A Travellerspoint blog

Las Montañas y La Mina

a great week in Chile and for Chile

70 °F
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Tonight is a very happy night in Chile! I'm not sure if this has made the news in the US, but for the last 17 days a group of 33 miners has been trapped in the north. I've turned on my TV every morning for the past two weeks to images of the miners' families camped out while the rescue effort made very little progress. Earlier today, after hearing noises from the chamber that the miners' were assumed to be in, a scrap of paper was passed threw a tiny hole and when it was brought back up, someone had written "Estamos bien en el refugio los 33." Unfortunately, the government estimates that it will still be months before they can dig the miners out, but there's enough space that they can pass down food and hydration gels. The fact that they'll have to live in a dark mine for three months with gel for food is still really sad, but I think people were starting to lose hope, so I'd still call it great news. The one good thing that results from tragedies is a renewed sense of unity, and it's been nothing short of tear-jerking to see the reaction of this country. Even though Santiago is about a world away from the mines in the northern desert, the fate of these miners has grabbed and held everyone's attention and I've spent today listening to the honks and cheers of a relieved city. If you need a feel-good moment, search for the footage of the reactions of the rescue crew and families.

In less important news, I've been behaving quite unlike myself. One of my goals for this semester was to be at least a little less obsessed with school. Last semester, I completely surrendered my life to my classes, which is a bad way to live in the US and a really bad way to live in Chile. Of course, I didn't let myself pick the really easy classes (I don't think I'd recognize a life without homework), but I'm doing my best to remember that missing out on life is a lot worse than missing out on an A+. In a completely-unlike-me act, I planned a trip to the Lake District of Chile that will involve me ditching class. Yes, it will be my first time, so if you'd like to send me a congratulatory card I can give you my address. September 18th is Fiestas Patrias (Chilean Independence Day), and every school except mine has the week off. My host mom pushed me pretty hard to forget about class and go south because the celebrations will be more authentic, whereas in Santiago it will mainly just be an excuse to drink. It made me very nervous to even think about missing class at the beginning, but now I'm getting really excited about the idea. And since I'll be staying in hostels and will have to carry my bag with me everywhere, I have to pack light, which means I won't even be able to bring homework on the trip. I feel like I'm about to be a participant on Survivor: Nerd Version.

Wednesday after classes my friend Alison and I spent the afternoon exploring. In the company of Jesus (see picture below), we went to the Museo de Arte Precolombino, which houses collections of mainly ceramics and stone carvings of the indigenous inhabitants of South America. I guess this is the first time I've gone to a "touristy" spot in this city because it was the first time signs were in English and Spanish and the first time someone refused to speak Spanish to me even as I spoke Spanish to them. The art was all pretty impressive, but my favorite part of this museum was being called Hannah Montana by a boy on a school field trip. Next stop was Estación Mapocho, the old train station that was built to connect the city to the north of the country. It's supposedly a cultural center now, although everything but one tiny corner with photographs of indigenous Mapuche women was just open space. Culture or no culture, this is one of my favorite places in this city. The architecture is right up my alley and it's hard not to feel at peace in a giant room flooded with sunlight (especially when there's a girl meditating in the middle). The view of the city from outside the station is also one of the best.

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Yesterday my friends and I went on an adventure to climb a hill/mountain. I wasn't really sure. Even thought the mountains are right here, hiking and such is not anywhere near as developed as it is in the US, and it's a little tricky to find information. I chose Cerro Pochoco because it is accessible on local buses. Sort of. We took the bus to the northeast limit of the city and then had a two-mile walk to the trailhead. Right when we got off the bus, an adorable stray dog (that we named Rudy) decided to be our guide. Then Jesus joined in. That's the name of the dog, apparently not stray because he had a collar, that we found coincidentally at a giant crucifix that we were directed to by a sign saying "To Jesus." The hike was short (about 45 minutes up), but almost completely vertical, and it took longer than you would think because the dirt was really loose and it was hard to take a step without slipping three steps backwards. We didn't actually make it to the top because most of the girls had worn tennis shoes (we were all expecting something a little more leisurely), but it was still a great view and there's no really no such thing as a bad hike. Santiago is so interesting to me because there's no pattern. The city is a mix of Spanish colonial architecture and high rise buildings in a backdrop of both palm trees and mountains. The trail we were on was covered in cacti, while to the west there was a purple snow-capped mountain and to the east a brown rocky one. All the contrasts never cease to surprise me. I was a little disappointed because Rudy abandoned us for a different group, but--in true Christ fashion--Jesus stayed with us the whole way (and was rewarded with lunch).

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As evidence of my progress with the language, I am now able to make my host mom laugh. On purpose. I've still got a long way to go (with the occasional conversations that leave me completely disheartened), but I consider humor to be a major milestone.

And if you're sad about the end of your summer, I'm happy to brag that on my morning run I was officially (and unexpectedly) welcomed into spring by the spray of a landscaper's hose!

Posted by marykate.morr 16:05 Archived in Chile Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Hola, Primavera

I have to go to school, but at least the weather is beautiful

65 °F
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Not much happened this week besides my going to and from classes, so I'm going to describe the chaos that is the Chilean printing system.

Step 1: Find one of the five printers scattered across a campus that takes 15 minutes to walk across (aka too big for only 5 printers).
Step 2: Make sure you've brought paper. Printing is free but you have to supply the paper.
Step 3: Wait for an available computer (ranges from very easy to impossible), log in, and press print.
Step 4: Stand in line. Wait, on average, twenty minutes.
Step 5: If you're lucky, and the ancient printer hasn't broken by the time it's your turn, hand the computer man your paper.
Step 6: Go to a different computer, log in again, and press print again.
Step 7: Collect your pages and any leftover paper.
Step 8: Try and find the single stapler available at La Católica.

It is nice to not have to pay for printing, and my host family gave me paper so it's completely free for me. But the system is pretty slow. A big problem is that books in Chile are so expensive that everyone prints copies of entire books from the internet. I've actually been lucky (except for not being able to find that stapler), but on Tuesday I offered to turn in some girls' papers and spent about an hour with one of them standing in line and trying unsuccessfully to print in multiple locations. There's also a business on campus that prints documents that you upload to their website, but they still usually have a long line and they charge.

I've also been lucky with the photocopy system, which I have heard can involve standing in line for literally hours. When you can't find the books online, professors make them available at fotocopiadoras (photocopy stations) and then students purchase a copy. Everything is efficiently organized by professor, but the process usually involves standing in line to place your order and then standing in line again while everyone's order (often of very large textbooks) is processed using a single photocopier. Since there's a whole system behind this, it's also impossible to find just a use-it-yourself machine to make a quick copy of something. I've figured out that if I leave 20 minutes early (and don't get on the wrong express train that only makes certain stops and takes me 10 minutes past where I want to get off...) the campus is pretty deserted and all of these tasks are a little easier. I think what's most frustrating is that it seems like it'd be pretty easy to make some improvements in the system, but I guess no one really cares. Chileans are generally unconcerned with what I consider wasted time.

The weather has been absolutely lovely; even though it's only the equivalent of February, I think we're moving into spring. I've been sleeping in regular pajamas instead of thermal tights, shirts, and coats, and sometimes I kick off my second comforter during the night. Friday for the first time I ran in just a t-shirt and shorts. I even take my coat off from time to time! Yesterday, I avoided homework by looking into some of the travel I'll want to do, and I'm very anxious for it to get warm so the snow melts and I can start exploring these mountains. There's a park very nearby that boasts views of glaciers on its hikes, but it's not open yet. Spring and summer are also supposed to be much less smoggy, and actually being able to see the mountains every day will be a welcome change.

Friday night, my program hosted a movie night, which was very enjoyable for two reasons. One, I never see a lot of the other students now that we're all in class all over the city, so it's fun when everyone is together again. Two, we watched Machuca, which is a film about the transition from Allende to Pinochet from the point of view of two young boys. It was very interesting and (from what I've been told) does a good job of capturing all the tensions in Chilean society from that time. I definitely recommend it, and if you do watch it you'll probably learn more than I did because you can watch it in English.

Yesterday some friends and I took a bus to Pomaire, an artesian pueblo that specializes in ceramics about an hour outside of Santiago. Everything for sale is really beautiful, but most everyone is selling the same stuff and I'm not sure how they really make a living from that (I remember feeling the same way in Guatemala). My host mom had hinted that her other students had brought her gifts from Pomaire, so I picked her up a ceramic fruit bowl to replace the boring glass one we have. Only $3. Again, not sure how these people are making any money, except that I guess their materials are pretty cheap. We all sat down for a very typical Chilean lunch of empanadas (which in Pomaire are famous for weighing a full pound) and pastel de choclo (similar to shepherds pie, with layers of beef, chicken, hard boiled eggs, and corn paste). My mom had packed me a lunch so I just ordered a glass of fresh melon juice; my sandwich was boring but appreciated because I really disliked what I tried of pastel de choclo and they only had beef empanadas, which are about half beef, half onion.

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In sad news, one of my friends had her wallet stolen on the way home. I hate when people are mean. But I guess it did serve as a good reminder that feeling comfortable here does not mean I can let my guard down.

Today was a lazy day of homework and family time. I still have trouble when everyone is talking at once, but my mom and I communicate great now. I can understand her perfectly and I actually speak more than five words and at a normal pace. Since a month has now gone by (what?!), I'm trying to plan out what travel I want to do with the rest of my time. I had thought about going to Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and maybe Machu Picchu, but flights aren't as cheap as I expected them to be. And I realized that the trips I've liked the most (with Guatemala being my favorite place ever) are the ones where I'm doing something outdoorsy and adventurous, as opposed to touring cities. So I think my money and time will be best spent getting to the natural playgrounds that abound in Chile. My host mom put it pretty simply: you came to Chile, so explore Chile. What was I thinking?

Here's some more pictures of what I've been eating. The mash tastes a lot better than it looks.

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By the way, if you'd like to know just how close I am to the Andes, go to maps.google.com and search Los Dominicos, Santiago, Chile. Then move east a couple scootches and there you go!

Posted by marykate.morr 06:46 Archived in Chile Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

¡A La Playa!

to celebrate the first week of classes

65 °F
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Almost a month into my travels and I've managed to make it through my first week of classes, although the process has involved an greatly elevated stress level. The school system here is a little dated: multiple phone calls are required to find out the schedule and location of classes which then change day-of, professors put the syllabus online but you can't access it until you've signed up for the course, and signing up involves finding the hidden office for each department secretary and enrolling in person. Luckily for me, three of the four classes that I picked initially worked out: Historical Themes of Chile and the Americas in the 19th Century, Confronting Poverty, and Interdisciplinary Human Rights. I'm not going to take World Geography because it seems pretty basic and introductory (although the professor was German so his Spanish was so easy to understand). Instead, I'll be taking Conservation and Management of Natural Resources. I'm hoping that class will deal a lot with Chile-specific natural resources and related problems; the environmental class that I really wanted to take fell through because all the readings were in English, and that's just not what I'm here for (I've already got a pretty good handle on reading in English). The first day of all of my classes was just about going over the syllabus, so it was really easy to understand all the professors. The second day of classes was tricky; faster talking and lots of vocab I've never heard before. Overall, I would describe this week as a disruption; I had become relatively comfortable and was seeing improvements in my Spanish, but now I feel completely overwhelmed again. Reading in Spanish takes me forever (my current pace is ten pages every hour), I miss a lot of what is discussed in class, I'm nervous that my classes will be more work than I have time for, and for some reason I am worried that I picked all the wrong classes. I cleared my course schedule so that this semester wouldn't be about my major, just about Chile and Latin America and learning things I can't learn in the US. I am interested in all of my classes, and my schedule is fantastic (10 to 1 Monday through Thursday) but I have this dread that I'm missing something. I've never been very interested in literature and anthropology classes but it just seems like those are the types of classes I should be taking. I know it's silly, and it would make no sense to take classes just because it seems like the right thing to do, but I still haven't been able to shake the feeling. Two of my classes have volunteer and field work, so that makes me feel a little better.

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This week also upset my balance because it was the first time I have really felt like an outsider here. Chile is a pretty homogenous place, so this whole time I've been getting lots of stares and comments, but they haven't really bothered me. Being in a class surrounded by Chileans, however, made me extremely uncomfortable. This is probably something completely self-imposed, since Chilean students are very friendly and professors seem happy to have foreigners in their classes (it gives them a little ego boost). But they make references and jokes about things I am not familiar with, and it's really frustrating to not have complete access to whatever knowledge is being developed because I only partially speak the language. However, I'm pleased that I feel this way because I think it'll end up being a pretty good life lesson. Maybe it's just my way of calming myself down, but I really do believe we grow the most when we're thrown out of our comfort zone. That's why I'm going to school in Hartford and that's why I'm here instead of in Buenos Aires with all the other Trinity students. Now, I've learned my lesson so please make everything easy again.

I took a long walk through the city one day to avoid the $1 metro fair, and I'm sure glad I did because I happened upon my first Café Con Piernas (Coffee with Legs). I had read about them in other people's travel blogs, but I had yet to come across one in my upper class neighborhood. Essentially, these are a mix between coffee shops and strip clubs. There are different types, some that just have scantily-clad baristas, some that lean a little more toward the strip-club side. I'm not sure which type Café Escorpión was because the windows were black, but based upon how loud the music was in the middle of the afternoon, I can guess.

Tuesday night was quite the adventure. Some people were getting together at a friend's house, and I had gotten held up with school stuff so I was already running late. I looked up directions online and off I went, expecting to arrive in about 30 minutes. First the bus stop wasn't where it was supposed to be so I walked around for about 15 minutes trying to find it and trying to explain to the lady on the phone that I was standing on the corner and there was no sign for a 514 bus. Eventually I asked somebody on the street and they got me where I needed to be. It was rush hour, so the buses were completely stuffed. As I was stepping onto mine, the driver shouted "Shutting the doors!" and did just that. On me. Luckily I was inside enough that I got pushed in and not out. So I'm pressed between the door and the person in front of me, and I stay like that for about half an hour because traffic is at a standstill. (I was impressed to see that everyone paid their bus fare even though there was no way the driver could tell if they didn't.) As we passed my stop, I was too smashed to press the button so I got off about five blocks past where I wanted. No big deal, right? Wrong. Turns out the website messed up and I was actually about 25 blocks from the girl's house. At this point, I was about two hours late (and the whole point of the night was to watch a 2-hour show), so I decided to run the rest of the way...in boots. I didn't look quite as weird as I normally would've because there was a huge soccer game that night and people were running and screaming and singing all over the place. Somehow this didn't stress me out at all, but I will be avoiding the streets at rush hour from now on.

The old exchange student that has been staying with us left on Friday. It's going to be a bit weird without her, but at the same time it's probably better because I've been using her as a crutch. Now I'll have to be a bit more creative in figuring out what my family is saying when I don't understand.

Yesterday I went on my first trip outside of Santiago. A few friends and I went to Isla Negra, the location of one of Pablo Neruda's other houses. It's about two hours away and right on the ocean. (Pretty crazy to think that I literally traveled the width of this country in two hours.) The bus fare was $14 round trip, which I think is reasonable, especially since the buses were nice (as far as buses go). The trip was enjoyable because we drove through lots of farmland (although it's winter here so nothing was growing), but the Chilean landscape seems very rough to me. That's not exactly the word I want, but I can't think of how else to describe it. It's pretty but at the same time doesn't make me want to take a thousand pictures. The ocean, on the other hand, was breathtaking. I can see why Isla Negra was Neruda's favorite house; the views from his bedroom and office were stunning. The beach is very rocky and not good for swimming, which is nice because it hasn't been overrun by tourism. Just a lovely place to sit and stare for a while. We got lunch at a cute restaurant with brightly colored tablecloths and a nice patio (it's actually been warm this week!) and then took a tour of Neruda's house. I prefer his house in Santiago (La Chascona), but this one was still very cool to walk through. Every room is completely cluttered with random objects, like ship figureheads, exotic bugs, tribal masks, colored glass bottles, and seashells. It would drive Alison crazy. It's a little strange to me that a man who wrote so much about very ordinary objects filled his own world with only the most extraordinary. In any case, it was a great weekend getaway, and an excuse to eat delicious food. I had the privilege of trying an "artesian" alfajor, the chocolate-and-ducle-de-leche treat that has won my heart, and while we waited for the bus home we finished the day strong with cheese empanadas. Just like Santiago, Isla Negra is full of stray dogs, all of which suddenly appeared as soon as we left the emapanadería. My last view before it got dark was a beautiful yellow sunset over the ocean; my life here ain't too shabby.

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Today was Día del Niño, essentially the same as Mother's or Father's Day but for kids. I bought my little cousins some ceramic flower barrettes from Isla Negra; they seemed to like them. I thought today was going to be a big deal with some sort of activity, but it ended up just being a regular family lunch. Which is a good thing, because I needed to leave and start acting like a student (which I'll really start doing as soon as I finish this...).

I've started taking pictures of all the food I'm eating here. Chilean food is a lot of meat, vegetables, and salad. Most of it's pretty good, although more towards the boring side of the flavor spectrum. But I love boring food so I'm happy. The majority of my meals have consisted of some sort of vegetable mash, which it turns out, Mom, is a great way to get me to eat all those vegetables I don't like.

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Posted by marykate.morr 14:42 Archived in Chile Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

No Hagas Tarea; Estás en Chile.

remembering that I'm not on vacation

60 °F
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Despite the pretty appalling amounts of pollution (or for Sheena, the esmog), I absolute love the way Santiago smells. Every subway station is equipped with a Castaño, a wonderful bakery that makes me want to spend all my travel money on food. On main streets, every corner has some sort of street vendor, usually selling sopaipillas (just like Mexican sopapillas except you eat them with mustard instead of honey) and--my personal favorite--roasted nuts. My first week here, I passed the most aromatic of the nut stands (Nuts4Nuts, which originated in New York but was started by a Chilean so the Chileans still claim it as their own; I actually had a debate on this with my family because I think they should change their signs to Spanish if they want to really seem authentic) every day going to my Contemporary Chile class. I even refused to take the shortcut just so I could pass it. Now, sadly, I'll be at a different location for the rest of the semester; perhaps I'll look into franchising.

Santiago is also not as dirty as I was expecting. Multiple books and websites told me that there is not yet a sense of "shared space" here, so people keep their houses tidy but just throw garbage everywhere in public. I have witnessed some outrageous littering (one hooligan threw a cup of something out the bus window onto another car), but in spite of that and the impossibility of finding a trash can, the streets seem pretty clean to me. The worst problem is stray dog poop on the sidewalk. I do see people cleaning the streets when I go on my early morning runs, so I guess this city has just turned the problem into a great employment opportunity.

Speaking of which, I need to look up the unemployment rate here because it's got to be low. I've been told that Chile wasn't hit too hard by the economic crisis, but why I really think it's low is because there are jobs here for absolutely everything. You can get a job pumping gas, standing in the middle of public places with a big flag on your back and refilling people's pay-as-you-go phones, pushing people onto the metro during peak hours, playing music on buses (literally every person on the bus will give you some change when you're done), or you can fill the completely useless position of standing along the path that people take to change metro lines and inform them that they are changing metro lines.

So those are my recent observations about this lovely city I am in. This week was slightly less exciting, mainly just things related to actually studying while I'm abroad. I had a diagnostic Spanish language exam (which is only meant to be a marker so they can monitor my progress, but I'm still nervous to see my results), orientations at the two other schools I can attend (Universidad Diego Portales and Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile), multiple struggles trying to pick classes, and a group presentation on what we've learned about human rights in Chile. The two orientations this week were much better than the one at Universidad de Chile. They were organized, for one thing, and were more aimed at making us feel welcome at the school then just talking for hours about why the school is good. La Católica definitely won me over; they had a presentation on getting involved in volunteer projects, there is a student group that plans activities and trips for all the foreigners, and after the presentation they had a student from every department available to answer questions about classes and professors.

I had really wanted to take at least one class at each of the three universities, but now it looks like all my classes will be at La Católica. The other two schools offered much more general classes that just weren't as interesting. There are a few classes that interest me at La Chile, but they either conflict with my schedule or are located on a campus two hours from my house. Plus, classes start on Monday and La Chile still hasn't posted half of their schedules and classrooms; I'm not sure I could handle such a chaotic system for a whole semester. These first two weeks are for "window shopping," so I still need to go make sure I can understand the professors, but as of I now I think I will be taking World Geography by Region, Interdisciplinary Human Rights, Confronting Poverty, and a Latin American history class. All of the classes got great reviews from the students, and I am most excited for Confronting Poverty because we will actually go to some small pueblos and help with agriculture projects designed to help people earn a living. Hopefully my classes all work out how I want them to, because you have to register in person at each of the different departments so that's enough of an annoyance already. I'll also be signing up for the volunteer program; Alison has instructed me to "find some poor kids" so that I can give them disposable cameras for her project. Oh, and in case you were wondering, my presentation went fine; that was probably the least effort I've ever put into homework in my life, but I did make a lovely powerpoint for my group and memorized a three-minute piece about classism in Santiago. Interesting piece of history for you: in 2006, there were student protests (called The March of the Penguins because they refer to high schoolers in uniforms as penguins) because the exam that is mandatory to get into universities was so expensive that only the upper class could afford it. Michelle Bachelet, the very liberal president from 2006 to 2010, made the test free for all but the upper class in 2008.

Before all this college stuff started, I did have a very interesting Monday. The lecture was over human rights in Chile, obviously with an emphasis on what happened during Pinochet's regime. After lunch, we visited Parque por la Paz, which is located on the site of the old torture camp Villa Grimaldi. After the transition to democracy, some people involved with Pinochet paid a construction company to tear down all the buildings at the site, and by the time the scandal was uncovered almost all signs of the camp were destroyed, so it was reclaimed and turned into a park. It turned out that our professor for the day had been tortured at Villa Grimaldi, so he gave us a pretty detailed walk-through of the site. Unfortunately, Chileans talk extremely quietly and the park is home to a lot of noisy birds, so I missed almost everything he said. I do know that the main form of torture in the camp was electrocution and suspension and that women were frequently violated by the guards and their dogs. Most of the prisoners weren't killed because Pinochet wanted them to spread fear throughout Chile, but the number of dead is still unknown because most bodies have not been found so the country labels them as "disappeared" instead of "murdered." This actually was a mistake by Pinochet, because some of the released prisoners went abroad and built up international opposition against the dictatorship. Afterwards we went to the main cemetery, which is beautiful but very cramped and chaotic. Salvador Allende is buried there, and the professor that had talked about his torture in a completely detached manner started crying at the grave as he recounted why he became a follower of Allende in the first place.
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Just to amuse my mother, I went to two bars this week. I'd like to note that I am not allowed into bars in the US, and even though I don't drink it's still fun to go out. Also, when I say "bar" I usually mean restaurant/bar; I'm not going to anything like the sleazy old-school Bar Billy's Inn. I also went to a "Mexican" restaurant with the old student who's here and her friends (two of which were Chileans that apparently hate gringas but told me I speak pretty well for two weeks). The food wasn't anywhere near Hilario's standards, but they did have a dish that was flat pieces of fried cheese (like chips made entirely of cheese) and guacamole for dipping, so I will probably be returning. That same night, we saw a man standing in the shadows waving his penis around, but we were at a safe distance so it was funny, not scary.

Yesterday the big family lunch was at our house, which I much prefer because we don't have to arrive 3 hours before we actually eat and I don't have to sit around for 3 hours after. I really do like my family and talking with them is great, but conversing in Spanish for 7 hours is really difficult. No matter how much sleep I get here, I'm always exhausted. After dinner and an episode of Hannah Montana in Spanish, I went back to Papagayo's Club for some more salsa. Not surprisingly, everyone remembered our group of gringas; the instructor was very happy to have us back. We went to the advanced class, but I got to be the girl this time so I didn't have to remember any of the moves we learned. In one very awkward move where I get wrapped up and unwrapped several times, I accidently elbowed my partner in the mouth and cut his lip; I am now referred to as La Peligrosa, or The Dangerous One.

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Today was another family lunch. At first, it seemed like it was going to be only a small feast, when I was served a delicious concoction of crepes and spinach and cheese. After finishing this and feeling ready for dessert, I was brought a second plate of this meat, hard boiled egg, and potato casserole that I've now eat three times too many. Then came dessert...three types. I walked home and then revisited the artesian pueblo at Los Dominicos to fill the afternoon, but now I actually need to get things together for class tomorrow. I still feel like I'm just on vacation, so it's going to be hard to transition into work mode. Although I am very excited for my classes. I am going to experiment with riding my host mom's bike to class, but it might be a little too far and I need to first find a very safe place to lock it up. It's just that public transportation here is $1 a ride, which seemed cheap at first but has been adding up very quickly. And the city is so huge that I have to take a metro or bus to get anywhere or meet up with anyone. They offer a student rate, but Chile is just about as bureaucratic as you can get and it takes 4 months to apply. Wish me luck on my first day of school!

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Posted by marykate.morr 15:11 Archived in Chile Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Soy Estudiante y Turista

the start of classes and explorations

45 °F
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I've finished my first full week and my first week of classes! Classes is kind of a loose term. We have 2-3 hours of lecture, a 1-hour discussion, and then go explore the city after lunch. I have technically had reading homework, but my host family refuses to give me time to do it. They always just tell me, you're in Chile, and then tote me around to some place or other. I have a presentation and a short paper at the end of next week, so I will eventually have to do homework. I did find out that my grades will be noted on my Trinity transcript but won't convert into my GPA, so I plan on taking this semester a little easier than I did the last one.

Classes have been interesting. I learned about Chilean Spanish, which is practical but also interesting because the society is very classist and a lot of that is reflected in the different ways people speak. There's also some dislike of the indigenous Mapuche's that can be seen in the language, and I learned that the reason Chileans make everything small (by putting -ito after the word) is because they are generally timid and don't like to make a big show of anything. We also had a brief overview of Chilean history since the Spanish conquered it, an overview of all the indigenous tribes that still exist in the country, a talk about the transition to democracy after Pinochet (which was my favorite), and a description of Chilean poetry. I've been able to understand the professors pretty well (although they might be speaking slower since I'm not enrolled with regular Chilean students yet), and except for the poetry day I've liked what I learned.

Tuesday after classes we visited El Mercado Central and La Vega, markets where the freshest fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish can be found. It smelled awful with all the meat, and some of it was pretty disgusting to look at, but it's an interesting place, and all of us gringas were quite popular. In populated places cat-calls are common, but they're not derogatory and are usually nothing more than a drawn out "wow." That night, in spite of the fact that I had two very long articles to read, my family and I went to the apartment of my host sister, Pamela. That was my first time meeting her and her family. She's married with two very cute little girls, Josepha (7) and Catalina (3). Her husband, Sebastian, is nice but a little annoying, and he kept speaking to me in English which is not what I want. I had already eaten, but of course there was dessert. We didn't get back until close to midnight, and the little girls where still up when we left!

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Wednesday after classes we visited the Plaza de Armas, the old center of the city during the Spanish occupation. The buildings are all European style, but obviously still gorgeous. We went through the Museo Histórico Nacional, but I didn't really learn anything because I accidently started at the back and it was pretty late in the day so we were all ready to head home. A guide gave a pretty long introduction beforehand, but I had absolutely no idea what he was saying. Something about a very strict woman with red hair and some earthquakes.

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Thursday was an uncomfortable day. We visited La Moneda, which used to be the Chilean mint and is now where the president and his executive council live. It's gorgeous and very formal, with dressed-up guards that stomp their feet very loudly and twirl their guns when important people walk by. The guard that accompanied us on our tour was not so formal. He was chatting with me, and my friends and I wanted a picture with the semi-attractive presidential guard. But then he asked the other girls to go out with him because he was single with "no obligations" and ended up giving me his email so I can send him the photo. Which I'm not going to do. It would've been just a funny story, but while he wrote down his email the rest of the group was watching me stand awkwardly next to him, my teacher was standing in the corner shaking her head, and the guard's boss was walking by giving him angry glares. Muy awkward para mi.

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My family also took me to a charming little artisan village just three blocks from the house. I'd like to go back to do some actual shopping, but just walking around was a nice break because it was like I had all of a sudden traveled to some peaceful rural pueblo. That night, I went to a pub with some old students who have returned for a visit, and one of them told a story about how she thinks she was followed after she started doing research in the Chilean archives on the possible murder of the guy who was president before Allende. It was a scary story, but also really interesting because it gave context to the class I had that day where we talked about how the transition to democracy is ongoing and after 20 or so years the military is still strong and pretty independent. And there's still a lot of people in the country that would like to return to the Pinochet era. I think, or at least hope, that this atmosphere is going to make for some really interesting history classes.

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Friday we visited one of Pablo Neruda's three houses. I know nothing about Pablo Neruda except that I should know things about him, but I really enjoyed the tour because the man had great taste. He built his house to feel like a ship, and it definitely did. Low ceilings, tight walls, and lots of porthole windows. His furniture was either rustic or pop-art, which oddly went well together. At one point, he had a small river running through the middle of the property, but Pinochet's army redirected it to destroy the house after the takeover and now it's just a walkway. I also had a fantastic hot chocolate in the museum cafe that was almost purely melted chocolate in a cup.

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That night, I went to a bar with some friends from the program (I don't have any Chilean friends yet), which was lovely because I didn't get a drink so I spent no money and because everyone was ready to leave by midnight. Today, after almost being extremely late because of a misunderstanding about the time we were leaving, I went to my host aunt's house for "lunch." And by lunch I mean the equivalent of Thanksgiving dinner. We were there for 7 hours, and I ate enough to last me for the rest of the week. The meal was an odd mix of potato chips, trail mix, egg rolls, and lasagna, with three delicious types of dessert. I'm pretty sure every Saturday is going to be a very large, very long eating endeavor, but it's okay because I am allowed to skip breakfast and dinner and I'm really growing to like my family. The two little ones especially (of course).

After an hour-and-a-half trip home (I have learned that Chris is very fond of taking the long way), I rested a bit, talked to my momma, and then went to a salsoteca with some friends. I would be more than happy to return to this salsa club every weekend. Lessons and a whole night of dancing only cost $4, and the instructor is great. I had to be the boy during lessons, but after that I danced with a really good guy. Everyone was really nice to our party of gringas, and I'm pretty sure the instructor was directing some of the better dancers to our table.

This morning, I'm getting ready to go to my sister's house for another lunch, hopefully smaller. I'm feeling a lot more comfortable here, both in terms of living and speaking the language. I love that I'm getting to know the city and all it's unspoken rules (like that buses don't stop unless you wave them down), and I am more confident with my speaking so I'm feeling like more and more a part of the family. I've kind of forgotten that I have to go to school while I'm here, but it'll be nice to make some Chilean friends and I'm excited to learn more about the history. Despite the smog and the huge expanse of boring sky scrapers, I find this city beautiful and enchanting because of the impossibility of losing sight of the Andes and because of the adorable houses nestled in between all the commotion. Things that I don't like are that I'm always cold, that it takes a long time to get places even though it's easy, and that my hair feels gross all the time. All things I can deal with.

Posted by marykate.morr 08:34 Archived in Chile Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

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