¡Chao-po, Valpo!

I am now two weeks post-arrival in the United States, and while I certainly feel more comfortable back at home, I would give anything to be pushed out of my comfort zone once again in Chile. My biggest takeaway about language acquisition from this SLA experience is that language acquisition is by no means a linear process. One day I’m on top of the world because I understand the jokes in El Rey León, and the next, I’ve lost my keys and can’t figure out the directions that my host mom gives me to get them replaced. The feeling of culture shock definitely comes in waves, but for every difficult day, there are three more which are absolutely fantastic.

To anyone thinking about applying to an SLA, I would absolutely say, go for it! And go somewhere that you wouldn’t initially think of going! I am so glad that I chose Chile for my SLA because I don’t know when I would have had another opportunity to go somewhere so different from the United States. I am studying abroad in London spring semester, and while I am greatly looking forward to this experience as well, I am very glad that I chose to have this fully immersive experience. The SLA is a wonderful opportunity to just put yourself into an environment far from the Notre Dame bubble. In my experience, this is where my most valuable learning occurred–both about another culture, and about myself.

I hope to go to law school somewhere down the line, and I am most interested in practicing either working on criminal justice reform or practicing immigration law. In either of these areas, Spanish proficiency will be absolutely crucial. No matter what I end up doing, Spanish is rapidly becoming an important skill to have in the United States, as the Spanish-speaking population will continue to grow in the foreseeable future. While I do not consider myself fluent by any means, the SLA grant has allowed me to get much closer to that long-term goal.


Week 4. El desierto Atacama: the Atacama desert

This weekend, a few of my friends and I took advantage of our day off of classes and took a long weekend to San Pedro de Atacama.

The trip had a bit of a rocky start: one hour before I had to be on the bus to Santiago, I found out that I had booked a flight for the wrong weekend! I went into a bit of panic mode, as there was a moment where I didn’t know if I would be able to go, and I didn’t quite know how to fix the problem. Luckily, however, mi papa chileno was able to help me navigate a phone call with LatAm Airlines to buy a (much more expensive) last-minute ticket. After this incident, all it took was one short 30-minute uber to the bus station, a two-hour bus ride to Santiago, six hours of “sleep” overnight in the Santiago airport, an hour-long flight, and another hour-long bus ride, and then we were in Atacama! And boy, was it all worth it for the nature that I was about to experience.

Each of our tours topped the last. We watched the most beautiful sunset of my life at Valle de la Luna. We saw flamingos at the crack of dawn. We inadvertently saw a beautiful sunrise while on the side of a volcano, because our bus broke down on the way to a tour to one of the world’s most prolific geysers. We floated in a salt flat in the middle of the Chilean winter. We stayed in a hostel surrounded on three sides by active volcanos. We stargazed from the driest, and therefore clearest, place in the world. Despite our 4:00am wakeups each day, we had an absolutely phenomenal experience.

On Monday night, our last night in Atacama, we made a fantastic meal of the comfort food we’ve missed from home: mac and cheese, and scrambled eggs with bell peppers. It was a great feeling to be able to cook for ourselves in the hostel! Mi mama chilena makes great food, but I’ve missed being able to cook the food that I am used to eating in the United States. My hostel had an amazing rooftop deck, so we took dinner up to the roof and had a picnic while watching the sunset with a 360-degree view.

It was the best way to end an out-of-this-world trip, before our 4:00am bus ride back to the airport, pictured below.

I know Atacama is one of those memories that I am only spontaneous enough to do while in college. I will ask myself, “What was I thinking? Six students staying in a hostel in the middle of a desert of a country that we barely know?” While it sounds like a recipe for disaster, it was one of the most surreal experiences of my life, with some of the best friends.

Week 3. La políticas de Chile en vida moderna: The politics of Chile in Modern Life

During my third week in Chile, I have focused on learning about the history and modern politics of Chile.

My program had a tour of the national congress building.

Rather than a full dinner meal, many Chilean families eat once, a light snack consisting of pan with aguacate, salsa, or mayonesa, along with coffee or tea, as well as other items. My friend Kate invited me to stay over to eat once with her family yesterday evening after working on a presentation about former President Michele Bachelet, and we started to ask Kate’s mom about modern Chilean history. Her host mom then described how, when she was an architecture student in the early 1980’s, she was almost arrested during the first major protest against Pinochet. Before coming to Chile,I had never learned about the CIA’s involvement in Pinochet’s golpe de estado in any of my classes; however, this remains at the forefront of many Chileans’ minds when they talk about the United States. This makes me understand a little bit of what it means to be an American in another country: as the United States has had such a global presence in the last century, there are many countries which have been used as pawns to further American interests. The United States did not like the idea of a democratically elected socialist president in Latin America, so it supported a coup d’etat to put an end to the changes that Allende was making.

“Aborto libre, seguro y gratuito”

Not unlike en los estados unidos, there is a lot of pessimism in Chile about the government. Michele Bachelet, a moderate leftist, was widely unpopular by the end of her term in office due to allegations of her son’s corruption, only to be replaced by another unpopular right-wing president, Piñera. I able to witness a powerful act of nonviolent resistance against Piñera’s government as many Chileans got together to protest against his policies on abortion. Regardless of one’s views on abortion, this protest was a powerful demonstration of solidarity and of the culture of social protest within Chile. The female-led crowd demanded that abortion be “libre, seguro y gratuito”, which was interesting to me, because in the capitalist society of the United States, the idea that abortion may be free is not even on the table. To the crowd, the lack of access to abortion services meant that poor women would die. They put that fact at the forefront of their protest, making it incredibly powerful to watch, and to hear the women chant: “poder elegir, para no morir”.

Week 2: Mi Cerro


I’ve started to think of my cerro, or hill, as home base. Recreo is a quaint residential neighborhood between the downtown centers of Viña del Mar and Valparaíso. Each weekday, I leave my house around 9:15am to meet my friends at the bottom of my cerro, at the Recreo metro stop. This metro stop just so happens to be on the coast of the Pacific Ocean and is conveniently two stops away from both downtown Viña and the university in Valpo. There is something soothing about my commute: as I walk down the same winding road, I have started to notice the numerous varieties of flowers local to the area. One house on my route has no one, but four golden retrievers whose barks I’ve come to expect as I turn the corner. While I wait for the metro with my friends, I can hear the crashing of waves, and if we are coming back at sunset, we go down the steps to the abandoned dock to watch the sky change color.

My block has the cutest panaderia, or corner bakery, which I’ve gotten in the habit of visiting on my way back from classes. I don’t know the names of many of the desserts, so I usually just ask the sweet old lady who works there to give me her favorite! Maybe if I try all of the desserts, I will learn the names…

Aside from the neighborhood, so much of what has made Recreo feel like home has been my host family’s warm welcome. They have done everything to make me feel like part of the family: my host mom’s almuerzos are always such delicious, homemade meals, and my host family threw me a surprise party for my birthday, despite only having known me for a couple weeks! I wasn’t really expecting to do anything to celebrate, and right as I was starting to get bummed out about it, my host mom called me downstairs. We had completos (left), and a guarana-flavored cake. Completos are the Chilean version of hot dogs, topped with avocado, salsa, and lots and lots of mayonnaise. Though I enjoyed my completo, I don’t know how often I will be having them—I’m not a huge mayonesa person. It was such a sweet gesture from my host parents, and I really am starting to feel comfortable in my Chilean home.

Furthermore, my host sister, Antonia, is the cutest three-and-a-half-year-old I have ever met. I practice using new verb tenses on her: if I get a confused look, I know that what I’ve said doesn’t make sense. She’s the only person in my family that I am sure will let me know if I say something incorrectly! Antonia has also, unknowingly, taught me many command verbs. When she wants to play with Snapchat filters on my phone, I hear “¡Dámelo! ¡Dámelo!”. When she wants more attention, it’s “¡mírame! ¡mírame!”. When my host father tries to serve her vegetables, he receives an emphatic “¡vete!”. When I go downstairs each morning, she is already speaking what seems like rapid-fire Spanish to my tired ears, reminding me that the idea of full immersion is not to be taken lightly.

La comida y la naturaleza

Week 1. La comida y naturaleza:  The food and nature

My first full week in Chile was a busy one! On Tuesday, we went to watch the solar eclipse, which was only visible in a few parts of the South America. We were very near to the zone of totality, but only one of us was able to locate eclipse glasses before the event. Luckily/unluckily, however, my friend Ally had brought her x-rays with her (she had twisted her ankle on Sunday on our excursion to Playas del Norte) and we were able to view the eclipse through those! I now have a new goal of seeing eclipses on as many continents as possible. The whole experience was very interesting because we went to a branch of PUCV (my university) which was further out from the city and which felt much more like a traditional American college campus. We ate our galletas and watched the eclipse, with our DIY eclipse glasses!


After the eclipse, we went to eat chorillanas, a Chilean favorite. The chorillanas restaurant is at the bottom of my cerro, which may prove to be dangerous: they are so good, but so unhealthy!


On Wednesday, we got our first official tour of Valpo, exploring the art of Cerro Alegre. Cerro Alegre is Valpo’s most famous cerro, where artists have been commissioned to paint murals on its many winding roads. Valpo is a series of steeper and steeper hills, so I got the chance to work off some of that chorillana while viewing a variety of art, much of which had political messaging.

These stairs have song lyrics written on them, saying: “tu no puedes comprar la lluvia, tu no puedes comprar al sol”. “You cannot buy the rain, you cannot buy the sun.” This song is anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist in nature and demonstrates the important role of social movements and protest in Chilean culture. Social protests are extremely common, so much so, that the local students at my university are on strike right now for better mental health services. There was plenty of apolitical art too, which was no less beautiful.














Yesterday, we went on a hike in la Campana. La campana is just at the end of the metro, and it only cost 1500 Chilean pesos to get there: approximately $2.50. At the peak of La campana, we were able to see both the Pacific Ocean and Argentina.

I have never considered myself a “nature person”, but between the eclipse and this hike, I think I am starting to be converted; and as always, even though I am 4000+ and 5000+ miles away from my two homes, I was representing New Orleans and Notre Dame.