30 May 2015

40 Things

I’m going to be home in less than two months. I’ll see my dad and sister in a little less than a month and a half. I’m excited to be home- there are so people I want to see, so many food cravings I’ve been having that just can’t be fulfilled here (case in point: I went to a Chinese buffet. It was really, really bad food and also served pizza/french fries), so many English words I want to use…
But I’m also sad. I’ve been here for three and a half months, and all of the cultural differences that were really difficult to face when I first came now feel like second nature. Because let’s be real, culture shock is hard. Like, really hard. Like, we had meetings before we left where former participants told us “listen up guys, culture shock is real, and hard to get through, but you need to work through it.” Naive, five-months younger me thought, “hey, it can’t be that hard, after all, how different can things really be in Chile?”
Let me count the ways:
1) When you get on a bus (micro) here, you tell the driver where you’re going, since you’re charged different amounts depending on how far you’re traveling. As a side note, this is intimidating to do when you’re not entirely comfortable with the language (aka me, when I first got here)
2) Relatedly, people often get on the micros to sell you things. It’s common for them to get on, force a pen or bandaids or a candy bar or whatever they’re selling into your hands, give their spiel, then come back around to collect what they handed out.
3) If you aren’t taking a micro, you’re likely taking a colectivo, which is like a combination taxi/bus. They look like taxis but only go on specific routes, and you share them with as many other people as will fit. I’ve only taken one once (with my host mom) because they kind of intimidate (or at least, confuse) me.
4) And if you aren’t taking a micro or a colectivo, then you’re taking the metro. Which also charges you different amounts based on how far you go (this is unique to Valparaíso, the metro in Santiago has a set fare). The metro is seemingly the only “public” transit (I say “public” because the micros and I’m pretty sure the colectivos are privately owned) that has a set schedule- everything else shows up when it shows up.
5) The grocery store is a whole ‘nother ballgame. The milk comes in boxes and is unrefrigerated, the yogurt comes in bags, the eggs sit unrefrigerated stacked one on top of another, the ketchup and mayonnaise also come in bags, what they call mustard is not like any mustard I’ve tasted before- it’s very sweet- and on top of all of this, the only brand name I recognize is Nestlé, which iseverywhere. Probably 50% of the products in the store are Nestlé. All of the things that would be General Mills or Kelloggs in the States are Nestlé.
6) Then sometimes you go to the grocery store and there are people modeling with the food. Modeling with the food! Women wearing aprons holding bread like infants in their arms next to the bread aisle and smiling at you. Other women holding mayonnaise. I’m not making this up.
7) Plus, it’s a little disorienting to go to the “foreign food” section and see some North American classics, like Milano cookies.
8) You tip the bag boys. Not because it’s the nice thing to do, but because it’s literally their only form of payment. There’s usually a group of 5 or 6 of them standing at the ends of the checkout aisles, and they switch out who goes up to bag, so that they all get at least some money.
9) Dealing with money is a little thing that’s been stressing me out for the past few months. First, I have to find the ATMs that don’t charge service fees for international cards (often the fees are as high as like $8). There’s one bank, Banco Estado, that I know of that doesn’t charge this fee.
10) Then I have to try to break the bills that the ATMs give me, since most just give 20,000 peso bills, which is about $33. At home, the biggest most people use is $20 bills, which almost anywhere will break, no problem. Not the case here. The only place that will consistently break my big bills is the supermarket, where I end up buying junk I don’t need just so I can have smaller bills that I can use elsewhere. Some ATMs give 10,000 peso bills, but a lot of places won’t even break those.
11) Speaking of money, it was hard to adjust to the conversion rate. Right now it’s at about 618 pesos to the dollar. Which is not easy math to do! I’ve gotten pretty good at doing it on a gut feeling, so that a price in the thousands of pesos doesn’t seem that expensive.
12) Some things are way more expensive that they would be at home. Chocolate, coffee, and a box of pencils are just a few things I’ve noticed.
13) But other things are way cheaper. A lot of clothing here goes for waycheaper than it would be at home. And that’s not all. I went to a store the other day that sells things like ceramic mugs, and they were selling them for about $3- and they were good quality!
14) How people view time/planning ahead here is very different. For example, at home, if I were traveling somewhere, I would by whatever bus tickets I needed a couple of weeks in advance. Not the case here. You often buy them the day you’re going somewhere. Same with tours. When I was in San Pedro we did an astronomy tour that we booked less than two hours before it left- for 15 people.
15) I hate being late- absolutely hate it. But it’s normal to be 15-45 minutes late to things here, including professors to class. Which usually means class ends up going that long after when it should have ended. The first month I was here, my host family planned a day trip and told me we would leave at nine the next morning. The next morning they made fun of me because I was ready to go right at nine. We left at ten.
16) Traveling as a whole is much more relaxed. Airports are not stressful. Security is set up diferently. Airlines give you meals, even on short flights.
17) Related to school, it’s very different. Most of my classes (except my class through the international student section of the school) only meet once a week, and rarely do we have homework. I heard somewhere that the difference between schools here and in the US is that US schools are very work intensive- you take a few classes and go very in-depth in them. Here, people take around 9 classes that each only meet once a week.
18) Students also just don’t go to class. There is a chunk of about 10 students in my camping class that didn’t come for the first two months.
19) There are also a lot of protests right now about the education system here (students want free and better quality secondary and higher education), which more than once has resulted to classes being cancelled. Which is a big deal, when the class only meets once a week.
20) As everyone knows, I live with a very sweet, loving host family. I care about them a lot. But having to speak another language all the time really gets tiring. More than once I’ve been half asleep and responded to a question in English. I remember earlier this semester my host sister asked me how to spell my last name and I automatically did it quickly in English. She looked like a deer in headlights. English words also find a way to mix in with the Spanish I’m speaking- just last week I told my other host sister “vamos a quedarnos en Ollantaytambo- se llama Ollantaytambo, right?” when I was talking to her about my family’s upcoming trip to Peru.
21) Plus there are a lot of differences about family life/how houses function that’s different here. We usually eat a big lunch around two in the afternoon, that I end up planning my day around.
22) Then we have once (usually bread/cheese/avocado/butter, sometimes sushi or pizza or completos– a hotdog with tomato/avocado/mayonnaise) anywhere between 7:30 and 9.
23) Also, living with a host mom, my food and eating is much more regulated than I’m accustomed to, since I usually live on my own or with a family that recognizes that I’m 21 and can make sure I’m fed on my own. Every day my host mom asks if I ate breakfast, and when I say I have, she replies “you’re sure?”. If I’m not home for lunch, my host mom packs me one. On the rare occasions that she forgot to make one, she insists that she gives me money to buy myself lunch. Likewise, when I get home late and miss once, she asks if I ate, and again acts skeptical when I say I have. I’m always being prodded to have more food. I really appreciate it, but I am looking forward to being able to feed myself a bit. Sometimes I don’t want to eat breakfast! It’s okay!
24) People don’t really drink water here. Whenever I choose water over tea/juice/any other drink here, everyone asks me why. Because of this, there are no drinking fountains anywhere.
25) You have to pay for water in restaurants, and specify with or without gas.
26) Likewise, people don’t really drink coffee. Instant is the go-to. This past weekend I went to a cafe that advertised they had coffee, and when I ordered it they brought me a jar of instant to scoop myself.
27) The houses here are not centrally heated, which I’m starting to notice since it’s late fall in the southern hemisphere and about 45 degrees at night. I usually sleep in a jacket and sweatpants and socks to keep warm.
28) Relatedly, my classrooms at school are freezing. I’ve started bringing gloves to wear during class.
29) Also relatedly, having to constantly convert between Celsius and Fahrenheit (as well as the metric system to the english system) is something that I didn’t really anticipate, even though I should have.
30) Back to housing, you have to light a water heater (called a calefont) in order to have hot water to shower.
31) Also, most houses have gates in front of them that you have to unlock in order to get to the door.
32) And few houses have doorknobs that turn- usually you put in the key and turn it while pushing on the door at the same time.
33) When greeting each other, women always do a cheek kiss, regardless of who they’re greeting. Men only cheek kiss women; otherwise they shake hands. And I mean everyone does this, regardless of if you’re meeting this person for the first time. The other day my friend and I were walking and this guy who owned a store we walked past came out and started talking to us. He talked for a good ten minutes about his life and his kids and living in Venezuela and the US, and he asked my friend and me about what we studied, then we had a conversation about the US is screwing the world over in terms of its carbon emissions, and also how all the copper in northern Chile is being mined by foreign companies. When we left ten minutes later, we all cheek kissed goodbye.
34) When you go to a restaurant, the tip is usually included in your bill.
35) Which you have to ask for, because they won’t bring you the bill until you do so.
36) Sometimes musicians will come play at restaurants (or on public transit), and then will go around and ask for tips.
37) Then there are the language differences. Chilean Spanish is practically its own dialect. The accents are really hard to understand- d’s disappear and s’s are dropped pretty consistently. They also speak really quickly.
38) Plus there are all of the “Chileanisms” that exist. Cachai– “You get it?” is often added after someone says a statement that could be taken as vague, at all- “So then we went to the store, cachai?”. -Po is added to the end of most sentences, just as a kind of filler- “ya po” is a common response to hear- “yeah!”. Guagua– baby. Fome– boring. Curado(pronounced “cura’o”)- drunk. Pololo/pololear– boyfriend/to date. Choclo– corn.Palta– avocado. The list goes on and on and on and I’m still learning a lot of new words. A lot of these have worked their way into my vocabulary.
39) Related to “cachai“, people often change the ending of the  form of verbs. Usually it’s -as or -es depending on the verb, but here it’s often -ai, sometimes -ís. ¿Cómo estás? becomes ¿Cómo estai?¿Cómo te llamas? becomes ¿Cómo te llamai?¿Sabes? becomes ¿Sabís?.
40) There are a lot of automatic responses that I had to change when I came here. Permiso instead of “excuse me,” gracias instead of “thank you” (often dropping the -s from the word), chao instead of “bye.” These all come very easily now.
There are so many other things, but this gives you a somewhat comprehensive list of just some of the differences I’ve noticed. Again, by sharing these differences I’m not meaning to imply that one culture is better or worse than any other. It’s just different ways of doing things! They all get you to the same place in the end.
I’m already anticipating pretty intense reverse-culture shock coming back. One of my friends was back home for a couple of days and said it was really disorienting, especially the fact that she was no longer constantly surrounded by Spanish. She understood everything everyone around her was saying, and everyone understood her without her having to try to be understood. When I think about what I need to do at home, I plan what I have to say to set it up in Spanish (Oh, I’ll need to go to the dentist- I should ask them about this gap in my teeth- “hay un espacio que está formando entre los dientes que tengo en el frente de la boca“), and then I realize that I don’t need to be doing that. I’ve been constantly planning ahead and thinking about how to communicate here, which is something I take for granted at home. If this trip has given me one thing, it’s a lot more respect for people who speak English as a second language. It’s so hard.
I hope that I continue to grow throughout these remaining 42 days of my program as much as I have in the first three and a half months. That’s what I’m here for!
Email me if you have any questions! rekidder@lclark.edu.

20 May 2015


But in the desert, in the pure clean atmosphere, in the silence – there you can find yourself.
― Father Dioscuros
I have had very limited experiences related to deserts. My grandparents lived in Phoenix when I was too young to realize the landscape I was walking through was different than lake-ridden Minnesota. 15 years later, I had to spend the night in Phoenix due to a delayed flight and a missed connection, and I though remember noticing a cactus next to the hotel the airline set me up in, that was my entire impression of the area. My first real desert experience was during my sophomore year of college, when I went on a two day trip to eastern Oregon. I remember hiking along a desert plateau alongside some shrubs by day and laying on the dirt to take in the stars by night. It was beautiful, peaceful, and a reminder that the earth is diverse and that beauty exists even in desolate places.
This past weekend I went to the driest and most desolate of deserts in the world with my program: the Atacama Desert, located in northern Chile. The desert is so dry that parts of it haven’t had any recorded rainfall since the Spanish conquered the area in the 16th century. Due to its combined dryness and lack of cities, it’s also known as one of the best places in the world to see stars, and houses some of the world’s most powerful telescopes and observatories.
The trip was magical. I was surrounded by beauty: beautiful landscapes, beautiful people, and a beautiful break from my routine. It was relaxing, enlightening, and left me awestruck. I think the common denominator of the highlights of the trip was the overbearing presence of the sky.
The desert, when the sun comes up…I couldn't tell where heaven stopped and the Earth began.
― Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump) 
On Sunday morning we left our hostel at 5:30 AM to travel to El Tatio; which, at 15,000 feet, contains some of the highest altitude geysers in the world, and is the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere. Our goal was to get there before sunrise, so that we could see the light hit the steam from the geysers as the sun rose.
It was beautiful. Cold (about 15 F), but beautiful. The sky slowly changed from dark grey to bright blue, and the steam suddenly appeared white in the sun. Almost as immediate as the changing color of the steam was the warming of the air, which started to heat up and we began stripping off the layers upon layers we had been wearing. We continued to warm up by eating hard boiled eggs cooked in the geysers themselves and drinking what may have been the best nescafé of my life (rivaling the nescafé I drank in somehow-warmer Patagonia).
Night poured over the desert. It came suddenly, in purple. In the clear air, the stars drilled down out of the sky, reminding any thoughtful watcher that it is in the deserts and high places that religions are generated. When men see nothing but bottomless infinity over their heads they have always had a driving and desperate urge to find someone to put in the way.
― Terry Pratchett, Jingo
We also managed to see two amazing sunsets. The first was on Saturday, after we had spent a couple of hours exploring the Salar de Atacama; the third largest salt flat in the world. The salt changed from white to grey as the sky darkened, and the mountains in the distance began to reflect the pink from the sky. The flamingos enjoying the briny waters of the lagoons in the salt flat continued to feed as the sun went down, and a single mountain was silhouetted as the sun disappeared directly behind it.
flamingos in flight
flamingos in flight
sunset at el salar
sunset at el salar
The second was on Sunday, seen from a vantage point hiked up to in the Valley of the Moon. The valley is named so for its resemblance to the terrain of the moon, which is so similar that NASA has used the valley to test rovers and practice projects in the past. We were told not to watch the sun itself, but instead look east and watch the changing colors of the mountains. It was incredible.
the progression of colors as the sun set in el valle de la luna
the progression of colors as the sun set in el valle de la luna
When you look at the stars and the galaxy, you feel that you are not just from any particular piece of land, but from the solar system.
Kalpana Chawla
Almost all of our group went out after dinner on Thursday to find a dark spot to lie back in and look at the stars. It didn’t take more than ten minutes of walking away from our hostel to find almost complete darkness, and as we spread out along a river bank it was hard to feel like it was all real. The milky way (la vía láctea, in Spanish) was bright and obvious, and as I laid back in the sand the same way I did in Oregon almost two years ago, and in South Dakota almost two years before that, and in all my trips to the Boundary Waters and in all of the moments I’ve been lucky enough to find such darkness, I was reminded again of how small I am.
On our last night, I went on a tour to a nearby observatory with a large chunk of my group. We were given access to one of the largest telescopes (open to the public) in the desert. The guide started us out by pointing it at Jupiter and showing us its rings and some of its moons. He continued, showing us another galaxy, a nebula, a black hole. It was difficult to wrap my mind around what all we were seeing. He finished by showing us Saturn, whose ring was clear and made the planet look just like the glow-in-the-dark Saturn that kids put on their ceilings alongside glow-in-the-dark stars. Once done with the telescope, we were given a presentation about the sheer vastness of the universe. He showed Earth next to Jupiter, Jupiter next to the Sun, the Sun next to a series of bigger stars next to our galaxy next to our cluster next to all of the observable universe. Then he started talking about he possibility of observable universes. To top it off, we went back outside and he showed us constellations and shapes and another galaxy visible to the naked eye. It was a humbling experience, and one that I’m obviously still thinking about three days later.
Once again there was the desert, and that only.
― Stephen King, The Gunslinger
The sky was not the only beautiful part of the experience. We went for a number of hikes, through a mountain range formed by the deposition of minerals due to evaporated rain, up a hill overlooking an ancient fortress with a 360 degree view of the area, to a viewpoint over Death Valley and up some lookouts in Moon Valley. The desert was vast, empty, with few plants and lots of dirt. Somehow there were colors everywhere: slight variations in the color of rock, bright colors in the sky, and the few plants not trying to hide themselves at all. It was beautiful, and unlike anything I’d ever seen before.
Pukará de Quitor, a pre-columbian fortress
Pukará de Quitor, a pre-columbian fortress
the view from the hike near Quitor
the view from the hike near Quitor
This trip gave me a lot of time to think, and a lot to think about. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve done here. I’m amazed that Chile can include so much diversity, from the Atacama desert in the north to Patagonia in the south. There’s still so much of it I want to see!
As always, email me with any questions about Lewis & Clark! My email is rekidder@lclark.edu

10 May 2015

Hola hola!

Hello readers!

While everyone else just finished up their school year (including graduating, for some!), I'm still here in Chile and am in the middle of midterms!

That means you get another whole two months of updates from me!

My program ends two months from today- July 10. My dad and sister are coming down the next day and I'm going to show them around Valpo for a few days before heading off to Peru with them to see Cusco and Machu Picchu.

But until then, I'm busy with school and travel and everything else I'm doing while I'm here. Right now, it's midterms. Last week I had an essay in my culture/communication class worth 30% of my grade, and two days later I had a presentation in the same class worth 40% of my grade- which was a little bit stressful, because we've had very few other graded things throughout the semester. But both went well and now the worst of it is over!

On top of that, I have a test on Tuesday in my contemporary history class that's pretty much our first real graded assignment of the semester. I'm pretty stressed about it, but am well on my way with studying.

That's one of the biggest differences I've noticed between school here and in LC. Even though the bulk of my grade in my LC classes has been from my tests and essays, most professors also give readings and smaller assignments almost every class to help keep you on track in your learning and to add to what you talk about in class. Here, you go to class and occasionally have a test or project that's worth a large section of your grade, and rarely is there other work. My history class has had a lot of readings, but it's also all gringos and taught more similarly to what I'm used to. My culture/communication class is somewhere in between- we generally have about one reading outside of class for every three classes, plus our big presentation and the occasional essay. A little bit further down the spectrum is my "urban spaces" art class, where we have readings and assignments but have yet to see any grades on any of them. I have absolutely no idea what my grade is. It's really stressing me out, but based on how laid back everyone is, I don't think it should be. Then, on the complete other end of the spectrum, is my camping techniques/outdoor education class. We have never had homework. Half the students didn't show up until a month and a half into the semester. Everything that happens in that class is ridiculous.

This past weekend I went camping with that class. It was pretty fun, though kind of weird. We met near a plaza in Viña to load our backpacks into the trunk of one of our professor's cars, then all took a bus to a weird camp thing about 30 minutes north of the city in Con Con (also spelled Concón- I've seen it both ways and still don't know if one is "correct"). I think it may have been someone's private property? I'm not sure, but there was a house (with people in it) right next to where we set up our tents. We had a bunch of "lessons" (how to set up a tent, how to pack a backpack, etc) as well as downtime to go kayaking and arranged periods to play group games in.

Most of the games were typical (like where you sit in a circle and make a beat and each person has a number and you have to keep the rhythm going while calling each other's numbers and responding when your own is called), but we did a "team building" game this morning that involved us strapping one of our classmates into a harness and lowering her from a tree branch to grab some candy from the ground... which would have been fine if it was, you know, safe, but we had to tie the knots and figure out the belay system all on our own (with now prior knowledge for most of us) and it could have easily turned out badly. Which it didn't, but, you get my point.

What else made this trip "weird," you might ask? For one, it was for a class where we learn things such as "leave no trace," yet our professors were stomping through the plants and off the trail everywhere we went. Plus there were a bunch of small things- all of the groups independently decided to make pasta for lunch and tacos for dinner. We had a class about using the stars to determine what direction we were facing and my professor picked up semi-dried animal poop and arranged it to show us where the stars were. My tentmates decided to not stake out our rain fly (which is one of the steps of setting up a tent) and we still got full marks on our "tent grade." One group somehow forgot to bring a tent, and food. A guy forgot shoes. Everything was just kind of weird.

It was fun, though, and I feel like I have a few more Chilean friends now.

Besides that, I've been up to various other things! Like visiting Mendoza last weekend, which is a city on the Argentine side of the Andes. It was beautiful. We visited four wineries, went to some hot springs, and got to drive across the Andes- twice!

one of the wineries
A bridge by the hot springs
driving through the mountains
We also had a party last week to inaugurate my program's new building downtown. They held it on the roof of the building at sunset- it was gorgeous. They served us cocktails and hor d'oeuvres and everything felt really fancy.
the view from the roof of the building
That's all I have for this week. Please email me at rekidder@lclark.edu if you have any questions about anything!