The Beginning

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Guys. I HAVE SO MUCH TO TELL YOU. Since I last posted here, so much has happened. I’ve moved in with my host family here in Valparaíso, picked out my schedule for classes, and have tried a lot of weird/cool/I’m-not-gonna-ask-what’s-in-this foods. But let me start from the beginning.

When I flew out of Atlanta, I got on this huge plane with over 200 people onboard and sat down to cram my backpack under the seat (which did not work.) This girl sat down next to me and we started talking and we realized we were about to be roommates. WHAT. It was one of this moments where you just laugh and say a silent prayer of thanks because stuff like that just doesn’t happen. Also, America (that’s her name) speaks fluent Spanish, so she has already saved my butt (and saved me a ton of embarrassment) countless times since Day 1.

When I woke up, we were flying over the Andes just as the sun was creeping up. It was enchanting. I would show you pictures, but my camera was at the bottom of my aforementioned crammed backpack, so I just got to watch the sun light up each peak, as if they had been pinched to stand up straight.

After stamping passports and receiving skeptical stares from the guys in the Chilean customs office, America and I met our new family. Our new mom ran up to us, as if we were her long-lost niñas, and greeted us with so much excitement in her Chilean accent (that I’m still getting used to). I realized in this moment that my Spanish was going to need to make some leaps and bounds in order to catch up.

The non-stop Spanish took its toll on me, and it still does. I felt like my brain had been replaced with sludge because I had to really think about what I was saying and what my new family was asking me in every single part of a conversation. I was sleep-deprived and hungry and I had a whole group of chileans wondering if Michael Jordan is from my town in North Carolina. I don’t even know that kind of trivia in English.

Sidenote: God bless America, because that girl has been my sweet companion on the bus when we thought we might get robbed on our way to school, she’s been my translator when I have no idea how to say raspberries, and she’s been my greatest encourager when I am struggling to communicate a simple thought. Gosh she’s the best.

DSC_9191Sweet America

Anyway, the next day our host sister, Lili, taught us how to navigate the bus system. As long as we had our pesos and a good sense of balance, we could bus-surf our way into any town we wanted. America and I got to Valpo on the first day, met some friends, had some weird french fries covered in eggs, beef, and cheese, and wandered between the street markets. Here in Valpo, you can get anything you want from a street vender, especially the fresh markets that hog a majority of the sidewalk space. The tables are overflowing with fruits and vegetables that are all gone by the end of the day, only to be refilled tomorrow when the farmers bring in another haul. As long as you don’t step on a stray dog sleeping in the middle of the path, it’s a good time.

The last few days have been the most exhausting learning experience I’ve ever been a part of. It has been one of the most difficult, yet exciting things I’ve ever done and it’s just getting started. Here are some things I’ve learned because trying to fit them all into their own stories is a little overwhelming at this point:

  • Personal space does not exist on the bus, especially when the bus driver completely disregards the maximum occupancy rules.
  • Don’t pet the stray dogs because then you’ll become some kind of wolfpack leader and that’s not as cool as it sounds
  • If you see a spider, kill it before it kills you.
  • Chileans don’t have heat in their houses. They just hope that the sun will be enough. to keep the rooms warm, and if it’s not, wear your gloves and scarves to lunch.
  • Lunch is the most important meal. I don’t know why.
  • Some people have dinner, but most have this thing called “once” when you eat snacks and drink tea and it’s kinda like a small dinner, except more casual.
  • Chileans eat a heck of a lot of mayo.
  • And avocados.
  • And bread.
  • Viña del Mar has some of the best sunsets EVER
  • On Thursdays at noon, you’ll hear a really loud siren. That’s an earthquake drill. Don’t panic.
  • Chileans leave their doors and windows open in the winter to “air out the house”….except it’s the freaking winter and I’m making excuses to go stand near the stove in the kitchen.
  • Don’t plan to use the metro system in case it rains.
  • Car rides with your host family are important because sometimes, you find yourself bonding over a Bruno Mars song and you know for the first time that you’re going to be ok here. Because these moments are the best, even if I’m only understanding half of what’s going on.
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    The view from our little house on the hill

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