Contenta En Casa

Hola todos! It’s been a while since I’ve written. I’ve been busy settling back in, unpacking my suitcase and my brain and readjusting to life in gringolandia. My Chilean fiesta with my family was a great hit, they really liked my sopaipillas and empanadas.

For the most part my reentry has gone smoothly. My bank account looking pretty sad, and I do miss my Chilean friends and host family. I also miss being surrounded by Spanish, but I hope to find an outlet for this by volunteering as a translator and by staying in contact with my Chilean friends.

I think I’m still working on understanding my experience. I want to somehow quantify it, put it into context, as if by understanding it I can keep from losing it. I learned a great deal, and I feel different, but I can’t exactly explain in what way. I also want to make sense of my semester abroad by using it to help others, I hope that this blog can be my first step towards that goal. But for now, it’s good to be home!

The last day

I’m struggling right now to put things into words. This is weird for me, usually on this blog as soon as I sit down to write my thoughts finally form a coherent picture. I can tell you about my last full day here at least, which was the best last full day I could ever have hoped to have. Thinking back on it, it included everything I was hoping to achieve/experience this semester: Chilean food, oral fluency, cultural understanding, and two fantastic friends.

I met up today with Macarena, Oscar, and his little brother Enzo at the metro station. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, mild and sunny with a warm breeze. We stopped by a supermarket where I bought some chancaca to bring back to the states (You can’t have a Chilean fiesta without sopaipillas pesadas!) and then we walked over to Macarena’s house. I met her mom there, a very sweet woman which whom I enjoyed talking. I had leche asada for the first time, which was a lot like flan and delicious! We took pictures after we ate and talked for a while, and then we walked to a Chinese food restaurant for lunch. That was also delicious, for those of you who are wondering it was pretty much exactly like Chinese food in the states although I couldn’t find crab rangoon on the menu. All the more reason to eat too much when I come home!

We ate way too much, but we laughed and talked and took pictures and had a great time. When we were all finally stuffed to the bursting point we took the metro to another supermarket so I could look for an extra special gift I want to get for my dad. I’m not going to say what it is because I know he is one of my most avid readers (Thanks Dad!). Afterward we hopped on a micro to Oscar’s house. There we dropped off our stuff and went to go find his mom, who was in a community meeting. Being mature 20-something-year-old adults, we played on the playground in the plaza while we waited. When his mom was done, we walked to the local neighborhood shop to pick up supplies for once (like a small early supper), talking all the way.His mom is also a delightful woman, I very much enjoy talking to her. She is very smart and also loving, she made me feel very welcome and comfortable in her home.

Back at his house, we had an once of tea, queque (pound cake) with manjar (a bit like dulce de leche), and sandwiches with avocado, ham and cheese. I need to eat more avocado when I get back to the states, here they put it on almost everything and it makes everything-bread, sandwiches, fajitas, salads-at least 243% more delicious, but I could be underestimating my figures.

After once, Oscar’s mom showed us family pictures from Oscar and Enzo’s childhood. It was really fun, I liked seeing the similarities between his childhood and mine even though we grew up on opposite sides of the globe. Also when they come to visit in the states if they eat at my parents’ house with me,  as I’m sure they will, my mom will probably do the same exact thing (Maybe when I get back I should hide certain albums…). Afterwards I showed off my awesome* dance skills when we played the Micheal Jackson Experience game for Playstation Move. (*awesome in this context is hilariously terrible). We talked, we looked at funny pictures on the internet, we discussed amusement park rides and we laughed.

Finally the dreaded hour came. Macarena and Oscar and his mom all walked me to the metro. I hope I expressed my feelings well enough, I wanted them all to understand my gratitude for all the help and support and my happiness for their friendship and my sadness for having to leave and my hope that we will meet again in February when they come to visit. I seem to be having a lot of conflicting emotions these days. I didn’t want them to see me cry, I wanted to end on a hopeful and happy note so I scanned my Bip! card and headed for the platform, trying to keep myself together. As I crossed the skybridge over the street I looked down, hoping to catch one last glimpse of them, and saw them all below looking up at me and waving. I don’t know why that made me so happy about seeing them there waving at me but either way the rising tide of emotion inside me finally burst its banks and I rode the metro and micro home for the last time through a haze of tears.

Back home in my room, pulling on my pajamas plugging in my estufa for the last time, I let myself really cry about leaving for the first time. I had cried a little when I said goodbye to our program director Isa, and had lumps in my throat that I controlled when I said goodbye to my program friends, but finally I was able to let it all out. Even now in a state of calm, trying to explain the whirlwind of emotion behind those tears is a challenge and I’m not sure anyone who hasn’t lived abroad for a significant amount of time will understand. I’m going to leave that explanation for another post, for now I want to focus on why I was glad that I broke the rules of the metro (the metro is like baseball, there’s no crying in either of them).

Leaving my two closest Chilean friends was incredibly hard, especially because I feel like our friendship had only just begun. I feel so much gratitude toward them for all of their help and for making me feel so welcome and relaxed in their country and culture. It shows in my Spanish; because I feel so relaxed and accepted with them speaking and understanding is so much easier. Besides all of that, they are just two really fun and nice people and we have lots in common to talk about.

All of this far outweighs the pain of having to leave them to go home. If I had never met them, I would still be just as sad but with the pain of regret from never making friends. Therefore my lesson to anyone going abroad is this: MAKE FRIENDS. Talk to people in your classes. Add them on Facebook. Get lunch together, share life stories, watch dumb videos on YouTube, smile, and relax. I don’t mean you should try to force a friendship, that’s impossible. But if you and someone else click, put in the effort to get the friendship going and the rest will fall into place naturally and effortlessly.

Anyway, it’s not really goodbye. Even if they weren’t coming to visit I would still stay in contact with Oscar and Macarena on Facebook. Complain all you want about globalization and the interwebs and all that but I love that even when we are literally a world away I can always send them silly pictures with a click of a mouse. Also I love how bilingual my newsfeed is now (sorry for all the Spanish statuses, Facebook friends!)

In terms of this blog, I still have lots to say so I’ll be posting until I run out of things to say. Stay tuned!

 

Thoughts on living with a host family

This evening my host family and I went out to eat, both to celebrate my host mom’s boyfriend’s birthday and to celebrate the semester I’ve spent with them. We went to a local Brazilian buffet style restaurant, it was delicious and fun especially when the waiters and the family sang happy birthday in Portuguese, Spanish, and English and brought us a complementary bottle of champagne. We all made toasts, they wished me luck and I thanked them for having me in their home for the semester. They even bought me a present, a cookbook of international recipes. I said, “Great! So I can learn to burn things other than scrambled eggs!” (I used to predictably burn my scrambled eggs in the morning, filling the upstairs with smoke) and they all laughed. We had a great time and then came home for some tea and lemon meringue pie.
As unreal as it seems, I do need to start accepting that my time here is fast drawing to a close. It’s strange to think I won’t be seeing my host family every day, playing PS3 with Seba and Benja or talking with Cami and Gloria. I’ll even miss Toutín, the little white dog.
If you are planning on studying abroad, especially for a language immersion experience, I highly recommend choosing a program with a host family or home-stay component. I could cite endless studies  that demonstrate the benefits of living with a host family to language learning but I think the cultural aspect is also vital; the only way to truly understand another culture is to involve yourself in it as much as possible.

If I were to attempt to describe what it is like to live with a host family, I would have to say it is a progression. At the beginning it can be awkward, but towards the end I would say it feels a lot like being at your childhood best friend’s house: you feel very relaxed and comfortable just like it were your own house, just a little better behaved. Every host family is different and unique, all come with their own culture and habits and dynamics. Some of my program buddies live with a single older woman or widow, some live with young families with children, and everything in between. So here are four general pieces of advise to help make your home stay experience as wonderful and fantastic as possible.

1. Communication, communication, communication.


Ask questions. Ask for clarification. Tell them where you are going and when you will be back. Tell them your favorite foods and your least favorites and your allergies. Ask them about routines. Ask them what you should call them. Tell them about your day. Ask them about their days. Tell jokes. Tell stories. LISTEN to their jokes and stories.

2. Make like a chameleon and blend.


Think of it as when you are at your best friend’s house: adapt to the house rules as if you were just another son or daughter. If your mom asks you to keep your room clean, do so (I failed miserably at this). Find a chore niche and help out where you can: I would wash the dishes left in the sink at night on my way to bed and wash the dog every few weeks. Eat with the family, share with them. Try to spend as little time as possible with your door shut, when it wasn’t too noisy I liked to do my homework in the dining room so I would still be present in the flow of things.

3. R.E.S.P.E.C.T! FIND OUT WHAT IS MEANS TO ME!
Be the host student you would like to have. Don’t be a pig, don’t spend a billion hours in the shower, don’t leave the lights on when you leave or the milk out on the counter or track mud through the living room. But also listen, be open minded and nonjudgmental. Remember, you are here to learn new things not lecture people about your same old things.

4. Enjoy this time.
For US students who often live on campus or in an apartment close by, living with “parents” can seem like a loss of independence, and in a way it is. You need to follow the house rules, tell them where you are going and when you will be back, call ahead if you are bringing a friend, etc. But also for many of us it will be the last time our dinner is homemade for us every night, the last time our laundry is lovingly washed, ironed, and folded for us, the last time someone will be worried if you don’t come home on time. With the right dynamic, your relationship with your host family can be very meaningful and special. My host family has been there for me in my good days and bad, they’ve laughed with me and listened when I needed to cry, they’ve explained and shared things with me. I hope to stay in touch with them through the years and if I ever find myself back in Chile, as I am planning to do, I will most definitely be coming to visit!

Two weeks and counting…

I can’t believe that in two weeks I will boarding an airplane to go home. Somehow I feel like this semester flew by while at the same time I feel like I’ve been here for years. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, trying to understand this wonderful, unique, bizarre experience so I can try to explain it. Why don’t you step into my kitchen, we can talk it over while I make some sopaipillas.

First we need our ingredients. We need a squash, Oil for frying (vegetable or canola), butter, flour, salt, baking soda, chancaca, cinnamon, and orange peels.

Zapallo

Because it needs to boil for a while, let’s start by preparing the chancaca. In a little saucepan I’ve added the block of chancaca, a cinnamon stick, and some orange peels with a few inches of water and set uncovered over medium low heat. The block of chancaca will melt over time and as the water evaporates it will thicken, just be sure to stir it every five minutes or so to keep it from sticking.

Chancaca, Orange Peels, Canela

Now, to prepare the sopaipillas first you need to cut up and seed the squash. Usually one good karate chop is enough.

Karate Chop!

So while I skin and cut up the squash, I am thinking about all the things I have learned from this trip that I would never had learned otherwise. Obviously my Spanish is much much stronger and so is my understanding of Chilean and Latin American culture. But more than that, I think I’ve developed a skill set I never had before. For example, using public transportation was completely new to me when I arrived, but now I have no problem hopping on and off the micro and metro like a boss. I’ve also improved my “street smarts” and lost much of my small-town naivety.
A very important skill that I learned is the ability to accept the things that I don’t know and ask for help when I need it. Before I was afraid of people finding out that I didn’t know how to do something, so I would refuse offers of help even though I had no idea what I was doing. Here I quickly learned to swallow my pride and ask for help and clarification when I need it, and to persist until I fully understand. I could have saved myself a great deal of time and frustration if I had just done that from the beginning!
So I’ve cut up about two cups of squash into a pot, covered it with a few inches of water, and set it to boil. We’ve got about twenty minutes until the squash is soft enough to squish with a fork.

Cooking Sopaipillas

Some of the skills I already had got fine tuned and sharpened during this experience. For example, I have always been a very motivated and engaged student but I often lacked self-discipline when it came to my procrastination problem. Since I need much more time to complete an assignment than my classmates here, I start projects much earlier now to make sure I have the time I need to be successful. I’ve also become more attentive in class because if I miss a few key sentences or words during a professor’s lecture I can be lost for the rest of the class. Lastly, in terms of academics I learned the value of making friends, even if it takes an extra effort. The inside advise and explanations from my Chilean friends were more valuable then I ever could have imagined.
As the squash finishes up cooking, I’m going to melt 10 tablespoons of butter in the microwave and set it aside. Then in a large mixing bowl I will mix the four cups of flour, two tablespoons of salt, and three tablespoons of baking soda. When the squash is nice and soft, I drain it, let it cool until I can touch it, and mix it with the butter before adding the butter and squash mix to the flour mix. The next part is fun because you get to knead the mixture for around 10 minutes until you get a nice, smooth dough.

Dough no you didn't!

My tastes have also broadened during my stay here. I set the president for myself during orientation of tasting everything that was offered to me, as well as being open to alternative ways of doing things. I learned to like tea, mushrooms, squash, and a wide variety of Chilean foods such as cazuela, empanadas, sopaipillas, flan, manjar, and of course choclo. I’ve learned to use graph paper notebooks instead of college ruled, to smother almost everything in mayonnaise, to wear a million layers in the summer, and to use a calefont. I’m more conscious of my use of utilities like electricity and water, and more aware of how I spend my money.

Mmm! Melty yummy chancaca! Let it simmer gently over the heat to let it thicken some more while we form our dough.
Chancaca ready

Now put a few inches of oil in a pot on to heat up while we make the circles of dough. I roll it out on a floured surface just like for sugar cookies. The thinner they are the better, I used a flour-rimmed glass to cut the little circles and then I pierce each one a few times with a fork to let them cook all the way through. Now all you have to do is drop them a few at a time into the hot oil and let them fry, a minute or so per side until they are a nice rich gold.

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Looking back on the entire semester, I think it will be a while until I can fully wrap my mind around all of the effects it has had on me. I can certainly say I’ve changed in my tastes, worldviews, my perspectives, and my individual culture. I’ve learned that I love to blog, for example, and I hope to continue blogging after I get back. Sadly I don’t think my day to day life is interesting enough for this style of blog, but maybe I will be able to branch out and find another engaged and interested audience like the one you are a part of right now.
Now that your sopaipillas are all cooked and warm, you can prepare them a variety of ways. Some people like to eat them plain. My host brother Seba likes his with ketchup on top. Try them with salsa, condensed cream, powdered sugar, tomato sauce, anything you want.
A tisket, a tasket, a sopaipilla basket
But since we have a nice hot batch of chancaca ready, let’s make these sopaipillas pesadas (soaked in chancaca). Chancaca has a maple syrupy taste, in fact it is a form of unrefined sugar. All you have to do is soak the sopaipillas for about five minutes each in the hot chancaca and they are ready to eat!
Soaked in Chancaca, yum!
Like sopaipillas I cannot physically bring Chile home with me, but I can experience it, describe it, try to understand it and then bring it home in my memory and in my skills. In two weeks I’ll be back on U.S. soil, but the knowledge of sopaipillas will come with me and I can’t wait to share them with you all!

Lovely Listy Lists

Today we had a meeting with Isa, our beloved program director, about re-entry. Re-entry is the IFSA term for reverse culture shock and the process we will undergo as we transition back into our home countries. Basically, regular culture shock is when you find the unusual where you expected the normal. Reverse culture shock is when you find the normal where you expected the unusual. I remember feeling the same way when I came back from my Peru trip when I was 10.

To help us start to prepare ourselves for these transitions, today we did an exercise where we made lists on some topics that Isa gave us. I thought I would share some of the lists with you guys

5 Things I will miss about Chile

1. El pan (the bread)-Always fresh baked at the supermarket, delicious for sandwiches or by itself!

2. Lit Cafes-Like Starbucks, but with silence reinforced by employees I like to call the “quiet police.” I love working there because its warmer than my house, there’s free wifi, and I can order a teapot and a slice of cake for around $4.50!

3. Buying things from the street or artisan fairs– I don’t know why, maybe because it’s so novel for me, but I love buying things from streetside vendors. I’ve purchased gloves, socks, a fanny pack (they are actually very fashionable here, and practical!), last minute birthday presents, and more. Artisan fairs are also always fun, especially when the vendors are actually selling things they made and not the same old tourist stuff.

4. Being surrounded by Spanish-I’ve grown used to hearing, reading, speaking, writing, and thinking in Spanish for the vast majority of my waking (and sleeping) hours. From the important sounding chatter of businessmen on their cell phones on their morning commute to my host mom calling for my host brothers to set the table for dinner, I am enveloped in the sounds and undulations of the language: the smooth vowels roll like riverbed pebbles and the consonants are like an artist’s brushstrokes, some short and precise and others broad and sweeping. (Spoiler alert-this one will crop up in another list)

5. My favorite lunch-A chicken fajita, with lettuce, avocado, corn, and ciboulette sauce bought from an adorable little place on Sazie for about $2.50 USD.

5 Things I will NOT miss about Chile

1. Having to take public transportation everywhere– Although it’s clean, reliable, safe and relatively easy, I am excited to have my car back and be able to go wherever I want whenever I want without having to figure out bus routes and recharge my Bip! card and such.

2. Paying to use public bathrooms– especially when they don’t have toilet paper! Protip: always carry a little pack of tissues with you, they come in handy.

3. Piropos– These are comments that men, typically lower class workers, shout at passing women about their appearance. Basically, it’s catcalling. And basically, it makes me uncomfortable. Many Chileans have explained to me that it is not meant in a threatening manner, but I still quicken my pace and keep looking ahead when it happens.

4. Being surrounded by Spanish– I know I listed this as something I WILL miss, but I have very mixed feelings about it. I think sometimes I will miss it and sometimes it will be a relief to be able to express myself and understand others effortlessly. Sometimes I want to say something but I can’t find the words or the grammatical construct so I stay quiet, or sometimes after the third time asking my friend to repeat his or herself more slowly I just smile and agree and hope it wasn’t a question.

 

I’ll do some more posts like this as my experience here winds down and I try to make sense of it all and put it into words so I can remember it all and learn from it. I feel a strong urge to preserve these ideas and feelings now, while I’m still here. Some part of me is afraid that when that plane lifts off three weeks from today all of these emotions and lessons and experiences will stay behind on Chilean soil. I also need to start thinking about what I’m going to do with this blog after. I envision it as being something like a love child between a how-to manual for students who want to study abroad and a story for people who like travel. We shall see.

We Tripantu Festival

Last Saturday we had another IFSA field trip, this time to the far south of the city to Cerro Chena. Cerro Chena was and remains an extremely important site in many of the indigenous cultures both as a meeting place as well as a sacred place. We were there to celebrate We Tripantu, which is the indigenous people’s New Year and is marked by the winter solstice or the longest night of the year.

It was an overcast day and the sky threatened rain but the people who began to gather at the foot of the steep hill were excited and happy to see one another. Children were running and playing together, and a group of kids our age were dancing and laughing in a circle. Before the ceremony started we took a hike along the winding trail up to the top of the hill, where we could look out over the farmlands and nearby mountains. The view from the top was breathtaking and we stayed for a while just looking out over the countryside.

We wound our way back down the mountain and took our seats in the folding chairs that had been set up to watch the ceremonies. The facilitator of the event thanked us all for coming, and invited us to stand in a half circle to watch the purification rituals. In the middle of the circle of onlookers was a sacred tree, which was blessed by a mapuche elder who sprinkled it with water from a hollow gourd as he prayed under his breath in mapudungun (ancient Mapuche language). The facilitator prayed aloud in Spanish, thanking the spirits for the past year and asking for their blessing and support in the coming year. An offering of beer, grain, and bread was sprinkled over the sacred tree and also some was burned in a small bowl. Finally we were all asked to hold hands in a symbol of unity and alliance and acceptance of diversity.

After the Mapuche ceremony had concluded, the Rapa Nui delegation from Easter Island also held a ceremony in which they offered water and salt as symbols of the old year and the new. We were invited to think about the elements we will carry with us over to the next year and the things that we should let go and leave in the old year.

Next representatives from the three tribes that were present preformed some of their traditional dances and music, which I enjoyed very much. Here are some short clips of the dances:

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After the dancing was a great cookout, all free of charge, with such awesome food. I had grilled chicken and bread, a sopaipilla, a chicken soup with vegetables, another sopaipilla, some barbequed pork, and a teeny sample of some traditional wine made from fruit. It was all delicious! Full to bursting and happily sleepy, we crawled back into the van and slept all the way home.

 

I am an Earthquake Survivor!

Yes! Just as I was starting to worry I would leave Chile without ever feeling the earth move under my feet I experienced my first tremor! I happened on Wednesday; I was working in the Universidad Diego Portales library on the fifth floor when I started to feel a slight shaking, as if a big truck were passing. The shaking continued and got a little stronger and the glass started to rattle in the window panes. It felt like when the car engine is idling a little rough. That was the worst it got, after a few more seconds it stopped.

At this point all of the Chilean students, all of whom had likely experienced the big earthquake of 2010, grinned at each other but then returned to thier work. I tried to blend in like it was no big deal but on the inside I was like

OMG cat

Now this is the point at which any of my Chilean friends who are reading this (Or anyone from the west coast of the USA) are like “Gringa, please. That wasn’t an earthquake, that was just someone’s Nokia phone vibrating!” But hey, it was my first and possibly only earthquake so I’m allowed to get excited about it. And don’t worry, in case somethign a bit more impressive than the little hiccup comes along internet cats have taught me exactly what to do:

EARTHQUAKE DRILL