Thursday, June 9, 2011

My Three Favorite Things

So I was just chilling at school today talking with my classmates when one of them asked me what my favorite thing about Chile is. And the question, quite frankly, took me by surprise. I mean, I've now passed two thirds point of my exchange, and I never had spent a lot of time thinking about what my favorite thing is. But here's the basic summary of my response.

1. Bread
Pan Batido
This is the first thing that came to my head, which is a little sad, and everyone around laughed. But it's true--one of my favorite things here is the bread. There's two main types: hallulla and pan batido (I think that's what they call it!). And unlike the bread in the states, this bread comes fresh from the baker every two days or so. And it's ridiculously delicious. I eat it WAY too much. I eat a piece for breakfast, a piece for onces (a really light dinner at like 7,8 o'clock) and sometimes a piece after school. I swear to you, it's the reason I weight 4 kilos more than I did three and a half months ago. It's heavenly. It's incredible. Pan de molde (normal, bagged bread) is frowned upon here, for good reason. Who would want bread in a bag when you can have some of the best bread ever baked on the planet?

2. The Mountains
After taking a few seconds to think, I came up with a halfway respecable answer: the mountains. Everyone knows about the Andes, but there's another row of mountains along the coast, and Rancagua happens to be in the valley directly in between the two. I remember driving to Rancagua that first day and just being in awe at the sheer size of these things rising up on either side of the car--it's definitely not something you see in Wisconsin!
Recently, it's been getting colder (duh, it's winter here) but also a little cloudy (just weather wise and also because of pollution). But it rained on Sunday night/Monday morning, which clears everything up quite nicely. So I was walking to the little store outside of school at lunch with some friends on Monday afternoon and I looked up and...I can't even begin to describe it. The sun was at that late afternoon stage so the mountains closer were this rusty brown color, while the taller/farther away mountains were covered, and I mean COVERED in snow! It was beautiful--I had to stop and just stare. Every day I wake up and think of how lucky I am to be in such a beautiful place. I get excited every time I look out a window. I'll try to take some pictures next time I remember.

3. My Classmates
Finally I came up with the real answer. Third time's the charm! My classmates are incredible. They've been helpful from the first week, putting up with my thousands (legit thousands) of questions each and every day. They're curious about my life and share their own culture with me. They invite me to do things, they let me copy the dictation that the teacher is saying too fast for me to write down, they share their last peach slice with me...every single person in that classroom (and the other terceros next door) have only been welcoming. Naturally, there are different degrees of welcomingness, but I've been blessed with an incredible group of 27 other students at school, and I couldn't imagine my exchange without them.

Can you find me? I'm in red.

So there you go, my three favorite things. I could go on and on and on about things I like in Chile but that'd take too long and I have to go back to school to take a physics test. Wish me luck!

Thinking of all of you,

P.S. Whoa! I think it just temblored--a mini-earthquake. There was a 5.4 one on Sunday morning. I get really excited by them, as long as no one dies. It's just something I've never experienced. The windows were shaking really really loud and I was getting frustrated since the noise woke me up, but then I realized it was a tremor and I felt better. Don't worry though, we had an earthquake drill at school last week so I know what to do if a big one hits!

Saturday, June 4, 2011


As a lowly outbound sitting in front of my computer back in Wisconsin reading the AFS blog website, one of the things I really disliked was reading about the orientations in each country with the other exchange students. I always thought, "why is this so exciting?". However, my mindset has completely been changed after my first AFS orientation here in Chile. I can't even begin to describe how incredible it was, but I'll do my best here to try to explain the epic-ness of an AFS orientation.

My orientation was the kids from near Santiago, and we all met up in Santiago in a religious monastery sort of thing. There was 20 of us in total, and one of the funniest things about it was that 11 of the 20 kids spoke German as their native language, and 9 who spoke a language that wasn't German (i.e. English (me and my friend Parker), Swedish, Thai, French, Danish and Icelandic.) So it ended up being a lot of German, which was actually fun. Now I can say the 4 most important things that an exchanger should know before going to their new country in German:
  • Yes
  • No
  • I don't know
  • I don't understand
But actually, everyone should learn those before leaving. When people ask you a question, that should also be the order of responses when you try to answer if you don't understand. Ask any exchange student. It's true.

 I also know "I don't like sushi", but that's not something essential to know when you go on exchange.

The kids at the orientation were a mix of year long students who arrived last August, year long students who arrived last February (with me), and semester students who arrived in February (like me!). The whole point of this camp was just to make sure we're still doing fine--not too many problems with school, host families, life in general. But no one would want to spend a whole weekend in Santiago doing orientation activities, so we also went and saw some of the classic sights in Santiago--Cerros Santa Lucia and San Cristobol, went on a tour of El Mercurio (a national newspaper here), met with the sub-mayor of one of the wealthiest areas in Santiago, and took the metro. A lot. I like the metro. Here are some photos of some of the things we did:

Parker (New Hampshire) and me at Santa Lucia

Me, Laura (the Swiss exchange student in my class) and Parker with part of Santiago in the background

At the top of Santa Lucia (after hundreds of stairs!) with Lucas (Germany)

The pollution in Santiago makes for incredible sunsets
At Cerro San Cristobol

 So that was fun. When we weren't out exploring Santiago, we were doing said orientation activities (which varied in excitingness) and just talked with eachother. And that's why these orientations are so great.

The other exchange students immediately understand you. They speak not-perfect Spanish with you and understand your feelings about leaving Chile and can relate to the problems with your least favorite teacher. They dance bad Cueca and Salsa with you (yes, we had a Cueca (national dance of Chile) lesson at the orientation and it was an epic fail) and you can stay up until 2 or even 4 in the morning (oops!) talking with them. They teach your their original language and you teach them yours. After 3 nights together, it feels like you're a family and have known eachother forever, but you really haven't. It's crazy.

So Sunday afternoon, we all had to say goodbye. We hugged and promised to meet up somewhere in the world, someday. Everyone has invitations to everyone else's host communities. And then we all got on our respective busses and went back to our host families.

It was great seeing my family again, especially because Alex (dad) is back from his job in Antofagasta for a couple weeks so the family is complete again. It was great seeing my classmates and getting back into the swing of things, especially with my Spanish, which seems to have reached a little bit of a breakthrough (knock on wood!). But I'll never forget those other exchange students. They're incredible. They're what makes AFS so great.