Dar Gracias

When I was younger, gracias was probably the first word in Spanish I ever learned.  I did not know then that I would grow up to pursue the goal of speaking fluently and understanding this language, or that this goal would take me ultimately on a five week trip through Peru before coming to live for five months in Chile.  This is what I’ve found myself doing, and now I as I am just starting my time in Valparaíso, Chile, I feel compelled to look back at the past few weeks.

One of the kind and welcoming people I met was a man named Cesar, who jointly owns a tiny farm and ecotourism spot in the jungle of Peru, near the city of Tarapoto.  He grew up outside of Tarapoto, and described to me how when he was going to university, coming home for the weekends or for vacations was always like medicine for him.  I could easily understand – after having spent a few days at Wayra Sacha, I felt physically and mentally healed from the malaise brought on by the bustling city of Lima.  Cesar told me that one’s entropy rises in the city, causing stress and internal disorder, but that to keep my entropy low, I would simply have to remember to give thanks.  When I ate a meal, I would have to remember the earth that it was grown in, the people who had tended and harvested it, just like I had been tending to the crops.  I would have to give thanks.

Now, after a trip that was nothing like I planned but held more meaning for me than I ever imagined, I have much more to give thanks for than the food I have eaten (although it’s been some seriously good eating).  I have to give thanks to my sister Jessie, for telling me of the cheap ticket prices and showing me around Lima, explaining the taxis and the food and the good and bad neighborhoods, and to her husband and kids and the whole family there for giving me a great couple of weeks where the days were relaxed yet full.  I want to give thanks as well to the chefs who I’ll never see but who never let me down; to the bus drivers who had patience with a couple of lost gringas with no idea how much to pay or where to board; to the city of Lima for letting me join in its colorful and chaotic birthday celebration.

I thank the planes that make life easier and shorten a sixteen hour journey into two hours.  I thank the long distance buses and minivans that save money and let you see more, of the life of ordinary people, of the out-of-the-way unvisited towns consisting of stray dogs and houses painted with political slogans perched on sides of mountains.  They let you experience more, when you’re stranded far from your destination in a little town and you realize that the old woman you’re asking for directions is a Quechua speaker who knows less Spanish than you do.  They come and rescue you, when you’ve walked down from Machu Picchu and along a railroad track for two hours only to find that the bridge is out and there are people occupying the train trying to get to Cuzco, when you follow these strikers off the train and down a road that leads to the place where the bridge fell, a rushing river now passable via log, and the train has pulled away so there is not really any choice but to cross, and at the other end to find a driver with open seats who will drive you over curving guardrail-less high mountain roads and tell you about how his parents named him Ronald after Ronald Reagan, and how his schooling to become a guide is going, and how when someone yawns the joke is to ask “from hunger or from sleepiness?”

I have to thank our hosts in Cuzco, for having their doors open at 1 a.m. when Ronald deposited us in a plaza and we stumbled up the long, long stairs and proceeded to hang out listening to reggae and classic rock for several more hours.  We passed some good times in that apartment in San Blas, and that was another opportunity to see another side of a famously touristy city and its surroundings.  Just a hint: if you find yourself in Peru, go to the market, and get the juice and/or the daily menu.  It’s always good value and most of the time good conversation with the woman who’s serving your soup and your tripe-with-potatoes.

So thank you to Peru for lending my travel buddy Maria and I your buses, your hostel rooms, your ancient ruins and gorgeous landscapes, the brightness of your beaches and the intensity of your cities.  And thank you to Cesar for reminding me to give thanks, which is something that I will think of often as I head toward the new challenges of living, working, and playing in the cities of Valparaíso and Viña del Mar.

L esperienza italiana

This post actually comes a bit delayed. I wrote the post before leaving Italy, but I’ve now been in Thailand for about three weeks now. I’ve had difficulty uploading photos until now due to internet issues. I will do my best to get an up-to-date post about my travels here as soon as I can.

Learning English

A lot of people assume that anyone can teach their native language, but those who have studied a language (or even better those who actually teach a language) know that this is not true. In order to successfully teach a language, you have to understand the structure of the language, how you construct a sentence, and what rules you must follow in order to successfully express what you want to say. All those nit picky details that make a language sound right, but we don’t really know why. However, knowing all of this from my years of struggling to learn Spanish, I decided to spend the last month living with a family in Genoa, Italy with the goal of passing on some of my English knowledge to the 8 and 11 year old children.

Lucky for me the 11 year old, Valentina, already had a good understanding of the basic structure of the English language and we were able to focus mainly on expanding vocabulary and the conditional sentence structures. However, trying to explain the meaning of the word “unless” still proved difficult, and why sometimes you have to replace the verb “can” with “be able to” in order for it to properly function in a sentence. So I spent my mornings while Valentina was at school trying to learn the rules of the English grammatical structure so that I could explain to her the structures for building conditional sentences.

The younger girl, Bea, was not so easy. Being only 8 years old, not only was her English less advanced, but she wasn’t as confident as her sister so it was hard to pin down her level. However, once I finally did and created exercises for conjugating verbs in the present simple, I was shocked by how many different types of irregulars we have in our language. Not only are there certain verbs where you change the ending in the third person singular to -es instead of -s, there are some verbs that you don’t conjugate at all (might, should, would, could, etc). It made me think of the days when I sat in Spanish class complaining about all of the different irregulars that exist in the Pasado Perfecto, and realize that our language was probably as complicated, if not more so, for my teacher to learn.

Camille Vale Bea Angela Stefano

I got to spend my evenings having a family dinner with all four of the family, giving me the chance to enjoy home-cooked Italian meals. 🙂 The father was so language obsessed that he probably knew more language than I did, and we often spent the meal switching between general conversations and debates on language structure. The experience was great and I was lucky to be with such a kind family, with children so willing to learn, but I definitely can say that I understand the struggle of a second language teacher so much better now than I did as a student.

While in Italy I also had the chance to sight see a bit and eat some delicious Italian food. I went to Cinque Terre, Pisa, and spent 5 days in Rome with one of my good friends from UPS who was on her way to study abroad in Italy. Rather than recount all of the details, I will point out the highlights with photos.



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Greek Life at the Puge

Puget Sound is not your typical college, it’s not massively big or crazy but that community friendly, super green, comfortable liberal arts feel. And the same welcoming fun lies in Greek Life.

My only perspective of Greek Life was through Legally Blonde, Greek the TV show and the media; loud, raging, superficial cliques of people. Puget Sound is completely different, with Greek Recruitment in January first year students have a chance to become adapted to Puget Sound and meet a variety of people, and someone is likely to be in Greek Life! Recruitment was four long days/nights of smiling, chit-chat, talking about myself and watching Friends & Boy Meets World in between. My cheeks hurt, I had reading to complete, and my head hurt. Every house was completely welcoming, willing to answer questions, and share how much their sorority is a knit-group of sisters.

Bid Night was amazingly fun to see the rest of the girls who joined the same house as me, as well as meeting 70 of my new sisters in all kinds of wacky costumes (wedding dresses, princesses and face paint ensued)! I was really excited to get to know everyone better and it was so much more fun to find out we were going to go roller skating, and I’ve never been! I fell on my butt and boy did it hurt but everyone was really sweet making sure I was okay. Along with some cheesy pizza, homemade photobooth and props and candy bar, the night and my introduction to Greek Life and Kappa Alpha Theta was real sweet!


It’s only been a few short weeks since Recruitment and everyone has been really gracious answering questions, getting coffee and altogether inviting us over to the House to watch the SuperBowl or the Olympics and I think it’s definitely been a fabulous addition to my life at the Puge. It’s interesting to learn the history of my female fraternity (first ever!) as well as our individual chapter here at Puget Sound along with Panhellenic and the other Houses (Sigma Chi Valentine’s & Beta singing at Chapter). So many fun events have already happened I can’t wait to see what other adventures Greek life holds for me!


Daniel Wolfert Snapshot #7: Where the Sun Might Be Moved to Rise

In which the universe, in its eternally convoluted and cryptic way, speaks to Daniel.

The Guild of Book Workers’ Horizon Book Arts Exhibition sits in front of the reference desk of Collins Memorial Library, and it had been sitting there for two weeks before I even took real notice of it last week.  My sophomore spring semester had begun rather poorly, just as my freshman spring semester had, and for almost exactly the same reasons – I was restless for change in my academics, I was worn out from the previous semester, and more than anything, I was fretting over the upcoming applications I would be turning in for opportunities in my junior year.  I fear the future, the unknown.  I fear instability and I fear being unprepared for challenges ahead, and I fear disappointing others, or worst of all, myself.  Applying for future opportunities is, therefore, an act that I find terrifying.  It was with these fears and worries, then, that I entered the library to print a paper last week and, for reasons that I could not identify, decided that I had to take a closer look at the exhibit.

Each piece of artwork in the exhibit was either fashioned from or in reference to a book, and dealt with the literal and figurative idea of horizons.  This was the first thing that struck me as a remarkable coincidence, because I have long been deeply fascinated by the many meanings of the word and idea “horizon” – fascinated by the fact that a vanishing point in a painting contains an infinite section of the universe, by myths stating that the gods sewed the heaven and the earth to keep the world together, by the idea that, no matter our mistakes and shortcomings, the world is so much larger and more beautiful than we could possibly imagine.

Playing upon the delightfully whimsical and clever plot of one of my favorite books, Edwin Abbot’s 1884 satirical novel Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, there was an edition of the book from whose flat cover a part of a sphere literally stuck out, in reference to its story wherein a denizen of a two-dimensional world encounters, to his complete chock and bemusement, a sphere.  There stood a beautiful edition of Dexter Palmer’s tragicomic steampunk novel A Dream of Perpetual Motion, with a beautiful illustration of a floating airship and a man peeking behind the curtain of the sky to see the spinning sapphire gears of the universe beyond.  This I loved not only due to its beauty, but also because I later found out that the novel is a literary variation on my favorite Shakespeare play, The Tempest.  Strangest of all, however, were the multiple art pieces that mentioned the San Francisco Bay Area – where I spent most of my adolescence – and North Carolina – where my family moved several weeks after I left for my freshman year of college.

There have been rare few times in my life when I have ever really truly felt as if everything fell into place, that for a brief moment, something truly mysterious had happened to me.  But how strange and wonderful it was, seeing those pieces of art that I’m sure hundreds of students have passed without second thought.  How strange and wonderful, to feel such hope.

One of my greatest fears is that I will struggle and fight to get by, only to look back on my often meaningless, trivial hardships and realize that it all meant nothing, that it was a foolish dream that I should have thrown away long ago.  Perhaps it is true, and sometimes I have the sudden and violent realization that, more likely than not, nothing that occurs in my life will really affect the world.  But the words of an art piece upon which was written the Sanskrit proverb Salutation to the Dawn still ring in my head, like music from something glorious I do not yet understand, as if to say that the people and things that make my short little life happy are all that matters:

“…For yesterday is but a dream,

And tomorrow is only a vision;

But today, well lived,

Makes every yesterday

A dream of happiness

And every tomorrow

A vision of hope…”

Fun fact: UPS has great professors (as if that were news).

According to one of many college rankings that people keep churning out, Puget Sound is one of twelve colleges with the best professors.  I tend to be a bit distrustful of these types of statements (What criteria were used?  How did you quantitatively measuring and ranking qualitative information?  How did you gather the data?  Who did the ranking?), but in this case, although I concede to having limited experience with professors outside of UPS, I lean toward agreement.

As a freshman, I was a bit nervous about starting college courses.  Don’t read that as me attempting to sound naïve and nervous and cute and relatable; it was a legitimate concern – I had spent about 50% of the final five months of my high school career in some degree of incapacitation due to an extensive series of migraines.  My high school teachers knew me well enough to cut me the appropriate slack, but I had no idea how college professors would react to a new student walking up to them and saying “Hey, my name’s Leah Shamlian, mind if I skip class and turn in assignments late without marking me down?”

But, to their infinite credit, in six semesters of college, my professors almost without exception have been sympathetic and worked with me rather than looking down their noses and waving me off with flared-nostriled sneers from the lofty heights of their ivory towers.  They’re also lots of fun to chat with, and usually go by their first names (to the shock and horror of my aunt, whose sons both went to schools of more than 30,000 students).

Basically, the professors at Puget Sound are great.  Indeed, I might even posit that they wield mysterious therapeutic powers – because the correlation between college and decreased migraines is obviously due to causation.