I am obligated to Rotary to write a Beavertale. It's basically a summary of what my life has been like here, and I have to write one every third month. Not that I have been here for three months yet.
If you want to visit the actual site where my HIDEOUS rotary photo will be posted along with my entry it is http://rotary7080.org, then under "Site Pages" go to "Youth Exchange 7080" then on the left again it should say "Beavertales" and I am on the second page. :)
I arrived in Santiago, Chile August 24th on a very foggy day, and I was invited by some brisk weather (which was very refreshing seeing as how Burlington is always in a heat wave in the summer). I was greeted by my counsellor (Sofia) and my host parents Fernando & Consuelo. By the early morning I was already at my new home in Talagante (30 minutes away from the capital city, Santiago). When I arrived at the house I was greeted by my siblings, all 5 of them, Jose (20) is studying music, Tety (18) is my older sister and is studying obstetrics in university, than as my host dad would say there are the “little monsters”. He would be referring to Victoria (6), Jaime (5) and Rafaela (3). Coming from a very tiny (& quiet) family living with so many people has been quite the change for me.
The first things I learned in Spanish were “I am hungry” “I am cold” and “Hot water bottle”. Seeing as how I am now on the opposite side of the world, it is winter here, but nothing compared to Canada (it’s more like Burlington’s spring) but the houses have no central heating. So the temperature outside is the temperature inside the house, and needless to say I wasn’t ready for the cold weather and neither were my toes. After a month the weather got a lot warmer so that I didn’t have to wear my hoodie, sweater, long john’s, and wool socks to bed anymore.
I started school my 4th day here and this is when I really started to learn Spanish, or some may call it Castellano. (I consider I am learning two languages here Spanish & Castellano since they are so incredibly different, my friends can talk in Castellano and I will not be able to understand one word, where as in Spanish I can understand everything if they pronunciate). Chileans have a reputation to talk at lightening speed and with a language all their own. The majority of my family works at my school “English College” so I was being helped at every step of the way my first day there, but don’t be fooled by the name. The big joke is that the only thing that is in English at the school is the name. I was placed in the same class as my host brother who is currently in the U.S. So you know that everyone in the whole school knew I was coming, and for weeks after I first came there people I didn’t know would shout my name (or attempt to seeing as how Spanish isn’t the kindest language to my name). My first day was a lot of smiling, nodding my head, and shrugging my shoulders, and some more smiling. Even though I didn’t know much Spanish I was able to make it through the day with everyone thinking I was the charismatic “gringa” from Canada (“gringa” means North American Foreigner). I like school because it helps my Spanish and I have a good group of friends there, and the courses that I actually try in are Chemistry, Music, English, and Gym Class (which usually consists of soccer and the teams are usually the girls against me, and I usually win). Although now school is ending for me next week and then I have summer vacation for almost 4 months, this is do to the fact that I am in the graduating class, hence less school. So, in March I will go back to the school and do Cuarto Medio (Grade 12) over again but with a new class.
Being a “gringa” (foreigner) means that I get a lot of attention (even if I don’t want it some days). But I have the luxury that since people do know who I am they help me out a lot more and understand why I am making so many hand signals (or more compared to the average Chilean). Many times I get suckered into doing certain things because I don’t actually realize the full extent of what I am agreeing too. My friends just tell me the bascis and nothing more, seeing as how it makes it a lot easier for me to understand. My good friend who is very into music one day asked me if I wanted to sing with him while he played the guitar. So I said sure, why not? The only other piece of information I got was to be at the school on Saturday at a certain time. It was only a couple days later when Jose told me that I was actually singing at a festival, in front of people. So it turned out that I sang three songs by myself with my friends being the band. On my last song “Imagine” the music cut out and I had to sing the last verse with no music, I got quite the applause. After the show, I had eight, 10 year old girls run after me, asking me questions, the next day in school they found my classroom and asked me more questions….luckily my friends persuaded them to leave so I could hang out with my friends.
The stereotype of Chile would be that is super hot all year round, and the food is spicy as well. In reality the winters are cold! Not incredibly cold but enough to notice and make you wear multiple sweaters, as well as the food is anything but spicy. The food is very simple and healthy for you (at least in my family, I have learned to make things with out having a microwave, and I can do without dessert after dinner now). Lunch is definitely the largest meal of the day and I am not hungry until the next morning. We have a variety of things such as pasta, and lots of soups and stews (for winter), but we always have bread and ensalada (like salad but the dressing is lemon and salt). We also have lots of tea, coffee, and hot milk. You are considered weird to want cold milk, which is exactly what I wanted on my first day here, to be sorely disappointed when it turned out to taste like crème. I now too can’t drink milk cold!
September 18 is Chile’s independence day, and that week I got to experience lots of authentically Chilean and Latin American things. I was introduced to asados (BBQ), empanadas, and all sorts of Chilean meat and other dishes. The whole month the country was adorned in its flag and the only colours you could see was red, white and blue. Rodeos were happening, and it was normal to see someone dressed in traditional clothing with their hat and poncho dancing the cueca. (Which I can dance the cueca). It was also the time for partying and I was lucky enough the party was at my house so I was able to go to bed early (6am) and go to sleep when most people went home at 10pm. I still don’t understand how they do it.
I have definitely learned that you have to laugh at yourself, especially when learning a new language. Numerous times I would mess up words such as spoon and sexy together. Or have my friends as a joke have me write different answers for some school work. You just learn to laugh at it and when people bring it up you laugh along and have a good time with the story. Also, having three little kids in the house (when I am used to just one other [quiet] sibling in the house in Canada) makes your life very noisy, and I have given up on trying to break up every fight or console all the tears. I know to just laugh when they have tantrums because a minute later they will be on to the next distraction. But they can also bring other joys in my life, like when Jaimito runs around the house with his pants always half way down his butt, or Vikki trying to save a baby cat, and Rafa always showing up at my door with some sort of make-up all over her face. Also when our yard will be flooded with water and the kids decide it will make a decent pool for the day. Those are some things that are really hilarious and enjoyable that you just don’t experience when you have grown up with a brother very close to your age.
I remember in the beginning of my exchange and even now I will be in the car just thinking “Wow, I am in Chile!” while I am heading off to someplace I would never think I would go to, or do at some ridiculous hour. Like, coming back to the house at 6am when you left the house at 10pm and before you enter the house you see the sunrise over the Andes. That is when you think “Wow, I would never have done that in Canada, nowhere even close”. This whole exchange still seems semi-surreal to me, I can’t imagine going back to Canada now. My life is in Chile right now.