Saturday, February 26, 2011


I have so many things to write about, but it'll have to be in parts. I'm also on an American keyboard but set to a Spanish keyboard so things are in different places but you can't SEE it. Anyways, I'm in my host family but that story will come later. This story is about my flight to Miami and my first orientation.

So at approximately 3:45 Wednesday morning, i woke up and finished putting things in my suitcase. My wonderful mother woke up also and worked on a beautiful lunch and breakfast for me to eat. (Leo woke up later to see me off).

I took my suitcases downstairs and we weighed the big one with the luggage scale. 66 pounds. I was devestated, it was now like fifteen minutes before I was supposed to leave and I had to take 16 pounds out of my suitcase! We took out a lot of random things (especially books. Also things like brownie mix and conditioner). I also put a bunch of stuff in my carryon, hoping they wouldn't weigh it.

We finally get on our way and halfway there we realize that we left my beautiful breakfast and lunch at home. Bad news. In the rough emotional state I was in, I cried about it. You'll start seeing a pattern here soon.

We arrived at the airport and checked in--still about five pounds over. I took out MORE stuff (soccer shin guards, other random stuff). We finally got it down to 48.5 (and my carryon wayyy more than whatever it was supposed to be!).

Okay, so I checked in smoothly and then had to say goodbye. I cried. It's really scary knowing that you'll leave for so long, and I was having a rough morning anyways with taking out all my stuff and not bringing my food and stuff. Luckily, my great mother bought be a bagel and some other treats for my trip.

Madison to Miami i cried most of the time. The lady next to me looked at me like I was a complete lunatic. Then, I pulled out the note Thalia wrote me (she's one of my friends). I started laughing hysterically (it was funny!). Then I felt a lot better, but the lady still looked at me like i was a nutcase. When i arrived in Memphis, I had some free time, so i bought a Seventeen (tradition!) and just chilled. I saw this boy that looked young sitting near me but he didn't have AFS luggage tags on his stuff, so I didn't say anything to him. Memphis to Miami was much better. I listened to Taylor Swift and chilled--I didn't have a seat partner! It was the first time that has ever happened to me and was super nice to spread out my stuff.

When I arrived in Miami, i collected my stuff and the guy talked to me! HE saw i had AFS tags and he just hadn't put them on. He was Josh from Wisconsin also! We went upstairs to catch the shuttle to the hotel and met two other AFSers. This was the start of meeting a lot of people.
Some of the exchangers

There ended up being 40ish kids going to Honduras, Chile, Argentina, Panama, and Brazil, with Argentina being the biggest. There are eight Chile girls, all for the semester except one. I'll talk more about them during the blog post about the Chile orientation because that was really when I started to get to know them.

Argentina, Chile, and Brazil going to the airport
But the Miami orientation was just about rules and that sort of thing. It was good that it was there, but we all wanted to get moving to our host countries and on the way to our exchange. It was fun being in Miami though, where i wore shorts and sat outside in birkenstocks totally comfortably. Hotels are always fun and the second day we played a giant game of Sardines (like backwards hide and go seek) in a ten story hotel. I'm still convinced the hiders cheated. Also, after dinner one night, we went up to the tenth floor where there was an incredible view of the runway of the Miami airport and you could watch all the planes take off.

So we stayed one night and went to the airport at, like, sevenish on Thursday night. We went through security smoothly and after about an hour the Chile kids said goodbye to Brazil and Argentina and headed off to our gate (via sky train!).

And at 11:25, we took off. And that started the second half of my trip, which will be the next blog post!

But I'm doing very well and I'm excited about this family. I hope you are all doing well.


PS: Spell check is in Spanish, so please forgive me for any spelling errors. Libby.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

SURPRISE! plus visa

Well, it's 10:20 on Tuesday night. Yeah, that's right, the day before I leave. There's only a few hours left, but sleeping doesn't seem to be on the agenda. Not because I need to pack or anything, just because... I don't feel like it, I guess.

The last few days have been wild. I'll address my "surprise party" and my visa getting in this post, before I go upstairs, tidy my room, shower, put some things in my suitcase, and go to sleep.

Well, I had known about my surprise party for awhile. My wonderful friends had been busy leaking me details for almost two weeks beforehand--I mean, I was a major guest-inviter. However, I had no idea how crazy Saturday night was actually going to be.

At about seven thirty, two close friends ran into my house, blindfolded me, and took me to a car and drove off. Driving around the West side of Madison, we finally arrived somewhere. I knew that the party was going to be at my friend Samantha's house, so I naturally assumed we were there. Then my friends walked me up a bunch of steps. "This can't be Samantha's house," I said to myself. "Samantha's house doesn't have steps!" They open the door, and surprise! My OTHER friend's parents and sister were standing there. What a fake out.

So back to the car in the blindfold. This time we were actually going to Samantha's, I could tell.

Wait: background! As most of you should know, there have been numerous protests against Governor Walker's new budget repair bill. We were off school for four days, and I went downtown to protest too. Here's a picture:

But basically, it was a big deal. I have a nice friend named Jacob who is very involved politically. On the way to Samantha's, my dear friends convinced me that Jacob had created an alternate facebook event to persuade people to go to the protest that night instead of my party. Naturally, I was a little hurt and insulted, but I assumed it was a joke. After time, they started convincing me, and I lost some of my excited energy. Why would a friend do something like that?

When we arrived at Samantha's, I walk inside and only my seven or so Senior friends jump out at me. I'm like, where is everyone else? Where are all my other friends!?!??" I was CONVINCED that Jacob had stolen them away! Samantha tells me to go downstairs (to "look at her great poster" she said) and I realized that was were everyone actually was. They all jumped out. I cried. For some reason, I'm still a little angry at Jacob inside. Blame Samantha.

My lovely poster

But there really was a great poster and it was great company. It was nice to hang out with everyone one last time. And, much to my surprise, it was a real surprise party. I feel ridiculous that I actually believed them, though! No friend would steal people away from a surprise party :) 

Next on my list: Picking up my VISA! The Chicago consulate requires an in-person visit before issuing a visit. I sent it all the required paperwork a few weeks ago, very nervous about the time crunch. They emailed me back a few days after mailing all the money, sheets of paper, and photos down, and scheduled me for an appointment: February 23rd at 11:00 AM. For those of you with a calendar, you probably could figure out that I would have been flying to Miami at that time. I emailed back asking for an earlier time and much to my luck they scheduled me for the 22nd at 9:30AM.

Me with my Parental Authorization
form and VISA in front of
the Consulate
The weather was iffy for the last few days, so I went down on the Van Galder bus Monday afternoon. We stayed the night at my grandparents' house and decided to leave the house the following morning at 8:15. Google maps said the trip would only take 50 minutes in traffic, but we wanted to budget ourselves extra time.

We got on the freeway, and all we could see was other cars. Crazy, crazy traffic. I sat in the back of the car trying not to spaz out, and an hour and a half later we drove down this random back road to this random building, and my mother dropped me off.  I saw the sign: "Consulate General of Chile". I was in the right place. Rushing upstairs, I turned out to only be ten minutes late. They took my right thumb fingerprint three times and made me sign a sheet of paper. Then I was done! I had a VISA!

The ridiculous thing is that the whole appointment only took about five minutes. I'm glad I lived close enough to drive, because it would have been ridiculous to have to fly to Chicago for a five minute in-person appointment.

Well, it's 10:44. Starting to get sleepy. But things to do! I'll blog again the next time I have a chance.

Here I go! It's finally here.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


So I'm home again, which means a blog post for the hoards of people reading this incredible piece of literature!

As most of you have figured out by now, I'm heading to a country called Chile for a semester. I hope that most people have at least heard of Chile, but here is some more information for all of you folks out there that want to know more!

Chile is a country located on the Pacific coast of South America. It borders Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru. It's the longest country in the world (almost 2,700 miles!) but only 109 miles wide on average. It has an incredible variety of landscapes, from the Atacama  Desert in the north (the driest place in the world!) to the Andes to Patagonia in the south.

Many people know about Pinochet--Chile's dictator who reigned from 1974 to 1990. I'm going to be perfectly honest and tell you that I don't know a whole lot about him, except he was dictator when many other South American countries had dictators.  One of the things I'd like to know more about is Pinochet and how he's perceived now in the present political climate. I might have to wait a few months to improve my Spanish before being able to understand the explanation though.....

Here is Chile's flag.

The city I'll be staying in is called Rancagua, and it's actually listed on the map in this post. It's the city right to the south of Santiago--only about 50 miles away. It has about 250,000 people, so about the same size as Madison. It's in region XI of Chile, which is like states in the US. One of the main economic activities is mining, like most of Chile. Just 40 km away from Rancagua is "El Teniente" (The Lieutenant), which is the largest underground mine in the world, stretching more than 200 miles.

SewellMy dad is especially excited about El Teniente, and desperately wants me to go and check it out. He says it's so big that there are office buildings underneath the ground inside the mine! It's in the Andes, and here's a picture of what I assume is the area above the mine.

Look at those mountains! As my departure date gets closer and closer (14.69 days until my plane takes off from Madison, according to my ipod), I get more and more excited. I decided to start officially packing on Wednesday (2 weeks until I leave) so I'll be nice and prepared. My to-do list seems to keep getting longer but my parents have been incredible about helping me get everything i need to do done. Today we went and ordered my new pair of glasses, because we thought it'd be a good idea to have a functional spare when I was 5,000 miles away from home (that's what happens when you have horrible eyes!). My visa application was FINALLY sent in on Friday, which means it's out of my hands now, and I just hope it gets processed on time.

What else? I'm excited. I'm nervous. I'm pretending not to know about my surprise going away party. I'm doing a lot of list-making, which gives me something to do. I'm preparing for the ACT (which I'm taking on Saturday). I took it last year too, so I'm not super nervous, but standardized tests are always a little freaky. I'm thankful I'm sick now and not the day before I leave. I'm excited to be going somewhere where it's currently 84 degrees Fahrenheit.

I mean, I'm also getting a little scared for this whole experience, but also ridiculously overwhelmingly excited. Excited doesn't even cut it. I just looked through a list of synonyms for "excited" and couldn't find anything to describe how I'm feeling right now.

Down to 14.68 days. I hope everyone is doing well.

Monday, February 7, 2011

answers to some typical exchange-related questions

Hello again! I'm going to say right now that my grammatical errors will increase exponentially as this blog posting goes on, so please forgive me and understand that especially on foreign computers it's hard to make everything perfect and grammatically correct. Oh well!

I'm currently at home (sick) and just came back from a quick visit to Minnesota with my friend to look at colleges and visit a friend. I'm looking for constructive things to do so another blog post seemed like a good idea!

When you go on exchange, you naturally get a variety of questions thrown at you. This post's purpose is to answer some of those questions!

Q. Why go on exchange?
A: Because it'll be an adventure! But really, there's a lot of reasons. In eighth grade, my family lived in Costa Rica for ten weeks. It was super hard on me, so in a lot of ways, I want to re-do that. I'm also getting a little tired of being at West (my high school) and need a change. I want to be challenged.
A counter-argument people always bring up is that I could just go on exchange in college. I always say "yeah, but everyone can go on exchange in college!" This sort of program that I'm going on is a little more culture-focused, which really appeals to me, and leads me into the next FAQ.

Q: Why go on exchange with AFS?
A: A lot of reasons. AFS's school-year programs are host-family based, which means that students live with a real, live family in their host country. They go to school with other students from that country, not just exchange students, so it really is a full cultural immersion. Many college exchange programs have you live in a dorm and go to class with the other exchange students, which is great, but an AFS program is a really great opportunity to do something unique. Plus, AFS is geared towards only high school students.
Also, AFS has been exchanging for more than 50 years. They're organized and know what they're doing. They have a  lot of information available to potential students on the Internet that is accessible and easy to read, unlike some of the other programs. But the biggest calling card, for both me and my parents, is that they have a very strong support network both in the USA and whatever country you're being hosted in. Know there are people always nearby to help you really makes me feel more comfortable going on exchange.
AFS is more expensive than some programs, but it's also one of the best programs out there, and I think the extra money helps them do their job better.

Q: Why Chile?
A: For a ton of reasons. AFS exchanges to more than 40 countries, but since I was only going for a semester, I wanted to go somewhere where i could really get good at a language, and I didn't feel like a semester was long enough to do that with a whole new language. Instead, I wanted to go to a place where I could improve a language I already knew--Spanish! 
So i wanted a Spanish speaking country. Spain didn't have a semester program, which left Latin and South America. As silly as this sounds, I wanted to go somewhere with a long plane ride, which cut out Latin America (plus I'm not a big fan of super hot, steamy weather). That left South America, with three spring semester countries: Argentina, Paraguay, and Chile. I did a little research, and Argentina seemed too European, Paraguay seemed too rural and under-developed, and Chile seemed like a nice combination of the two. It has cultural roots, but is still a little more modern and developed. Plus, it has incredible mountains and beaches, two things that Wisconsin doesn't have.

So there are my three most FAQs. I think I'll post a whole post about Chile/my city later today/later this week. Email me or comment if there's anything else you'd like to know! I know I had a TON of questions about exchange when I first started researching, and so did my parents.