Monday, December 28, 2009

El Sur y Más

My trip to the south with Rotary was incredible. Really incredible. On top of seeing some of the most amazing places in the world, I spent the week with a whole bunch of other exchange students which was really cool. It's hard to have a bad time with a busload of kids with whom you have something significant in common.
Day 1- After a sleepless night on the plane from Santiago to Punto Arenas (the 2nd southernmost city in the world), our first day was pretty laid back. We took a tour of Punto Arenas, which unto itself isn't that remarkable of a city, then went off to see PENGUINS! Real live wild penguins! It wasn't a huge colony or anything, but still there were a good many of them and it was cool to see them so close just doing their thing. It was kinda weird seeing them just chilling on the dirt and grass-- there was no snow. That night, a group of us went running then swam in the Straights of Magellan. It was cold, but it was totally worthwhile.
Day 2- Took a bus to an old old fort, then to some little beaches with nice scenery, then off to Puerto Natales, the city closest to Torres del Paine National Park.

Day 3- We went into Torres del Paine. Words can't do it justice. We ate lunch in Hostería Pehoe, an absolutely gorgeous restaurant/hotel on an island in the middle of a lake surrounded by mountains (check the link for photos), then took an excessively brief hike before heading off to our hotel. The hotel was luxurious to the max-- the dinner there was incredible and the view from every room was to die for. If we were bored, we could just go outside, take a little walk, and enjoy the vista.
Day 4-We had a free morning, so most of us took the opportunity to go horseback riding. It was a definite highlight of the week. In the afternoon, we went out on a boat on Lake Gray to Gray Glacier. I somehow ended up in a pact with a couple of other kids to stay out on the front of the boat until we reached the glacier, which made for good memories and bonding, but also a very wet and cold Benny. That night, we went for another run/dip, this time into a glacial river.
Day 5- Another free morning, then to a tourist-trap cave where the body of a milodon (extinct giant sloth the size of a bear) was found, then back to Puerto Natales, where we just walked around town and did our souvenier/present shopping.

Day 6- Slight digression: I woke up in the morning and couldn't find my camera. It's still missing, and all of these pictures are stolen from facebook. I guess I should buy a new camera soon, but you know, I still have a tiny bit of hope, and it's hard to make myself spend the money...
Anyway, The day started with a boat ride on a fjord to a different glacier, then back to Punta Arenas where we got to see the palace/mansion built there by the super-rich lady who must have basically run the city back when it began. After that, it was off to the airport, arriving in Santiago at 6 AM thoroughly exhausted.

Since I got back things have been pretty relaxed. Some kids from Santiago came down for a night to check out Curicó and visit, which was fun. Other than that, just hanging out around the house and with friends in other parts.

I had my first Christmas here, but the Chilean Christmas seems to be less of a big-- not that it's not important but it's not a huge gathering and it's not the center of life for weeks. Christmas eve, I went to mass with my family(which was very cool to see), then came home, ate a midnight Christmas dinner, then gave presents, helped my brother set-up the Wii that was the family gift, then passed out well-exhausted. Christmas day was just relaxing, then that night we went to Talca to be with the extended family.

I celebrated Channukah too-- the first night I lit candles along with the Beckers and Goldwassers through Skype, then most of the rest of the nights I lit candles with the exchange students I was travelling with in Patagonia. Most of them (if not all of them) had never seen Channukah or any type of Jewish ceremony before, so I felt good being able to share that.

Monday, I went in to town to hang out with Liz and Emily (exchange students) and a few of their friends. When I got there, it turned out that they were heading to take part in the Curicó leg of The World March for Peace and Nonviolence. A photographer from the news paper was there, and we made the front page as well as another another photo in which I'm more featured. We were a small march, but it was fun nonetheless.

I'm looking forward to the next week right now as it includes New Year's Eve (tonight) which should be very sweet and the goodbye parties of two friends. After that, I don't really know what's on the horizon, but with time I suppose I'll find out.

3 things that are different here

1. Road lines are all white. There is yellow for parking and such, but there's no yellow to indicate that the road is two way. This is especially confusing to me on straight stretches of roads with one lane each way because theres just a single dotted white line.

2. Beverages-- there are no free refills, there is no free glass of ice water, and people don't drink a whole lot of water in general. They drink a ton of soda, which comes in a variety of sizes and containers : 350 cc can, or 350 cc glass bottle, 1000 cc plastic bottle, 1 liter plastic bottle, liter plastic bottle, 2 liter returnable (hard) plastic bottle, 2 liter normal/non-returnable plastic bottle, 2.5 liter plastic bottle, and 3 liter plastic bottle.

3. Counting works differently when you get to the high numbers. In Spanish it doesnt go millón, billón, trillón. Instead, they go million, thousand million, billion, thousand billion; or rather; millón, mil millones, billón, mil billones.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Vacaciones Empiezan

So I'm now on summer vacation and on a small break in the middle of a travelling binge. It's been a little while since I blogged, so I'm sure I'm forgetting a lot, but maybe that's not so bad since it keeps me from writing about lots of tedious little things.

The last week of school was fairly unremarkable, but there was a really nice ceremony when the Seniors left. Each senior got a gift from each class, and every student in the school wrote a note to a Senior. Everyone lined the hallways so the Seniors walked past and said goodbye to everyone on their way out. There was also a random costume fashion show of little kids, but I have no idea what that was for....

As for me and my class, I came to school less because there were a lot of tests, and when I did come, mostly kids were just chilling and studying. I played a good bit of ping-pong on the miniature table a classmate made for an art project a few weeks back.

I just got back from a 5 day trip to Chillán with my counselor, Ernesto. The first day we travelled to the city Chillán, which is a good bit bigger than Curicó, bought food, then took an hour long bus to Valle las Trancas, where Ernesto has a cabaña (cabin).

The second day, Ernesto and I took a good long walk up to a lava hill named Shangri La.

When we got back, he took a nap and I went on a solo adventure trying to find a way to the base of the huge waterfall.

Day 3 and day 4 the real adventure took place. The reason for the whole trip was to climb Volcán Chillán, a very tall volcano which has skiing in the winter. Ernesto has a friend who, if I understood correctly, had a son loved climbing and recently passed away, and this trip was for the family and the son's college friends, who were all climbing enthusiasts. We were just lucky to be invited and tagging along. On the first day, we climbed for 3 or 4 hours, through rocks and sand and snow drifts, before making camp on a little island of rocks in the middle of all of the iced-over snow.

The second day, we put on our ice spikes and climbed to the new and old peaks of the volcano--(3,122 meters/10,243 feet) and (3,089 meters/10,135 feet), respectively.

Going up was difficult and slow, but gratifying, Going down however, was easy and a lot of fun. I did a lot of the descent boot-skiing and butt-sledding. After the descent, we had a nice asado (BBQ), then Ernesto and I headed back to his cabaña, quite exhausted. We'd had plans to stay two more nights, but we were both too worn out to want to do another walk, so we decided to head home the next day.

Last couple of wednesdays "Curicó International Club", as I like to call the gatherings of all of the exchange students from all of the programs, met. We went once for Mexican food (quite different than Mexican food in the US but still good), and hot dogs, breaking our run of international foods. Their a lot of fun. There aren't any other Americans from other programs, but theres a healthy mix of English and Spanish because there are 4 South Africans and some Europeans who learned English in school. I speak more Spanish than English when I'm with them, and I don't feel like it holds me back. I think a big part of it is that we're on a similar level so no one is impatient, which makes me more comfortable. I've realized that my level of comfort with the (person/people) I'm talking to has a big impact on my ability to communicate.

The first couple of days of summer, I was bored, which was very scary since I knew that there were still 3 months to go... however, the rest of that first week I found myself with plenty of opportunities to be sociable. Hopefully that will stay the norm, though I won't really know for a couple of weeks because right now my classmates are all on their class trip to Cancún and most of my exchange student friends are in Barriloche, Argentina. I leave for Punta Arenas (2nd most southern city in the world) and Torres Del Paine (big national park way down south in Patagonia) the day before they get back, which will be immediately followed by a 3 day hiking trip (or "trekking" as they say here) with the other Curicó Rotary kids. Anyway, this week (is going to be/has been) be quite laid back. Mostly just chilling around the house, getting some exercise, catching some rays, swimming in the pool, and trying to track down all of the stuff I need for the upcoming trips.

things that are different here:

1. Instead of using the alphabet from A to G to name music notes, people here use Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti. Do is C, and you go on from there. It's confusing to have to convert as you go-- to figure out what it means to be playing in Ti bemol menor (B flat minor), or something like that.

2. Palta (Avocado) is an absolute staple here. I can't think what an American equivalent would be, but seriously, I've been eating a lot of it. The most common way to eat it is to mash it with a fork on a piece of bread (like an undoctored guacamole). That's actually really good with ketchup (speaking of ketchup I was wrong in my last post--Heinz is available here, if not as widely spread). Palta is also put on lots of other things, like...

3. Chilean hot dogs, or "completos", are something else. The hot dog itself isn't fundamentally that different, but it's less than a third of the sandwhich. Instead of being served in a bun, it is served in marraqueta, AKA French bread. What's more, on top of the hot dog, there's usually a huge amount of mayo (Chileans LOVE mayonnaise and put it on everything), a lot of palta, some and diced tomato. This combo is referred to as the Italiano, because it's the colors of the Italian flag. These hot dogs are freaking impossible to eat normally. You have to come in from all angles, which means you can rarely manage a bite that has all of the ingredients in it, and even taking great care, the gooey toppings tend to ooze their way out of the bun and disasterously splatter whatever lies below. Completos Gigantes are also common, and really are gigantic.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pasando Bien

The last couple of weeks have gone quite smashingly. I've been busy, in a very good way. Lots of socializing and such.Most of the excitement has been with Exchange student folks. A couple of Wednesdays ago I finally met the bulk of the exchange students from other programs who are living in Curicó. We went to a hip sushi bar. At first the owner said we couldn't come in because a lot of us aren't 18 and it's technically bar, but then they said we could go upstairs which was actually better. We had a sweet lounge all to ourselves. The sushi actually wasn't that great, but everyone had a good time, and I think we're going out for Mexican next week.

Also, last week the Rotary kids in Curicó and Talca took a trip to Viña del Mar/Valparaíso. We were there for three days staying in Cabanas on the beach owned by the Chilean navy (which we got for a discounted rate because our counselor was in the army).
At the Cabanas we hung out, chased waves (I lost to the waves a few times and the water was freezing), ate, hung out, and climbed the big rocks at the water's edge (the rocks on the coast look a lot like the ones in Oregon and Northern California). The night we got there, we went to the movies which was exciting because the only movie theater in Curicó that shows new movies has been closed for renovations since before I got here. I saw Inglorious Bastards, which I would say was a quality film (as long as you're okay with Quentin Tarantino's over the top blood and gore). The next day, we went into Valparaíso to see the Chilean Congreso. Public school teachers here are on strike, so things were quite crazy, but Rotary got us in without even having to show IDs. The actual building was pretty ugly, and the chambers were nothing to write home about either (although I guess I am anyway). It was also crazy because of the strike. The room was full of teachers who did lots of cheering, some chanting, and even some singing-- while a vote was taking place!
That night we barbecued back at the Cabanas, then in the morning we took a boat tour of Valparaíso's harbor.
After that, we caught our bus to the train station in santiago and headed home.

My third exchange student adventure #3 was a jaunt up to Santo Domingo. Apparently, it's the town where the super rich people summer, and it was quite beautiful. There's an exchanger living there, and she invited a handful of Rotary kids to crash at her house. A bunch of her Chilean friends came too and we had a fun night. In the morning, we went to the beach. I got quite sunburned on my legs. Other people got burned pretty badly too-- I'm thinking it might have to do with being close to the hole in the Ozone layer over Antarctica, though but I don't know if that's significant in this part of Chile.

On the Chilean friendship front, I'm feeling more integrated. I haven't been hanging out with the seniors because they're now in super-study mode for the college entrance exam which is in a week or two, but I spent the night at a friend's house for the first time, went to another friends birthday party. It was nice that I didn't have to call and ask what was going on and if they could take me. It reassures me that I'm not just being a parasitic mooch.

In other news, my family got a new puppy. It sounds like a wolf on helium, still struggles to arrange its legs when it lies down, and is obnoxiously cute.
Also, the dollar has now fallen 10% against the Chilean peso since when I arrived. That, together with my travelling binge, is making life feel a bit expensive.

This week is probably going to be a bit slow-- there were plans to go to Talca for a day or two to help the exchange students there with a display on the US for an international fair, but our first visit to a Curicó Rotary meeting was (finally but unfortunately) scheduled the same day, so now I think it'll just be back to the routine. However, my host sister who's been in New Zealand comes home this weekend, there are just two weeks left till summer break, and just three weeks until my big Rotary trip to Punta Arenas and Torres del Paine Natl. Park in down south in Patagonia, so I think the increase in fun isn't just a flash in the pan.

3 things that are different here

1. There are a lot of brands of food that are different here, and I'm not going to talk about all of them, but I think Ketchup is noteworthy. I have a very strong attachment to Heinz ketchup which I inherited from my Mom's side of the family (they are from Pittsburgh after all). I always twinge when I go to a restaurant and find a bottle of Hunt's or some other inferior brand. Chile does not have Heinz (EDIT-- there is Heinz, although it's not very common), but it does have some good Ketchup. The good brand is called Malloa, and while it's definitely different than Heinz, I'm not sure that I can say it's worse. Also, though you can find them in bottles like we have in the US, lots of condiments (ketchup, jelly, mayo, salad dressing) come in bags.

2. Among my peers, the taste in music is fairly consistent. Most girls like Reggaeton, and while guys like Reggaeton and Electronica for parties, a strong majority are way into Classic Rock. Most of my friends' lists of favorite bands would include: Def Leppard, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Guns N' Roses, and the like. I like some Classic Rock now and again, but I can't say I love listening to it all of the time. Mostly, it amazes me how mainstream it is here, some 20-30 years later.

3. With every credit card transaction, you can choose to be break the charge into several payments (monthly or weekly or something like that). I once used my card to buy a single bag of cookies, and was offered to split the less than a dollar charge into 3. I'm yet to actually take anyone up on the offer though-- budgeting is confusing enough without triple the amount of payments.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Vida y Santiago

I feel like a broken record, but I feel like the best way to describe life here is to say it's life. Still doing soccer and the gym during the week, then parties Friday and/or Saturday nights. I am getting to feel more like a participant than an observer or an outsider-- especially in spending time with friends. If it's not too fast-paced of a conversation, I can generally join in which is quite awesome because on top of making life more interesting and giving me more opportunities to be using my Spanish, it makes me feel a lot better calling people up and mooching off their social plans. It give me some confidence that I can be an interesting friend (to some degree) instead of always being a needy awkward clinger. It also feels good to add some more legitimate conversation into the question and answer sessions that I fall back on--answering questions about myself and the US and English is probably the easiest type of conversation for me to have, and there are a lot of people who are interested.

Yesterday, I opted to skip my soccer team's tournament in favor of Santiago with Rotary. Scheduling conflicts are lame, but I think
I made the right choice-- while I'm sure I'll get to go to Santiago again, I'll be with Chileans who aren't interested in seeing the touristy sites. Anyway, our group consisted of the 7 exchange students in Curicó, the 4 from Talca, plus 6 Curicanos Chilenos from Interact, which is basically Rotary club for teens. I was a bit exhausted because I went to a party the night before and my ride stayed quite late, which wouldn't have been bad except that I had to get up at 7:30 to make my way to the bus terminal. Actually, I should have woken up before 7, but my alarm didn't go off. By some miracle, I woke up of my own accord and managed to get out of the house in 6 minutes. I'm pretty proud of that.
Upon arriving in Santiago's Central Station, we took the metro to La Moneda, which is the Chilean equivalent of the White House. We checked out the gift shop, then went to see Catedral Metropolitana (a big famous cathedral), the market, Cerro Santa Lucía (a big famous beautiful hill/park with a sweet fountain and a sweet view of Santiago), and a souvenir market. Then we grabbed some lunch and headed back to La Moneda for a tour. La Moneda was cool, but had a lot less grandeur than I expected. I think my expectations were high because it's called a palace, but I found it a good bit less regal than the White House.

We took the train back because something about trains just seems fun. When I got home at 8:30 or so, I napped for about an hour, then went out with some friends to enjoy the Halloween festivities. Actually, the disco we went to had nothing Halloween themed other than the tickets. I know a couple of people who went to a costume party and all of the little kids were out trick-or-treating, but it's pretty apparent that Halloween is a lot less of a big deal here. Actually that segues nicely into...

3 things that are different here

1. Almost all of the backpacks here are Head brand. In the US, the only Head products I've ever seen are tennis related, but here, luggage and backpacks and such are their big thing. I actually bought myself one-- I hadn't brought a normal sized backpack because I was told that everyone here uses tiny backpacks here, and although some people do have tiny backpacks and backpacks in general are a bit smaller, I still needed a fairly normal sized backpack for school.

2. There is no confidentiality with grades. Sometimes, assignments are just handed back and some people won't want to share, but with tests (including the standardized tests for college admission), the grades are almost always read aloud in front of the class or posted on a bulletin board for everyone to see. The other day, the teacher even announced how many classes each person was failing (it seems like a lot more people fail here, and it's a lot easier to fail a grade). It doesn't seem to bother anyone though-- I guess you can't be too bothered by what you're used to and consider normal.

3. The soundtracks for Chilean TV shows and ads are fairly weak in my opinion. For one, they play almost exclusively the same songs that are on the radio. Also, they'll often play a song multiple times in a single episode, in places the song doesn't fit what's happening at all, and they generally use almost all of the same songs in each episode. Game shows, dramas, reality shows-- they all do it. They especially seem to love Katy Perry's Hot N Cold and I Kissed a Girl. To me, the worst offender is Corazon Rebelde, a teen drama. They play their theme song at least 5 time's an episode, always feature both of the above Katy Perry songs at least once, and fail completely at matching the song to the vibe. In an episode I saw the other day, two adults ran into each other at the park and were casually flirting. The music started out with Pink Pantheresque awkwardly-sneaking-around music, then suddenly shifted to someone-is-about-to-get-really-angry-hard-rock-guitar-shredding. No one was sneaking about(unless they were sneaking about so well that I couldn't see them), and no one got angry. A bit confusing, a bit annoying, and a bit hilarious.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Aniversario Etc.

The last week and half feels like it requires a play-by-play. Sorry if it comes off as tedious, but I'm just going to pick up where I left off. Last Thursday was the only routine day. Unfortunately, at some point during my trek home from the gym, my cell-phone either fell out of my pocket or was stolen. It was quite frustrating, especially since the only place I could go to get a new phone without changing my number was closed until Tuesday.

The next day (Friday) was the anniversary of Curicó, and the 7 of us who are here with Rotary were in the city's Parade. It was the kinda thing where we were told to meet-up at 10:15, the last person arrived around 10:45, we left the house around 11:15, the parade started at 1:45 (instead of 1), and we actually marched around 2:30. The time didn't bother me though, it was all very chill, and we passed the time talking to kids who were waiting with their schools. In the afternoon I had a soccer game, which was fortunate because I was in a bit of a bad mood from walking to and from my school (it's also my colectivo stop) twice in unseasonably warm mid-day heat on top of being peeved from losing my cell phone.

Last Saturday I went to Molina by micro (bus) with a couple of exchange students for Día de la Familia at the colegio one girl's host-parents own/run. It was the best asado food I've had so far-- I've been disappointed a few times with the meat, but this was particularly good. I came back to Curicó and went straight to a friends house to watch the Chile vs. Colombia game and celebrate his birthday. Chile won 4-2, assuring them of a spot in the world cup, so everyone was in good spirits. I got to celebrate the Chilean triumph as well as the American triumph (we qualified that night also). People consider Chilean soccer better than North American and US soccer, but I can always pull out the fact that the US is still 6 places higher than Chile in the official FIFA rankings (It was 10 up until 2 days ago). Departing from chronological order for a moment, Chile played their final (albeit meaningless for them) game of World Cup Qualifying against Ecuador on Wednesday. I went to a friends house to watch, Chile won, and of course
people hung around for a few hours after partying and chilling and such.

Anyway, Sunday was the birthday of my host-grandmother (coincidentally the same day as my real grandma-- Happy Birthday Bubbie!), so we went to her big house/farm to meet up with the rest of the huge extended family. I forgot to bring my camera, but the place was really sweet. They had horses (which I rode), and peacocks, and something related to antelopes. Ate good food, played some soccer, and hung out for most of the day.

Monday was Columbus day, so there was no school, and if I remember correctly I did nothing notable. However, on Tuesday, my high-school's aniversario (anniversary celebrated for a week) began. We're divided by grade into two alianzas (alliances, more or less) to compete in all kinds of shenanigans between Tuesday and Thursday. I participated in limbo (made it pretty far, but not far enough to win my team points), metro cuadrado (seeing how many people you can fit in a square meter-- my team lost 20-19), soccer (my team of me and a buncha sophomores upset the team of a buncha seniors and a freshman 1-0), a musical TV-themed skit (no idea how it was scored), a dance competition (my partner and made it to the final 6, one step before the finals), a costume procession (I was gula[gluttony] as part of the 7 sins), an improvised dance that was supposed to have been choreographed, and a soccer game (7 sophomores and I upset the team of 7 seniors and 2 freshman), as well as serving as the mascot (Doris de Buscando Nemo/Dorie from Finding Nemo) for my alianza in a few dance/parade/general-performance type things. Thursday night it all wrapped up, and much to my surprise and excitement, our alianza had won. We went into the night with a 9,000 point lead, but the alianza headed by the seniors almost always wins (often with a bit of help from the judges), so I didn't think the fact that we'd won almost everything would actually make a difference.

Friday, I finally got my Chilean ID, hung out in the house, then went to hang out and wander the town with a friend and his friend and his friends. It wasn't that exciting unto itself, but I felt like I was finally getting a taste of the real content of a Chilean teenagers life-- hanging with friends trying (and not always succeeding) to find an interesting way to pass the time.

Saturday, I went to the cerro (big hill that's also the city's big park) to clean up trash with the other Rotary Exchange Students in town, as well as some local kids in Interact (basically teen Rotary), then have a little picnic, and some bonding activities. Afterward, we meandered through the centro for a bit, then I went with a few chilenos to one of their houses to play some video games and hangout.

Sunday (today) I went to another Curicó Unido game. They played Ñublense, who are one of Curicó's 2 big-time rivals. The crowd was significantly larger, louder, and rowdier than the last game I went to. Before the game started, the some fans from Curicó's barra (super-fan section) stole a banner from Ñublense's barra, then late in the second half, a flare was fired from Ñublense's barra into Curicó's and hit someone in the arm. I was safely seated far away, enjoying Curicós 3-0 victory.

3 things that are different here

1. Wild/ferile dogs are everywhere because there aren't many if any pounds, and neutering/spading are not common practices. Most of the wild dogs are german shepherds or unrecognizable mutts, but every once in a while you see an interesting dog. Today I saw one that had to have been half german shepherd and half dachsund. It was awesome. I want one.

2. Parking here is distinct. For paid street parking, instead of meters and meter-maids, they have guys standing there who help you park, then give you a slip with the time of arrival, and you pay them when you leave. They also have guys who help you park at a lot of stores, and they are among the few people you are supposed to tip. However, even though people are guiding them, in general a lot less attention is paid to parking within the lines.

3. The date is written DD/MM/YY instead of MM/DD/YY. It's more logical in that it goes from smallest to largest, but I've found at least one advantage of our system-- if you have a computer sort dates alphabetically, it does a much better job of achieving chronological order.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pura Vida

Although I know I´m turning into a broken record, the progression of life continues to be that more and more, things feel more like routine life than new adventures. It's a bad thing though-- I like having things to do, I´m more comfortable with, well, everything. I posted my weekeday schedule last week, and I´ve been sticking to it, outside of a few blips here and there. As for last weekend, my host-parents went to the apartment in viña del mar, and left my host brother and I here with the nana (basically a maid). I went to a party friday night which was good times, but saturday through sunday I more or less did nothing. It was very relaxing, with intermittent stabs of boredom. I had plans to go out with friends Saturday night, but the kid who has a car had gone to Santiago, so we were out of luck. I did go for another little bike ride down the road and into the campo (countryside)on Saturday, and this time I remembered to bring my camera. Enjoy some highlights:

Yesterday in the morning and all day today, my class took a practice PSU (their equivalent of the SAT/ACT) so I´ve had a lot of freetime. I´ve mostly been passing time in the Library, reading and browsing the web, but I also spent some time helping out the younger English classes. The kids are really cute. One little girl whispered in my ear that she loved me, then wanted to hold my hand the rest of the time. I've been helping the sixth graders practice for a standardized English exam for an hour every Tuesday and Thursday. It basically consists of asking them questions about their family, their likes, and their favorites, but it's good because it takes me out of math class. Not that I have a problem with the math class, but 4 days a week in a class that I'm two years past would just be too much. Inequalities and basic geometry of triangles are already painful enough 3 days a week.

Last night (Tuesday), instead of going to classes in the gym, the exchangers had a meeting with our counselor. We basically just figured out plans for trips and events (a parade this friday, a day in Santiago in a couple of weeks), although the meeting was supposedly to discuss alcohol and alcoholism and rules and such. Afterwards, we went out for ice cream. I think we all get along quite well, which is nice. It´s good to know people who are in the same boat, and going through more-or-less the same things.

Changing topics, I´d like to share to comments I´ve overheard about the US:

¨The solution to all of Chile´s problems would be to declare war on the US. The only problem would be if we won.¨

(After someone used to US to justify the death penalty as being good)
¨And which country in the world is the most absolutely crazy, with people who are all totally nuts?¨

3 things that are different here

1. Milk is all ultra-pasteurized, and comes in boxes that aren't kept refrigerated. Well, the box says you should refrigerate it once it's open, but people don't heed the instructions very often.

2. Their equivalent of a senior trip is taken before senior year. It's also done through the school, and (just about) everyone goes together. My class is going to Cancún in December and unless something changes, it looks like I'll be going with them. I´m still a little disappointed because the original plan was to go to Camboriu (a beach town in Brazil), which is much more exotic/exciting/oustide-of-normal-gringo-vacations/interesting than Cancún (plus I've never been to Brazil), but the class decided on Cancún before I got here and it should still be a sweet trip so I´m not complaining.

3. A popular mode of transportation, and the one I've been using the most, is colectivos. They´re basically taxis that work like buses. They run a route, stop whenever someone flags them, and let you off when you tell them to. I've never had to wait more than a couple of minutes for a colectivo, and they only cost 350 pesos (less than 70 cents). The only inconvenience is that the closest a route comes to my house is at my school, a 25 minutes away walking down the shoulder of a major road. It´s not so bad now, but since summer´s coming and it's going to get hot, I'm trying to figure out the schedules of the micros (busses) that run past my house.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

This week flew by...

Last week felt more like a real life than any of those before it. I had things to do, and they felt more like part of a routine than discovering new things all of the time. That wasn't bad at all actually. This was a very good week. I'm feeling more comfortable with just about everything-- what I can do in the house, who I can call if I need something to do, how to get where I'm going when I go alone, etc.

My weekly afterschool schedule:
Monday- Soccer
Tuesday- Soccer, then to the gym with the other exchange students for the fitness class that's replaced our Cueca class. I'm going to steal the phrase step-aerobics from my mom to describe it, tho part 2 of each class is a core workout on mats. It isn't necessarily my cup of tea, but I don't feel particularly insecure about my masculinity, and it's good to see the other kids while getting some killer abs. Anyway, I think I'm going to be particularly tired Tuesday nights.
Wednesday- Nothing. This week I helped some classmates with their English homework then walked around downtown with Liz, an exchange student from Michigan.
Thursday-Fitness class otra vez!
Friday- hopefully soccer games most weeks. I can only play when the games are friendlies, but so far that's been 2/3 weekends (I didn't join the team until my 2nd week and we were on break for one week). This week we won 4-1. I started at sweeper, but played most of the game at stopper. It's good clean fun.

Saturday is not going to have a routine. This saturday was actually pretty mantastic. I went to Molina (a smaller city a half hour from Curicó) with the other Rotary exchange students in
Curicó and some of the host families for an after-the-fact asado (BBQ) for 18 Septiembre, Chile's independence day. Lots of good relaxing and hanging out, as well as delicious sopaipilla (fried squash bread), kite flying (I'm actually pretty good at it now after being taught by my extended host family at their 18 asado), and a very silly relay. I lost because I dropped my egg at the end, but it was because I was running to catch up with Breno the Brazilian who ended up winning.
Later that night I went to a party with some friends. I was with the kids in the class above me, who are all my age , and it was a healthy heaping of fun. Plus, I now have an open invite to call them on the weekends and join in on their plans are, so that's pretty dope.

Sunday for me was a lazy day, since I got back quite late Saturday night/Sunday morning. Yom Kippur (holiest Jewish holiday, AKA The Day of Atonement) started Sunday night, and I watched Kol Nidre and the rest of the night service through streaming video on, which despite the lame name, is actually pretty sweet. It's based out of a humanistic synagogue in Ohio, where they rewrote all of their liturgy to de-emphasize god and miracles and such in favor of "the humanistic values of intellectual honesty, open inquiry and human responsibility." They change some other things too, and I find it really interesting (BTW, thanks mom for sending the link). Yom Kippur actually passed pretty well. Fasting wasn't as hard as I expected given that I was doing it alone, I got some quality reflection in, and at the end of the day, I wandered around the centro with Anna from NC, then ate a gigantic meal at a Chinese restaurant for my break-fast.

On an unrelated note, I was in a local paper (for the second time) a few days ago. Check it out. I'm the one in the purple shirt.

3 things that are different here

1.To illustrate counting, instead of making 4 parallel lines then one diagonal across them, Chileans draw the 4 sides of a square, then a diagonal line through the middle. It's easier to count at a glance, but it's less space efficient.

2. The whole dynamic of college is different here. Right from the start, you have to know your concentration, and you're quite locked into it. It's a lot more career oriented, and there are relatively few elective classes. Also, nobody lives in dorms, the application is just grades and a standardized test, and it's really common to go home every weekend.

3. At least in my school, no one uses three ring binders-- spiral notebooks for everyone. That's not weird at all, but I was a little more surprised that all of the notebooks here are full of graph paper. I'm yet to see a single college-rule or wide-rule notebook, even in the store.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


I haven't been in school for a week, but there's been a reasonable amount going on. My host family has an apartment on the beach in Viña del Mar, and I went there with my host mom, my host brother, and a friend of his. Viña and the adjacent cities are beautiful. From the apartment window, I could see across the cove/bay/inlet to Valparaíso, which is Chile's principal port and the grittier counterpart to the gentrified, fairly vacation-oriented viña. One day, after a failed attempt to get into the synagogue in viña (you need to be cleared by security in advance), I went to valparaíso with my host-dads cousin, who lives in the same apartment complex. She was incredibly welcoming, and valparaíso is incredibly awesome. I'm not usually one for superlatives, but it might just be my favorite city in the world. It has the grit of a real city, but also feels very lively. We took an incline up to the top of the city, and got drinks in a really nice café with an incredible view (and probably the best hot chocolate I've ever had). Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera on me... but it was really something. Outside of that jaunt into Valparaíso, I just spent a bunch of time with my brother and his friend, combing the beach for sea-glass, playing pool, messing around/working-out in the gym, and just hanging out. We were there from Monday till Thursday.
Thursday was also my birthday. It was kinda lame that half of the day was spent in a car driving back, but when we got back, I went
to the official city of Curicó kick-off party for the Independence Day celebrations (invitation only) with the other rotary exchange students, and after that I had a little gathering at my house. A lot of people were out of town on vacation, but I still had fun with those who came, plus I got to make 3 (THREE) wishes when I blew out the candles on the AMAZING manjar cake. Manjar is ridiculously delicious. It's kinda like caramel or dulce de leche, but much better. It was a bit lonely not having all the people I know on my birthday, but it was nice to receive a lot of birthday wishes through facebook and email, and my parents even sang to me through skype.
El 18 de Septiembre was/is chilean holiday. They make a really big deal out of it (hence the week of vacation). There are lots of flags everywhere and other sorts of patriotic doodads.
Everything that doesn't have an entire Chilean flag on it is probably made by the same companies that make patriotic doodads for the US. I'd be surprised if companies from either country didn't jump on the opportunity for a market share in another country who's flag shares the same scheme of red and white stripes and (a) white star(s) on a blue field. We went to a little farm south of Talca, which I think is where my host-dad (the one who was unfortunate enough to be talking when the photo was taken) grew up. He's one of 8, and 5 of his siblings were there with their families. The barbecue was delicious and his family was really nice. A lot of eating, some soccer with the younger cousins, and flying kites. Kite flying is traditional here, and a lot of them are really good at it. We were using just a simple traditional square paper kite, and if I understood correctly, we had almost 2 miles of string out. The kite was basically just a speck.
Yesterday, some family-friends came over for an asado (BBQ). It was nice because everyone was just hanging around, eating, and talking for a good 5 hours. Today I took a little bike ride out into the country, played a little bit of soccer, and spent a good bit of time lazing around. Vacation's been relaxing, but it's also been boring a good bit of the time, and I think I'm glad that school will be starting up again tomorrow.

On the Spanish front, I'm feeling pretty solid. Conversing isn't such a chore. The things that I still struggle with are knowing the protocals for social words for greetings and such in different situations, understanding people speaking full-speed ahead with a normal Chilean vocabulary, and pronouncing English words. They try to pronounce as an English speaker would, but it's generally a bit off, and not always in the direction you'd expect. For instance-- mall is pronounced closer to mole, Jack is closer to yack, and Mcdonalds rhymes with hack-own-Al's. I am thinking in Spanish a good bit though, especially when I give keep giving myself mental nudges and avoid English.

3 things that are different here

1. Everywhere that I've been, half of the horizon consists of the Andes, which are freaking huge and all snow-capped. They're also especially dramatic because there aren't any gentle hills-- it goes straight from a steep slope to completely flat. A bit different from WV's rolling Appalachians.

2. Everyone shares any food they buy. Not at meals, but if you ever have a snack, you offer it to everyone around you, and they usually accept. I found out the hard way that it's actually very rude not to. This means it's not uncommon to buy a little bag of cookies and end up with just 3 or 4 for yourself. On the other hand, you get other people's handouts a lot. I think this is a bit of a reflection of the fact that 10% of the country is communist, and an even larger chunk (including the president) is socialist. It's nice in a lot of ways, but I also think it's a little bit impractical sometimes-- what do you do if you're really really hungry? Buy 5 bags of chips?

3. People use very little heating in their houses. Layers are definitely the thing. It doesn't work to do like I always did in the US-- winter coat for outside, just a t-shirt for inside. The difference between the two temperatures usually isn't that big, so it's a sweatshirt all the time, and usually more layers for outside.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

I've decided I'm going to make the "3 things that are different here" segment that I wrote last time permanent(for now). Its always nice to have a few more random facts, so:

3 things that are different here
1. Everyone wears shoes in the house, all of the time. My brother actually gets scolded every once in a while for taking his off. I need to buy some slippers so I can take my shoes off without being taboo.
2. The house only has one trashcan. It's in the kitchen. I'm not sure if/how they have less trash. I don't know if that's normal though, because my school has lots of trashcans.
3. All of the guys here have at least a borderline mullet. Really, everyone's hair is longer in the back. And actually, it doesn't look at all stupid to me.

As for life and such, everything's been going well. Days are starting to feel like spring, although the nights still feel like winter. More strangers are becoming aquaintances, and more aquaintances are becoming friends. As a result, there more people to talk to and things to do. I've hung out with classmates outside of school a few times, I've gone to a couple of parties, and I went to a discotek one weekend. I'm also going to a Curicó Unido soccer game tomorrow, so that should be a grand old time.

On the Spanish front, I believe I'm making good progress. It's hard to compare anything other than vocabulary, but my friends have told me that my Spanish is a lot better than when I arrived, and when I think about it, there are a lot of things I can do now that I couldn't do at first, like listening to a conversation without having to super-concentrate, and enjoying/understanding an episode of The Simpsons in Spanish.

My districts orientation was last sunday near Santiago. Most of the time was spent listening to Rotarians reiterating the rules we've all already been told 3 or 4 times, but it was a lot of fun meeting all of the other exchange students in the area. Plus, a traditional chilean youth dance troupe provided the lunch entertainment, and, in fact, it was entertaining. Even the 2.5 hour drive there wasn't bad-- it was carpool of the kids from Curicó and the next city south (Talca), and we passed the time with chaotic photoshoots and good conversation.

Today was the first day of our Independence Day break, and my school had folklore presentation. Lots of chilean dances with elaborate costumes, and lots and lots of
Cueca (the national dance). I played bass for one Cueca song.
There was a picnic/carnival afterward with food and lots of games and such. Every class had some sort of fundraiser. My grade sold chicks, which to me is kinda iffy-- I don't know how many will
survive being raised by 8 year olds, and I don't know what would happen to any chickens/roosters that survived...

On Monday, I'll be going with my family to Viña del Mar for the week. I'm excited to see it-- it's on the water and it's supposed to be beautiful. I think there'll be a lot of big festivities for the 18th, and maybe I'll find some way to celebrate my birthday on the 17th. I'm fairly optimistic that there'll be a healthy dose of awesome, even though I'll know no one but my host family.

About once a day or so, I still have a moment where all I can think is, "Wow, this is my life."
I'm having one of those right now. This is really something.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Viendo lo que será mi vida durante el proximo año

I now have 4 days of school behind me, and I'm starting to get a sense of what my life is going to be like for the next year.

Sorry there won't be any multimedia to accompany this blog, but I haven't been taking my camera with me because even when I carried it, I used it very little to avoid looking and feeling like a tourist.

Anyhoo, school has been nice. The classes are easy and the kids are very friendly. During the classes the kids are somewhat less attentive and serious than they were in my classes in the US, but it's nice for me because I can socialize and talk and ask for definitions from my classmates the whole time without being considered a disruption. My class is apparently notorious for being a bit crazy like that though, so I'm not sure to what extent it is the norm.

Outside of school, I have had the chance to do a few things:

Soccer- I went to a practice, and it was very nice to be able to play, and I didn't feel at all out of place which is good. Unfortunately, I can't play in the official games because you have to have been born in 1992 or later, but I can play in the friendly matches. I also watched all of the school teams play today (different age groups, plus the girls' team), which was fun, and a good way to take a break from Spanish without having to use English, and still be entertained.

Cueca- All of the Rotary exchange students in Curicó are required to take lessons in Cueca, the national dance. We have them twice a week up until the Chilean Independence Day-- Sept. 18. I was very glad to meet the other exchange students in town, and it was interesting to experience, but I think that before we're done with the lessons, I may feel like I've already attained a level of skill at the cueca that is plenty satisfactory for me...

Asado- A classmate is going on exchange to England and leaving sometime within the next few days, and there was an Asado/Carrete (BBQ/Party) in her honor, with a hint of welcome party for me tacked on. It started right after the cueca classes ended, so there was a bit of coordination required for me to get there, especially since Plan A fell through due to someone not having access to their car. Anyhow, the party was a good fun. They dance a lot more here, and that suits me well.There were a lot of songs I didn't know, but there were also a lot of spanish remixes of hip-hop and electronica songs I know. All in all it was a grand ole time.

Mall- One day our language teacher was sick and didn't come to class. My classmates managed to talk some school administator into just letting us go (it was the last class of the day) instead of finding us some busy work or a substitute. So, I went to see the mall with a couple of classmates. It was a mall like just about any other, but I was very glad that someone wanted to hang out with me, and I felt like I was getting a taste of the vida curicana.

A Few Things That Are Noticably Different So Far:
A Brief List That Will Probably Be Continued

-Bread. I'm yet to see any in loaf form (it's all been individually sized), and I've eaten it with every single meal.
-Eyebrows. Perfectly maintained eyebrows are very uncommons, and unibrows are heavily abundant
-Driving. In general, everyone is a little more aggressive. There are also a lot of speedbumps here and not as many stop signs. The thing that still makes me a little nervous though are the bikers. People bike on the edge of the road, and the cars drive really really close to them...

On the Spanish front, I think I'm doing pretty well-- I've had a few dreams in Spanish, and it's hard to tell to what extent, but I'm starting to think in spanish somewhat. I'm not sure how much I'm still translating when I speak spanish, but I noticed that when I switch to English, at least for a little bit, when it comes to words I know in both languages, the Spanish word pops into my head first.

Heading into the weekend, I'm a little bit afraid that boredom will strike because I don't have any definite plans, and I don't know if my classmates are feel close enough to me that they'll call me and make plans.

Wow. This is a pretty disjointed entry. Oh well.
All in all, all is well.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Día 1

no quiero hablar en inglés porque será mas dificil hablar en español después, y ya tengo bastantes problemas... pero para ustedes... I'm willing to do some english writing while the thoughts and memories are fresh.
I left from Pittsburgh friday at 5 PM, then, after a 3 hour layover and 1 hour delay in Atlanta, headed off to Santiago. There were 19 kids headed to Chile from the US on my flight, and I was fortunate enough to be sitting between Sara and Liz. We had a grand ole time, although that meant that there was less time for trying to sleep. Not that we didn't-- we just weren't very successful. So, after arriving and going through customs with minimal complications, we all walked out the door and met our host families who were waiting for us. My host parents were there-- Adriano Donoso and Ximena Azocar. Some quick group pictures, then we were off for Curicó, a 2 hour drive. At first I, was just so excited to be seeing the landscape that I was wide awake. The landscape feels raw with foothills of the Andes popping up sporadically out of the flat grassland, looking more like mountains then pretty much any of the Appalachians do. Even though it is fairly cold here (it is witer afterall), palm trees are everywhere, which surprised me. Anyway, I slept for about half the ride, and then arrived at the Donoso/Azocar house
. It's gorgeous. Really.
Lots of stone, and even a pretty gate.
My room is also very nice, and comes with a cozy bed, a good sized closet, it's own bathroom, and a substantial window with curtains that actually block the light (unlike my shades at home). At the house I met the younger brother Adriano, and the two older sisters, Ximena and Cami. The sisters are both living in Santiago, but are home for a little bit. I spent some time talking with them and they're both very nice. Adriano the dad and Adriano the son took me on a tour of the town. There are a lot of nice places to walk around, and there are a lot more people walking around then there ever are in Morgantown. It didn't take long to feel that the city is almost twice is big.
Well, I think I start school on monday, though if I understand correctly that depends on whether or not I get a uniform today, which looks doubtful. It'll be nice to go to school though because the one thing I think I may have underestimated about this experience is how much normal, somewhat boring life there is between all of the excitement of new things and adventures. It'll be nice to meet other kids and have friends to combat the monotony. It's been pretty nice overall, and I think I'm really realizing what it means that this will be my life every day for the next 11 months or so.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Beginning

So, the blog is made, if not fully fine-tuned. This is where you should come once I actually have interesting experiences to talk about, but I guess it's time to get the ball rolling on this-- it'd be a shame to make the blog and leave it empty for another month.

Whew. The departure date is in less than a month. I feel about as prepared as I think I should, given that there's no way I could ever really be well prepared. I guess now I have to do the actual preparations (packing and such) and come to terms with all of the goodbyes that I will be saying in the next few weeks. Well at least I now have this handy-dandy blog that you can all read and comment on (shameless plug to try to get you all to stay in touch)!

Bonus Video!!!!!!!!!!!
Diego, an inbound exchange student from Chile told me that a really common beer in Chile share's my last name. Here's an ad of theirs featuring a unicorn.