Nov 11, 2014

Don't you forget about me

     Oops... I did it again. And by "it" I mean swore to blog and then just didn't. I don't mean to be an internet flake, it's just I haven't mastered the art of timing when it comes to blogging. See, with a thing like living abroad there's just SO much that happens, and it would be easy to write every day about SOMETHING. However, I find that I lack the linguistic prowess to make the little adventures of day to day life seem like something you want to take your time reading about, so I wait until I have a few anecdotes to write about. But my problem is that I wait too long, and then I just have far too many things I want to say and writing a blog post seems like a horribly daunting task.

     Luckily for you, there is no stronger power in the universe to a college student than procrastination. And since I have a 2 page paper for one class due tomorrow and a 4 pager for another due the day after (and both have to be, naturally, in Spanish), I can't think of a better time to blog! Since I do have a lot of ground to cover (read: an entire semester) I'm going to break this post up by month AND anecdote. I hope you'll take the time to read to the end, or at least thoroughly skim it!

Off we go...


Groundbreaking...err, groundshaking     

     Actually, we're gonna start just a few days before the month began. Just a few days after I published my first blog post from Chile I decided to go to the movies with two of my new friends. We found a film we wanted to see, arranged a time to meet, and made our way to the movie theater in one of Viña's various shopping malls. The movie began without much hassle, and we were all sitting back and enjoying the mishaps of Cameron Diaz when suddenly we heard a low rumbling sound. At first we assumed it was just noise carrying over from the action movie in the next room, but when our seats started to shake back and forth we realized what was going on: We were experiencing an earthquake! None of us were all too sure what to do, but we figured being in the middle of the theater probably wasn't the safest place to be. We hurriedly gathered up our things and made it to the doors just as the ground stopped moving beneath our feet.  
     With none of being from seismically active places, none of us really knew exactly what to do at this point. We weren't quite sure how big it really was, if we needed to evacuate to the hills, if we needed to be afraid of a tsunami coming and swallowing us into the depths of the ocean. Eventually, we came to the conclusion that we should all head home before we started panicking too badly. When I got back to my house, everything was dark. I made my way inside and ran into everyone sitting in the kitchen, where they told me everything was fine. Sure, the power was going to be out for a few hours and cellular providers were going to be overloaded for a while, but I had nothing to worry about. 
     Since then we've had a few more temblors, but nothing that's shaken us up quite as much. Most of them tend to happen in the wee hours of the morning, and I generally more or less sleep through them without waking.

Wandering the Desert 

      September came soon enough after that, and with September came Chile's fiestas patrias. The national holiday that happens here on September 18th is similar to the USA's 4th of July, with fireworks and flags and barbecues, except for one major thing: This celebration lasts for an entire week! Since we had off of school for a sort of spring break my friends and I decided to make the 22 hour bus trip to the Atacama desert to spend a week exploring! 
      We arrived in San Pedro de Atacama, and immediately we realized that if we were going to be able to see the most possible we were going to have to book tours. (Originally we had thought about doing things on our own, but when you feel that sun and see the vast stretches of nothing you realize you should leave some things to the professionals). Thanks to some bolder members of our group giving their hand at haggling, we managed to book a tour a day for the entire week. 
     And so we adventured. We floated in icy salt lakes, jumped into deep pools in the middle of the desert, watched flamingos fly across an aquamarine sky, saw the Andes reflected in glassy salt flats, experienced the sunset setting the mountains ablaze with shades of red and orange, and marveled at unparalleled views of the milky way in a pitch black sky. We managed to eat our weight in AMAZING roasted chicken and artisanal ice cream, and if anyone is planning on heading to San Pedro I'll hook you up with the best food on a tight budget. 
    On one of the days, though, disaster struck! Well, maybe not disaster, but certainly misfortune. We woke up before dawn to make the trip to see geysers high, high in the mountains. We were all struggling with the weather (it was literally freezing), but none of us were really feeling the effects of the altitude. Our tour guides decided to treat us to something special after the freezing cold of the volcanic field, so we ended up at a thermal river where the water was exquisitely hot. After enjoying the warmth for a few hours we decided it was time to get out. However, as soon as I stood up I was hit with a wave of malaise. I felt sick to my stomach, dizzy, and all together awful. Much to my dismay, I was experiencing altitude sickness for the first time in my life. Our tour guides were very helpful, and they gave me oxygen from a can and told me to hold tight because we were going to a village where they would have a special tea from coca leaves that would cure me. We arrived at the village, and I gulped down the tea hoping to get well as soon as possible. But I wasn't expecting the foul taste that came with it, and next thing I knew I was making a break for the bathroom. But our guides were right, it did cure me in the end, and the rest of the trip passed without a hitch. (Except for almost missing the bus home because my alarm ended up on silent...)

The Real Chile

     The day after I got back from San Pedro I was back on a bus. Thankfully for me, this time it was only for about 2 hours as I headed to the town of Los Andes to celebrate the 18th with my friend Daniella and her family! Since I hadn't yet had the chance to experience the true spirit of the holiday, they graciously invited me to their home for the weekend to see what it was like. And what I learned is that the fiestas patrias can be summed up in one word: FOOD. 
     It's a week of eating and drinking all day, every day. The grill could never be empty, your glass could never be dry, and your plate could never be clean. If you stopped eating you were instantly bombarded with questions on what was wrong and why you didn't want more. You ate until you were stuffed to the gills, and then you ate some more, and I absolutely LOVED it. 
     I brushed up on my skills at dominoes, brushed up on my spanish, and brushed up on what it was like to be surrounded by family (even if they weren't technically my own). It was a lovely weekend, and they let me know that I was welcome to come back any time I wanted.


You don't really know them until...

     At the start of the month, I was asked if I wanted to go to see Chile play Peru at the soccer stadium in Valparaiso, and my answer was obviously yes. So one evening my friend and I painted our nails with little Chilean flags, donned every patriotic item we could find (I chose my La Liga jersey from Costa Rica because it's lucky), and grabbed the bus to the stadium. When we got there it was madness. People every where selling every piece of merchandise you could ask for, from flags to hats to vuvuzelas. Everyone was already chanting and singing, and not a peruvian jersey was in sight. The energy was infectious, and soon I was just as excited as the most die hard Alexis Sanchez fanatic. 
      We finally made it into the stadium, and I learned that you don't really know someone until you've seen them at a sports game. I learned new songs, new cheers, and new words about people's mothers that I'm never going to repeat. Chile ended up winning, and all was right with the world.

Major events 

     After what seems like an eternity, I finally became old enough to go to a bar with my friends and have a drink. The big 2-1! Woo! Which was a HUGE deal, right? With a bar crawl and shots and falling asleep hugging a toilet bowl? Well, not so much, because Chile (like pretty much the entire world) has it's drinking age at 18. How anticlimactic. However, I wasn't about to let that deter me. If being 21 only mattered in the USA, I was about to have the most American birthday ever at the most American restaurant Viña del Mar has to offer: Ruby Tuesdays. 
     That's right, on my big night I invited all my friends to join me at a mediocre chain restaurant and it was AWESOME. I got myself a big BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger and the most American drink on the menu, a star-spangled-rita, and at the end of the meal I got a piece of cake with a candle in it and the whole restaurant sang to me. It was everything I could have wanted, and my amazing friends made sure I didn't have to pay for a penny of it. At the end of the night I walked home, crawled into bed, and had a lovely birthday skype date with my pololo before falling asleep fully content and full of hope for the year ahead.

Don't cry for me (in) Argentina

     Due to a combination of factors, I don't have a student visa. The only problem that this presents in the long run is that every 90 days I have to leave the country in order to renew my tourist status. A few of us in the same boat decided that we would take this opportunity to get to know the nearby city of Mendoza, Argentina one weekend.  Once again I was back on a bus, and before I knew it I was in a whole other country. Although close in distance, Mendoza had a totally different culture from Chile. It's a little hard to describe, but it was very interesting to experience. 
     I was only really there for one full day, but boy was that day exciting! We booked a tour through the hostel and set off to see some vineyards and an olive oil factory. All were very interesting, and of course ALL came with tastings. By the time we made it back to the hostel we were very happy and "happy", if you catch my drift. Later that night we headed out for a steak dinner, which was everything Argentinian steak dinners are cracked up to be. $20 got me a soda, part of a bottle of wine, a side salad, and a HUGE delicious bife de chorizo. The weekend went by too quickly, but you can bet I'll be back again before this year is done!

What have I missed?

     Of course, that's not everything that I've done in the past 2 months. Here are some other random little things from my life. 
  • I've been surfing twice! This brings my grand total up to 3, with one of them being in Hawaii. I can definitely say that it's easier in the warm waters of the tropics where you can actually feel your feet as you try to get up on the board (as opposed to in the arctic, wetsuit obligatory waters at Playa la Boca in Con-Con. 
  • I went to see a Chilean acquaintance defend her thesis, and after learning that she passed she promptly got tossed into the pool in the center of the university with everyone watching. 
  • I finally made it to Santiago for the first time since the airport incident. We went to a human rights museum, and then promptly  lightened the mood with a trip to one of the largest malls in South America. 
  • I sang Whitney Houston. At a karaoke bar. In front of EVERYONE. Sober. 
    I think that about sums it up for now. There are only a few weeks before I'm back in the USA for Christmas, and it's scary how fast the time has flown. I've made a huge list of the countries I want to visit next. School is going well, I've been working hard at the gym, and it's finally warm enough for shorts and t-shirts most days. (It's funny when the Christmas decorations and bikinis arrive in the department stores at the same time). I PROMISE to post something to close the semester, at the very least. 

Hasta Luego, 

PS, My charming boyfriend keeps bugging me to write about him. So I am. Happy now, love? 

Aug 23, 2014

A little bit of honesty

     I'm just going to come out and say it: This is hard. Being in a foreign country is hard. Traveling on your own is hard. Having to make all new friends is hard. It's all just really, really hard. I know, I know: I've done this before, so shouldn't it be easier this time? Or, at least, shouldn't I remember how it felt to be in this situation? I've been asking myself these questions every day for the past 3 weeks, and for the life of me I can't come up with an answer better than "I guess not."

     You see, the first weeks in any new place kind of suck sometimes. Sorry to be so blunt about it, but they do. You realize that you're really, REALLY far away from where you were (in more ways than just distance). You're tired. You're unaccustomed to everything. You're suddenly living by a new set of life-rules (and you're not quite sure what they are). And it doesn't matter if you've "done this" once, twice, or 28394 times, because you've never actually done THIS. You've never been in the exact same situation you're now finding yourself in, and so can never really know how it's gonna feel. It's scary, it's emotionally taxing, and it's challenging in ways you can never imagine.

    No exchange student wants to tell you about their hardships, because for us admitting that it's not always sunshine feels like we're failing. We're told that these are the moments we'll remember forever (which, I can say from experience is 100% true) and that we will have so much fun we'll never want to leave (again, 100% true). And while we're briefly told of culture shock and the "W", we're mostly just hyped up about how awesome our trip is going to be. We pour over travel blogs, read endless articles about the 10 ways study abroad will change your life forever, and watch YouTube videos of a man dancing his way around the world on an infinite loop. Everything we see gives us the impression that these people are ALWAYS having the time of lives, and so we get it in our heads that if we're not like that then we're not doing it right. The bloggers all start to seem like demi-gods, people who have some divine power to always make the best of a bad situation and who never falter in their resolve to be awesome. They seem incredibly brave, insanely strong, and absolutely inspiring in ways we feel we can never achieve. And I know that I, like so many others, am guilty of only writing about the highlights of my life and leaving out the lower points. Which is why I'm saying this:

I'm courageously telling you that I am not special. And as hard as it gets, you will get to the good part before you know it. 

     I've been in Viña for 3 weeks now, and it's been quite the whirlwind. I left Honolulu on a Thursday, in what can only be described as the most romance-movie-type-thing to ever happen to me.  After tearing myself away from my lovers arms, only to leave the security line and go back to them, and then tearing myself away again, I left to start a 54 hour journey to Chile. I had a half day layover in Vancouver, where I had plenty of time to explore a bit of the city on my own, and a whole day layover in Toronto, where I met up with my parents who took an impromptu vacation so that I could see them. Then, before I knew it, I was at the Santiago airport. That's when things really got exciting. 

    I arrived the day after the official airport pick up day, so I was on my own to find my way to Viña del Mar. I knew what bus I had to get, so all I had to do was grab my suitcase, get some Chilean pesos from an ATM, and be on my way. So I headed to the baggage carousel, and waited. And waited. And waited some more. 30 minutes later, another lady and I were the only ones still waiting, so we headed to the counter to see what was up. The young man from AirCanada was very apologetic and said that they actually had a message regarding my suitcase: It was still in Toronto. This, to me, seemed like the worst thing that could possibly happen at that time, so I started to have a mini-breakdown. The AirCanada agent was very concerned, and told me not to worry. My luggage would be delivered to my house the next day, and he would walk me out and help me get a bus. I started to feel a little better, and we headed on our way (again). I told him I needed to take out money, so we stopped at an ATM. Having called my bank the day before, I was very confident I would have no problem with this task. However, much to my horror, the machine told me again and again that the action I requested (simply withdrawing a few thousand Pesos) was not available to me. 

     At this point, I was panicked. Not only was I alone in South America without my luggage, I was alone in South America without my luggage and literally NO money. I had no phone to contact anyone, no knowledge of the surroundings, and my Spanish was suddenly failing me. Luckily, Mr. AirCanada refused to let me spiral into a full meltdown. This guy, who is quite possibly one of the top 10 best people in Chile, took me up to the offices in the airport, got me coffee, let me use the internet and use his phone to contact the people at UVM, and made sure no one kicked me out for being a tired, weepy mess. There was really no good solution, though. It was suggested that I take a cab the whole way and then pay my host family back for it (which would probably have been a few hundred dollars that I didn't have at the moment), that I check into a hotel assuming my Visa card still worked, or even that my parents fly down on the next flight to save me. Just as things were looking desperate, the angel of AirCanada came through again. The man who drives the lost luggage out to the travelers happened to be passing through Viña del Mar, and he said he would take me to my house. I was a bit hesitant, since I had no idea who this man was, but everyone at the office vouched for him and said he was trustworthy. And he was. He drove me the 2 hours right to my doorstep, and the next day returned again with my suitcase. 

     Thankfully, the rest of my time here has gone much more smoothly. Here are some highlights from the past 3 weeks: 

  • On the last day of our orientation week, we had a scavenger hunt that led us all over Viña doing silly things. One of the best challenge was having to take selfies with 10 random people in the street. Let me tell you, there is nothing to get you out of your comfort zone like walking up to someone and saying "Hi, I'm Sophia, can these other 7 people and I take a photo with you?"
  • I've started classes, and thankfully I've understood more than I did my first 2 weeks of school in France. Which is good, because I've also turned in my 1st paper. I'm taking some generic spanish classes, but I'm also taking Latin America Through Cinema and Social Movements in Latin America. 
  • I'm making friends from all over: the US, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Mexico, France, and more. However, I'm making some Chilean friends as well! I hung out the other day with a Chilean girl, which is a huge deal for me. When you're trying to make all new friends, it's always a milestone when you can just chill randomly on an afternoon like you would back home.
  • On a couple occasions I've stayed out until 3 AM, in true Chilean fashion. On one of the nights, as my friends and I took a taxi home, I managed to haggle the price down when I thought we were being ripped off! (As it turns out, it was actually a pretty fair price to begin with and I just managed to score us a great deal)
  • I've eaten a typical Chilean "Completo"- A hot dog covered in avocado, tomato, and mayo, and I've had a Pisco Sour, which is basically the most typical drink ever here
     Chile's not what I expected visually. First of all it's Winter, so all of those lovely pictures of sunny days on the beach aren't my reality right now (think more rain, cloudy skies, and winter coats)(ALSO, even though it only goes from like 45-60, there is NO central heating. So 45 seems colder than it does in the US). The city itself looks a lot more European than I expected. There are wide avenues, tall buildings, pretty 2-3 story houses. And there are dogs EVERYWHERE. This made me a little nervous at first, but in my few weeks here I have never come across a vicious stray. These dogs basically think they're people. If you walk in a group, they'll walk with you. They cross at cross walks. The look at you and basically beg to be given a flea bath and taken home. 

     It is hard (just ask my boyfriend, who's always the first one to hear when I have a bad day), but it's worth it. All of the work you have to put in to make yourself get off Facebook and get out of bed is worth it when you realize that you're starting to have a life here. All of the days you spend staring out a window on a grey day wondering why you left Summer behind are worth it when you and your new friends explore a new city when the sun comes out. All of the pain of leaving behind your life and the people you love lessens when you start to enjoy the little things while you have them in this new chapter of your life. 

This is hard, but it's worth it. 

Hasta Luego, 

Aug 1, 2014

A very different kind of adventure

So it looks like I'm back to traveling the world. After a mini adventure choir tour in the Philippines, I am started on the typical college Junior conquest: Study abroad. I'm off to spend a year away from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, changing up my pace for 2 semesters at Universidad Viña del Mar in Chile! I wanted a chance to really perfect my Spanish and see more of the world, so at the start of last year I started the process of getting accepted. 

The only problem is that around that time a very different kind of adventure was beginning. Around that time I met a boy. Ah yes, I was falling in love all while planning to fly away in the near future. Both agendas advanced without much conflict, which led to a conflict all its own. Now I find myself in a position I'd never thought I'd be in: I'm hesitant, reluctant even, to go abroad. I know, me of all people right? But it's true, I'm a hopeless romantic. 

But the tuition is paid, the plane tickets are bought, and there's no turning back. After a long, emotional "See you later" I'm on my way from Honolulu to Vancouver to Toronto to Santiago to Viña del Mar. I'll start keeping this blog updated again, hopefully you'll start reading it once more.

Hasta pronto,