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!

 

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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.

Hiking and free trees

I will continue my story of my adventures in San Pedro de Atacama shortly, but I wanted to take a little break to talk to you about some current events.

First of all, this blog has hit over 1,000 views! I can’t believe the staggering amount of interest and support that represents. Thank you everyone and I will continue to keep you posted!

As of last Wednesday, I only have two months left here in Chile. I realized this yesterday during my walk through the Plaza de Armas with my host brothers and host grandma. I feel very torn, on one hand this place is beautiful and I know I will never have another experience like this one. On the other hand, I do miss the comforts of home: my fiancee and my family, going to class and understanding everything, hearing my language as I walk down the street and feeling like a part of everything instead of an observer. I do feel much more adjusted than when I arrived. A few days I was walking down the street, happily munching on some churros with powdered sugar that I bought from a food truck. I realized that I felt totally confident and sure of myself as I hopped onto my bus, scanned my Bip! card and took a seat without missing a single yummy bite of churro.

This realization also made me rethink about how I’ve been spending my time here. I don’t think I’ve been taking full advantage of this unique opportunity, I can think of far too many afternoons spent not doing much of anything in the house instead of conversing or exploring or experiencing this beautiful city.

To this end, today I got out of the house and went for a hike at Cerro San Cristobal with my friend Anna. Cerro San Cristobal is a small mountain that rises almost in the center of the city, and it houses a zoo and also that gorgeous restaurant we went to during orientation. I also asked that this be a spanish-speaking hike, and we had a very interesting conversation during the steep walk to the top of the mountain in Spanish. On top of the mountain is a huge statue, which I always thought was a statue of Jesus but is actually the Virgin Mary. It rained last night, so the smog was much lighter than usual for autumn and we had a beautiful view of the Andes mountains with their caps of snow.

On the way home, there was some kind of recycling fair going on under a tent, so I stopped by to investigate and they gave me a free tree seedling to plant. My host mom’s boyfriend really likes plants so I brought it home and we will plant it tomorrow.

On the way down, we talked about studying abroad and how important it is. I know I’ll reflect more on this towards the end of my time here but I want to emphasize how important and life-changing studying abroad can be. Many people think it is not possible, but there are resources to help and whether you go for a language or just to experience the world, i highly recommend it!

Stay posted for day 2 of San Pedro de Atacama!

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!!!