A ‘Dear Abby’ Moment

Queridos chilenos,

Due to the multiple offenses I have seen firsthand in my nine months in this country, I think it is about time I offer you this tidbit of fashion advice: Just because that clothing has English writing on it does not, I repeat DOES NOT, mean that it is cool. Perhaps you do not know what your t-shirt says, of perhaps you just don’t care, but some of the fashion choices I have seen here were quite questionable. Examples:

  • “Will trade husband for tractor” t-shirt on a 60-year old man
  • “University of Sex” hoodie on a 15-year old girl
  • “Hello, boys ;) ” tank top on a 12-year old girl
  • “I sleep with your mothers” t-shirt on a 40-year old man
  • “Geezer” t-shirt on a 30-something-year old man
  • “I’m autistic” t-shirt on a 17-year old boy (this one I’m reeeaalllly hoping was misunderstood and not just an attempt at humor in very poor taste)
  • “You have it? I want it” t-shirt on a rather obese man whose age I couldn’t discern

So I encourage you, compañeros chilenos, to utilize that Spanish-English dictionary before buying. This obsession with all things USA is not such a wonderful thing, I don’t think; appreciating Chilean culture is important- I love it, and am so glad to have experienced it and to have shared this experience with you all.

 

Saludos, friends!

Kirsten

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Better late than never… Happy Thanksgiving from Chile!

Happy belated Thanksgiving to all of my friends and family (and anyone else who may be reading this) back in the United States! This was my first Thanksgiving being away from my family, which was a little sad for me especially since it is one of my favorite holidays. You don’t have to buy presents for anyone and there are no tacky sweaters or grandma-approved dresses involved; all you have to do is eat, watch some football, laze around with your family, and eat some more…what’s not to love??

Fortunately, IES anticipates this and plans a Thanksgiving dinner every fall semester as a way for us gringos to celebrate the holiday, but it also serves as a final official event for the group since it falls so close to the end of the semester. IES bought turkey and gravy, and the center’s wonderful housekeeper Señora Sonia made a mountain of real mashed potatoes (not from a box! Is this real life??). Each student had to bring a salad or dessert, so we made a potluck out of it. Decorations were put up all over the center. Two students from the program wrote and played a cello/guitar duet, and mi buen amigo Jake compiled a slideshow of pictures from the semester (Here is the link, por si les tinca verlo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mi08SvBZH9w&feature=plcp). Some shared what they were thankful for, and then we had dinner. Although quite unlike Thanksgiving at home, it was still an enjoyable evening with plenty of conversation and camaraderie, and quite a nice break from studying for finals, which have been keeping us all busy (hence the delay in posting…sorry!)! 

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A visitor? For me??

In what is easily my biggest news of the semester, my dad made the 5,000-mile journey to come visit me last week (favorite child status, anyone??)! Since, in my opinion, Santiago is a better city to live in than to visit, we decided to spend the greater part of his visit adventuring in a different part of Chile where neither of us had been: San Pedro de Atacama!

I went to fetch dear ol’ Dad from the SCL airport on Wednesday morning (late, as I miscalculated how bad morning traffic would be…whoops) and from there we came back to my host family’s house. My familia anfitriona once again proved that they are la raja by telling me that my dad should stay at the house with us during his stay, almost taking offense when I asked if they had hotel suggestions. Once we arrived from the airport, Gloria had breakfast ready and towels laid out. We ate, showered, napped, repacked, ate lunch, and took a quick walk around my neighborhood before heading back to the airport to catch a flight to Calama. Our flight ended up being delayed nearly two hours, but we passed the time catching up and snacking on some Cinnabons and smoothies. Unfortunately, the delay meant that there were no more buses running to San Pedro when we finally arrived in the Calama airport, and we had to resort to a shuttle van that was a little more caro than I had anticipated. However, all was well as this way we were dropped off right at the door of our hostel and didn’t have to wander around aimlessly at midnight.

Atacama is the driest desert in the world, so we wanted to do all the standard tours in order to take pictures to prove that we were there (and because my little brother requested them). On our first tour, we climbed through salt caves and salt flats, and continued on to La Gran Duna (The Great Dune) and Valle de la Luna(Valley of the Moon), which was a new experience for both of us. We both said that my older brother, a big fitness buff, would definitely have been impressed with us monkeying around all over as we did! Even better, we got some great photos!

Valle de la Luna

After Valle de la Luna, we went to Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley) which was very impresionante…and windy! Here are pictures of us trying not to blow away (my water bottle was not so successful in this endeavor):

Don’t blow away!

Valle de la Muerte

Then we continued on to Mirador de Cari (…I don’t know what that translates to) to watch the sunset. This site boasts a “hanging rock” that is basically spot-on of the rock from the Roadrunner cartoon that always falls on Wiley Coyote, and beautiful colors reflected on the mountains as the sun lowers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day, we got up at 3am (more like bedtime than wake-up time, if you ask me) to go see the

Geysers del Tatio. Even though we were in the desert, it was COLD! The guide said that it was about -10 degrees Celsius when we arrived. We explored a little, and then had some hot coffee and granola bars

before heading on to some geothermal pools and hot springs. We decided not to swim, as it was still pretty chilly (look at me, bringing back that pun!) and we did not have towels. We continued on, stopping every once in a while to take pictures, and then visited a tiny little town called Machuca whose population vacillates between 3 and 35. I was so excited to introduce my dad to the Chilean delicia that is anticucho (or as I affectionately call it, “meat on a stick”), and the ones we bought there were probably the most delicious I have ever had!

Anticuchooo!

 

Ojos del Salar

We got back to the hostel at about 1pm, got empanadas to snack on, bought more water, and took a quick nap before our next tour to Laguna Cejar, Ojos del Salar, y Laguna Tebenquiche. Again, we chose not to swim as the water in the first lagoon was super salty (comparable to the Dead Sea, the guide told us) and the freshwater body that came afterwards was one you had to jump down into and then climb out, and we didn’t want to risk that the hostel would not have water for the shower when we got back. Nevertheless, we got some pretty pictures and now can escape the wrath of my mother, as I doubt she would have been pleased if we had jumped into a lagoon of unknown depth in the middle of nowhere.

We sipped on the famous Chilean/Peruvian (avoiding the conflict, do I get some PC points??) cocktail pisco sour as we watched the sun set over the extensive salt flats, with the Andes Mountains on one side an extensive lagoon in the other. Finally, we returned to San Pedro for a delicious dinner before heading to bed for our last night in San Pedro. Atacameñs are such nice people, and I really enjoyed the trip there! The only downside was either that a) you have to use cash rather than credit card in most places, or b) four different people assumed that my father and I were a couple (Geeeez, Chileans, do I really look that old??)

 

We made it to the airport the next morning in time for our flight, after a little bit of panicking on my part since the buses all my friends told me would be there to shuttle us to Calama were gone, thus forcing us to contract a private taxi. Once back in Santiago, we had a snack and explored more of Ñuñoa before heading out for dinner at a Peruvian restaurant. The food was absolutely delicious, probably the best meal I’ve had during my whole stay in Santiago, and the company was lovely as well. Ashleigh came too, and the three of us ended up staying there and chatting until almost two in the morning!

The next day we went to Cerro San Cristobal, arguably the main tourist attraction in Santiago (not that there are many..). I thought it would be good since it was a sunny day, and there are plenty of gorgeous views from the top and all along the way down. We had some mote con huesillo once we reached the top, and sat in the outdoor chapel to talk and soak up the views and the sunshine.

Mote con huesillo

With La Virgen; Cerro San Cristobal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After we trekked down, we got some ice cream and walked around the comuna of Providencia, then took a micro back to my house for a bit of down time before dinner. On Monday, my dad came with me to IES since I had classes and he would not have anyone to translate for him if he had stayed behind at the house. He was able to meet some of my friends, and we went to lunch together. Once my last class had ended, we headed back to the house to freshen up a bit, then may or may not have gotten ice cream again (hey, it was 80ᵒF outside!) before the shuttle for the airport came. I went along to the airport, just in case it was crowded and he needed help navigating through all the lines (it was not crowded at all), and also to say good-bye and see him through security. His time here flew by! It was a short visit, but very enjoyable. I am so glad that he was able and willing to come all the way down to see me and this country that I love dearly.

One of my favorite views of my favorite city :)

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Let’s get political.

Even being 5,000 miles from home, it has been impossible to escape all the coverage on the presidential elections (especially the plethora of facebook posts about it… I think we are all ready for that to be over!). I continue to be surprised at how connected Chileans are to the world beyond their borders- they stay informed on politics and current events in many other countries, and probably know more about Romney and Obama than many Americans do, myself included. My immersion into Chilean life has led me to change my political views. Not only is my personal ideology different now than it was before I arrived in February, but I have also become more conscious of events taking place in other countries because being globally aware is much more important to me than it was before. The two following recent events really highlighted this.

 I followed the recent Venezuelan presidential elections pretty closely, I dare say more closely than I have paid attention to the coverage on the US elections. I have a Venezuelan friend who is now living in Santiago because he no longer feels safe in Venezuela, and says it is no longer the country he considered “home,” and many of his friends feel the same way and have also emigrated. He was ferociously attentive to the situation there, and had many comments on changes he would like to see take place so that Venezuela can progress and develop, rather than continue on a path of violence and disorder (one of his high school classmates disappeared a few weeks earlier and is presumed dead, and he tells me this is not the first of his friends to whom such a thing has happened). He watched and read anything he could find about the election, following the news religiously. He had his family mail him a t-shirt, a hat, and stickers in support of his candidate, filled out his absentee ballot as soon as possible, and spent Election Day in Mass with a group of other Venezuelans living in Chile so they could pray together for the future of their country. His dedication and extreme interest and concern was inspiring; I was hitting the refresh button every two minutes to see how the results were looking even though I am not Venezuelan nor have I ever been there.

Then, last weekend were the local elections for Santiago, where los santiagüinos voted for candidates to be the alcaldes (sort of like a mayor, only with a higher level of autonomy and control) of each comuna or district of the city, as well as other local government positions. They may seem less-than-newsworthy, especially given that they fell between the re-election of Chavez in Venezuela and the incredibly close US presidential elections being processed as I write this, but they actually were taken very seriously! Voting tends to occur on Sundays here, since people are likely to be home with very flexible plans. On Saturday, the government implemented ley seca, or “dry law,” thereby prohibiting the sale of alcohol from 5pm Saturday until Monday. No clubs or bars were allowed to be open on Saturday night, and as it turns out, many restaurants, department stores, and supermarkets closed early on Saturday (and next to nothing was open on Sunday). I was amazed at how many young people voted… and at what a difference it made. These elections were, in fact, important because many of the incumbent alcaldes had held their positions for about 20 years even though they were known associates of Pinochet, who was the dictator of Chile from 1973 until 1990. It was on record that a few of them had even tortured citizens during the dictatorship, yet they continued holding positions of authority and respect in their local government. Young people took up this issue to spur a change and “start with new people so that we can really have democracy” as a friend of mine explained. In my comuna, Ñuñoa, the incumbent alcalde was ousted in favor of a leftist woman by a mere 92 votes. It seemed like everyone was glued to the television, watching the news and latest election headlines as they broke. After a tumultuous period of counting the votes where it was nail-bitingly close, it was finally announced that nearly all of the incumbents had lost. Ñuñoa was particularly ecstatic, and many people headed out to the main plaza and celebrated until 4am (I went to bed as I had to wake up early, but I heard the excitement from my house).

Witnessing these election processes made me realize that 1) one vote can make a difference, 2) local government is important albeit small, 3) voting is an important privilege, and 4) it is so so so important to be informed. We can only make government work for us if we put in the effort to support the candidates we want. I am sorry now that I was too lazy to make a decision on which candidate I preferred and do the paperwork for my absentee ballot, much less register to vote, after seeing the effects of these other two elections on the people around me. (*Side note: not voting ended up being a handy excuse today when a 60-some year old man tried to forcibly take me on a coffee date so he could “get to know me” and discuss American politics and “the views of my heart of hearts”…no thank you, Señor Creepy!) Going forward, I will fulfill my civic duty and vote when possible and stop being a statistic of people my age having low political efficacy. I am currently monitoring the results as they come in, and I hope that the outcome will be for the best and help the US move forward as it needs to.

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Missing out?

 

The study abroad experience is more than wonderful, the vast majority of the time. Sometimes, though, being so far away from family, friends, and the familiar is hard. Being in Chile for the past eight months has meant that I could not be home for friends’ birthdays, family get-togethers, holidays, my little brother’s prom, the engagement and subsequent engagement party of one of my best friends, my older brother’s college graduation, and- the most difficult and emotional of all- when my little brother had to have major surgery. Facebook, Skype, and email have helped me stay connected (and caused a bit of an unfortunate Facebook addiction), but they have also made me aware of how out of the loop I have gotten during my time away.

This realization became clear to me when I went home to Ohio for two and a half weeks in July: life goes on even when you aren’t there. While I was off having a life-changing semester in South America, my friends and family were also changing and doing new things with their lives back home. My group of best friends had created new memories and inside jokes over the course of those 4 months that I wasn’t a part of, and similar with my family. Now, it’s not like I expected them all to merely sit around moping, missing me, and building a “Kirsten shrine” or anything, but I guess I just never really thought about how I would be missing out on events back home while aprovechando de all the opportunities that Chile was offering… and it hit me a little hard to realize it. I suppose you could say that was my taste of “Re-Integration Culture Shock”—and I suppose I could add that I’m glad I was able to delay it for another semester.

What is the take-away from this, then? I would propose this idea: realize that studying abroad is a great experience that comes with lots of change. You are very likely to change in thoughts, opinions, interests, treatment of others, personal taste, and maybe even appearance (like me, for example- I left a brunette and am now a blonde!). Your worldview is bound to change if you open yourself to the abroad experience, and will return home fundamentally different. However, changes also occur back home; relationships will evolve (some become stronger, while others fade away), and your friends themselves will change. A semester is a pretty significant amount of time, after all! My advice is to realize this, accept this, and act accordingly. It is important to keep in touch with your loved ones back home, but it is also important to really be where you are during your time abroad, physically and emotionally, in order to make the most of the experience. Although life may not be the same when you return, the people will still be there, and both parties can share what new changes have taken place.

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Get to work!

I am happy to say that I finally got an internship! Please ignore or forgive how behind I have been on blogging… it’s just that my life has gotten much busier over the past two weeks since I started my work.

I mentioned before that I had wanted an internship in the business sector. Some of my friends from last semester interned in the Human Resources department of an international engineering firm and recommended that experience (at least to take advantage of the free, REAL coffee machine and the fancy-schmancy creams and sweeteners in the office, if for nothing else). Unfortunately, after playing a long game of email tag, the company decided they could not take on any students this semester. The second business I could have interned with was a Japanese electronics company. It would have been a great learning experience, I’m sure, but it also would have been a two hour commute each way for me, so I turned it down.

Finalmente, I ended up with a dual-internship, working for both an art museum and an NGO (in English, The Salvador Allende Foundation). The two are conveniently located in the same building, which is an old, restored mansion built by an aristocratic Belgian-Chilean family in the 1920s. I am doing research to create a report that includes the history of the mansion, the museum, and the Foundation. I will write a Spanish version and an English version. While working on that, I will intermittently be translating into English various scripts that the museum guides memorize for giving different tours. The museum has had a great need for this in the past year, as more and more English-speaking tourists and exchange students have been coming to visit. Additionally, if such visitors ever call ahead to reserve tours, the museum will call me to come show them around.

The building where I work! Isn’t it beautiful?!

Even though it is not business-oriented, this internship perfectly suits my interests seeing as I am a Humanities major and a museum geek to boot. I am in my own little nerd heaven in my “office”- they have me set up at a giant table with my laptop in the middle of the private library in the lower level of the mansion. I occasionally joke that I am a “basement-dwelling intern,” but in actuality I couldn’t love it more (and just to be clear, there are some windows and plenty of light; it’s not a deep, dank basement)! I am surrounded by myriad books, catalogues, encyclopedias, and pamphlets, including material from the former president Salvador Allende’s personal library and that of his widow (I have touched something owned by one of the most famous politicians in Chilean history!), and various old photographs that have been restored, enlarged, and framed. In fact, squarely in front of me is a picture of Allende with Pablo Neruda, my favorite poet of all time. One morning last week I was in the office by myself and through the vents I could hear the trio of construction workers on the floor above (preparing for the new exhibit) putting on a concert of sorts: one was whistling while another was belting out the melody opera-style in a deep voice and the third broke out the falsetto. It was definitely an entertaining morning, y me dio mucha risa!

The Foundation has three employees working here, and there is one other intern who just so happens to be un amigo mío from IES. We all are in the same area but we each have our own space with a food amount of privacy, so the office has a nice quiet, independent vibe without being isolated. My co-workers are all very nice and helpful, and have extended invitations to us interns for staff events in the museum as well as their birthday parties. Por lo tanto, last night I went to the inauguration of the new exhibit in the museum and discussed the incorporation of film in contemporary art with a group of Argentineans while they sipped on red wine. ¡Qué cuico!

So far, I have really enjoyed this internship and am very happy that things have turned out this way. It makes my schedule more hectic, yes, but I enjoy mi tarea and am sure I will learn a lot by being here and meeting new people through my work.

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It’s a conspiracy, I tell you.

 

Paloma: 1) the bane of my existence; 2) pigeon.

Let me clarify, for those who do not know: I have a horrible fear of birds (go ahead and laugh; many of my friends and family members do!), which is made even more unfortunate when combined with my bad luck with most animals. But really, look at this picture… how could I NOT be afraid of these things??

Spawn of Satan

Las palomas are to Santiago as squirrels are to Wofford. Like the rambunctious squirrels on campus, pigeons run rampant here in my beloved city, flapping about and popping up in my path unexpectedly. Additionally, both have contributed to convincing me that my death will one day be caused by small animals. My roommate has witnessed or heard my panicked stories of many incidents at Wofford where squirrels have dropped acorns and twigs on me from their perches up in the trees, or narrowly missed my head when jumping from one tree to another as I was walking to the Olin Building. Those rambunctious little creatures do not exist in Chile (at least, not in any of the cities I have been in). The substitution, unfortunately for me, is pigeons…and a lot of them. I have had lots of unpleasant encounters with them (so many that I am convinced there is a plot afoot). To give my family and friends a laugh or two, I thought I would share some of them here.

  • They lurk at the bus stop. The bus stop I use to get from my PUC class to mi casa is on a corner right in front of a car dealership and a Laundromat, and there are always food carts around. Thus between the many ledges and food crumbs, it tends to be a magnet for birds. Typically, you can see me there standing rigidly and looking anxiously down the street for the bus to appear and whisk me away from the dozen or so pigeons ominously lingering close by. One day a few weeks ago, though, las palomas were especially terrifying. I was waiting with about 20 other people, and apparently the pigeons decided that the windowsills just weren’t cutting it because next thing I knew, there were 15 pigeons swooping down and landing right at MY feet (really?! Of all the people there, I was the ONLY one who they were interested in…) and starting to strut in circles around me. So there I am, a gringa merely trying to blend in and not draw attention to myself, and the birds go and thwart my attempt, because nothing says “Hey, look at me!” like shrieking, flailing around, and hyperventilating at a crowded bus stop amIright?? The next week, there were miraculously fewer pigeons waiting for me when I got to the bus stop. However, the elderly gentleman standing next to me thought it would be a nice gesture to toss some of his roasted peanuts on the ground in between us for the birds…and thus commenced ‘The Great Pigeon Fight of 2012.’ About four of them were scrambling around competing amongst themselves for the crumbs, less than two feet away from me. One came perilously close to running into me. Needless to say, I made like Young MC and busted a move out of there.
  • They wait for me outside the metro. Exiting the metro stations can be tedious enough trying to weave among the throngs of slow-moving Chileans, but I have the additional obstacle of avoiding the birds that are inevitably meandering around the landings and stairs. Sometimes they will continue going about their business despite the people walking around. Other times, they will decide to sporadically fly straight up into the air without warning. This usually happens when they are directly in front of me. My friend Jim witnessed this many times last semester and still laughs at me for it simply recalling it. He says he can do a perfect impression of my “Kirsten-seeing-a-bird” shriek.
  • They spy on me in the shower. There is a window about two feet long and eight inches tall in my shower that we leave cracked open for ventilation. One morning last week as I was showering, I was startled by a loud thud, and looked up to see a pigeon trying to get in the window. I quickly slammed it shut and finished my shower in record time. On the bright side, I was home alone so at least my family wasn’t there to hear me scream…and after that, I was wide awake and didn’t even need my morning coffee!
  • They follow me. One afternoon, I decided to aprovechar de the nice weather by walking around and doing some errands. This one particular pigeon, though, first blocked my path (like when you run into someone in the hallway and you both keep moving to the same side to get around each other), and then turned and was following me. I know, I know, I probably sound like a crazy person, but that thing was right behind me for almost an entire block! I ducked into a pharmacy to get away from it and por fin saw it wander away after a few minutes.
  • They congregate in alleys to all surprise me at once. This happened last semester, but I think it is still relevant. During a weekend trip to Valparaíso with some friends, we decided to walk around and look at the graffiti, since Valpo has some incredible street art. We turned down a street that had many small alleyways on either side, one of which contained about a hundred pigeons. Right as we were approaching, it was like a group lift-off and they all began to scatter and fly around in a frenzy. I don’t think I have ever freaked out more in my entire life; I screamed, and on instinct jumped toward Jim for protection, seeing as he was the tallest of the group, but he was already doubled over practically with tears streaming down his face laughing at me. He describes the scene quite well– if I were someone else I would probably laugh at me, too.

My run-ins with pigeons are surprisingly frequent, more than anyone else I know. Hopefully it will eventually work as exposure therapy? In any event, at least I know I will leave my mark on Chile this year as being that crazy gringa who so many Chileans have laughed at upon seeing the incidents… and that’s something, right? J

¡Que estén bien! And may your paths be pigeon-free!

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A taste of home

When I left the US to embark on my South American adventure back in February, I knew that I would miss my family, my friends, and my dogs. Who wouldn’t? One thing that I did not expect to miss so much, though, was food. As I highlighted in my last post, one can find various delicias in Chile if you look in the right place (or come to embrace mayonnaise, as others have told me, but I still refuse); however there are many foods that I enjoy in the US that are not available here, whether it’s a Cook-Out milkshake with my roommate, my mom’s buttermilk pancakes, Big Red gum, or Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (a staple of the college student diet). I would do unspeakable things in exchange for some Panda Express right now. Fortunately, I have found some ways to alleviate this sense of falta. One helpful and greatly appreciated solution was that my family sent me a care package with plenty of American snacks (thank you!! I’m glad you think I’m worth the postage!) Another solution, and a quite enjoyable and effective one at that, has been making friends with Chileans.

Ashleigh and I have made friends with two Chilean brothers who share an apartment in el centro of Santiago. They are college students like us and we all get along really well, especially now that they let us come over and use their kitchen. About once a week Ashleigh and I will go over and make dishes from the US (or that can at least be found in restaurants there) that are not so common in Chile, and then the four of us will have it for dinner together. It works out well for everyone: Ashleigh and I get to feel some semblance of the independent college lifestyle we are accustomed to in the US rather than being waited on by our host mothers, we get to have a “taste of home” as it were, the boys get to eat delicious food (we are basically goddesses of the kitchen po, if I do say so myself), we get to share little pieces of American culture with our Chilean friends, and we learn new kitchen and food vocabulary. It’s a fun way to unwind and spend the evening, practicing Spanish and laughing together over a home-cooked meal. One of our recent endeavors was to make cheese-filled, bacon-wrapped hamburgers. I prepared the hamburger meat and patties, and Ashleigh wrapped them in bacon and had skillet duty (and she survived touching meat with her bare hands, she is proud to say!) The boys loved them; they told me that I should move to Chile and open a restaurant because I “would become a millionaire!” and thanked us multiple times for making them “the most delicious hamburgers ever.”

Ashleigh, working that spatula like a champ!

Ready to be cooked!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have made them “brinner” before with scrambled eggs, bacon, and chocolate-chip pancakes, as well as nachos, brownies from scratch, and penne vodka, and we have supplied them with a ladle and a spatula (we were horrified when we discovered that they didn’t have a spatula…which made the pancakes a challenge!).

Dinner with them is always one of the best parts of my week. It is strange that food of all things can trigger or cure feelings of homesickness, but our dinners always put me in a great mood, as good food, great company and wonderful memories are always to be had. Now I will have to learn how to make some platos chilenos for when I miss Chile when I am back in the States!

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Las Fiestas Patrias

Although the current weekend is only just now starting, here in Santiago I am starting to wind down a ten-day weekend due to las Fiestas Patrias, the celebrations of Chilean Independence! Los chilenos are a proud people, and this is never more evident than the week of “El dieciocho,” (the Eighteenth) during which everyone (and I mean everyone) spends days celebrating Independence Day and la chilenidad.

The past week has been a blur of activities, from asados and get-togethers with my family or in friends’ houses, parties in nearby parks, concerts, parades, fondas(giant food stands/tents, some of which have tables and chairs with space for dancing), and simply walking around and people-watching. I have never felt more popular in my life, with all the party invitations, Facebook messages, and texts I got from Chilean friends this week, asking me to come celebrate Chile with them (Chileans love their country, and other people who love it as well!).

My friend Jopa and me at a fonda

It has been such a unique, fun-filled week; los santiaguinos who are normally rather stoic were all smiles and warm greetings, even for strangers.Ashleigh and I made an effort to go to places that would be more authentically Chilean rather than touristy, and therefore tended to be the only non-Chileans wherever we went (although we always made sure that we went WITH Chileans, for safety reasons). Strangers even came up and asked to take pictures with us, and more than one drunk person in the fondas asked to touch my hair. People danced in the streets, and there were more musicians playing on the micros than normal (and they played more traditional Chilean music, such as la cueca). As one of my professors dismissed our class last week, he told us, “Coman harto. Tomen harto. Bailen harto. ¡Disfruten el Dieciocho!” (“Eat a lot. Drink a lot. Dance a lot. Enjoy the 18th!”)

This man insisted on us taking a picture together

The most impressive part of this week, though, has been the food. Apparently, Chileans attempt to break free from their salt, mayonnaise, hot dogs, and carbohydrates chains and bring out the good food during las Fiestas Patrias. Supermarkets were slammed with customers last weekend, with everyone preparing for asados and big family meals (my favorite moment was turning around in the check-out line to see a little old woman with a shopping cart full of cerveza). In my house, we had steak every day of the week. Gloria told me that on Saturday we were going to have an asado that would just be “something simple and casual”…and I arrived home that afternoon to see a the grill covered in steaks, cuts of pork, Italian sausage, and empanadas, and the table stocked with various salads, potatoes, fresh bread, fruit, homemade sangria, and Chilean wine. I spent the afternoon with Mario, Gloria, Juli, Feña (her husband), Feña’s parents and younger sister, a couple who are old friends of Mario and Gloria, and one of Mario’s nephews and his family, enjoying the meal and fellowship.

Since I finally have Chilean food and to brag about, I am going to snag this opportunity to share some examples of what was available in the fondas, parks, and streets:

  • Anticucho- or as Ashleigh and I prefer to call it, “meat on a stick.” These skewers come loaded with meat (I’m not sure if it’s beef or pork, but I prefer to dwell on the deliciousness rather than the uncertainty) and occasionally a small chunk of hot dog (some traditions die hard, I suppose). If the vendors are really buena honda, then they will have hot sauce and chunks of bread to go along with it.
  • Empanadas- I am fairly certain everyone knows what empanadas are… and if by chance you do not, go find out as your life is lacking! Chile boasts the empanada de pino, which means it is filled with beef, grilled onions, an olive, and a hard-boiled egg.
  • Mote con huesillos- a Chilean beverage of semi-cooked wheat and a dried peach that marinate in a generous amount of peach juice and nectar
  • Choripan- Chorizo (sausage) and pan (bread). Add sauces to your liking. So simple, yet so tasty!
  • Chicha- a drink that is sort of like a very sweet wine. I say “sort of” because it can be made from grapes, corn, apples, cassava, or other fruits.
  • Sopaipillas- warm circles of heaven, in my humble opinion. They make wheat dough, add pumpkin to the mixture, mold it into discs, and then fry it. Depending on the thickness and consistency, sopaipillas can be served with salty sauces such as ketchup, mayonnaise (there’s no avoiding it), mustard, aji, pebre, or mashed avocado, or it can be served with cinnamon, powdered sugar, or manjar.
  • Alfajores- there are many different varieties of alfajores, but the traditional Chilean alfajor is manjar sandwiched between two biscuit-y cookies, sometimes sprinkled with coconut flakes
  • Rellenos- crispy crepes rolled up and filled with manjar
  • Terremotos- Terremoto means “earthquake”, which is appropriate because this drink can knock you off your feet! It is composed of vino pipeño (which I believe is a “young” and rather strong wine, but don’t quote me on that) and pineapple ice cream, and you have the option of adding fernet, grenadine, or mint. After drinking just one of these, you won’t need any more drinks for a while…and in the morning you may feel like you were hit by a “terremoto.” (**For my mother: …so I have heard!)
This has been my favorite week here so far. Although I am exhausted from all the running around and delaying the food coma that is coming to me, the sense of community, pride, family, companionship, and optimism was contagious. Las Fiestas Patriasremind everyone to think about what is truly important in life, and to focus on what unites the people of this country…and I am so grateful to have been able to experience it!

Mi familia y yo (from August, but I still like the picture!)

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Mi lugar favorito

There are many things I love about Santiago, such as chilenismos, my host family, the metro system, the stocky mustachioed man who sells fresh sopaipillas out of a cart walking distance from my house, and the fact that I see the snow-capped Andes Mountains AND palm trees from my bedroom window. Although all of the above are strong contenders, my absolute favorite thing about Santiago is Patronato.

Patronato is hard to describe because it strikes me as so unlike to rest of Santiago. It is a neighborhood or district that is sort of like the Chinatown of the city. There are lots of shops and street vendors on every street as well as numerous semi-open markets, a large number of which are owned and/or operated by Chinese and Korean immigrants. They sell toys, clothing, shoes, trinkets, cheap jewelry, and accessories, and often they are of a very Chilean style… or, at least, unlike things you could buy in the US. Another highlight of Patronato is the presence of many ethnic restaurants and markets, such as Syrian, Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Italian, and Chinese (I even saw a stand for bubble tea once). Santiago is fairly (ie: really) homogeneous, so Patronato’s diversity and lively environment is a nice change of pace. Even better, it is not a touristy area at all!

I invited Ashleigh to head out to Patronato with me last weekend since I was on a quest for a pair of jeans (my kingdom for a dryer!) and “fun pants” to wear around the house. We were excited to find some pants that are re-chilenos: the waist is elastic, and the pants are made of silky material and have a baggy and oh-so-comfortable fit. Ashleigh has quite appropriately deemed them our “Aladdin pants.” We walked a little further and came across a hole-in-the-wall shoe store with a clearance sale, and found a bargain on some awesome heels. Even though Patronato attracts many people, we were the only gringas I saw all day, and thus we attracted a lot of attention. We got lots of piropos, but at least they worked in our favor in that a salesman gave me a 15% discount on the jeans I wanted. After shopping, we headed to the movie theater and then bought some comida de la calle or “street food” to cap off the evening.

I love this country and this city so much; it truly feels like “home” to me. This semester I have been taking advantage of spending more time in Santiago rather than travelling on the weekends like I did last semester. It has been really enjoyable, although I’m not sure if it’s better than travelling. I suppose that being able to have both experiences is an advantage of an extended term abroad. I have gotten to see other cities and have a range of experiences, but I am also able to navigate easily around Santiago and give directions and recommendations, such as Patronato!

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