Random thoughts

Sorry for the ridiculous shortage of blog posts in the last few weeks- lets just say my crazy Chilean life has been keeping really busy! To keep things (somewhat) brief and to prevent everyone who read this from falling asleep, here is the condensed version of what I have been up to for the past few weeks:

I went skiing in the Andes! This was definitely a high point to my semester so far—both literally and figuratively! I went with a group of exchange students from my university to El Colorado, a ski resort about 2 hours outside of Santiago. I hadn’t skied for probably about 5 years, and only ever in Wisconsin (where the hills are pretty much tiny little bumps on the horizon), so I obviously was expecting the mountains here to be much more intense. I was definitely not mistaken- jeez were those hills steep! I started off on the ‘bunny hill’, which is no normal world would have been called a bunny hill. It was seriously probably steeper than the majority of the runs at Nordic Mountain back in Wisconsin. Combine that with the fact that I pretty much forgot how to ski, and you will understand how I ended up plopped down in the snow, unable to move, for about 5 minutes.

See that person who is awkwardly skiing off the bunny hill slope into the snow bank? Yup, that’s me.
10 seconds later

But hey, after about 10 minutes of struggling down the first run, I magically remembered how to ski and things were much improved! I think the issue was that I had forgotten you have to turn your skis frequently instead of just speeding straight down the hill, but once I got that skill down, I was good to go! There is literally nothing like skiing in the Andes—whipping down the hill while looking out at one of the most beautiful views of your life.

The only downfall of the trip was that my face may or may not have gotten ridiculously sun burnt. Being the naive girl I was, I thought that since it was the middle of winter here, the sun wouldn’t be a problem. Wrong. Turns out the high altitude and the reflection of the sun off the snow did not do any wonders for my skin. My host mom had actually told me to wear sunscreen before I left, but she used a word for sunscreen I had never heard before, so that really didn’t help me out too much. Oh well, my face is back to normal, and now I have a big bottle of sunscreen sitting on my desk, just waiting to be applied every time I leave the house!

Exchange students and foreigners who are in Chile for an extended period of time are required to get a ‘cédula’, which is basically just an ID card for foreigners. Honestly, I don’t quite understand the point of this, because I have lived in Chile for over a month without it, and I have been getting along quite fine. The only time you somewhat need it is when you use a credit card- you are supposed to write your RUT (ID number) along with your signature. Foreigners are supposed to put their passport number instead, if they don’t have their ID card yet. The first time I used my credit card here, I didn’t have a copy of my passport with me, so I just wrote down my Wisconsin driver’s license number instead, and the lady at the store said it was totally fine. So it looks like the RUT security here is pretty lax. I even asked my host mom why I needed to get the ID, and she told me she has no idea.

But anyways, being a good little girl, I woke up at the crack of dawn one day to go fill out the application for my cédula. I went to the Civil Register, which is pretty much an exact replica of the DMV, complete with a number waiting system, huge lines, and crabby employees. I got my application completed, met with an employee without problems, and was told to come back August 24th or anytime after that to pick up my ID card. I ended up coming back August 29th, 5 days after it should have been completed. I was a little nervous I was too late or something, but when I got there, the lady at the desk looked at my temporary form, and told me my ID card was ‘not quite ready’ and I should come back the next day. I was really confused, thinking I had missed something. My date said I could come anytime after August 24th, so I obviously made some type of mistake! Turns out, as my host sister said, there was no actual reason my ID card was not ready- that is just how people operate here in Chile! Punctuality is not something Chileans really emphasize. For classes, it is not rare that all the foreign kids arrive right on time, but are the only ones in the classroom. The Chilean students show up about 10 minutes later, meandering in like it is no big deal. But often, it really isn’t a big deal, because the professor doesn’t walk in until a few minutes after them! Efficient? Maybe not. But at least the Chileans probably don’t have as many stress-related health problems… they sure know how to enjoy the time they have, without constantly worrying about schedules and times and appointments.

I have been having all kinds of issues with my telephone lately- mainly that the battery is not capable of being charged in my phone. The phone still works, the battery is still fine, but once the battery dies, I cannot charge it with my phone. Obviously, telephones are nice to have for all kinds of reasons: planning meetings with people, calling to ask questions, etc. Normally I would be fine without these things, but in Santiago it made me nervous to walk around with a dead phone- with my luck, the one day my phone doesn’t work is the one day I will really need it. I went to the Entel store, hoping they would help me fix it. The lady there told me my phone had a warranty, which was good news, but when I told her I had bought it almost a month ago, she told me that the warranty only lasted for 5 days! Wow- what a high quality phone I purchased! But anyways, I tried charging my battery in someone else’s phone, and it was successful. It looks like my host brother has an extra phone with the same size battery as mine, so I can charge my battery there and I won’t need to buy a new phone. Either way, I am no longer roaming the streets of Santiago without a working phone, so my situation is much improved!

Last weekend, my host sister Camila invited me to go to a barbeque with a group of her friends. I had really never hung out with any of these people before, but I decided I might as well try it out! The barbeque was much different than any other barbeques I have been to here. For one thing, there was no food! A few people were drinking a can of beer when I got there, but otherwise there was absolutely no food or beverage! Imagine an American barbeque without food—it just seems to go against the laws of nature! Also, the barbeque was on this really big, awesome, farm/ranch outside Santiago by the base of the mountains. Seriously, if I had to picture a Chilean experience, this would be it. There were literally tons of horses, dogs, and other farm animals casually roaming around the entire farm, which was made up of lots of little houses, shacks, and random buildings with no apparent purpose. There were piles of stuff everywhere, ranging from garbage, to wooden objects, to broken down motors and electronics. The view from the farm was absolutely gorgeous, especially since the farm had so much land to explore!

Camila and I on the farm!
I got to ride one of the horses before the barbeque– bareback and everything!

One interesting thing to note is how much Chilean Spanish differs between the various social classes. I am living with a family that is technically middle class, but compared to most of Chile, they are pretty well off. Almost all of my Chilean friends and acquaintances are from the university here, which is very expensive. Families save up for a long time in order to send their children to college, and even then, a large percentage of the population can never reach this point. I didn’t realize it, but I am almost always surrounded by Chileans who have a much higher income and education than the majority of the country. This barbeque was probably the first time I have really interacted with some of the Chileans who are not quite as well off and who have not had much formal education. It shocked me how obvious of a difference education makes in a person’s speech. I have finally gotten to the point where I can hold a somewhat normal conversation with people in my classes and my host family, without having to ask them to repeat something 10 times. The people at the barbeque, however, were way harder for me to understand. It sounded like they were just slurring all of their words together into a big jumbled mess. It didn’t help that they were using all kinds of slang words that I have never heard, most of which probably were never taught to me in class for a reason. To me it is just crazy that education can make such a difference in someone’s speech, but I guess if you have never learned how to use proper grammar, there is no way you would never even know you weren’t saying something the ‘right’ way.

Speaking of education, throughout my entire time here in Santiago, there have been regular marches and protests going on by students who want free, higher quality education for all. There are a lot of problems with the educational system here because unless you come from a really rich family, you must attend the public school system. The problem is that the public schools are not very good, and the students who attend them have a very low chance of getting into universities in Chile. On the other hand, the families that have a lot of money can send their children to the prestigious private schools for grades 1-12, which almost guarantees them a spot in a well-known university. Students are fighting to equalize this process, to allow poor students to have a fighting chance to gain a quality education. In addition, they want the public universities to offer free education, so everyone can afford it.

During my time here, many of the universities have gone on ‘paro’, or strike. Some of the universities are more liberal than others, and honestly seem to have class canceled every other day. Mine, fortunately (I guess) is not too involved in the protests, and I have never actually had a class canceled, although I am probably the only person in my program of exchange students who can say that. The marches always start out peacefully, but the police are very opposed to them, especially if they are unauthorized, and things often get violent. The police bring out tear gas to try to break apart the marches, and people start to go crazy. I have been warned time and time again not to go too close to the marches, and I have kept my distance so far, so I haven’t actually experienced any of this in person. But still, it is crazy to think that in Madison last year, people made a huge deal about the peaceful chanting and protesting against Scott Walker, when things this extreme are going on in Santiago. Check out this picture to see what I mean (I DID NOT actually take this picture!):


This is pretty much why I try to avoid the protests at all times. Oh, and also because if I get caught protesting I could theoretically get kicked out of the country because I am not a Chilean student!

So that is pretty much the craziness here. This past weekend I went on an awesome excursion to Viña del Mar and Valparaíso with CIEE (my exchange program), but since this blog post is already ridiculously long, I will write about that later this week. I have my first midterm (prueba, as they call it here) tomorrow, which should hopefully go well! It is on nonverbal communication, for my public speaking class, and we had 3 texts to read, one of which was about 200 pages. All of them are about how humans use gestures, facial expressions, postures, etc. to convey more meaning than words. I had just finished the 200 page text when I realized our professor had put a new version of the same book online that was 400 pages! I got really scared I was going to have to read that one as well, but I found out yesterday in class that was just some extra ‘light reading’ for anyone who was interested. Aka not me! Thank goodness—I will not be frantically reading about the meanings of random hand gestures late into the night!

One random other update: this weekend, we went through Daylight Savings Time here! I had no idea the time would be changing until Saturday night we got a little note under our door at our hotel saying that we were entering summer time, so we should move our clocks forward one hour. So I am now 1 hour ahead of Eastern Time, in case anyone was curious. The really weird thing is that when the US loses an hour for the start of winter, I will be another hour different from the US. Turns out I do have a slight time change after all!

Don’t worry- there will be more crazy stories about my weekend in La Quinta Región coming SOON!