I won’t bore you with a list of 101 items; I just couldn’t resist the cliche title. However, I do think that a list of things I’ve learned on this continent could easily amount to thousands. It’s been an incredible experience that I will never forget, even with my less than perfect memory. As I reflect on and bid farewell to many of the things that me ancantaban here in Chile, I would love to share a few pieces of my journey that I will take back with me…

Chileans show their love with food, big hearts = BIG portions.

There are 73 Spanish translations for every one word in English (okay, that’s not proven, but that’s what it feels like).

It’s easier to forget your own language than you might think.

You get a receipt for everything, even for using the public bathroom.

Mullets and rat tails are in, baby! So are acid washed jeans.

Metro systems are a great method of transportation, more cities should have them.

No one knows you better than yourself.

If you want to be heard in Chile, you protest.

Graffiti is beautiful.

Ketchup and mayo come in bags.

Ketchup and mayo go on everything.

My brain doesn’t speak Spanish or English in the morning.

Chile endured a military dictatorship for 17 years between 1973 and 1990. During this time, thousand of civilians disappeared. Many were tortured and murdered.

Although there is a lot of bad in the world, there is also a lot of good.

Having a host family is one of the most precious experiences one can have.

You have to cross the street three times when you want to get to the other side. Think it’s impossible? Think again.

They don’t drink brewed coffee. It’s all instant, all the time.

Friendship is a wonderful thing to have in your life.

Family is even better!

There are more stray dogs on the sidewalk than gum. I wish I could rescue all of them.

It’s amazing what a little friendliness can do for your day.

God’s hand is always at work.

Advice is a gift, don’t take it for granted.

Hay millones de modismos en Chile, cachai po?

“Bubbles” is a really hard English word for Chileans to say, and even funnier to listen to them try.

Every family is different, but most are very machista, wife and daughters cook and clean while husband and sons watch tv.

Salt is not a topper in Chile, it’s a food group.

It’s weird to drink plain tap water. It’s usually replaced with tea, coffee, coke, or juice.

In a restaurant, it might take 40 minutes for the waiter to take your order unless you call them over. More time to enjoy the company of others : )

Don’t ever wait until the end to tell someone what they mean to you.

Happiness is not determined by your bank account.

Students make a University, but professors give it soul.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13.

This has been one of the most memorable five months of my life. What I learned in Chile is unforgettable, and the love I felt from it’s people is even more priceless. I am so gratefully for my new friends who showed me such a fun time and my host family who showed me so much love and laughter. I hate to say goodbye, so like my mother always says, this is not “goodbye”, it’s simply “I will see you later.”

Nos vemos, Chile. Te quiero y te extraño muchisimo!

Peace and Love, Sarah

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I thought I could be the first exchange student to never go to the hospital for whatever reason, but that would be too good to be true! Of course, within my last three days in Chile I came down with a fever. When my host mom (and real parents) finally convinced me to go to the doctor, I found out I have tonsillitis. Talk about putting a damper on things…but I am already starting to feel better so hopefully these last few days I will be up to par. In the meantime, I decided to take the opportunity to share some travels while I am still bedridden.

About a week and a half ago, my friends and I decided on a bit of a whim to take a bus to San Pedro de Atacama. Buses tend to cost half the amount of flying, which is a great deal for broke college students.  It does come with another price though—the journey is 24 hours. Books, music, conversation, and midnight snack breaks got us through, and the trip was definitely worth it!

The Atacama desert is the driest place on earth. It also has some of the most extreme temperatures, with highs of 80 degrees F during the day and lows of 30 degrees F at night. Houses don’t have central heating in Chile, and our hostel provided us with a sheet and light comforter. I had a hard time sleeping at night even though I went to bed wearing my jacket, hat, scarf, and mittens!  During the day, all the layers come off and we even got a little color standing in the scorching sunshine. A friend gave us a great deal on tour adventures, and we made the most of our time in beautiful Atacama. Most of what we saw was surreal!

Valle de la Luna. Many people believe that NASA shot footage here instead of actually landing on the moon.

The Andes Mountain Range at sunset.

Salt Lagoons! The water is horribly cold, but there is such a high concentration of salt that you float effortlessly on the surface. Also, I thought we were surrounded by bits of algae or seaweed, but my friend informed me that they were sea monkeys!! Little shrimp-like organisms. I almost died.

Me, Whitney, and Katrina by Los Ojos de Salar. They were two fresh water springs that we jumped in to wash off the salt. Again, freezing!

My alpacheta—a rock totem left as a symbol of passing through, started by the Inca on there long journey across the desert.

We stopped in a small village to feed and pet llamas. They were so cute, and excited to see us, or just excited to eat.

Geysers of Tatio. We woke up at 4 am to arrive in the morning when the geysers are most active with the change in temperature at 4000 meters.

Llama kabobs! We felt a little guilty eating our friends, but they were so delicious!

Kissing cactuses. More prickly than they look.

Farewell San Pedro de Atacama, it was a one of the greatest pleasures of my life!

Peace and love, Sarah

Welcome to my University in Chile. Three weeks ago, Chilean university students took over the facilities in protest of the superior education system in Chile. They call it “toma,” which literally means to take. They enter the buildings and block all entrances, piling chairs and desks behind the doors, and locking the gates (and themselves) inside. They are still camped out in the classrooms, sleeping on the floors in sleeping bags.

After Pinochet’s dictatorship finally ended in the late 80’s, privatization of education slowly reverted and public education was restored. Although there are many public universities in Chile, many students still don’t have access to a higher education. It’s very expensive, and the government provides very selective financial aid.

“They piss on us, and tell us it’s just raining.”

Here are a few of my classmates’ demands:

  • Equal access to quality education with social diversity in enrollment.
  • Increase public funding for higher education as a percentage of GDP.
  • Democratization in the higher education system.

How does that affect me? NO CLASS! But, it’s not as wonderful as it sounds. It’s actually a lot more frustrating trying to finish all of the work for my semester here.

It’s amazing to see student movement like this, something I couldn’t imagine happening in the States. Pure dedication, because if you’re not involved in the movement, you are pretty much a rotten egg.

Thought that I would share my final project for one of my Spanish classes with all of you! My friend Danielle and I chose to do our investigation project on the micro system in Chile.

Micros are like public buses. Physically, they look more like short buses, but work the same way. You pay to get on, pick a seat, and hope you survive until your stop : )

If you want to get anywhere in Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, you flag down a micro. There are bus stops, but they’re all relative. There are schedules, but you can pretty much throw those out the window, too. Sometimes, a vender will hop on during a taco (traffic jam) and set a coloring book or keychain on everyone’s lap. He talks a million miles a minute about his offer, why you need a new coloring book or keychain, and then collects all the ones he didn’t sell. Good marketing tactic, I think.

When you get to where you need to be, you say “Acá por favor,” and literally jump out the door. At first, the micro was so unorganized and frustrating compared to the city buses in Minneapolis. After living here for several months, you learn to embrace the chaos and love the speed!

P.S. It’s a long video, but be sure to check out the surprise we found on the micro at the end of the video!

Peace and love,

Sarah

I was a very lucky sister to have Jessica Lutz come and visit me in Chile! We spent a great week together exploring Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, hopping from apartment to hostel to apartment to hostel. Fortunately for Jess, my University decided to go on strike, so I hardly had any classes. And what more?….lots and lots of sunshine. I think the gringos bring good luck.

My host family offered to let “Yessie” stay in my room on the trundle bed, which was extremely generous. We both squeezed in my bedroom for a few nights, suitcases and all. Isabel is a bit of a clean freak, so we tried our best not to leave dishes on the nightstand, mom ; ) We spent a lot of time with my host family, eating meals and going for walks. Jorge loved showing her around the beach and parks and artesanía shops. I think Jessica will also attest to Isabel’s fabulous cooking! One day we ate Sopaipilla (a deep fried pumpkin bread) with pevre (guacamole, heavy on the cilantro). So delicious!

In Valparaíso, we spent a lot of time walking around (sorry for the blisters Jess), but had the opportunity to see a lot of wonderful architecture and graffiti! Of course, we couldn’t miss out on seeing the sea lions….and smelling them too. Pew.

Will all the sunshine, we hiked to the top of the dunes and were delighted with a clear view of Viña del Mar. We ate Reece’s and Almond Joys at the top, as a treat for our effort. I have missed candy from the states! We watched the sun set until the wind turned our fingers to ice cubes.

One night, my family cooked us some pre-party appetizers—quail eggs. I have never had those little guys before in my life, but they were very tasty. They told us that it’s a fancy appetizer at Chilean weddings. We finished them off, along with a bottle of wine!

After a great week of sight-seeing and carretes until the wee hours of the night, we heading to Santiago before Jess had to leave. We stayed at the most flaite (sketchy/dirty) hostel in Santiago, but only because it was the most convenient for navigation! Jessica enjoyed it a lot, too…inspecting for pubic hairs and sleeping with her sanitary gloves. Ha ha, just kidding. But seriously.

We happened upon a beautiful park in the middle of the Santiago called Cerro Santa Lucia. As you climb up this enormous hill nestled between skyskrapers you can see the snow capped peaks of the Cordillera (mountain range) surrounding the city. Of course pictures never quite capture the feeling, but it was so ironic, standing at skyscraper level in the middle of a park. Unfortunately, at this height you could also see all of the smog that plagues Santiago daily. But, the fountains and trees were lovely. And what do you know, there was even a castle at the top.

I had a wonderful home away from home experience with you, Jess! We have so many memories that would never fit into one blog post : ) I can’t wait to see you when I get back!

Peace and love,

Sarah

 

One day at school, I received a surprise mail delivery from Greg. Inside was a t-shirt from Virginia (his grad school)…and at the very bottom…his itinerary for his flight to Chile! I was so excited to see him in person after 3 months of being apart, and even more excited to show him around this amazing city. When I told my host family, they were even more excited. He was the first pololo (boyfriend) of any host student to come visit. They had a hard time remembering and pronouncing “Greg,” so he took on the nickname “Sarito” (the masculine form of my nickname — Sarita). So, feel free to call him by his Chilean nickname : )

We shared a lot of adventures during his stay! I was so excited that I planned a million activities. Even though we didn’t get to see everything on the list within the short week that he was here, we did have a lot of great experiences together…

After picking him up from the airport in Santiago, we headed back to Viña del Mar and checked into the Rokamar Hotel across the street from where I live. Since it’s the off season here, we scored a great room with a quaint little balcony on the second floor. We decided not to let the little blood stain on the sheets ruin the view and the really friendly staff. It was probably just wine anyway, right!?

We ordered Sushi with some Chilean amigos. Greg tried raw fish and Pisco for the first time in one night. We went out afterward to our favorite karaoke bar called Baraja. I couldn’t get Greg to sing in Spanish, but with a few more drinks, we did sing a duet!

Another night, we decided to test our skills in the kitchen and impress my host family with some delicious homemade wild rice soup (compliments of my mom and dad for the recipe). After hunting down the ingredients in the local supermarket and toiling away in the kitchen with Isabel peeping over our shoulders every 15 seconds, our masterpiece was complete. With Greg’s idea to add rosemary, it was the best soup I have ever eaten. My host family loved it, too! Needless to say, I think our dessert scared them off. We made No-bake cookies, but they never hardened because of the different consistency of milk here. So they were basically like gooey drops of chocolaty, peanut buttery goodness. Greg and I enjoyed them thoroughly, but we might have looked a little weird, licking them off of the tinfoil. “Yea, this is how we eat cookies in the United States,” we almost had them convinced. Crazy gringos.

The entrance to our hostal in Valparaíso. We couldn’t forget our friends, the stray dogs.

Greg’s first ascensor ride. They are more than 100 years old, and still used daily.

We enjoyed Terremotos with some of my best friends here. Wine, pisco, ice cream, grenadine…there’s no better combination.

I think gringos are good luck. We had sunshine almost every day that Greg was here, and gorgeous sunsets. It was sad to say goodbye, but I was a lucky girl to have my handsome Rubio (blonde) here with me in Chile!

Peace and love, Sarah

After an amazing four days in Pucón, our program had a group retreat arranged in northern Chile, so we hopped back on the bus to enjoy a few days in La Serena. Remember how Pucón was 14 hours south? Well, what goes down…must come up. (That’s how the saying goes, right?) After 14 hours back to Santiago, we got on another bus to go 6 hours north to La Serena. It was a long time to spend on a tour bus, but with good friends and a beautiful view of the mountains I couldn’t complain. It was great!

There’s a reason that this city translates to “serenade.” Northern Chile is known for its desert climate and beautiful beaches, which means tank tops and lots of suncreen! We arrived and got situated in our cabaña (cabin), and that night we headed to the Observatory Serena. In order to reach the altitude where it was built, we (of course) went on another bus ride. Now, I know that there are some amazing places to stargaze around the world, but I think La Cordillera is one of the greatest. The stars looked like little berries that I could pluck from the sky, and I even got the wonderful opportunity to see Saturn through a telescope the size of my room. We learned about the constellations on this side of the hemisphere, and even some ancient Inca constellations, like one in the crystal clear shape of a llama.

The next day Mela and I went to the fería to buy some papaya candies, which La Serena is known for. I am not a big fan, but some people drool over them.

Later we went to the Restaurant Solar, where surprisingly enough all of our food was cooked by the sun. It was a really interesting and economic process…the pots of rice, or chicken, or veggies, get put into a makeshift “sun oven” and when the solar panels are turned toward the sun, it reaches about 180 degrees. So, there it sits for several hours, and then bam—dinner. It was a pretty tasty, traditional, chilean meal. Thank you sun!

After dinner, we went on a tour of a Capel factory, where they make pisco. If there’s one thing you should know about Chileans…they love their pisco. It’s a drink similar to vodka but much sweeter. Capel is the most well-known brand of pisco for those youngsters looking to buy a more affordable bottle of alcohol, but they also produce Alto del Carmen, which is more refined. We got to see and learn about the fermentation process, and the best part? Samples. My favorite was the mixed toffee cream!

Unfortunately, our time in La Serena was cut short by our adventure in Pucón. The next day we had to leave, but hopefully there will be more opportunities in the future to explore northern Chile. And if you ever get the chance, GO : )

Peace and love,

Sarah

With homework starting to pile on, I haven’t taken the time to update very often. There are so many things that I want to share, but I will try to keep it short and sweet so I can get back to researching for my history class (not that I am incredibly excited to do that). : )

Since the seasons are opposite here, winter begins late May and lasts until September. Before it started getting too cold, my friends and I decided to take advantage of some vacation days from school and see what both ends of this long, skinny country have to offer.

On April 4th we started a week of travels by heading 14 hours south to Pucón, a small city at the base of a volcano in the lakes district of Chile. Southern Chile has a lot of German influence, and a lot more trees. For this reason, Pucón has an an entirely different aesthetic than northern Chile. Seeing wood paneling reminded me of the Midwest…(what a strange thing to be nostalgic about wood paneling)…and if I had to imagine what a small village in the Swiss alps looks like, I would picture Pucón (although I have never been to Europe). I felt like I was in an adult Candyland, surrounded by chalet-style coffee shops and wood-plank walkways. Pictures capture the imagery better than my words, but the point is that it was a quaint town that opened my eyes to how truly diverse Chile’s geography and climates are. We had a great time, and enjoyed a lot of adventures in Pucón: hot springs under the stars, bumming on the black sandy beaches of Lake Villarrica, cooking American meals at our hostel, hiking to the top of the Villarrica Volcano, eating at an asado (barbeque) with new Chilean friends, shopping at the local ferías (markets), and picnicking at the park!

We found a box in the grocery store that looked like Mac and Cheese. Unfortunately, we didn’t read the box close enough to realize that it was mac and cheese with TURKEY flavoring….YUCK!

Earings, scarves, hats, mittens, hair braids, socks, bracelets, necklaces. Welcome to the fería!

Walking along the main street of Pucón. Some cute stray dogs lounging around, as always.

Better than a boardwalk.

The beach at Lake Villarrica with black sand. It was warm outside, but not warm enough to be swimming in the cold water like that man in the background! At this beach, we were frequently visited by stray dogs who liked to play in the water and then show us how much fun they were having by coming over to us and shaking off all over our towels.

The view of Mount Villarrica from Pucón with an awkward tourist pose : )

Scaling the volcano with crampons and ice picks! From the bottom of the volcano, it felt like our guide’s key phrase was, “Only one more hour to the top!” After 4 hours of hiking….we still had an hour left to go.

But, all that hiking was worth it! At 2,500 meters above sea level, the view was breathtaking.

A darling llama wool shop where cute old women made homemade goods!

I will be back to update you on La Serena, northern Chile! Take care, miss you all!

Peace and love,

Sarah


I could spend a lifetime listening to stories and learning about the past from my Chilean family. Yesterday on a walk, Jorge began telling me about where he was born and raised. When he told me that he lived on the side of a mountain where it snowed 10 months out of the year, I thought he was joking (like always). I thought I was a tough cookie, being from Wisconsin and all. Until I saw the pictures, I really didn’t believe him, but he was certainly telling the truth! While we watched a documentary about his one-of-a-kind hometown, he pointed out some family friends, his old school-teachers, and the place where he and my Chilean host mom first met. I had never seen or heard of anything like it before.

Sewell was a unique mining camp nestled in the heart of the Andes mountains. At it’s peak, it was a community of 16,000 people living in a seemingly self-sustaining utopia. In place of roads and cars, there were staircases. In place of houses, there were stacks of apartment communities. And instead of skyscrapers full of businessmen, there was the world’s largest underground mine bustling with workers night and day.

The town was founded in 1904 when an American mining engineer named William Braden began extracting copper and constructing the mine. Known as El Teniente (the lieutenant), the mine flourished. Its success brought more workers, who in turn brought wives and children and life to the camp town. It flourished in the 60’s, and—although you had to climb stairs to get anywhere—Sewell had everything a person could need. There was a school, church, movie theater, soccer field, tennis court, pool, dance hall, fire department, hospital, fabric stores, and grocery stores. And, what more? The tenants didn’t pay for electricity and water.

Needless to say, it was a mining community, and in exchange for free utilities, the workers risked their lives every day entering the mine. Jorge followed in his dad’s footsteps working in the mine for many many years. While they worked under the threat of explosions, their families took the risk of living amongst the possibility of avalanches and earthquakes, which sometimes wiped out entire sections of the fragile city. They were strong people, building an even stronger community under such variable conditions in order to live a prosperous life.

In 1971, when ownership of the mine was turned over to the state, they started moving workers out of the community for lack of sufficient funds. Within 5 years, all that remained open were the buildings needed to keep the mine running. Today, it’s a monumental establishment, where people travel only to visit the abandoned buildings and reminisce.

I would love to visit. It’s nothing but a ghost town today, but I am captivated by the way that they lived, almost untouched. Such a unique and rare community that once existed…a mock Machu Pichu, a place that our children’s children might study someday.

The other day, I took a long walk with Jorge, and we spotted lobos marinos (sea lions) in the bay! I know that I have seen them a million times at the zoo, but there is something really different and exciting about seeing them in their natural environment. They were so cute, and wild, and playful! The three of them were snacking on crabs and fish, showing off to their audience…soaking up the lime light. Maybe that’s why they do so well in the zoo? I don’t know! But, it was fun : )