Home again, home again

Rachel is a third-year studying Spanish literature. This past summer she spent time in Chile studying abroad. This is her third post from her journeys 

Unfortunately, many good things in life must come to an end at one point or another. After a jam-packed last couple of weeks, I said chau to Chile and hopped on a plane that shot me back into the northern hemisphere. Now I’m a couple weeks into my old routine of pumping gasoline into my car, heating up frozen meals, and Googling information whenever I please. Here, no one shouts at me to guard my iPhone with dear life or to wear my shoes in the house because I might get a cold and die. And the best part? My listening comprehension is 100%.

Some days, I’m confused by the weather and weirded out that life back home has gone on without my presence. Other days, it feels as if I never left and this collection of South American memories is nothing more than a dream. Either way, it’s a strange sensation living and seeing and doing and learning all of these things in this other place and having no real clue how to convey any of it to anyone who wasn’t there. For now, I answer their questions about the food and classes and my favorite activities abroad. My hope is that if I spit out enough words with enough excitement in my voice maybe my friends and family can catch some sort of glimpse into the world I experienced for seven weeks.

Home is great. However, the more comfortable I feel here, the more restless I become for the things I am not guaranteed to relive any time soon.

I miss strolling along the boardwalk under a full moon, fingertips burning from the hot cheese dripping out the corners of a fresh shrimp and queso empanada.

I miss having to plan out questions before I verbalize them and that face that people make when I ask them to repeat themselves for the fourth time.

I miss the thrill of predicting whether that night’s metro performer would be belting a scene from Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto or rapping a little too loudly into the mic to the latest from Calle 13.

I miss travelling long distances without enough money for the ride home, sprinting across cities to catch a bus before it leaves, and hunting down storefronts with a Wifi logo posted in the window so I can GoogleMap where the heck I am.

I miss these things and more, but I don’t feel unhappy to be back in the States. I’m grateful that I’m already 21 and I have seen so much of the world, and that I’m only 21 and have so much life left to live. Although I still have no quite finished processing this trip and the many ways it has changed me, I am ready to jump back into another school year, put to use any recently developed skills, and hear the stories and experiences of my fellow students and friends.

I’ve learned a thing or two

Rachel is a third-year studying Spanish literature. This past summer she spent time in Chile studying abroad. This is her second post from her journeys 

July 17

chile3Although it is not without its occasional hardships and frustrations, time in this country is good for me in a lot of ways. It fills my soul with some of the very things that make it feel most full. Last week, I stepped off a bus during a spontaneous trip north and breathed in the air of the Andes Mountains. The mountains were tall and indigo, rising from the cactus-speckled ground out of a thin layer of fog. It was an untouched terrain, except for the foxes and birds and guanaco that roam as they please.  Standing there, I felt small and infinite at the same time. I knew that the dry earth upon which I placed my feet was the same earth to inspire generations of writers, workers, educators, and political revolutionaries. I was standing on a land home to the type of suffering and resilience I have never experienced in my lifetime.chile4

My eyes have seen some incredible sights in Chile – tranquil valleys filled end to end with vineyards, the sun dipping behind the snow-capped peaks that tower over the city of Santiago, pelicans on otherwise uninhabited islands perched upon black rocks resisting the tumultuous crash of turquoise waves…the list goes on.

But far more interesting than any view are the people who make up the history and culture of this land. As part of a research project for class, I had the opportunity to visit the Valparaíso fish market in the early hours of the day as fisherman were just arriving at the pier. As they picked fish out of the nets one by one and lined them up on trays to be sold directly to customers, they spoke to me of the difficulties experienced over the last fifteen years as a rise in industrialization has led to all sorts of fish shortages and laws that leave their nets empty and their families hungry.   chile5

In the month that I have been here, the city’s thousands of university students have been on strike, sacrificing their time and education on behalf of the large population of Chileans who don’t have access to such opportunities. Education in Chile is not free, and students nationwide understand the limitations that fact places on future generations.  It is not uncommon to see them marching through the streets demanding to be heard, taking each step with new hopes of defeating inequality.chil6

Yesterday, I visited Santiago’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights. For several hours, I saw footage and read documents and testimonies of the oppression suffered by the nation under the 16-year dictatorship of August Pinochet, a period of darkness and terror provoked by the 1970 election of Salvador Allende, the continent’s first democratically elected Marxist president. Though my head ached from the tales of torture and defeat, I was moved by an image in the final exhibit of mass of smiling Chileans displaying a banner that read “joy is coming”.

chile7On a weekend trip to Valley Elquí, I strolled through the quiet hometown of Gabriela Mistral, the first woman in Latin America to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. As a female intellectual in a male-dominated society, she wasn’t able to spend her entire life in the Chile that she loved, but instead devoted her life to improving the quality of rural education across the continent and promoting the rights of women and children. Like Pablo Neruda, the nation’s other famous poet, she was a writer with a mission. Her very existence cried out for justice.

This is why I love Chile.  The characters that make up its history and its present give me a better picture of what it means to endure and live selflessly in a world that is broken, and to give up everything in order to stand with those who were given nothing. It is a country rich with people as vibrant as its landscapes. I’m not sure anymore what I was expecting when I came “learn about culture”, but these are things I have learned, and for that I must say: Thanks, Chile, for blowing my expectations.

 

 

 

First impressions– “Valparaíso, que disparate eres, qué loco, puerto loco…”

Rachel is a third-year studying Spanish literature. This past summer she spent time in Chile studying abroad. This is her second post from her journies

July 5, 2016

“Valparaíso, que disparate eres, qué loco, puerto loco…” –Pablo Neruda

chileToday, I write from my desk by the window in Viña del Mar, Chile as the sky casts shadows of splendid pinks and yellows onto the sea below. Behind the sea rise clusters of houses containing every color imaginable, stacked and scattered in the chaotic way that is so characteristic to Valparaíso. Along the coast runs the metro, which I ride on a daily basis, never without feeling like I’m on the brim of bursting with joy because of the vast beauty of the Pacific Ocean.

I have been in Chile for two weeks now, a fact I am still not convinced is true. Now that I have settled into the rhythms of life in this quirky port town near the end of the earth, I feel as if I have always been here. As if maybe this is home. However, this sentiment wasn’t always so. My journals from the first three or four days express thoughts like: It is too cold here. Cold and gray. I don’t like the food. Something is making me sick. I will never make friends. Chilean Spanish is way too hard to understand. Thankfully, by the end of the first weekend and throughout last week, I realized what lies I had allowed myself to believe. I began to take joy in simple activities like strolling along the beach at sunset, chatting somewhat effortlessly with street vendors and university students, coming home to steamy hot soups that warmed my body from the inside, and geeking out at the poetry scribbled along walls all over the city.

chile2

On a typical weekday, I wake up between 6:30-7 and head downstairs where Abuela Teresa has faithfully prepared me a cup of coffee and hot bread with either honey and butter or ham and cheese. By 7:45 I am out the door and on my way to the metro station, which is a quick three minute walk from home. I am taking two classes at Pontifica Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (PUCV), Latin American Film and Literature in the morning and Chilean Culture and Conversation in the afternoon. My favorite part of the day is when I go home for my 2pm almuerzo with the family. Lunch is the most important meal of the day and usually consists of a soup, a main dish, a salad, and if I’m lucky, a dessert. The meal is always lengthy and relaxed and I love the mental challenge of accurately following and appropriately contributing to the conversation.

chile3I typically use the rest of my day to become acquainted with the neighboring cities of Viña del Mar and Valparaíso. My adventures thus far have been many and diverse. My feet have taken me up the city’s famous funiculars, around painted labyrinths of streets and staircases, and into ice cream shops, cafes, markets, and discotheques. My taste buds have sampled street foods either fried in oil or doused with mayonnaise and avocado. I was fortunate enough to arrive in the country in time to sit in a crowded bar with a sea of screaming soccer fanatics as Chile won against Argentina in the Copa America (and to experience an after-party of flag waving, car honking, and chanting that lasted until the sun shone again the next morning).  I saw my first Spanish movie in theaters and had my first encounter with blubbery, snorting sea lions rolled out lazily on the beach. After the first week of classes, a group of friends and I treated ourselves to sandboarding followed by a fancy seafood dinner and a glass of local wine. Navigating public transportation has been an adventure in itself, but Chileans are chile4generally friendly and willing to help me out. If I ask a guy for directions, he will often respond by asking for my Whatsapp number. Sigh, thus is life as a foreigner…

One of my favorite experiences was a weekend trip to the capital city Santiago, which is thankfully only a 90-minute bus ride away from Valparaíso. After a chilly yet exhilarating day of exploring art museums, parks, historic homes, and seafood markets, we ended up at the city’s central plaza shortly after sunset. From there, I got the chance to sit in on a Catholic mass in the massive cathedral constructed in 1551 and then watch a parade of political protestors, two elements of life critical to the culture and history of Chile. I sat on a bench and smiled at the sights and sounds of a city all around me– a dad spinning his daughter around, someone preaching into a
chile5megaphone, several couples exchanging passionate kisses, a young woman selling scarves and winter hats, a man curled up by a tree with his hands open in hopes of receiving a few pesos. The vibrancy of humanity. The jumble of architectural styles spanning a few centuries. The backdrop of mountains faded by smog. The sting of winter air. Needless to say, Santiago was magical.

It has been two weeks and I could easily write a novel’s worth narrating things I’ve learned, but for now I’ll stick with this brief summary of my experience: I love it.

 

 

Livin’ la vida limeña

Rachel is a third-year studying Spanish literature. This past summer she spent time in Chile studying abroad. This is her first post from her journies

June 21, 2016

chile1Lima was a whirlwind of delicious food and new sights. In the city, I strolled through the streets filled with parks, plazas, and fun juxtaposition of both modern and colonial architecture. In one 30-minute flight, I journeyed from the cliffs of the Pacific to the Andes Mountains, basically in tears the whole time because of the beauty of it all.

My trip to Peru was a sweet transition into the southern hemisphere and Spanish-speaking world.  I lived for the first week with a missionary family in their apartment in the residential neighborhood of Miraflores just a few block from the coast. As Americans who had been in the country for seven years, they had all kinds of cultural tips to share with me. They generously let me be a part of their daily life, taking me to work and church, introducing me to their welcoming community of missionary and Peruvian friends, and showing me the must-see spots in Lima.

chile2After a week of fountain light shows, malls dug into the side of cliffs, coffee shops, cathedrals, local lunches, historical tours and a fine dining experience in the two-story McDonald’s, I flew out with them to the mountain city of Huánuco. Situated in a valley at 6,000 feet above sea level, I will remember the city as a place of neon lights, a zillion moto taxis, and a shockingly beautiful view of the Andes from every single direction.   Our days were spent building relationships with the Quechua people, asking questions, and sharing stories in small villages a few thousand feet above Huánuco. At lunch, the most important meal of the day, the group’s translator Arturo would have everyone rolling in their seats with laughter over hot plates of lomo saltado, ají de gallina, antichuchos de corazón, papa rellena and chaufa, a Peruvian-Chinese fusion dish. I quickly learned non-carbonated water is a drink for the gringos (white foreigners), and grew to enjoy chicha morada (corn drink), emoliente (barley drink), or everyone´s favorite soda Inca Cola.

Thanks to Peru, I finally got a chance to use my Spanish in the “real world”. I learned a lot about the andino people and the process of ministry, and left with an overwhelming sense of joy at seeing passionate Americans and Peruvians coming together and tirelessly pouring out their hearts.  The country is a special place, and I’m glad I got to take a sneak peak into all it has to offer.