My experience in Chile definitely reiterated to me the effectiveness of language acquisition in a fully immersive foreign environment. I saw myself challenged to take that extra step to engage with my community, host family, and other native Spanish speakers who I encountered in my journeys. I learned that one must take a more active role in order to utilize time abroad; in other words, I found that making conversation whenever possible, even just for a couple minutes, is much better than waiting to be approached by others. Some of my most meaningful conversations and exchanges occurred when I was quite uncomfortable, which shows that the process of putting oneself out there truly pays off in the long run. I saw that through such exchanges, I was able to reach all of the goals that I set out for myself.

Speaking holistically of my SLA experience, I can say that my view on the power of communication has been reinforced. For me, there is nothing more meaningful than the exchange of personal beliefs and cultural values through spoken word. Beyond my language acquisition, I had an amazing time exploring all that Chile has to offer. I feel for the most part that I used my free time wisely in that I planned trips with my friends to visit other parts of the country. In fact, my favorite place I visited, San Pedro de Atacama, resulted from tons of planning from my friends and me, and turned out to be one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life. I would advise other travelers, especially recipients of the SLA Grant, to take advantages of the different geographical regions of the country through short weekend trips.

If there is one thing I learned from my travels in Chile, it is that I never want to stop traveling. I want to continue to develop and hone my Spanish-speaking skills through further travel and engagement with unique communities that will broaden my worldview. I would love to go back to South America and travel throughout the beautiful countries of the continent, conversing with native speakers to advance the process of language acquisition. I definitely would like to study abroad during my junior year to further shape my worldview and continue my development in the Spanish language. All in all, I want to keep traveling such that I can keep learning and bettering my language abilities and, ultimately, myself.

Last Night with My Chilean Family

I cannot believe that last night was my final night with my amazing Chilean host family. In honor of my departure, my host mother prepared my favorite meal––pizza. She put a Chilean twist on it by adding various meats, cheeses, and spices seen in typical Chilean dishes, so I found the meal to be very symbolic of the end of my journey in this awesome country but also symbolic of my return to the United States. As we did the first night, all of us––the four exchange students, our host brother, and our host mother––gathered around the table and shared stories as we devoured the delicious meal.

Following the meal, my family taught me how to play some Chilean card games. We spent hours at the table enjoying each other’s company through some, at times, not-so-friendly competition. I had a lot of fun learning new card games that I hope to bring back to my friends and family back home in New York. Additionally, it was super challenging yet interesting to play a fast-paced game in Spanish. I had to pay extra attention at all times to make sure that I was following the established guidelines all the while attempting to beat out my Chilean family.

I had so much fun spending my final night in Chile with my family, and it made it all the more difficult to say goodbye to them this next day. I also found the dinner and game that ensued reflective of my experience in Chile and as an exchange student, as it brought me back to the first night in their home in which we shared a similar meal. It was truly in this instance, however, that I saw firsthand the manifestation of my development as a Spanish speaker. I felt so much more confident contributing to the conversation as well as being able to clearly understand what all members of the family had to say. I am so grateful for this family and their role in forming my invaluable experience in Chile, and I know that we will definitely stay in touch over the years, as I especially hope to return to Chile one day in the future.

My awesome host mom and brother!

Exploring the Art in Valparaíso

Nearing the end of my Chilean adventure, I wanted to take advantage of the culture that is so abundant here, particularly through art. As aforementioned in some of my earlier posts, art––particularly graffiti and other murals––cover the walls and buildings of Valparaíso. Walking through famous hills such as Cerro Concepción throughout the city has shown to be the most effective means of viewing this art and also doubles as a great workout. The creativity of these arts is palpable, as images depicting any scene imaginable line the buildings through Cerro Concepción and the other cerros, or hills, of the city. This rich artwork attracts people all over the world, especially those who love art.

One of the most famous examples of street art in Valpo, which reads: “We are not hippies, we are happies”

In order to maximize my exposure to the art here, my friend and I decided to stop in nearly every shop we saw. Almost all of the businesses in Cerro Concepción are either restaurants or show off some manifestation of art, whether in the form of painting or sculpture, art or jewelry––Valpo has it all. I ended up buying a really cool sweatshirt from a local artist that depicts an ascensor running throughout the city. For those unfamiliar, an ascensor, or elevator in English, is characteristic of Valparaíso and serves as somewhat of a mini-gondola to transport people through the hills. Ascensores are widely depicted in Chilean art, so I feel lucky to have found a piece of art reflective of the culture that I can take with me wherever I go.

Super creative postcards that show off street art

I also really enjoyed visiting these shops because I got to practice my Spanish skills with the artists/owners of the shops. They shared the interesting stories behind the art and what has led them to Valparaíso. It was very cool to see how many people have been attracted to the city because of its art scene, demonstrating the global impact of the work here. In fact, my friend and I visited a screen-printing shop hidden away in a small street in the hills. When we entered through the doors of her shop, we initially greeted and spoke to her in Spanish. However, once she heard her accents, she immediately said “What’s up, guys?” in perfect English. After talking to her, we learned that she is originally from Oregon and, after studying in Peru and traveling the world, moved to Valparaíso because of the opportunities surrounding art here. She has lived here for two years and seemed to love it. It was through this interaction that I truly saw the significance of the art here; Valparaíso truly is a magnet for artists and art-lovers alike!

Weekend in the Desert

Last weekend, a group of friends and I decided to travel to San Pedro de Atacama, a popular town located in the most arid desert in the world. After our eleven-hour journey north, we settled into our hostel and then booked our tours for the weekend. The next day we toured Valle de la Luna, or Valley of the Moon, a rocky yet beautiful region of the Atacama Desert. We walked through small caves and through rock structures as our tour guide informed us that the similarities between the region and Mars have prompted many scientists to test rovers there prior to sending them to space. The tour concluded with one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, sunsets I have ever seen over the valley.

Sunset over Valle de la Luna

Other sights we saw included Laguna Verde, which consisted of about two hours of an off-the-map tour in a small van. In near 30-degree weather, we enjoyed a warm breakfast overlooking the lagoon and the surrounding mountains. During this breakfast, my friends and I had the chat with our new friend Che, a recently retired Argentinian who decided to travel following this milestone. He joked that just as students travel the world for months just after their graduation, he has chosen to do the same. I really enjoyed hearing about his interesting life and decisions, especially since he did not speak much English. Our conversation with Che, as well as our tour guide Christian, made the cold much more bearable.

Standing in front of one of the lakes

Following our time in the cold, we went out to Sal de Atacama, an enormous salt flat lodged in between ranges of mountains. The view was honestly one of the coolest I had ever seen, and as we wandered around the flats, we were able to see flamingos in their natural habitats in the lagoons. We later got the chance to swim in Laguna Cejar, a small yet highly salty lagoon in the desert similar to the Dead Sea. Of course, it was less salty, but it was really fun to test our buoyancy in the middle of the desert.

Salar de Atacama, a salt flat

Unfortunately, two of our tours were canceled during the weekend. Overcast skies prevented us from embarking on the highly anticipated star tour, especially due to the popular notion that Atacama is the best place to see the stars in the entire world, while piles of snow catalyzed the cancelation of our geysers tour. Although we all were really looking forward to these tours, we still made the most of our time in San Pedro, and I look back at it as one of the best weekends of my life. Beyond the natural, indescribable beauty of the region, the people on the trip––both those with whom I arrived and those I met in travel––definitely made the experience for me. My friends and I had so much fun meeting people from all over the world; I can now say that I have new friends from the Netherlands, Australia, and Bolivia, among many others. Everyone we met had such unique reasons for traveling, yet we were all united by a common purpose to further explore the world. Additionally, staying in hostels definitely helped me improve my linguistic abilities, through merely engaging with the staff as well as partaking in late-night fireside conversations with native Spanish speakers. For anyone reading, I would completely recommend staying at a hostel in order to garner the most authentic, eye-opening experience possible.

Empanadas and Excursions

¡Hola! I have been in class for nearly two weeks and am nearing the halfway point of my program this week. I have really enjoyed my classes so far and have definitely recognized improvement on my end in understanding my teachers. Additionally, I see more confidence in myself when approaching native speakers for help, which was definitely a goal of mine coming into the trip.

Now that I have been settled in for over two weeks here, I have been able to go on some cool excursions with ISA this past weekend. On Friday, we had the opportunity to visit a small Mapuche village about thirty minutes outside of Viña. For those unfamiliar with Chilean history, the Mapuche are the indigenous people of Chile. Most of them live in the south of Chile, but there is a pueblo located close to the two cities. We spoke with Patricia, a matriarchal figure in the tribe, who expressed her dissent towards the federal government, which has mistreated her people. Afterwards, we got to enjoy a feast of traditional Mapuche food, which included the popular Chilean food empanadas with a twist.

The feast prepared by the Mapuche tribe

On Saturday, we had to wake up very early––but for a good reason. We drove out to Cajón del Maipo, a beautiful region located about an hour outside of Santiago, the nation’s capital. Straight off the three-hour bus ride, about half of us went ziplining, or canopy, over the river that slices in between the canyons of Cajón del Maipo, while the other half went whitewater rafting through said river. I stand firm in my decision to zipline given that Chile is experiencing winter at the moment. Following our respective activities, the whole group came together for a quick yet nonetheless challenging hike up a trail in the mountains. Despite the difficulties my out-of-shape self faced, the view was totally worth it.

The incredible view of Cajón del Maipo from the top of our hike

Finally, on Sunday, we drove up the Chilean coast to tour las playas del norte. We visited three unique beaches: Roca Oceánica, Horcón, and Zapallar. Roca Oceánica featured ginormous rocks that we were able to climb and from which we had a distant view of Valpo and Viña. Horcón was a much smaller beach town known for its fishing and seafood, so I had to try a shrimp and cheese empanada, arguably the best empanada I have eaten thus far. Finally, Zapallar was a quieter beach located in a more expensive neighborhood; many of its inhabitants live in Santiago, Viña, or Valpo, and own weekend houses there. Each beach was unique from one another, which made the day even more enjoyable.

The beach at Horcón featuring the Andes in the background

I cannot believe that I only have two and a half more weeks left in this beautiful country! During this upcoming weekend, some friends and I will be traveling to San Pedro de Atacama, and I cannot wait to further explore Chile. Stay tuned!

Settling in to Valpo and Viña

I cannot believe that it has been over two weeks since I left my home to embark on this crazy adventure. I have been living with my host family in Viña del Mar, about two hours outside of the capital of Santiago, for just over a week now! My family is really awesome. I have a super energetic host mom, Vivi, an abuela, and a 25 year-old brother, Paulo. Also living in the house are another ISA student and two students from Punta Arenas, Chile, located very far south and close to Patagonia. Having grown up with many siblings, I feel very at home in this dynamic household, and Vivi definitely sets the tone for us with her constant excitement.

Giving the aforementioned complexities of Chilean Spanish, I was completely overwhelmed my first night at home. The family welcomed me with a big dinner Saturday night, and I was completely thrown into their lifestyle (and rapid manner of speaking). Although I have had solid experience engaging with native Spanish speakers, I have never encountered such unique ways of speaking, especially with respect to the students from Punta Arenas, whose people are typically considered difficult to understand by other Chileans. However, since that night, I feel that even in just one week I have already improved my comprehension and conversation skills tenfold. I have tried to observe their chilenismos: “¿Catchai?” = “Do you understand?”; “sipo” = “yes”; “pololo/a” = “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.” I have been keeping a list of newfound vocabulary that has definitely strengthened my understanding of the Chileans. Thus far, I have loved my interactions with my host family and can’t wait to keep connecting with them.

The view from my home in Viña del Mar

Last week, we began our studies at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (PUCV), located in the neighboring city of Valparaíso. I have about a 25 minute commute every morning on the metro, something that has actually exposed me to a great deal of Chilean culture. Practically every time I hop on the train I see performers, and there are always people selling Chilean candy and other snacks. In some odd way, the metro, as well as the micros, or the buses here, reflects the vibrancy of the Chilean culture. At PUCV, I am taking two classes, Cine y Literatura Latinoamericana Conversación y Cultura Chilena, both of which I very much enjoy. In the former, we watch movies and read short stories reflective of Latin American culture and history, while in the latter, we discuss cultural differences between the US and Chile in order to solidify our understanding of and appreciation of Chilean culture.

Living in Viña while attending school in Valpo has been very eye-opening so far. While Viña is a more recently established resort town with taller, newer buildings, Valpo has a rich history conveyed by its colorful buildings and art that fill the hills overlooking the ocean and its trademark port. I have spent a lot of time exploring the rolling hills of Valpo and am constantly in search of the best spot to watch the sunset. Graffiti is a norm in the city, lining the walls of homes, restaurants, and other buildings.

One of my favorite views in Valparaíso
Murals characteristic of Chilean art in Valpo

On the contrary, Viña features beautiful beaches contrasted with higher rise buildings, emulating a resort town in the Caribbean with giant rocks characteristic of the adjacent Pacific Coast. The city definitely has a more modern influence that complements the unique charm of Valparaíso and tends to attract many beachgoers over the summer, which unfortunately I have missed.

On the beach in the Reñaca community of Viña del Mar, about 15 minutes north of downtown

I can’t wait to keep exploring Valpo and Viña, as well as the rest of Chile!

¡Hola de Chile!

After nearly 36 total hours of traveling, including a daylong layover in Atlanta thanks to New York weather, I made it to Santiago, Chile. After the 9 hour flight from Atlanta to Santiago, I was pulled straight from the airport to the hotel, where I disposed of my bags and jumped right into orientation with the rest of my group, which (for the most part) had arrived a day earlier.

Following our first meeting, we began to tour the city, getting right into it with a climb up Santa Lucía Hill. I tried to soak up the history surrounding the hill while trying to make it up and down the uneven concrete steps without wiping out in front of everyone. The struggle was worth it in the end, as we got amazing panoramic views of the city, blanketed by the surrounding Andes.

View from about halfway up Santa Lucía Hill.

We then continued the tour by visiting Plaza de Armas de Santiago, a main square in the city. There I witnessed my first Chilean demonstración, or protest, orchestrated by a group of young female students fighting for greater gender equality within schools. From afar, they seemed quite young, so it was really intriguing to see people of all ages engaging in sociopolitical issues within the country. Our leaders told us that many college students are on strike in Chile because of those issues. We later got a tour of La Moneda, which is practically the Chilean White House. Standing under the office of the president himself, we learned about the history of the building, which initially began as a mint.

On the next day, we toured of the country’s most famous wineries, Viña Cousiño Macul, and got to learn about the process of fermentation. Furthermore, it was really cool to see the personal wine collection of the Cousiño Macul family. We continued our tour of Santiago by visiting La Chascona, the home that famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda built for his third wife, Matilde. The house’s intricate architecture and structure made it quite unique, especially given its position on a hill.

The old wine distillery at Viña Cousiño Macul.

Throughout my time here so far, I have definitely experienced difficulties understanding Chilean Spanish. They speak very quickly and omit the letter ‘s.’ When speaking to us, our leaders have been cognizant of this extreme difference and have made an effort to more explicitly pronounce their words. They have also ensured us that once we begin to grasp Chilean Spanish, arguably one of the most difficult variations of the language, we will become much better at understanding all types of Spanish.

During our final morning in Santiago, we went to Los Domínicos, a small district of artisans towards the outskirts of the city. I really got a feel for the Chilean culture as I viewed many types of beautiful jewelry and ate empanadas. Tons of families spent their Saturday there, and it was a beautiful, peaceful way to spend my last day in Chile’s capital city. Off to Valparaíso and Viña del Mar to meet my host family and get settled in!