Una Buena Primera Semana

I’ve successfully completed my first week in Chile! I don’t know where to even begin. Orientation has been extremely overwhelming with tons of information. It’s been easier to understand and talk in Spanish than I thought it would be. I must say I’ve surprised myself with how much I know and how much I can actually function using only Spanish. For orientation we’ve pretty much been sitting in a room all day and talking about Chilean culture—the words they use, the gestures and habits they have, etc.—the layout and safety in Santiago, how classes at the university and IES will work, and other useful things we need to know in our first few days here. We have a teacher who has been the main instructor for most of orientation who’s name in Claudia. She walks into class and takes total command of the room. She always wears a tight dress that’s flowy at the bottom and heals and has an incredible body, if that’s not too weird for me to say. She is extremely intimidating, saying that we cannot use English at all and giving us literally 20 minute long lectures when she catches a group of us talking in English. But even though she sounds like a very intimidating person, I also love her. She teaches us so much and the way she speaks is so clear that I pretty much understand everything she says.
I’ve been having some pretty fantastic conversations with my host family at dinner this last week and I think all that I’ve learned about the Chilean culture and about the Spanish language this week have really helped. Literally, in only a week my Spanish has improved more than in my entire education of Spanish. With my host mom I’ve talked about some of the history of Chile and some of the corrupt sexual acts that happen in the Catholic church. My host mom is extremely Catholic, which is a little out of the ordinary here. Even though about 98% of the country say they are Catholics, only about 4% of the country actually goes to church every week and practices the religion. I couldn’t go to church with my host mom today because we were doing a tour of the Centro de Santiago but hopefully I can go next week. My host family is so fantastic though. Every morning my host mom leaves out a peach and puts some bread in the toaster for me and sets out a cup so I can make coffee. The coffee here is very different from the coffee in the United States. In houses, they only have instant coffee, which isn’t as good but for four months, it will do. My family is so patient with me too. When I don’t understand what they’re saying, they’ll explain it in another way or show me with gestures. Eventually, I always end up understanding what they’re saying.
On Friday, after a long day of orientation and lots of information a group of us decided to go out for happy hour. Here happy hour is from about 6 to 9 because they eat so late here. It was about 7 when we decided to go out. Someone had recommended this bar to us but when we got there it was closed. We were just about to walk away when this man came up to us and asked if we wanted to go to his bar which was right across the street. He would give us free French fries and cheap drinks, he said. In the United States this would have been a really sketchy situation—which by the way the equivalence of sketchy in Chilean Spanish is flivate. But since we were in such a big group, we decided to go with him to the bar across the street. It ended up being very safe and the free fries he gave us were fantastic. The drinks here are very very strong. I had a piscola which is pisco with coke—pisco is a liquor here that is like brandy—and it had about the equivalent of three shots in one glass! We also ordered a chorillana which is French fries with a fried egg on top and onions and meat. It was super good!
This weekend our group went to Valpariso and Vina del Mar, two cities on the coast right next to each other. We first went to Pablo Neruda’s house in Valpariso. I was so excited because Pablo Neruda is my favorite poet. The house was absolutely beautiful with so many antiques. The guide was totally in Spanish though, and for some reason that day I wasn’t able to understand much. I don’t know if it was from the day before where we talked so much Spanish and had so much information thrown at us that I didn’t understand anything but for some reason or another it was my hardest day for understanding Spanish. After the house of Pablo Neruda, we walked around the streets of Valpariso. There were so many murals in the street. They were literally everywhere you looked and all of the houses were really colorful, colors like purple and blue and yellow. I learned that there are no murals in Santiago because it’s illegal in the city but in Valpariso it isn’t so there are a lot. After Valpariso we all went to this super nice restaurant for lunch in Vina del Mar. The food was so good but they gave us huge portions and I was so full afterwards that I didn’t eat dinner that night. After lunch, we walked on the beach. There was a guy making sand castles but they weren’t the ones that kids make. There was one that was a gorilla about three feet long just coming straight out of the sand. It was so cool.
Today we went to Plaza de Armas in the Centro de Santiago. There was a cathedral that all the cities in the country have in the center of their cities. Inside the church was so beautiful. It was probably the biggest and most grand church I’ve ever been in. We walked around the Centro and looked at a lot of the government buildings. Pablo, one of the teachers at IES, told us all about the different buildings and the political history of Chile. He talked so slow which was great for me, because otherwise I don’t think I would have been able to understand anything he was saying. It’s hard enough for me to understand politics in English, but in Spanish is was pretty much impossible. I understood what Pablo was saying but I was confused about the different people and the sequence of events.
After returning from the Plaza de Armas and eating empanadas in IES, most of us went to the Cerro de San Cristobal. The cerro is basically a really big hill or a foothill. On the top of the cerro is a huge statue of the Virgin Mary. The walk was super super long, although we did take a lot of breaks to take pictures and explore the different parts of the cerro. Basically as you walked up the foothill there were multiple parks and picnicking spots, tiendas which sold drinks and food, etc. The views were absolutely amazing and it was really nice to get some exercise after about a week of not being active at all.

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