Club Uni, Darth Vader, and Rolling Chairs

I think I am finally starting to get the hang of this whole Chile thing. I am now confident that I can find my way around pretty much any part of Santiago, I am capable of holding at least a basic conversation with Chileans (well, unless they are in a group, which is a completely different thing), and am starting to fall into a regular schedule. I must seem a lot more confident too, because yesterday, for the first time, someone actually asked me directions! I was getting on the metro and someone asked me if that train went all the way to the station called Baquedano. I couldn’t believe it- not only had someone asked me a question, but it was actually a question that I knew the answer to! YES- this train does go to Baquedano, thank you very much for asking! Unfortunately, I was so shocked someone had actually asked me for directions that I stood there for a little too long before answering, and I don’t know if the lady actually believed my answer. But hey—I don’t really care if she followed my advice, I am just proud she asked me in the first place!

There are, however, some things that I still have not figured out. For example: I cannot for the life of me decide if my street is a one-way street or not. I would have sworn it was a one-way street, because normally both lanes have traffic going west. But every now and then, there are cars in one lane going east- I don’t understand it! My host mom was driving me somewhere and we took our street to the east, but when my host brother drove me home one night, we took a really roundabout way so we would only have to take our street to the west. Something funky is going on, but I can’t tell if the street is only one-way at certain hours of the day, or if people simply don’t follow the rules of the road. A mystery I may never be able to solve.

It is also the case that every time I go to the grocery store by my house I have the exact same problem. The store is called UniMart, and is a pretty common supermarket around here. They have a savings club, similar to Walmart or Pick n’ Save at home, and every time you check out, they ask you if you are a member. The problem is that they never ask me ‘Are you a member of the savings club?’ Oh, no. Instead, they just ask ‘Club Uni?’ in a really thick accent which I can never understand. They repeat it again and I still have no clue. Only when the cashier repeats it a third time do I remember what Club Uni means so I can answer the question! You would think that when I have to be asked 3 times if I am in the club, the cashier would get the hint that I am probably not a member, but this does not appear to be the case! At this point I am tempted to become a member just so I can see the surprise of the cashier when I whip out my Club Uni card after being asked three times if I am a member!

I still am also not completely used to the water situation here. Before I left the US, I met with a travel nurse who told me I should be extremely careful with the water in Chile, because it would probably make me really sick, especially at the beginning of the semester. Fortunately, I have been extremely lucky so far and have not had any health problems, even with drinking the tap water! It is bizarre to me, though, that people very rarely actually drink water here. I have seen my host mom drink tap water on rare occasions, but everyone else in my host family pretty much only drinks juice, coffee, and tea. Even when you go to a restaurant, the waiter looks at you very strangely if you request aqua de llave (tap water). It is much more acceptable to request bottled water, which comes in 2 very distinct forms: water with gas, and water without gas. Water with gas is pretty much soda without the flavor… just tons of carbonation. I tried it once, and will probably never try it again. I think I will stick to my agua de llave, por favor!

Coca Cola is the much more popular beverage option for Chileans.

Names are another concept here that I still have yet to grasp. No matter how hard I try, I just cannot remember the names of some of the people in my classes. Oddly enough, in pretty much all of my classes, I have a different friend named Natalia, which makes it easy for me, but with other names I am not so lucky. For example, in one of my classes I have a friend whose name is José Ignacio. Now José I would have no trouble with, and even Ignacio is do-able, but when I have to remember the two names at once my mind goes blank. There are seriously some people I feel bad asking their name because I have already asked them three or four times! The thing that makes it even worse is that because I am the only foreigner in most of my classes, all the Chileans can remember my name! Or, they think they can, at least. For Chileans, the ‘th’ sound is nearly impossible to pronounce, because it doesn’t really exist in Spanish. So instead of being Heather, in Santiago, I am ‘Heder’. It never fails to make me laugh when I come home from school and I see my dinner waiting for me with a note on top that labels it for ‘Heder’.

It is strange to me that my last name is way easier for everyone here to pronounce and understand than my first name. I am used to getting nicknames from Smaby, but there really isn’t too much to do with the word ‘Heather’. That is what I thought before coming to Chile, at least. My favorite nickname I have gotten is from one of my friends in my tennis class, who calls me ‘Hey There!’. It surprised me how clever this was, and that she thought of it, because she probably only knows about 30 words in English! One of my other friends in my tennis class who does know English pretty well asked me if my last name was like the English word for ‘Maybe’ and then started joking about how my nickname should be ‘Call me Maybe’. These American pop culture and music references are everywhere! The other day, the same guy asked me what the word ‘Starships’ meant in English. I asked him if meant ‘Starships’ like in the song, and he started laughing and told me yes, that was where he heard it. I told him it was pretty obvious because that is not actually a real word, and the only place you would ever hear it in the US is in the song!

We are getting into full swing in my classes, but they are still going pretty well. Did I already say that one of my professors showed up to class the other week in a full Darth Vader costume? Well, he did! This is the same professor whose homework for one week was to figure out a way that we think we should be evaluated for the semester. Let’s just say he got some interesting responses to that prompt…. One girl suggested that we have a sort of Hunger Games competition among the class, with the victor getting the best score and the person who dies first failing the class. Another student suggested that we make up riddles for the professor, and if he can’t solve them, we all get perfect scores. Still another guy suggested that we go to the mountain and have a rock-climbing contest, with the person climbing highest getting the highest score. Conveniently enough for him, he happens to be in this really fancy rock-climbing club at school…. My boring suggestion was that we have to write down a question at the end of every class period, pass it to a different student, and answer their question—basically a disguised version of grading based on attendance! Unfortunately, I am guessing the professor will probably end up making us do some big project or something, but as of now we still have no idea.

I had my first midterm (prueba) in my public speaking class (Oral and Nonverbal Communication) yesterday, which I am happy to be done with! I wouldn’t say it went excruciatingly well, but it definitely could have been way worse. Considering it was my first Chilean exam, I had no idea what to expect, and I was at a major disadvantage because I am the only foreigner in the class, I am pretty happy with how it went. The majority of the test was about the meanings of different physical gestures, which I had studied very closely, thankfully. Our ayudante (Chilean version of a teaching assistant) had told us we didn’t need to know very many specifics, which was a complete lie. The questions on the exam were seriously things like: When a person is making a downward triangle with their hands, are they mocking you, speaking, listening, or showing superiority? If you are having a conversation with someone at a table, and you are in a rolling chair and they are not, where is the best place to put the other person to confront them about an issue? Do you have more power because you have the rolling chair, or not? What about if you have a chair that is not rolling, but is taller than their chair? Etc. etc. etc. So needless to say, I am very happy to say that I did indeed study most of these things, and I will never again underestimate the power of a rolling chair! (And by the way, a downward triangle with your hands means you are listening, but an upward triangle means you are talking and speaking your opinion). The last section on the exam was really tricky though- I honestly had no idea what it was talking about. The good news is that no one else in the class had any idea what it was about either, and it was worth the least amount of points. So we will see…. The Chilean grading system is tricky for foreigners like me because classes are scored on a scale of 1 (low) to 7 (high). It is considered extremely difficult to get anything above a 6.5, however, even for Chileans, and I am pretty sure 7 is the only grade that transfers back to UW-Madison for me as an ‘A’. So I guess my strategy for now is to study my butt off and maybe the professors will take pity on me because I am foreign???

I signed up to be a volunteer tutor in a program called ‘English Opens Doors’. Basically it is a program where native English speakers volunteer to teach English in Chilean middle and high schools. I still haven’t heard back from the program, but hopefully I will soon! My only fear is that I will not be able to understand the kids when they are talking Spanish, especially if they are younger, because there is a good chance they will not slow down for me! We will see… I am also thinking about signing up for a volunteer organization through the church at my university where I am pretty sure I can volunteer at a hospital. Hopefully it works out, because it would be really neat to see how hospitals and patient care differ from the United States.

Due to popular request, I am attaching a picture of my host family’s dog (Puca) and cat (Cuki).

Cuki! She may look adorable, but don’t be deceived!

The dog is ridiculously adorable, especially when she is wearing her winter clothes. I only wish I would have taken a picture of her when she was in her rain jacket- priceless! If it rains again, I will be sure to get out that camera! The cat, on the other hand, may look cute, but don’t be fooled. She is always lurking around, just waiting to scare me. Sometimes she sneaks into my room when I am doing homework and then jumps onto the bed; other times she waits for me outside the bathroom or plops down on my lap when I am reading and refuses to leave. These all sound like cute gestures, but just when I begin to think she is nice again, she starts trying to tear out my hair or eat the cord on my computer charger! The maid told me that Cuki has also recently discovered a love for my socks. She will take them from the drying rack and leave them all over the house—but she only does them with mine! What is the world coming to? This cat is seriously a ninja- as I was writing this she is chasing Puca around the living room and just did some sort of flying leap over the chair and table… now that is an impressive feat!

This week is my last week of classes before I have the Chilean equivalent of SPRING BREAK! The 18th of September is Chilean Independence Day, and we have off Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. 2 of my 3 classes are already canceled for Thursday, and I don’t have any classes on Friday. So it looks like from September 14th until September 24th, the only class I might still have is tennis- a good week if I have ever heard of one! For the first half of the week, I am going to Valdivia, a city 10-hours south of Santiago, with two of my American friends. Our overnight bus tickets and hostel reservations are made, and we are researching awesome things to do in Valdivia, which is supposed to be a really gorgeous city! Then I will be coming back to Santiago for the 18th, and will have 4 or 5 more free days before classes start up again. The entire week is apparently filled with barbeques, barbeques, and more barbeques, so I guess I will be getting my meat quota for the year!

As football season starts back home, I think it is relevant to say that I saw my first Chicago Bears fan on the metro this week. I am hoping for his sake that the jacket was just really cheap and he didn’t actually know what he was wearing… but it is hard to say. I still haven’t seen any Chilean Packers or Badgers fans but trust me, I am on the look out! And don’t worry, I did bring my Packers buff with my to Chile- today (Sunday) is the first day I am showing it off to the Chileans!

As I was writing this, the maid went to get the mail, came back, and told me I got a letter! Thank you to my Franciscan University friends Maria and Christina for the letter and random picture of the moose—quite entertaining! What was even more entertaining was how shocked the maid looked that someone actually sent me a letter! I guess I should talk maybe about my friends in front of her a little more…. 🙂

Bonus picture from Viña del Mar: All the awesome Badgers who are studying abroad in Chile this semester!

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