Never a dull moment

So today as I went about my normal Friday routine of traveling to and from school on the Metro I had two interesting experiences. The first was when I came around a bend in the hall to the red line and Captain Jack Sparrow was walking the other way. I wanted to ask him to take a picture with me, but he seemed in a hurry. Maybe they were having a sale on rum at the liquor store. Tee hee.

The second experience was when I was coming home. I hopped on the red line and promptly realized I had taken it in the wrong direction, so I got off at the next stop to cross over and take it the right way while feeling a little foolish. A woman approached me as I was heading for the stairs and asked me for directions to another station at the end of the yellow line. I gave her directions, describing how she needed to change lines at the Los Heroes station and follow the yellow signs. She thanked me and went on her way. On the outside I was totally cool as a cucumber, but on the inside I was like

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Not only could I effectively and easily understand and answer her question, I looked like I knew what I was doing enough for her to ask me! Woot!

I was bumming about missing the Fourth of July celebrations yesterday because it’s a big celebration in my family, I missed spending time with them while eating tremendous amounts of barbequed food and baked goods and sweating under the July sun (I have no sympathy for you people. It is cold in Chile and they don’t have central heating because it’s too expensive! Protip: Bring warm clothes and learn to layer).

Still, since I can now count the days I have left on my fingers I am trying my best to take advantage of the time that I have left here. In this upcoming week I’ll be running around like a nutcase trying to visit last minute Santiago attractions, say goodbye to friends, buy souvenirs, finish my last assignments, and pack. Wow. Pack. I hadn’t thought of that before I wrote it just now. Now I have visions of my little room as bare as when I arrived and me hauling my big black suitcase out. Nope. Can’t think about that right now.

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It’s not that I’m not excited to be home. I do feel like I’ve enjoyed my time here in Chile but now I’m ready to be back in my culture, in my country, in my language, in my home, with my family. I just know that I am about to get back onto that culture shock roller coaster, and last time it made me a little nauseous at times. (Remember when I talked about reverse culture shock? If not check it out here).

Another thing we’ve been warned about is that people are not going to understand when I try to explain this crazy, wonderful, deep, changing, strange experience. Until you spend an extended period of time immersed in another culture and/or language, and I mean living/breathing/existing it as close to 24/7 as possible, you won’t be able to understand and I won’t be able to explain it. I’d really like to continue this experience by helping study abroad students in my university. I know now what it’s like to have no social capital and no idea what’s going on and no one to explain it to you. My Chilean friends, especially my friend Oscar, have been an enormous help this semester with everything from teaching me slang to warning me about cancelled classes. I think helping others in the same situation as I was will help me to make sense of this whole crazy semester and help keep the memory alive.

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So, Wheel of Morality lessons of the day: Captain Jack sometimes has to take the metro, I pass as a local now, I’m trying not to freak out, and be a friend to the foreign kid. That’s all for tonight, chau amigos!

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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.

The Leveling Out

Remember when I said culture shock is a roller coaster? The other day, when I posted all those pics of Stitch and pandas and toddlers having tantrums, was definitely one of those wicked  near-vertical drops. The kind of drop when you are screaming and you’re thinking “Oh, god, oh, god, I’m going to die on this roller coaster. I’m going to die of fear/spontaneous coronary combustion and they’re going to have to shut down the park so people in biohazard suits can pick my dismembered pieces off the track and future kids will dare each other to ride that roller coaster “the one that killed that kid, remember?”. It’s not a fun sensation, and during the experience you swear off roller coasters and carnival food forever. But then the track levels out, and you catch your breath and go through an awesome loop and roller coasters are your favorite thing again. Today still wasn’t a loop-d-loop day, but it was definitely a leveling off day.

Today I went to the first class of a course I’ve decided to take: Study of the Chilean Social Reality. The syllabus is  much like another course at the Universidad Catolica, except the Catolica class was full of foreign exchange students and this one only has me. I feel like I will get more value out of a class of actual Chileans as opposed to other Americans who speak English between classes.

After the class, I had an appointment to register for classes with the Secretary of Academics for the School of Literature and Communication, so I was able to register for both the culture class and a literature class I wanted to take. My literature class was scheduled during my appointment so I thought I missed the first day, but the Secretary told me the professor had called out sick so I didn’t actually miss it. Yeay!

Since I was done with class early, I wandered over to the art building so I could figure out where my classroom was for my Art, Museums, and Education class. I hopped on the Metro and went to the San Joaquin campus of the Universidad Catolica to drop the culture class there, but the Secretary was out so I have to go back another day.  I also wanted to register myself to get my Chilean identity card and number, which I need to formally register for my Science and Religion class, but it’s closed so I have to go in the am.

Incidentally, I think I’m really going to enjoy that class. The full title is really interesting in itself: Science and Religion, Thank God We’re Atheists. The professor is also very interesting and he speaks reasonably clearly so I think it’s going to be a very successful semester!

Meet my New Friend, Culture Shock

Oh boy oh boy was today a day that will live on in infamy. Today was a day of multitasking; I failed at all of my endeavors while simultaneously blaming Chile, Transantiago, several Chilean institutes of higher learning, pigeons, street dogs, my bed, the heat, and the Bank of Chile.

So my day started when I turned off my alarm  fell back asleep. Luckily I woke up just in time to throw some butter and jam on some bread, throw on some clothes, scrub my teeth, and catch the bus to the Metro Station.I dashed to the Metro station and just missed the train, so I had to wait a whopping 5 minutes but it felt more like an hour. I felt stressed and mildly irritated at the entire Metro system.

I hopped on, changed lines at Santa Ana, and rode the orange line to the Universidad Diego Portales. I had planned to go to the International Relations Office first to register for the class, but I didn’t have enough time. I got lost for a little bit inside the Communications and Literature building before I found the right classroom. The class before mine seemed to be wrapping up so I waited outside the classroom, but 15 minutes later people were still chatting and there was no sign of my professor coming to clear everyone out. When I finally asked, the professor told me that my class doesn’t start until Wednesday because Monday is the start date for first years only. Now I was feeling pretty annoyed, but trying to keep my cool.

I figured that since I was on campus I could at least register for the class, then my trip wouldn’t have been a waste of my Bip! card money. Except the nice lady told me she would be happy to make an appointment for me to speak with the secretary of the Communications and Literature department but she can’t actually help me. I left the building in a quiet, dignified temper.

I took the Metro back and noticed a bank next to the Micro stop where I catch my bus home. Perfect, I needed to change my last $50 USD bill to pesos. It was  busy, being 1 pm on a Monday, so I waited in line for almost 40 minutes. When it was finally my turn they informed me that only account holders can change money at this location, there was nothing they could do, so sorry, that’s policy, and no there isn’t a location nearby that could. In a calm and collected manner I took the next Micro home (which I felt was very behind schedule).

After I had some chocolate ice cream and a rest in my room I reflected on the day. Really, it had been a learning experience. Now I knew exactly where my class was and how long I need to get there, so on my actual first day I wouldn’t be so stressed. And I won’t ever waste my time at the Bank of Chile again.

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What I think was really behind my anger and frustration was culture shock. The “honeymoon” period where everything is novel and awesome and cool is fading quickly, replaced with the distinct sensation that everything is backwards and wrong and inconvenient. I remember thinking things like “what a stupid system” “why would they do it like that?!” “why does everyone do everything so slowly!?” “would someone PLEASE speak some English?!”

I think I’m probably in for a bit of an emotional roller coaster. Maybe knowing that will help me cope, but I might just have to ride it out until I’m more adjusted. Wheeeeee!!!