Before I get going, I want to wish all of my friends back at college a good semester, and all of the Wofford community a great start to the new school year. However, I am unable to say that I wish I was there; sorry, but I LOVE Chile (love like crazy!), and I wouldn’t pick anywhere else in the world to be right now!
This particular blog entry is going to be a little longer, because I’m going to talk about three aspects of my life in Chile that cover pretty much my entire experience here: faith, family, and education. My entire life, no matter where I am, is centered, for the most part, around these three things, so it’s been really interesting to see the differences between the United States and here.
Chile is a Catholic country; about 70% of the people here identify themselves as Catholic. However, very, very few of them go to church. I’d even hesitate to call them “Christmas-Easter” Catholics, because it would surprise me if they even went on those days. Even so, there are Catholic churches on every street, it’s not rare to see nuns or priests out in their garb, and one of the largest and most prestigious universities in Chile is Catholic. The Catholic religion and tradition is apparent in almost every aspect of Chilean culture—minus actual churchgoing.
My first day here, I talked to my host mom a little bit about Catholicism. I asked her if the family was Catholic, and if they went to church. She told me that although the family is Catholic, they don’t go to church. She explained to me that in Chile, there have been a lot of abuses within the church and by the clergy (very similar to the scandals within the Church in other areas of the world), and as a result, Catholicism has become very sad in Chile. A lot of people have lost their faith in the Church—or, more accurately, lost their trust in the Church. She was quick to explain that Chile is a very faithful country (her family included), and although many have stopped attending weekly Mass, the belief in God (and in the morals and values taught by the Catholic Church) is still very present. However, this hasn’t stopped my Chilean friends from gasping in disbelief when I mention I go to Mass on Sundays (they are adamant that the only people who go to Mass are old ladies who’ve been going every week for fifty years and don’t know how to stop).
In fact, I’ve been to Mass every week here, and I’ve noticed certain differences between Masses here and Masses in the United States. Of course, the Mass is the same regardless of country or language, which is something I’ve taken great comfort in. When I started college two years ago, I felt the most home when I was at Mass, and that hasn’t changed in Chile. No matter where I am, Mass is Mass, and the connection to the Catholic Church across the world is still present in the ceremony. Yet although the order of the Mass is the same, it just feels different here. It strikes me as more informal. There isn’t as much music, and participation in the liturgy is much less than in the USA; moreover, the Mass here seems to lack some of the grandeur that I’ve always felt in churches at home. There isn’t a procession of the crucifix in and out of the church, and people just head on up to receive the Eucharist instead of forming a single file line. Despite this, the priest always gives good homilies, the prayers are always heartfelt, and there is a real sense of community in the congregation. I like it, and I’m slowly but surely learning the responses in Spanish.
Before I get into my role in the family and how life with them is, I want to share one quick thing. Last Thursday, I had a HORRIBLE day. One of my classes ran over an hour, giving me only an hour to get across town for my next class, my bus driver decided to take a smoke break instead of getting the bus going, I found out the bus I take from my second class stops running at 5, and I got stuck in another común (area of the city) with no way of walking back to my house. Finally, I figured out another bus route, and, getting back to my house, I don’t think I had ever been so glad to be home.
Then I realized what I’d just thought—“home.” I got back to my host family’s house and called it my own home! And it’s true; I really do feel at home here. I have my own room, I make my own grilled cheese sandwiches every morning, and (most importantly) I finally figured out how to work the calefón (water heater) so I can take warm showers whenever I want! Moreover, I’m finally at the point where I feel at home with my family.
I have a new reason to learn Spanish. When I leave in December, I want to be able to articulate to my family just how much they mean to me, and just how wonderful they have been since I got here a month ago. From the very first day when my mom shyly brought me an Orange Crush so I could have something to drink while unpacking, to last night when we sat at the kitchen table watching Who Wants to Be a Millionaire together, my family has done everything they can to make me feel like I belong in their home.
I think the family culture is different here than in America. It’s very maternal, with the mom doing a lot for the children. My host brother is 25 and in his last couple months of medical school, and our mom still packs him a lunch every day. She cooks dinner by herself (with some help from our sister) every night, and shoos me away when I try to wash the dishes after (don’t worry, I still manage to wash them at least once a week—I feel weird not helping!). I like it, but it also makes me feel bad—that’s why I try to clean up my room, wash the dishes when I can, and generally make as little trouble for them as possible.
My host mom is funny, too. It almost reminds me of living with my grandma (that means no offense to either my host mom or my grandma—I love them both very much!). She fusses at me when I try to wash the dishes, always warns me that I’ll catch my death of cold when I walk around with my hair wet and without socks, and is constantly telling me I need to eat more. Oh, and she’s been gloating all week because she was proven right; I’ve got some sort of cold this week, and she keeps saying “Told you so” in Spanish. Very annoying, but only because she’s completely right. (Then again, she also made me breakfast to eat in bed on Sunday when I didn’t feel well enough to get up, so there’s that, too.)
My siblings are excellent! My sister and I had our very first bonding moment the other day, when we both agreed that we want a “chanchito”—miniature pig. We spent a good 15 minutes Google Image searching pictures of mini pigs and telling our mom we were going to bring one back to the apartment. And my brother is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. He asks me how I am every day, and when he found out I was sick, he told me exactly what I needed to do to get better. He also whistles and sings “Call Me Maybe” just about every day. I laugh at him, but he tells me it’s catchy, and, well, he’s right.
My family here is super close. We eat dinner together every night and talk about our days, and it’s obvious that my siblings adore their mom. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of my family back home in Charleston, and I realize how much I miss them. I am so lucky to be living with this family, of course—but there’s no replacing my own brother, my own sister, my own parents. (Plus I miss my dogs. Our cat here is the devil.)
So you know how hard it is to get adjusted to a new school year? Let’s go ahead and combine that with a beautiful foreign country, fantastic new friends, and a million non-school-related things to do in Santiago—now you have an idea of how difficult it is for me to get adjusted to and focus on the new school year. I’m taking four courses this semester: two at the local Catholic university (Colonial Latin American Art and Fundamental Theology—getting those gen eds!), and two with IES, my study abroad program (a Clinical Observation Internship, where we learn about and tour local hospitals, and a Medical Spanish class, to learn how to use Spanish in a healthcare setting). I’m lucky that I’ll be getting credit for all my classes, but I’m thinking I’m in for a lot more than I bargained for. The classes at the university are hard. Not that the material is super complex; it’s just all in Spanish! I think I’ll be okay, but my first university test is on Monday, so I suppose I’ll have to see how that goes.
Unfortunately, taking classes at the university has not made making Chilean friends easier. For the most part, Chileans find Americans very interesting. In class, however, it is a little different. Chilean universities are nothing like American universities. You enter university knowing exactly what you’re studying, and you stay in that “carrera.” (SIDE NOTE: If you want to be a doctor in Chile, you apply to medical school right out of high school, at the age of 18…I can’t imagine making important career decisions like that in my senior year of high school.) I suppose it is possible to take classes outside of your program, but for the most part, all of the people in classes have been taking classes together their entire time at university. Since everyone knows everybody, it’s not exactly like people are rushing up to talk to the foreign girl. It probably also doesn’t help that I sit at the front like a complete NERD to make sure I hear the professor during the lecture (as I said, Chilean Spanish is mumble-y!).
Either way, it’s really given me a newfound respect for the foreign students at Wofford. I can’t imagine what it would be like taking a class like Computer Science or Biology in Spanish—and for eight semesters, instead of just a couple months. I definitely want to make more of an effort to talk to and offer to help foreign students at Wofford from now on (although, I’m sure their English is a lot better than my Spanish). Being confused in a class is awful enough in America—but here, it’s nothing short of terrifying. A lot of times, I’m too embarrassed by my Spanish to ask professors for help. This particular weekend is going to be full of theology readings to make up for the fact that I only understand 75% of lecture. For the rest, I’m going to rely on Catholic school tradition (the answer is always Jesus. ALWAYS). Wish me luck!
That’s all I have for today. I promise, I’ll try to post more in the future, but for when I’m slacking, please check out some other Wofford student blogs! Kirsten Grady posts a lot more regularly than I do, so click here to read about Santiago from the perspective of my closest friend in Chile! Moreover, Mike Sheffey just arrived in the beautiful coastal city of Viña del Mar, so click here to read about his journey en la playa!
I guess I’ll end this post with a quick Chilean Spanish lesson…I liked introducing some Chilean vocabulary in the last post, so I’ll leave off here with two of my new favorite words.
“cuico” – This is a word you would use for someone or something who is upper class and snobby. (For example, the other night a Chilean man tried to impress Kirsten and me by telling us all about his career as a professional wine taster. ¡Qué cuico!)
“flaite” – This is the word that you would use to contrast with cuico…It is used the same way we would use “sketchy,” but it has connotations of poorer communities where crimes happen—or the poorer people who commit said robberies. It is generally used for anything that makes you nervous. (For example, I was on the bus the other day and felt a tug on my backpack. As I turned around to see what was happening, the man behind me looked startled and jumped off at the next stop. Luckily, he didn’t take anything, but still…muy flaite!)