Himno Nacional de Chile

They shout it three times.

“Que o la tomba serás de los libres,

O el asilo contra la opresíon!”

(Either you be the tomb of the free, or the refuge against oppression!)

Whenever I heard Chileans sing their national anthem, I noticed how they always shouted these lines. People went from singing, to raising their voices in unison. A local teacher told me that during the Pinochet dictatorship, this part of the national anthem became a way for the people to empower themselves. The habit has carried on.

Here’s a version of the modern, official anthem- (with English and Spanish lyrics)

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Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock

Brian (in sadness and shock) with his last Pisco Sour at the airport. Our final hours in South America.

Final hours in South America. Brendan, in sadness, with his last pisco sour at the airport.

There’s this amazing line at the end of The Motorcycle Dairies. 

I think anyone who’s returned from living abroad can relate to this:

“Wandering around our America has changed me more than I thought. Me? I am not me anymore. Or at least I’m not the same me I was.”

I’ve been back from South America for several months. Chile’s culture shock sure hit while I was living there, but now, this reverse part is more noticeable.

The big differences I notice are:

 Closeness and greetings In Chile, you greet and say goodbye with a kiss on the right cheek. You do this everyone. I’ve been back to California for several months, and it feels weird to not have this physical contact with people anymore. (So I’ve developed this habit of giving awkward half-hugs when I say goodbye to groups of people.) In Chile, people also frequently touch arms or shoulders in conversation. I love this. Not so much in America, though.

Community Upon returning to the Bay Area, my roommate and I had a talk about the bustling, technology-driven, work work work pace of the bay area. She said it seems like no matter how many events, shows, or meetings you go to, it still  always feels like you’re missing out on something. And it’s true. The Bay Area has everything : every kind of trendy restaurant, live music event, art gallery, film festival, networking meetup, and street fair.  There is always something happening, and it would take talent to be bored. But I find that with this constant stimulation, it’s also more easy to be unsatisfied. Because we move so fast and try to absorb so much, we run the risk of not making connections more than surface deep with the people around us.

My first shock with this was at the Dallas airport, when I first landed in the US. I spent my layover in a cafe packed with people. Shiny grey MacBooks dotted the room. Earbuds in. The only noise was the espresso machine and the staccato “tip-tip-tip” of fingers on keyboards. I remember looking around and being amazed at seeing so much new technology in one room. I hadn’t seen an internet cafe in months. So much happening, but so much isolation.

In Chile, I remember slowing down. I remember not feeling overwhelmed by all of the choices, because, well… there weren’t as many. Sure, there were still modern conveniences and amenities, but people also had this deeper human connection.

Latinoamerica, te echo de menos.

Valparaíso

Valparaíso… a coastal city about an hour and half from smoggy and congested Santiago. It’s Chile’s cultural center, an eclectic mix of crooked streets, bright walls, and cafes .

Cerro Alegre, one of the two main hills in Valparaíso. Cerro Concepcíon is the other.

Valparaíso used to be one of South America’s biggest and most important ports, and its crumbling facade represents this era gone by. Despite this, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003.

Mural of late President, Salvadore Allende.

Chile 3

“El Desayunador” cafe

Chile1 chile 6

Chile 2

Where’s your mama?

Valdivia’s heart & soul

You know you’re at home in a new country when you establish your local hangout. This place became my touchstone and main meeting point. When everything else was unfamiliar, I knew I could come here to see the same people and begin to adjust to this new town.

This spot is near and dear to my heart. A Berkeley and San Francisco vibe right here in Valdivia. Navigado mulled wine. Pink Floyd. A warm fire. This is La Ultima Frontera, my favorite cafe-bar in Chile.

The front door, bearing stickers from worthy causes.

“La Ultima Frontera” means the last frontier, or the final border. My friend Maribel explained to me that it could have to do with the Mapuche, the indigenous people of Southern Chile, and their struggle to retain their land as it was colonized by foreigners.

Crafty

Salud!

Desert sun and cliff roads

I’m writing from Arica, Chile, a surf town 12 miles from the Peruvian border. I’ve embarked on a 3 week solo trip to the north of Chile and Peru.  I’ll meet up with a friend in Cusco, but until then, I’m traveling solo.

Buses in Chile are safe and very comfortable, but I just got off a creepy one. The 12-hour overnight trip from San Pedro was eerie.

We left at 8:30 pm, driving into the Atacama desert with nothing but sand dunes under a full moon. We were on the Panamerican Highway, which goes up the coast of South America. And this seemed to be it’s most desolate part.

Sometime during the night, I looked out the window and that saw that the bus was hugging a cliff with no gaurd rail. I was on the second story, and below me was a canyon, hundreds of feet below. I’ve never been afraid of heights, but something about being on a top-heavy bus didn’t sit well. The bus began taking the turns, as we drove past white crosses scattered across the cliffside in memory of others who’d gone over the edge. It was hard to sleep that night.

Apart from the bus ride, the San Pedro de Atacama part of the trip was great. San Pedro is a touristy town in the middle of nowhere in Chile’s Atacama desert. It’s a popular jumping off point for exploring the surrounding area, where the borders of Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina intersect.

Here is a bit of life in the driest desert in the world…

One of the main streets in San Pedro

Chile’s is divided into 15 regions. We’re in region 2

Old cars
Photo by Karin Kleine

The first day I arrived in San Pedro I joined some people from the organization StartUp Chile. We all went to swim in Laguna Cejar. The only person who stayed in the water for more than 15 seconds was the Finnish guy we were with. The water was freezing, but floating is easy since it’s so salty.

The Scandinavian braves the ice water. I swear it’s in their DNA.

Salt

Laguna Cejar

Valle de la Muerte.

Valle de la Luna

Chile’s El Tatio geyers are one of the region’s main draws. Along with New Zealand, Iceland, and the USA, Chile has one of the world’s biggest geyser fields.

Since they’re most active at dawn, it meant waking up at 3:30 am to go see them. After the van picked us up at 4 am we began the two hour trip into the Andes mountains.

We’d been warned about how cold it would be up there, so Karin and I joked that we would just wear every piece of clothing we had. (We came pretty close.) My three pairs of socks and seven layers still didn’t keep out the freezing morning.

Once at the geyers, our local guide warned everyone to stay clear from the geyser named “The Killer”, which got its name after several people got too close and fell into the boiling water. (We steered clear.)

But we were tempted to jump into the hot springs with the loads of other tourists. It was such a relief from the cold, and it was funny watching everybody scramble for their clothes after getting out into the cold air. (It wasn’t funny when we had to do it.)

Wearing every layer of clothing possible at El Tatio geyers

9am back down the mountain

Llama crossing on the way back from the geyers

Vicuña sightings!

Stopped in this tiny town on the way back from the geyers.

Coca tea, the local remedy for altitude sickness.

Tomorrow I’m crossing the border into Tacna, Peru. Next up: Cusco and the Sacred Valley.

Chilenismos and Culture Shock

Culture shock.

The name sounds like it happens suddenly, like a strike of lightening. But not here. In Chile, it sneaks up on you. It’s a slow realization, that after many weeks, something feels off.

Sopaipilla stands are everywhere. There’s no spicy food in Chile, so just add a lot of aji sauce to give it some kick.

Living with a host family and working with Chilean colleagues has thrown me head first into total immersion, and it’s been an eye-opening experience.

Chileans are some of the most considerate and warm people I’ve met. I’m constantly amazed by the generosity of strangers and their quiet, reserved nature.

Here are some thoughts and observations from the past several months…

Spicy Food. There isn’t any. (Save for their great aji sauce.) I truly, truly miss this. I’d kill for some Indian or Mexican food right now. The south of Chile loves fish, stews, meats and potatos, thanks to the strong German influence down here. And while we’re on food, never eat with your hands.  Always use utensils. (Even with french fries.)

Making ’empanadas de mariscos’, a typical Chilean dish

“Once”. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day here. If you’re waiting around for another meal after 2pm, you’re  going to have to cross the border to Argentina. Most Chileans don’t eat dinner. Instead, you have “once” around 6-7pm. It’s a snack of bread, palta (avocado), cheese, jam, and coffee or tea.  I’ve been trying to figure out why they call it “once”, the word for “eleven”, but nobody seems to know. Hmmm…

Coffee. Getting your hands on a real cup of joe here is rare.  Instant Nescafe is pretty much the common drink.

Water. I’ve never seen a Chilean drink water. I remember people asking me, “Tienes caña?”, when I was sipping from my water bottle. (“Caña” means hangover.) I told them I was just thirsty, and got puzzled looks. Whenever I see people with water bottles on buses, it’s a dead giveaway that they’re not from this country.

Superstision. If you pass the salt to someone, it means you’ll fight with them. Don’t pass the salt directly to someone, but put it on the table when passing.

Toilet paper. Never flush it down the toilet. The pipes are very narrow, so people always throw it in a wastepaper basket next to the toilet.

Central Heating. Doesn’t exist. If you’re visiting Southern Chile in the winter, get ready for real cold.  I’ve spent a winter in Denmark, and even though Denmark is colder, their houses have insulation. In Southern Chile, it’s harder to get a break from the outside temperatures because buildings and houses aren’t really insulated.  Bring your fleece and under-armor!

Greetings. Chile is a country “de la piel”, or, “of the skin.” They hug, they kiss on the cheek, and they touch arms in conversation. In the US, we merely shake hands when meeting someone, and sometimes hug.

In Chile, you always give one kiss on the right cheek when saying hello and goodbye, or when being introduced to someone (Men always shake hands.) Even in the classroom, many of my students will line up to do this when they’re coming and going.

Family comes first. I’m the first exchange student my family has hosted. It’s been an incredible experience for both of us, because I’m the first North American they’ve experienced. This also means big cultural divides. In Chile, it’s common for guys and girls to live at home long into their late 20s. The family may not be used to your independence. I once told them I was traveling alone on a bus to Argentina and they were shocked. Communicate your plans, tell them when you’re missing lunch, and just be considerate to their way of life.

It’s also rude to close your door to your room. At home in the states, I would debrief in my room with music, but in Chile, I try not to do that as much.  Chileans spend a lot of time together, and it’s not normal to isolate yourself.

Elsa, my awesome host grandmother, and host brother Rudy.

Fernando checks out what the gringos are making for breakfast.

You won’t speak Spanish. You will speak Chilean.

There’s even a book called “How to Survive in the Chilean Jungle.

Chileans speak extremely fast. To make decoding more difficult, they drop the “s” and “d” from their words. So “Mas o menos” sounds like, “Mao Meno”.   “Pescado” (fish) sounds like “Pekao.”

And once you think you’ve mastered the sounds, you’ll then realize there’s a whole new set of vocabulary to learn. They’re called “Chilenismos.” Here are some of the most common…

Cachai? ” You put it at the end of sentences as a way of saying, “Do you get it? You know?” If you spend 10 minutes in Chile, you’re bound to hear this.

• “Po”. This is the quintessential Chilean word. It doesn’t mean anything, but they add it to every sentence. “Si po!”, “no po!”, and “Ya po!” are common. Use it emphasize what you’re saying or to contradict what someone else said. Or just use it whenever you feel like it and you’re instantly Chilean.

Al tiro (Right now/ Right away.)

Pololo/Polola (Boyfriend or girlfriend)

• Never ever say “adios” in Chile. It’s always “ciao” when you say goodbye. When you get out of a taxi or leave a store you’ll hear, “Gracias, chaao, chaaao!”

Weon. It’s an insulting and rude word, except when you use it with friends. “#PreguntasWeonas”was trending on Twitter recently. It means “stupid-ass questions”. It can be a noun or adjective, and it’s uniquely Chilean.

• “Te echo de menos”  I miss you

Cuico. Use it to describe something rich or of the upper social classes. Vina del Mar es muy cuico.

Fome. If something is boring or lame. Eso-es super fome!

Ok, now I’m off to catch a bus to Púcon. Hasta luego!

More Reflections on Teaching English Abroad

I can’t believe how fast three months have flown by. I’m just starting to get my feet and feel at home in this new country. Last week, all of the teachers in my region had a meeting with our regional representative here in Valdivia. We talked about our experiences so far, and gave some feedback. I had one “ah ha” moment during this day. As follows…

My seniors

“How is everyone,” the regional rep asked us, looking around the table. “Andrea,” he smiled, “You look so happy. That is good.” I had an ear infection and was drenched from the rainstorm I’d just walked through to get here. But I was smiling, and didn’t even realize it. And then I understood why. I had a cup of warm tea in front of me. I was inside a cozy room. I was surrounded by other familiar faces. Sincere appreciation of these little details is something I’ve noticed myself doing more and more here.

Here are a few of them: Falling asleep to the sound of rain on a tin roof.  Hot wine, or, “Navegado” on a cold night. Warming up next to a wood burning stove. The smell of the mountains. A conversation with someone selling sopaipillas. More simplicity, but also, more chaos. That’s Chile.

This English Opens Doors Program is a lottery, and everyone’s situation is unique. Some people were placed in Santiago, and they’re living it up with other foreigners in an international city. Others are in rural communities with populations barely above 3,000 people. Some of us teach at high-risk public schools, while others teach at semi-private “colegios”, with better resources and quality of education.

I read this quote somewhere yesterday, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” I couldn’t think of a better way to say it. But out of all of the personal transformations these last few months, it’s my student’s who’ve taught me the most. They teach me empathy, humor, and patience. They teach me about people, and how to understand moods and adapt.

One of my favorite groups. IV Medio B

It’s not easy. I have one class of 17-year-old boys who are extremely difficult on purpose. Their attitudes really suck, and teaching them in 45-minute blocks is always grueling. They clearly don’t want to be there, and getting them to do anything is a pain. But I try to act with empathy. Lately I’ve been sitting with them in the desks instead of standing up in front of the room when we start class. I think coming down to their level has caught them off guard, and so far it’s helped change the mood a bit.

III Medio B Class

However, what happened last week redeemed all of the stressful teaching moments. It was Wednesday, and I was having an off-day. I tired, and didn’t feel like leading class at all. It was the toughest day I’ve had at school so far. Even though I was still smiling and trying to get the energy together, one of my senior classes picked up on my mood.  When they left the class, I saw this on the board… It made my week.