“Go to work, do your best, don’t outsmart your common sense. Never let your prayin’ knees get lazy, and love like crazy.”

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.

Faith

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.

Family

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.)

School

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!)

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“But where I come from, rain is a good thing”

I promise you’ll get another longer blog post soon; this is just a quick one with a little bit of news!

Good news: I’m going to be able to see the Andes really clearly tomorrow!
Bad news: That’s because it rained alllllllllllll day today.

Santiago is a really polluted city. There are a ton of people living in a really small area. The air is thick and heavy with smog, and it’s hard to see the mountains, even though they’re really close. But on the days after it rains, the air is completely clear and the mountains are beautiful. I’ll try to take pictures tomorrow to show you. I’m excited; snow-capped mountains are really exciting for a Charleston girl. (The rain today, however, was horrendous. It was 39 degrees, and I forgot to wear my rainboots…)
**Update: Nope, looks like it’s going to rain allllllllll day today too! Chile gets about 3 inches of rain per year; guess it’s all getting consolidated into two days this week.

Good news: I have successfully used all forms of public transportation!
Bad news: I have also really, really messed up all forms of public transportation.

I’ve actually become quite accustomed to the metro and taxis…but to fully grasp the immensity of my struggles with the bus (or “micro,” as they call it here) system, I would need a whole other blog. Thank God for nice people on the bus who offer me help, the website that tells you the exact name of the bus stop and bus you need to get from point A to B, and Kirsten, who always seems to know where I need to go. (Actually, thank God for Kirsten for more reasons than that…She’s been so helpful in showing me around the city.)

Good news: My religion professor told me that I can write my exams and essays in English.
Bad news: First, I have to understand the lectures in Spanish…slightly more difficult.

I actually understood an entire portion of the lecture today though! We were talking about agnosticism in its different forms. Unfortunately, I was so excited about understanding that one portion that I got distracted and was thus rendered unable to comprehend the next twenty minutes of the lecture. Whoops.

Good news: My Spanish is improving!
Bad news: The majority of what I’m learning (and therefore speaking) is Chilean slang and cuss words that are incomprehensible (and therefore unusable) in any other part of the world.

I’ve been lucky enough to get to know some Chilean people my age (not just my family!), and they think it’s adorable that a foreigner is trying to learn Chilean Spanish. They’ve been helping me out, but I’m afraid most of what I’m learning is useless anywhere but Chile. I’ll give you some examples:

“po”: It means nothing! It’s added on to the end of sentences, but adds nothing of grammatical value. It’s like the same way I sometimes say “yo” at the end of my sentences, yo. It means nothing, but it’s very distinctly Chilean. (ex: “Sí po” “No po”)
“weon”/”weona”: Technically this is a rude word. But it’s totally normal for guy friends to call each other “weon.” Literally, it’s taken from the word “huevo” meaning “egg,” but it does NOT mean egg! It’s only okay to use among friends.
“No estoy ni ahí”: This is a rude way of saying “I don’t care” or “Whatever.” It’s like what you would say to someone you don’t like if they’re bothering you…and if they’re REALLY bugging you, add “weon” to the end!
“Pelar”: A word meaning “to gossip.” Also a favorite pastime of Chileans.
“¿Cachai?”: “Do you understand?” I get asked this a lot, being a foreigner and whatnot. “ai” at the end of “tú” verbs is common in the slang here. It’s confusing.

Good news: I got into a car for the first time since I’ve been here!
Bad news: I realized why nobody should ever have a car in Santiago.

You know how there is rush hour in the cities in the USA? In Santiago, EVERY hour is rush hour. It was 8:30pm when we got into the car, and it was bumper to bumper traffic. I can’t count the number of times my house mom said “weon”—and no, the other drivers were NOT her friends. You don’t get your license until 18 here, and most people I know never drive anyway…too much hassle! It also costs to park everywhere, even in grocery store parking lots—that is, if you can even find parking. Plus, with all the pollution, public transportation is more encouraged here anyway.

Good news: I have tried out all sorts of different restaurants here!
Bad news: Two of them have been Burger King, one was Subway, and four were ice cream shops.

In all honesty, I have tried, and really liked, Chilean food. Empanadas are really fantastic (Google it, hard for me to explain), Chilean sandwiches are amazing (the best ones AREN’T from Subway, believe it or not), and polenta is to die for. But the Chilean diet is really carb-heavy (rice, pasta, bread) and doesn’t include a lot of different spices and flavors, so sometimes it’s nice to eat something familiar (like a Double Bacon Cheeseburger or a scoop of Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream). That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the food I eat in my house; my host mom is actually really amazing, because she cooks all sorts of different foods. We had Italian my first night and Arabic last night; Chilean food, however, is still my favorite.

That’s all the news I have for today…it’s really late, I have to go to bed at some point, and I have a day of fighting off student protests tomorrow (and here’s why)! But before I go, for anybody who is interested in the music they play down here, click here to listen to one of the most popular songs in Chile…

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“A whole new world, a new fantastic point of view…A whole new world, a dazzling place I never knew.”

I’m really sorry about the cheesy title. I couldn’t resist.

In my first blog post, I recognized publicly that I would be bad at blogging, and here is your proof! It’s been way too long since I’ve updated—but so much has been going on! I keep meaning to write about the cool stuff that’s been happening, but then something else happens, so I want to write about that too! I try to have a central theme connecting all of these posts to make sure I stay focused (otherwise I’d never stop writing), and it’s been hard to pick just one! But today, my post will be simple. I am going to recount to you a typical day for me in Chile! Since today is still fresh on my mind, we’ll go ahead with Monday, August 13!

8:15am – The alarm on my phone goes off, waking me up.

8:45am – I actually wake up. I open my computer, check my Facebook, and, with great reluctance, get out of bed. Today was especially bad, because I’m still sore from my weekend of skiing in the Andes. I’d never skied before in my life, so I was really fortunate to be able to ski for the first time in a place so beautiful! However, this does not change the fact that I am very, very sore.

9:00am – I get out of the shower, then rush to put on layers of clothing. We are currently in the coldest part of the winter, and there is no central heating in Chile. From what I can tell, my apartment is better than most with the whole temperature situation, but it’s still REALLY cold, and getting out of the shower is nothing short of miserable. In choosing clothes, I initially try to find the clothes that will make me look the least foreign. The decision becomes easier when I realize that no article of clothing will conceal the white skin and unshakeable look of confusion that I always seem to have. (If this were Twitter, I’d follow this with “#GringaProblems.”)

9:15am – I make breakfast. I am allowed free reign over the kitchen (“Estás en tu casa,” as my host mom always says – which translates to “You’re in your house” and means that I can eat as if I were in my own house), but I have the same thing for breakfast every morning: a grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of chocolate milk (which, by the way, doesn’t even need to be refrigerated. That’s how cold it is here). I turn on the TV while I eat and try to follow along with the news, but I mostly end up reading headlines and trying to catch a word or two.

9:45am – I try to access the syllabus for my course to catch up on reading before class. I soon realize that, because I am a foreign student, they can’t process my registration at the moment, and I am unable to access my WebCursos (kind of like Moodle at Wofford). I take it as a sign that I don’t have to do the reading for today and instead peruse Facebook.

10:30am – I leave for school. I give myself an hour to get to class, but usually it’s closer to 30 or 40min. I have to walk to the closest metro station, which is about a 20minute walk. During my walk, I put in my headphones and listen to the FM radio on my phone (strangely enough, it’s mostly American music. I about cried from happiness the first time I heard Train). Because I have time, I stop by the IES Abroad Santiago center and sit for a few minutes, then catch the metro over to La Católica, the university I go to here. La Católica is kind of like my dream school; it is the best university in Chile, the second best in Latin America, and it’s CATHOLIC. It’s a lot like the Chilean version of Notre Dame, which was my dream school in the States. It’s also really cool because we get Catholic holy days (like the Ascension on Wednesday, August 15) as holidays!

11:30am – I sit through my first class of the day, Teología Fundamental. It’s really interesting—well, the bits I understand. I can follow along most of the time, but sometimes I get lost in all the Spanish. Chileans have a habit of murmuring and slurring their words together, so it’s hard to understand at times. Plus, the class is an hour and a half, which is about forty minutes longer than my attention span. I try to follow along though, and for the most part I like it. The professor also told me I’m allowed to write my tests and theses in English, which is a MAJOR plus.

1:00pm – After class, I make my way back to the IES Center (buying a chocolate chip muffin from Castaño on my way back), where I eat lunch and work on my homework for my afternoon class. My host mom makes and packs my lunch every day. And we aren’t talking a sandwich and juice box (although, to be honest, I miss my mom’s PB&J and Capri Sun); it’s usually an actual meal. Today I had some sort of meat (I want to say pork) and polenta. I honestly can’t believe that my mom makes lunch for all of us every day; I am so grateful for everything she does for us.

3:30pm – I had to go to a meeting within IES about student protests. Apparently we can get arrested and deported for participating in them, or even being in the same area when they are going on. Unfortunately, this information came about five days late. Last Wednesday, I unwittingly walked out of class into the center of a student protest in the streets. The police force was trying to quell it by spraying tear gas out of a bus on the street. After getting a few lungfuls, I decided that I agreed with IES; I’m keeping my distance from the protests. (The particular protest I was caught in ended up getting pretty violent, with a couple buses getting set on fire. If you’d like to read more about it, here is an article: http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/world/buses-burned-as-students-protest-education-reforms-in-chile/story-fnd12peo-1226446507430)

4:00pm – Spanish class. This class was with IES, so it was a class full of Americans. Don’t get too excited; it was still strictly in Spanish. I have nothing to say about this class, just that I was glad when it was over. It’s a Medical Spanish class, so all we talked about was diet and exercise. I’m hoping it gets more interesting as time goes on, but more on that later!

5:30pm: Usually I would go home at this point, but today I went over to Kirsten’s house! Kirsten is a student at Wofford with me, but we didn’t really meet until we got here in Chile. We became pretty close pretty fast, bonding over Wofford experiences and our love of Santiago. She lives in Ñuñoa, a province of Santiago slightly south of mine. Instead of eating with our families, we had an American night and went to a Burger King. Then we bought ice cream and went back to her house. She’s been in Chile for one semester already, so she’s helped me a lot with the adjustment, introducing me to her Chilean friends (which is nice—when the Americans hang out, we only ever speak English. It’s nice to have people with whom to practice Spanish).

10:30pm: I get on the bus to go home. It’s not terribly far away, but I certainly don’t want to walk at night. There are a couple things I’ve left out of my day, and I’ll share one now: I ALWAYS get stared at. It is no compliment to my looks; rather, it is because everyone can tell I’m foreign. I don’t really understand it, because there are a ton of foreigners in Santiago. But I always get stared at, waved at, winked at—and, at night, leered at. So I took the bus. The nice thing about buses here is that if you get off a bus and need a second bus as a connection, the second one is free. So I took the 104 and the 504 last night, no problems!

11:15pm: I get home and am instantly flooded with guilt when I see that my mom has, once again, gone in and cleaned my room. I’m really not that messy here. I make my bed every day, keep all my shoes in the closet, and generally try to pick up after myself. Yet every day she comes in and arranges it. It makes me feel awful—I’m already taking up a room and eating her family’s food, and now I’m making her clean up after me! As I do everyday, I thank her and inwardly resolve to do better tomorrow.

11:30pm: After talking a bit with my mom, sister, and brother, I get on Facebook and catch up with some friends from back home. I also open Word and start typing this blog post.

I hope this gives you all a little bit better idea of what I do during the day! I really love it here in Santiago. I never thought I’d have an everyday routine here, but I suppose it’s possible to make a life anywhere. I am so lucky to wake up every day in this wonderful city, surrounded by such interesting people. My goal for the rest of the week is to post a couple pictures of my adventures, so stay tuned!

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“She acts like summer and walks like rain, reminds me that there’s time to change”

I decided I like the “Drops of Jupiter” thing, so I’m keeping it up (for now…be on the lookout for other such lyrics in the future).

I’ve written a lot so far (at least, it feels like a lot), but I feel like I haven’t talked enough about the similarities (and differences) between Santiago and Charleston. This particular post might be a little dry compared to the others (don’t worry, I’m working on making more mistakes to share with you!), but I think it’s an important one, so everyone can kind of get an idea of where and how I live.

First off, the similarities:

• We have a supermarket! It reminds me a lot of Harris Teeter (or Publix, or Piggly Wiggly, or [insert supermarket of choice here]). It has a ton of different brands, and it’s just like anything you would find here in the States. We even have Great Value brands (Walmart brand) in the supermarket. (Just a testament to how Walmart is taking over the world—you were right in senior year economics, Mrs. Bunting!) They also have an “American foods” section in the market (kind of like we have a Hispanic food section), but all that’s there is New England clam chowder, peanut butter, chocolate chip cookies, taco shells, and a lot of ketchup. Go figure.
• There is a lot of variety with the restaurants here. The first restaurant I saw served Indian food! We have Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Mexican, Arab, Israeli, Indian, Italian, German, American, and (of course) Chilean restaurants, all within walking distance of my house (or no more than a short metro ride away). It’s insane, and completely different from what I expected. I guess when you live in a big city, it’s not hard to get whatever food you want. I’ve even seen McDonald’s, Burger King, and Subway!
• Everyone in Chile is very patriotic; seeing how proud Chileans are of their country makes me proud just to be here! The patriotism is so infectious, and I find myself wanting to cheer for Chile in the Olympics (not enough to stop cheering for my Americans though!). It’s amazing, and well-deserved; Chile is an amazing country. It’s absolutely gorgeous, with the coastal region and the Andes, the deserts and the lakes, and the wonderful, wonderful people who live here. Once again, I feel lucky to be here!
• My entire family eats dinner together every single night. It reminds me of dinners at home: we talk about our days and the things we’ve done, we laugh at each other and at ourselves, and I’m always just a little unsure of what is going on. But I love being part of a family, even though I’m 4500 miles away from the one I’ve known all my life.

And now the differences!

• There is a TON of graffiti here, all over the walls of buildings and on benches and even on the churches! I find it absolutely fascinating (mostly because it’s nice to see public art that doesn’t feature fraternity letters or phallic imagery—take note, Wofford). It gives the city a ton of character, and really gives you an idea of the people who live here and the things that are important to them.
• Stray dogs run around EVERYWHERE. (I like to pet them. That’s bad.) It’s not like the US, where we would call Animal Control to come get them. They don’t bother anybody, so they’re allowed to walk around as they please! They must be fed every so often, because they aren’t too skinny, and they do fine in the streets (they even know when it’s okay to cross the street!). I like the dogs a lot; some are really friendly, and I wish I could bring all of them home with me! (And no, it’s not because I keep threatening to feed the family’s cat to them if he continues to bite me.)
• I don’t think the universities have dorms (I could be wrong though; I haven’t explored that much yet), and so college-aged students live at home. Both of my host siblings (ages 20 and 25, in college and medical school) live at home with the family. Personally, I like it…it is more fun for me when more people are in the house. But it also means that students are limited in college choice by where they live—something that, as a college student in America, I’d never considered.
• The universities are a lot more disorganized here. Right now, we are in registration, which goes on for ten days. During these ten days, we are allowed to visit whichever classes we want and then sign up for the ones we like. However, the schedule we received is not always right; in fact, we went to sit in on one class and found that it had been cancelled, or moved, or abducted…Basically, it just wasn’t there. I can’t say much more without having some sort of nervous breakdown about which classes I’m going to take, but I’ll let you know when (if) I finish the registration process.
• I guess Chile just has a very, um, affectionate culture, because PDA is apparently very acceptable here. It seems like there are couples everywhere, and nobody has any problem with giving a little sugar in public. The places where I have seen such amorous exchanges include (but unfortunately are not limited to): the bus, the subway, park benches, on a curb, and the little patch of grass outside the Arab restaurant near my house.

I don’t have too much else to say for this post, other than that I really love it here. The differences make every day interesting. As for the similarities, well…they help, too. Even though I’m on a different continent, surrounded by people who speak a different language, it’s nice to know that, at heart, families are still families, patriotism is still patriotism, and food is still food. Basically, no matter where you go, people are still people. I suppose this “lesson” seems obvious, but it has never meant as much to me as it does now. I’m lucky to be able to witness this firsthand, and, as always, I will finish by saying I am grateful for this incredible opportunity.

(Completely random note to end the post: somewhere in my house, somebody is playing “Crazy” by Britney Spears. The only people at home are me and my 25 year old host brother. I love this family!)

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“Told a story ’bout a man who was too afraid to fly, so he never did land”

This blog post is where I’m going to be brutally honest with myself (and with the two people who actually read my blog). I’m going to list all of the mistakes I’ve made since coming to Chile. Be prepared to laugh, cry…or, most likely, stop reading halfway through out of sheer embarrassment on my behalf.

I’ll try not to include dumb language mistakes, because then I would probably write all night long. Since I have plans tonight (see what I did there? Now you think I have a life), I’ll try to keep it to culture-related errors I’ve committed. If this were Twitter, every single one would follow with #dumbAmerican.

Also, sorry about the “Drops of Jupiter” quote as the title. I ended up posting this the next morning, as I was watching the sun come up and listening to Train. The quote seemed to fit, somehow.

Without further ado, here are my grievous errors:

1. I live in Charleston. I never wear shoes in the house, and I walk around outside barefoot more often than not. Apparently that’s just weird here. First, we don’t have central heating and it’s winter, so it’s freezing here. But I don’t think that’s it. I think it’s more about covering the feet and being sanitary, because it’s the first thing my host mom notices when she sees me. I’m trying to remember, but old habits are hard to break.
2. We don’t put toilet paper in the toilet here. Apparently in most places you can’t flush it, so you’re just supposed to throw it in the trash can. Not going into much more detail here. Suffice it to say I will NEVER get used to this.
3. The first time I went to the supermarket with my mom, I went to pay for a bottle of conditioner and pulled out my whole wad of cash (the equivalent of about $180 USD). My mom quickly told me to put it away, because Santiago is very dangerous in certain places. Can’t flash dat cash here—it might attract the wrong people. Needless to say, I haven’t taken that much money with me anywhere since then, and I keep it firmly in my wallet.
4. I wore a ring to class, and my mom told me never to wear jewelry, mostly for the same reason. Sometimes jewelry will alert criminals to somebody’s “wealth” (yes, even cheap costume jewelry like I wear), and it makes them more likely to pickpocket the people they see wearing it.
5. If you don’t understand somebody’s Spanish, TELL THEM. This isn’t a culture thing, but more a warning. It’s really embarrassing to smile and nod for an entire speech from the guy at customs, then have to say “no” when he asks if you understand. (Yes, I got laughed at. Yes, more than once. And yes, I’m turning red just remembering it.)
6. I took a taxi the other night, and pretty much everything I did was wrong. First off, the driver tried to charge us a flat rate instead of using the meter. This is illegal—moreover, we got completely ripped off. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn this until the next day. Then we get into the taxi and I start to talk to the driver about how his night is going – this, also, is bad. Don’t make friends with cab drivers, especially after parties at 3am. It’s polite to make conversation in the United States, but in Chile, it is okay (and encouraged) to keep certain people at a distance. Then, as I left the taxi, I left a couple coins behind as tip. Wrong again. I don’t know why, but that’s just not done here. Basically, I messed up on every possible interaction in the taxi.
7. The last mistake I’ve made (that I’m going to talk about here) is listening to what everyone else has been saying about mistakes. All of us American students keep talking about what is right or wrong in Chile, based off of what a friend of a friend heard or what we’ve thought we saw somebody do once in Buenos Aires. I’ve heard that it’s wrong to put your hands in your lap while at the dinner table (my host sister does this all the time), it’s wrong to eat with your hands (I actually don’t know about this one; I haven’t eaten much finger food since I’ve been here), it’s wrong to smile on the street, it’s wrong NOT to smile on the street—basically, everyone is so afraid of making mistakes that we are confusing ourselves with what is right or wrong.

I know my program began a lot earlier than others. So if anybody who is reading my blog is planning to go abroad this semester (or whenever), this is my last piece of advice for today. You are going to make mistakes. It is okay, and (by me, at least) encouraged. I am in a brand new culture; nobody expects me to do everything right. Moreover, if I tried to avoid doing things wrong, I would never talk to my host mom (especially first thing in the morning, I have some God-awful Spanish conjugation problems), I would never go out in the street, I would never go to parties or restaurants or stores. I’m always nervous, but I’m learning. To quote Benjamin Franklin, “Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue reaching out.”

As I will at the end of every post, I once again say how lucky I am to be here and how fortunate I am to be able to share my experiences via this blog. If you have any more questions, or want to know something I’m not posting on the blog, just email me or Facebook me. I absolutely love talking about my adventures here!

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Live from Santiago!

Well, I’m here. It’s been a long, strange trip, but I’m typing this from my bed at my host family’s house—which, for the record, is very comfortable.

I took a flight out of Charleston at 6:25pm on Monday, and I didn’t get to Chile until almost 8am this morning (Tuesday). The time in Chile is the same as in Charleston, thank goodness. The flights, although long, weren’t terrible (the food, however, was). On my second flight, the longer one, from Atlanta to Santiago, I sat next to a man who, after brief introductions and pleasantries, opened the conversation with the question, “Do you feel like you have a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ, our Savior?”

So you can guess how that went. (Hint: Apparently saying “I’m Catholic” was not helpful. After an hour of talking, I was given a Billy Graham booklet and assurance that he and his mission trip would “pray for me.”)

In the airport, I had to get my passport stamped and deal with Customs. Would you like to know the two most INCONVENIENT situations to have to really utilize the Spanish language for the first time? (Answer: passport stamping and Customs.) I still have NO idea what they were saying. But I looked tired and confused, so they took pity on me and let me through, no problems!

A note to anybody planning to come to Chile: they have strict regulations on bringing food products into the country. I think it has something to do with Chile’s reliance on agriculture; they can’t afford for something we bring in to make their crops sick. I got through with a Charleston sweetgrass basket, saltwater taffy, and Benne wafers, but another student got her dried fruit confiscated.

So after arriving in Santiago and making it through customs, I met up with IES Abroad and was introduced to some of the students. I would love to say we conversed in Spanish about all of these wonderful experiences, sharing our various cultures and expressing excitement to be immersed in the heart of Chile…but no. We mostly talked in English about how exhausting our flights were and how nervous we were about meeting our host families.

I should NOT have been nervous. My family is incredibly nice. My host mom is really friendly; she calls us her “hijas norteamericanas” (American daughters). She sings and teaches singing lessons and also works with the prisoners in Santiago (kind of like a music therapy/rehabilitation thing, from what I understand). Her son is a medical student at UChile and in November will finish school and become a plastic surgeon. Her daughter is 20 and is a student at a local university.

I ate lunch with my host mom and we walked around Providencia (our neighborhood, in the center of Santiago) for a bit. Lunch with delicious – my host mom makes fantastic pasta. Apparently she is part Italian! During our lunch, I showed off pictures of my family back home. She loved pictures of my golden retriever and says that my sister is “muy bonita.” The cat in the house here seems alternatively really interested in me and extremely frightened of me, but I think I like it that way.

I have keys to the apartment building and to our apartment now, plus I made my first Chilean purchase (but because I have no idea how to convert money in my head, I’m still not quite sure how much I spent for that bottle of conditioner). The apartment is nice; my window overlooks the streets, and I keep it open, so I can hear everything that goes on around here. I’ve heard dogs barking, children playing, and friends shouting to each other on the street; it’s a lot busier than the suburbs where I live in Charleston, and I love it!

As I walk through the city and look around, I can’t figure out what is so different from America. In a lot of ways, it’s very similar. People walk their dogs and drive their cars through the city. There are restaurants and apartments and supermarkets…It really doesn’t look all that different. The first song I heard on the radio was a hip hop song popular in America! Yet somehow it just feels like I’m not in America—and no, it’s not because of the language. I don’t know if it’s the architecture, or possibly the people, but even though it’s not much different from any large American city, it just feels worlds away.

Fortunately for me, there is another American student living in the house. Her name is Susan, and she goes to Northwestern. She is part of an IES summer program, so she will be gone in two weeks. She is not here on a language-intensive program and has never taken a Spanish class in her life, but she’s picked it up pretty well and can communicate with the family pretty easily. She and I talk in English, though, and talking to her has been a real help. She’s only been here five weeks or so, but she’s so comfortable here already; it makes me feel like I’ll be alright here.

Tomorrow I go to the IES Center, where I’ll meet up with the other students again. I’m excited to hear their first-day stories and get to know Santiago a bit better. It’s only been one day, but I’m already loving it. I am so grateful to be here!

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Pre-Departure

So it’s my first blog post, and I can already tell that I’m going to be a bad blogger…mostly because I’m leaving tomorrow night, and I have yet to post.

My name is Ashleigh, and I am a junior (Biology/Spanish major, for what it’s worth) at Wofford leaving Charleston, South Carolina, for Santiago, Chile, on Monday evening. And in addition to not blogging, I’ve also not finished shopping or packing. In truth, I’ve barely even thought about what Chile will be like. But since I’ve finally started writing a blog post, I suppose it’s time to start thinking.

This whole study abroad thing is going to be a completely new experience for me. I’ve never left the country (except a few days on a cruise ship to the Bahamas—but I don’t think that counts; a Disney cruise ship is essentially a portable piece of America), and the longest I’ve ever taken a trip without my family (going to college excluded) is one week, and that was two hours away from my house. Surprisingly, though, I’m really excited. I’m living in a homestay, and my host family has a daughter and a son close to my age. I can’t wait to meet my host family; I am already so grateful to them for letting me live with them (and feeding me!).

The whole language thing is kind of throwing me, though. Yes, I’ve taken Spanish for years, but my one experience of going out into the Hispanic district of Spartanburg was, to put it lightly, somewhat negative. (For the record, let me say that I wasn’t expecting the girl at the Hispanic mini mart to speak perfect English, and I had no idea that she would take so much offense at my attempt to communicate in Spanish.) I know it will be different in Chile, but I don’t want to be thought unintelligent if I forget the word for shampoo or, God forbid, confuse the subjunctive and indicative tenses. I’m hoping that I look American enough so that they’ll forgive my mistakes (and maybe talk slowly?) until I get the hang of speaking Spanish conversationally.

And when I say I’m not ready at all, I’m exaggerating a bit. I have almost everything I need, including Chilean currency, a phone with a Chilean SIM card, and some really cool Charleston gifts for my host family. It’s just that I have yet to have that one moment where I feel completely ready to leave. I can’t even imagine what it will be like there, and even though I’m really excited, a part of me is incredibly nervous.

Who knows, though? Maybe I won’t feel ready until I actually get there—more on that later. For now, I’m just loading my iPod with music for the plane and praying for a safe flight. With any luck, I’ll be back soon with some new, bloggable stories!

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