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.