I didn’t know the students well enough to interact with them or help them to push their boundaries in a comfortable way.

However, sticking with it paid off. I truly love ADAPTA now, and like almost all the volunteering experiences I’ve had, has become more than just me giving; it’s a two way relationship. Whenever I teach something, I learn something in return. When I help a 7 year old hold a pencil correctly to draw a cloud, he teaches me the word nube. When I’m patient, giving quiet motivation to the extremely nervous slackliner, they’re even more patient, doing their best to communicate with some crazy extranjera. One time, Jean-Pierre, one of the other monitors, told me to hop up onto the slackline, and I walked across holding on to only the shoulders of one of the students walking in front of me, also on the slackline (if that makes sense..). According to society, she’s handicapped, and here in Chile, I’m an obvious gringa, but as we were walking together, trusting each other completely, depending on only the other to keep from falling off, we were very much the same. When we made it, our smiles were mirror reflections, and let me tell you, there is little in this world that is better than a genuine whoop of glee and an enormous smile.

And the end of every session, there's a group picture. And everytime they say, "One, Two, Three, ADAPTA!" 

When I was walking home one afternoon, I ran into one of the other monitors from ADAPTA who's also a could-have-been pro parasailer and a local clown. He was heading the same direction, so we walked and talked for a while (He taught me about this insane sport that he partakes in where people race down the extremely steep, skinny, curvy, pot-hole filled, dangerous streets in Vaplaraiso on their bikes!). But anyways, right before I turned off onto my street, he said, “No te olvides, la mejor forma ver la vida es con una sonrisa.”  (Don't forget, the best way to look at life is with a smile). To me, that's what ADAPTA is all about. The concept is simple, it's pure, it's true, and it's something we can all learn from. 

1378584_523066927785334_1181331896_nThe latest surf session (photo credit ADAPTA) 

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