the first days and adventures
07.13.2010 - 07.19.2010 54 °F
¡Estoy aquí en Santiago! These past couple of days have been some of the strangest I've ever had, emotions-wise. The day I left (Tuesday the 13th) I was very nervous and very excited, only to arrive at the airport to find out that my flight from Dallas to Santiago has been delayed from 9:10 that night until 8 the next morning. Being the super-planer that I am, I was rather unhappy. Apparently the plane coming in from Brazil had mechanical problems, but--being the super-planer that I am--it was no consolation to know that I wasn't going to be flying on a broken plane.
Everything turned out fine; I got a free hotel room, there were six other students on my flight so we still got picked up from the airport, and the only thing we missed was a scavenger hunt. But, the delay completely drained me of my nerves and my excitement, so I arrived in Chile feeling no different than I had any other day this summer. With the addition of feeling very weird because I knew I should be feeling nervous and excited.
The first night, the new arrivals went in search of a café. None of us were hungry but we figured we should do something in the city for our first night. The hotel was on a very commercial street so we didn't see anything too impressive that first outing. I went to bed feeling horrible for not calling my mom (my roommates were already asleep when I got back and I had forgotten to write down the country code for my calling card so I couldn't use the front-desk phone) so I woke up early to call first thing. She, of course, wasn't worried because she has much more faith in my being an adult than I do. I know I'm smart and good at solving problems and such, but I still have this sense of being too young to be doing all of this. Too late now.
After breakfast we bought pre-paid cellphones (only $20 bucks with minutes included!), ate a huge lunch of soup (which I actually liked) and chicken and potatoes, and then sat through some orientation stuff. Around 5, the call came that my host mom had arrived. I was slightly disappointed to discover that there are no children and that we live in an apartment instead of a house, but my mom is so excited to have me that I got over those things very quickly. Her name is Magaly, and she has two adult daughters and a very busy husband. Her family comes over a lot, so even without kids there are always lots of people in the house and three little dogs (whose names I still can't remember).
The apartment is small, but very cute, and I realized that it is silly to want a big house because I don't know what difference it'd make. My room is very small, but again, I have no use for something bigger. My favorite part is that it is decorated with halloween things. Witches and pumpkins for me! There is not central heating in Chile, only space heaters, and my house only has one for the living room. It's winter here, but it's been in the 50s so outside in the sun is nice. But inside is always pretty chilly, and the space heaters emit carbon monoxide or something else very bad for me so we only use it at night. I've always taken long showers, but now I don't feel bad because it's the only time I actually feel warm. My bed isn't too bad because I have 4 blankets and a comforter, but it could be a touch more comfortable. I am lucky to live in an apartment because the water is heated in some central place. People that live in homes have to use a calefont every time they shower so they can heat up the water, but it's a bit of an annoyance to do every day and the water doesn't always actually get cold. Mine is always perfect. Cold showers is one thing I could not get used to.
Before I left, I kept reading about how skinny everyone is in Chile and how if you aren't you'll be asked about it frequently. I don't understand this because Chileans eat more than I would ever have thought possible. My first morning in the house, I was given cereal, two yogurts, milk, and a ham and cheese sandwich for breakfast. I had orientation so my mom packed me a lunch, and that consisted of two jam, avocado, and cheese sandwiches, two juices, clementines, and a banana. I was very nervous for dinner that night. But I brought back one of the sandwiches and told my mom that I only need cereal in the morning and one sandwich at lunch, and she thought I was crazy but said it was okay. So for dinner I only had a salad and bread. The salad was still large in my opinion, but I don't feel too bad about consuming large quantities of lettuce and corn. Since I spoke with her I get much less food but it's still a lot for me. I haven't actually felt hungry since arriving. (If you're concerned that I am worrying too much about my weight, you should know that as I'm writing this, complaining about all the food, I am also consuming large amounts of chocolate without guilt.)
Friday was mainly orientation stuff in the morning, and then after lunch we broke into groups and went to a coffee shop with a Chilean college student. The point was to learn how to use the subway (metro) and bus (micro) system. I didn't pay much attention because the college student was extremely hard to understand and I was trying to pick out whatever words I could recognize. Our coffee shop was near La Moneda, which I am going to visit later this week. Apparently it's a very exclusive visit because they have signs saying that tours are not currently being offered. My host mom picked me up so it didn't matter that I wasn't familiar enough with the transportation system.
Some relatives of my host mom are almost always in the house with us. I think one, Noli, is a sister and one, Juanito, is a brother, but I'm not sure if they're married. And there's a girl, Teresa, a little older than me that might be the daughter of one or both of the adults. I'm afraid to ask. Friday night everyone was here, and it was the first time that I really felt comfortable. We were having conversations that consisted of more than basic get-to-know-you questions, and I was able to understand the majority of it. The issue of drug problems came up and I was able to describe how Denver has turned into a marijuanería. And the brother (or brother-in-law, or cousin, or uncle) Juanito gave me a really long lecture on how everyone hates Pinochet but nobody pays attention to how the country was before him. He has apparently lived through it all and said Pinochet committed a lot of crimes but also brought the country out of a bad time. I don't know enough about any of it to have an opinion, but it was still interesting to listen to. (It's possible that the only reason he considers the time before to have been bad is because the country was socialist then. Juanito taught me the "correct" word for describing myself as left-handed because izquierdista signifies Communist, and he told me I definitely didn't want to be walking around calling myself that.) I even made a joke (not the joke) about artichokes! Obviously everyone laughed because jokes about artichokes are always funny. Mamma, you raised me well.
The next morning I looked up some places I'd like to visit in the city, studied the bus system online for a while, and made plans with my new friend Alison (only one l, Al Bob!) to check out a park on Sunday. I had yet to see anything super interesting or unique, and I could tell that was keeping me in a funk. Having figured out the city a little more and still remembering the conversation from the night before, I finally felt fully content with being here. I haven't once doubted my decision to go to a Spanish-speaking country, live with a family that doesn't speak English, be a part of a program separate from the one my school offers, or live without my mom for five months. But, it was still a difficult transition and I almost started randomly crying multiple times throughout the first days. I think the fact that my emotions were all askew when I arrived made it even harder because I just didn't really know what to think or feel about anything. Saturday morning was also nice because I finally had some time to myself to relax and think about my new world. I was able to catch up on emails, write in my journal, read, and watch the news; I think this was more important than I realized because constantly listening and thinking and speaking in Spanish is extremely draining and overwhelming. (On a side note, I have discovered that the absolute best way to clear your head is to try and think in another language. I've been doing that for the most part, but the result is that I barely think at all.)
We were going to go to mass around noon (and my heathen-self was going to join because I'm interested to see it at least one), but then the husband finally appeared so we went to lunch. He works weird hours, and I found out that his mother is sick so he spends most of his free time with her. But he took me, my host mom, and the sister (maybe?) out to what turned out to be a two-hour lunch. The restaurant was called Tip-y-Tap (heard best with a Chilean accent) and although all the signage had German images, the food was Chilean. I was going to get a salad, but my host mom decided to order for me so I didn't get too much food by accident. Which meant she got me something from the kids' menu and gave everyone a good laugh. It was just rice and chicken, which I liked, but even the kiddie food comes in huge quantities. I was plenty content, but the dad said that lunch isn't lunch without dessert, so I tried a popular dessert that is basically crepes with a carmel sauce. Here they call them pancakes.
My host dad is very nice, but he knows a little bit of English and uses it when I don't understand. Which is nice, but I'd rather learn to figure everything out in Spanish and work through things I don't get at first. I'm still not going to see him very often so it won't really be a problem.
I was tired all after lunch, but I figured I should go out and actually enjoy the city. So I texted my other friend Allison (there are three in the program, and an Alice) to see if she had plans. She told me to meet her and two other girls in a club called Subterraneo. I figured out how to get there on the bus and was planning on returning by cab (lucky me, people don't go out here until very late and it is common to go home around 4:30 in the morning), but my mom told me to just take the bus home. Seemed pretty weird, but everyone has spent so much time warning me about things that I figured if she decided this was safe, it was. Another reason why I am no longer disappointed that I live in an apartment is that we live on the busiest street in the neighborhood, so there is a metro station three blocks away and a bus stop literally on the other side of the fence. For some reason I cannot figure out, the buses don't use their illuminated signs at night (they all say OK, and I can't tell if that means something different here because I'd hardly describe this practice as OK) and they don't stop unless you wave at them. So, not knowing this, I would've just sat there as bus after bus went by (the metro is easier but stops running at 11pm). Luckily, a man could see I was a bit confused, asked me what bus, and flagged it down for me. Then, I found out that the stops aren't announced and it's impossible to read the street signs in the dark, plus I only had a very small idea where I was going. Again luckily, the man was sitting next to me talking away (with me understanding nothing except when it was appropriate to smile, frown, or nod) so I asked him to let me know when we reached my stop.
It was fun to dance, but the music at the club was extremely weird. All the music here is strange. The radio only plays music from the states, but it's really old stuff and I haven't heard most of it. I have recognized Blue Moon each one of the multiple times it's been played. The club played techno with bits taken from familiar stuff, and occasionally played something fun (aka Justin Timberlake). Our group was quite popular since we knew all the words. I did like the club because, unlike the frats at Trinity, it was clean, I could breathe, and the boys never just grab you out of nowhere. We spoke in English in the club, which I know we probably shouldn't have done, but I also need a break sometime. And it's a lot harder to "hang out" in Spanish because conversation is slow and takes a lot of energy. I did get asked if I was Chilean, which was the highlight of my night. I think I look like a type of girl called pelolais; I haven't actually seen one, but they sound like they'd be in Mean Girls. Rich girls that have long blonde hair and all dress the same. So I don't think I want to be a pelolais, but I guess if it lets me pass as Chilean it's okay.
We left at 3:30, and I felt a little crazy going to find a bus by myself (the other girls took cabs). I didn't realize that the street I was on was one-way because there were no cars and there are both yellow and white lines on all streets. I eventually caught on when there were no bus stops on my side for about 5 blocks. So then I just missed the bus on the correct street and was worried that I was going to have to wait an hour. Of course, I was still not about to pay for a cab when the bus costs a dollar. (You pay $1 for up to two buses and one metro ride within two hours.) There were two stray dogs at the stop with me (stray dogs are very common here, but people take care of them so it's not sad). One was sleeping and the other, already limping, was sitting in the street and running alongside cars as they passed. I didn't feel at all nervous while I was waiting; the street was well-lit, with enough traffic, and I wasn't carrying a bag or anything that was obvious and easily stolen. People passed but nobody approached me or said anything. And, the biggest surprise of my trip so far, the bus showed up after 10 minutes! A bus directly to my house runs all through the night every ten minutes. ¡Perfecto! My luck ran out when I got home, or at least my street smarts. There is a big fence around the apartment, and all the gates that I have been passing through were locked. I eventually called my host mom (I'm pretty sure she was still up anyways) and it turned out that there was a gate on the other side with a night guard. My father just laughed and told me there always has to be a first time. (I have a key to the apartment but it doesn't work on the gates.)
Sunday after lunch I went to Parque Forestal with my friends Alison, Mark, Anne, and Lauren. I love that we're all in this new city and yet we just said, everyone meet in the park, and we did. We do have cell phones, and had to use them, but I'm still impressed by us all. Parque Forestal seems very pretty but we didn't end up exploring it much. Instead we went to an art museum and then got ice cream at Emperio La Rosa. I was told this is the best ice cream in Santiago, and apparently so was everyone else because it was extremely crowded. I literally took a number and waited to be called to place my order. Totally worth it. I had chocolate with orange and a honey ice cream. Both fantastic. I plan on trying every flavor. After we climbed Cerro Santo Lucia (cerro means hill). It's not the famous hill in the city, but it was absolutely beautiful. There a castle going up the whole thing, but there are tons of levels and you can't tell that there is more above you until you get there. Beautiful surprise after beautiful surprise. I'm sure there's some associated history that I will eventually learn.
Alison showed me the mall close to her house before we went home because I needed to buy hangers. I had to be secret about it because my host mom only had 6 for me, but I didn't want her to feel bad. So I also went to the grocery store and bought some toiletries to cover up the hangers. I remembered reading that I need to tip the people that bag my groceries, but I couldn't remember how much, so I just gave the girl the biggest coin I had at the time. It turns out that was the perfect amount. The grocery store was interesting (to me, at least) for a couple reasons. First, it's underground so you take a moving ramp (a slanted flat escalator) down from the entrance. Second, things seem cheap but you can only buy things in very small packages, so they aren't. Third, I learned a little about how people view foreigners. I am very obviously an extranjera, but I think people assume that I live here as opposed to being a tourist. The checkout lady asked me (I think) if I had a card for the store, and when I didn't immediately recognize the name of the card she caught on that I was new. I guess that's a big conclusion to draw but it would make more sense if you saw the interaction. Basically, I think that it isn't assumed that every foreigner is a stupid tourist. Which is also good because the pickpockets target the people that look like stupid tourists. I generally carry everything in my front pockets, so I'm not too worried about theft, but it's still good to look like I know what I'm doing.
This morning I finally went running. Time to start working off all the food. I got up at 7, and even though it was still dark it wasn't cold in my thermal, running tights, and running jacket. I haven't found where I'm going to run yet, so for the first one I just followed this street than loops through the neighborhood. It's a little over a mile long, so I had to run it three times, but the houses are pretty, there's a park in the middle, and I can see the Andes the entire time. Tomorrow I might explore another direction, but we'll see how I feel. I love being so close to the mountains, and they seem massive because I'm at sea level so I am actually seeing the entire thing. A little bit more imposing than the Rockies. In the mornings, there is also a lot less smog, so I could see the whole mountain range. During the days, I know the mountains continue but they disappear into the pollution. It's supposed to rain tomorrow, and I've heard that after a rain is when the city is the most beautiful. It washes away all the pollution. I'm still not going to be happy if it rains.
We had our first day of class with the company today. The class is just for students in the program, and it's called Contemporary Chile. It's basically an overview of history, culture, politics, and language. Today we didn't learn any of that. We had to go over the academic culture and rules here, take our ID photos, and then go to an orientation at the University of Chile for all foreign-exchange students. The speakers were extremely difficult to understand and it's very easy to stop listening when someone is speaking very rapid Spanish. That's going to be a problem in my classes. I did learn that signing up for classes is going to be a huge hassle. We can take classes at any of three universities (I'll have orientation at the others next week), and two of them require you to sign up in person. College here is more like job training, so classes are harder because every student is on a very specific track. If you're taking a class in economics, it's assumed that you're good enough in economics to be a professional. (It is not recommended that we take classes in economics.) They offer classes in public policy and education, but I think I'd rather just learn about the culture here. I want to take some history classes, some art classes, a human rights class, and perhaps a dance class. Apparently the folklore class is fantastic, so I'm looking into that. I also need to email Trinity to see if my grades here affect my GPA. The scale is very different, and getting a B in classes is considered very impressive. Apparently you can only get an A if you prove you know as much as the professor. I know I shouldn't worry about grades, and I won't as much here, but I'll worry a lot less if I know that they aren't going to significantly lower my GPA. University classes don't start till the 2nd of August and we have two weeks of add/drop, so I have some time to figure everything out.
I just came home after class because I wanted to finally finish this blog (as much as I'm sure you want to finish reading this) and because a student from four years ago arrived today for a three-week visit. I'm not sure if she's staying with us for the whole time, but at least for the next week. She's very friendly and the three of us had a very nice conversation. We even started talking about the stupid Arizona immigration law and racism, and I was able to describe some of the things I learned in Latinos in Education. And I made sense. It's very common for people to come back and visit. I know of two other students who have past students in their houses right now, and yesterday a past student of my host mom's sister came over for the day. I also met one of my host sisters and her boyfriend yesterday. It's really nice that there are so many visits because with all the conversation I already can tell a difference in my Spanish.
So, my Spanish. It's difficult here, obviously, because I haven't taken a class in a year, I haven't practiced much, and because people speak so very very fast. It's more difficult here because Chileans cut off the end of their words and use slang for basically everything. I have a notebook (that my adorable mom hid as a surprise in my suitcase!) where I write down words when I don't recognize them and am not near a dictionary. Almost none of the words are actually in dictionaries because they are Chileanisms. When I leave here, no other Spanish speakers are going to understand me. But, at this point I can understand almost all of what people say directly to me. I've gotten a lot better at listening to other people conversing (they speak a lot faster when they're not talking to me), and I'm speaking with more confidence and fewer pauses. I can write very well; I'm keeping a journal in Spanish and I write sentences in that almost as fast as I would in English (and I'm just going to assume they're correct). In case you didn't know, literally everything I do is in Spanish (except for that night at the club...). My host mom and family don't speak English. My teachers won't speak English. My friends and I speak in Spanish except when we absolutely can't get the idea out. I write my diary in Spanish. I listen to the news in Spanish. And I try to think in Spanish. It is a huge challenge, but I love that I can already see improvements and I'm really glad I'm not in a program where I wouldn't be fully immersed in the language. I'm still nervous to take classes and do homework in Spanish, but after two more weeks I think it'll be okay. I feel a bit like a child, unable to understand everything and communicate what I'm thinking, but I know I can't expect it to be any easier.
I apologize that this is so long. I'm a long-winded person to begin with, and so much has happened since Tuesday. I promise to write less in the future. Oh, a couple things more. There are two things that happen here that make me laugh a lot. The first is a Chileanism. Instead of the words for east (este) and west (oeste), Chileans say oriente and poniente. Oriente for where the sun comes from, and poniente for where the sun "se pone." I know it's not actually a direct translation, but if it were that would be where the sun "puts itself." For some reason, this is hilarious to me. When my host mom explained this to me I started laughing and could not explain why. It's not as funny when I think about it in English either, so if you're not amused let's just pretend that my false translation gets lost in translation. The second is that Chileans love to say "super" in front of their adjectives. But they say sue-pear, with an accent on the sue. Good adjectives and bad ones. Everything is suepear. I think this is also funny to me because of some combination of the way it sounds in Spanish and how I think of it in English. Again, probably not as funny as I think. Guess you have to come visit me to see. Finally, some technology things. My computer figured out that I needed google.cl instead of google.com. I don't know how, and I can't change it back. Yesterday I needed google.com but couldn't get there. I type it in, and away I go to the Chilean version. Also, if you need to find me, you can use mapcity.com instead of mapquest. Google maps work too, and mapmyrun.
Okay, I think that's everything. If you actually read this whole thing, thank you, and I really do promise to write less. But everything's still suepear new and it's just so nice to communicate in English for a change. You can see all my photos over on the right side; they're backwards right now because I don't have time to figure out how to reverse them.
I love and miss you all very much. I really am happy here, with no regrets and a lot of anticipation for what is to come! ¡Que les vayan bien! ¡Ciao!