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.


Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: The Metro


In terms of getting around Santiago, the Metro is the easier option. Still, it is not without dangers so here´s my Worst Case Scenario Handbook entry for the Metro. So grab your towel, don´t panic, and let´s go!

Scenario 1: You´re here and you need to be there

The Metro connects most major areas of Santiago, and there are stations everywhere. Once you find one, you can either buy a ticket or charge your Bip! card to pay your fare, which is about $610 pesos, but varies based on the time of day.

There are maps of the network everywhere, including here:

You’ll notice there are 5 differently colored lines, appropriately called Linea 1, Linea 2, Linea 4, Linea 4A, and Linea 5. Each line has two directions, named for the last station in the line. So to head south on line 2 you need Dirección La Cisterna. To switch lines you head to one of the connection stations, such as Santa Ana. All in all, its not difficult.

The only trick that you need to know about is the Express Trains. During peak commute hours, more or less from 6-9am and 6-9pm, the trains on lines 2, 4, and 5 only stop at certain color-coded stations. Navigating this system is fairly easy. The trains are either red or green, and the stations are red, green, or both. If you get on a green train and you want to get to a red station, you’re going to have a bad time. On the wall in the station you will see a list of the stations marked by color, so just double check the lights above the windows above the train and make sure they match the station you want.

Scenario 2: You don’t want to be a public nuisance

This one is fairly simple. Don’t walk slowly in the middle of the flow of traffic. Don’t stop in the middle of everything to take a picture like a tourist. Turn down your music, don’t talk to strangers, and remember that the seats are NOT FOR YOU, unless you are old/pregnant/injured/carrying a baby around.

Scenario 3: You have stuff, and you don’t want it to be stolen

In Santiago, a ladrón is basically a pickpocket or purse snatcher and the Metro is full of them. You don’t have to worry much about physical attacks, the ladrón preys on opportunity. They look for open bags, wallets in back pockets, distracted passengers, and dropped stuff. They’ve been known to form symbiotic relationships with others of their species; one sneaks by with a razor and cuts a slit in your bag, the other “bumps into you” and slips your billfold out.

The best way to avoid falling prey to the ladrón is to not give them the opportunity. When you enter the metro station, your backpack should metamorphose into a BELLYpack. The best purses are those that can be worn ACROSS the shoulders, and the bag should not hang on your butt but in front, where you can keep an eye AND A HAND on it. Fannypacks are actually pretty fashionable, among locals and you can buy them from street vendors in all kinds of interesting fabrics.  And finally its best not to flash around your shiny new Apple product or expensive jewelry, I’m sure the ghost of Steve Jobs will understand.

Scenario 4: That thing you like fell on the tracks

Imagine you are a perfectly normal foreign exchange student, waiting by the tracks for your train to get to class. For argument’s sake let’s say you have a moderately well read blog. And you’re running a shade late. So you pull your cheap phone out to check the time and it slips from your hand, bouncing off the platform and down into the tracks. Crud. Also everyone saw this and some are openly sniggering at the gringita’s misfortune.

Don’t panic, and find an asistante de anden. Luckily they are everywhere, especially in the more busy stations, and one happened to see the whole thing happen. He will ask for your name and RUT number and tell you to come back in a few hours. When you do, find another asistante and let them know that you are the gringita who dropped her phone. Like magic, the phone will be in the station office! Horray!

If (I mean when) more disasters befall me on the Metro I will post them and their solutions here, and stay tuned for more Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbooks!

Poor Directions and Orientation at PUC

Today my relaxing weekend was over and I had to rise and shine nice and early to get to the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (Hint: If you want to check out the website, there’s a link for English next to the search bar in the top right corner).  It was also my first time using public transportation by myself. It was a little daunting but I made it 15 minutes late. Turns out if you are going somewhere in the morning you should expect to take double the time it would take on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

For security reasons (this page is open to the wide world of internet people) I don’t want to use specifics on my route, so I’m sorry if this sounds a little vague. To get to where I need to be, I can take any bus that goes by the stop near my house because they all pass where I need to get off. Then I walk a few blocks, and then turn and walk some more blocks, and then I turn and walk some more, and then I turn and walk for much longer and then I get there! I reverse everything for the way home, but I need to make sure I take exactly the right color, letter, and number bus. I’m going to lie and say its the pink Z10 bus (doesn’t exist). That’s the only one that will double back to my house, the rest go elsewhere in the city.

The orientation was great, I got some really helpful information about professors and classes from the students there. Also the campus is gorgeous, check it out:

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After a hard day of orientation, I went home and dropped of my bag before going back out to charge my Bip! card, which was running low on funds. Only certain stores charge Bip! cards, and I knew there was a little convenience store not far away where I could do it but I couldn’t remember exactly the direction. So I set off, figuring my odds were 50/50 and if I didn’t find it I could double back and try the other direction. My neighborhood is really safe, lots of families outside with their kids and stuff so I wasn’t worried. I walked for like 5 blocks in one direction and realized that the store was closer than that, I must’ve gone the wrong way. So I turned around, passed the house, and went 6 blocks the other way. I still didn’t find it, so I stopped into the nearby pharmacy to ask for directions. The lady was very nice and pointed me down another road that runs perpendicular to mine. Off I went, 5 blocks that way. Nothing, excpet for this weird street sculpture:

I've heard of big insects in South America but this is ridiculous!

I’ve heard of big insects in South America but this is ridiculous!

There was a lady selling magazines at a kiosk so I asked her, she pointed me the other way down the street and take a right. Off I went again, nothing. This went on for like an hour of me systematically searching the five blocks around my house for this dumb store. In the end the gas station lady gave me the right directions and I found it.

This story illustrates an important cultural feature of Chileans: They hate to say they don’t know, so if they don’t know they will make it up. There’s even a common saying that translates to: “If you don’t know it, invent it.” But in the end, I got my Bip! card charged and went home with much better knowledge of my neighborhood than before!


Moved in!

Hey everyone! I know its been ages since I last posted, I’ve been busy settling in and spending time with my host family. They picked me up at the hotel at around 1pm on Thursday and brought me here, to their adorable little house. The house is one of about four houses surrounded by a gate that you need a key for or get buzzed in, so it feels very safe. The house has two floors, the ground floor has the living/dining room, kitchen, my room and bathroom, and a fenced in backyard with tables. The second floor has a bathroom and three bedrooms. Here are some pictures of my room, which is only about 6 feet by 4 feet plus my bathroom which is maybe 3.5 feet by 6.

My host family is awesome. My mom is Gloria, she is super nice and really helpful. My host sister is 21 and she’s also really nice although I haven’t really had any chances to hang out with her one on one yet. And then there are the boys: Sebastian is 13 and Benjamin is 10. So far I’ve spent the most time with them, and they’ve been showing me how to use the Micro (buses). We’ve gone to a video game store, to their school, to a salon to get their hair cut for school, and a shop where I bought a new wallet and a watch for only 5 mil pesos (like $4US).

The Micro is complicated because each bus has a number that corresponds to its route. The routes are posted on a sign at the bus stop as a list of numbers, for example bus 104 might stop at stops 123, 124, 157, and 188. But they don’t post what stop corresponds to the numbers, you have to go online to to get that information. I will learn but for now the boys have been taking me everywhere.

Which leads me to a funny story: When we went to the video game store they didn’t tell me we would be taking the bus, so I didn’t grab my Bip! card. When we got on the bus to go there, there was such a crowd of people that I just slipped on. But on the way back there was a guard on the bus to make sure people were paying. So Sebastian explained to the guard that I was foreign, and that I didn’t have a Bip! card. So the guard turns to me and says, “Talk to me in English.” So I said “Hi, I’m from the United States and I don’t have a card, I’m really sorry!” and he was like “Ok, you can get on.” Sebastian recommends that if I’m ever in a jam and don’t have my card I can always say I’m a foreigner and they will let me on. I plan on having my card with me.

Adventuras en Santiago

I am exhausted but happy after a long day out in Santiago. We walked to the nearest station and used the Metro to get to the historical district of Santiago. We all got to try out our Bip! cards, which was fun.

We got off and walked a few blocks to the Palacio de la Moneda, which is kind of like the White House except the president only works there, he doesn’t live there. It is a place of huge historical significance to Chile because during the military coup of September 1973 President Allende refused to step down from his position and they bombed the building, destroying much of the front facade. President Allende actually died in the building, and the story goes that he killed himself but there is some speculation about that. Anyway they rebuilt it, but the new president didn’t want to live there so thus began the tradition that the president does not live there.  We got to see the changing of the guard, which happened with much fanfare and fancy marching. Then we got a tour of the palace. It’s called La Palacia de la Moneda because Moneda means coins, and before it was a palace there was a mint on the site. Now the building also houses the collection of 100% silver coins, one for each president in Chile’s history. In the pictures you can see the summer uniforms of the guards, which in the winter is green.

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Under the Palacio de la Moneda there used to be a subway station but after the coup they converted it to a cultural center, where we were treated to an explanation of traditional native arts.

So after that we walked to La Plaza de Armas, which is the corazon of Santiago. There we saw the Catedral Metropolitana, statues, the museum of fine arts, and many government buildings that house various departments of the government.

We had lunch at a Hollywood themed restaurant, which was strange because some of the posters were in Spanish, but then there were posters like Clint Eastwood’s “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” and also some James Dean movie.

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We did some more walking and touring of the city. Then we stopped for ice cream. Yum! We visited the IFSA-Butler office so we would know where it is, and then headed back to the hotel for dinner (tilapia and potato with cheese). I have blisters on my heels and my legs hurt, but it was worth it!