Saturday, September 12, 2009

Independencia para Chile, freedom for me

So today I finally got to go to the centro...alone! Chanel (the exchange student who is living really close to me with my second host family, and later in the year we will swap) and I were dropped off by her host dad this morning to spend the day shopping and eating. It is frustrating because it is hard to get anywhere without our parents driving us because our houses are pretty far out away from everything. Not that there are a whole lot of places to go in Talca, as my friends at school love to tell me. Chanel and I passed an interesting and educational day of trying to understand the un-understandable and communicate the uncommunicatable (not sure those are words) in a different language while trying to retain a smidgen of self-respect. I have to say that I´m not sure I have any left, however I found that laughing at myself isn´t so terrible. After shopping a bit we looked around and found the Chinese restaurant that my host mom recommended, which is owned by the parents of a classmate of my sister´s. My mom said I should tell them who I am when I got there, so I tried to, but a few things got lost in translation (what a surprise) and the waitresses were all like ¨ want to talk to my boss?¨so I let it drop. But it gets better! Chanel and I didn´t know that you were supposed to come in and just pick a table- we were following the good ole U.S.A. custom of telling them how many people and then the hostess shows you to a table. This meant that the restaurant people assumed we were getting take-out, naturally, and showed us a menu and let us point to what we wanted. So we ordered and sat down and waited...wondering are they going to show us to a table or what? And then a family came in...and walked past us and into the main room...and sat down at a table...oh shit. So for the next several minutes we argued about who was going to suspend all dignity and try to explain to the already amused waitresses that we wanted to eat at the restaurant after we had already ordered takeout. We had a nice little lesson about accepting embarrasment as necessary part of becoming fluent. Chanel learned the lesson better than me because she was the one who gave in and explained to the hostess why we were sitting there giggling and looking panicky. However I must say that eating an egg roll was worth the humiliation of complete bungling gringo ignorance and also of not knowing whether to leave a tip- we ended up having to call Chanel´s Rotarian counselor from the restaurant to ask him. It´s good that shop owners and Chileans in general find our obnoxiously obvious foreigness and language incompetency to be cute and amusing rather than...well, obnoxious. I annoy myself actually. However I have to comfort myself with the truth that no matter how Chilean Chanel and I dress or how perfect our Spanish is we would still get stared out: Chanel is black and I am Asian. To say that we are not the norm in Talca is a gigantic understatement. Oh and Emily, the other exchanger girl in Talca, is blond. We might as well have tattooed American flags on our faces.
What I was told before my exchange is completely true in practice: boredom and tiredness are the enemies of exchange students. When I´m bored, I´m 3 times more likely to be pessimistic about my exchange. When I´m tired, I´m 3 times more likely to be homesick. But I am getting creative about talking myself out of down moments and putting everything in´s all part of the experience. Actually track is the source of the majority of my stressing out, so if I can solve that problem I think I would be happier.
Next week is Chile´s independence day on the 18th. People here are so much more enthusiastic about their country! My experience in the U.S. has been that people only make a big deal of the Fourth of July on the actual 4th of July. Here, the Independence Day is a 1 week+ occasion. Yesterday was a big deal at school, because each curso gets judged on their Chilean decorations and my curso went all out. We decked out the room with 12 foot palm leaves, streamers, balloons, traditional Chilean dresses and saddles and shells and coconuts (for Isla de Pascua), and blasted Chilean Cueca music all day long. I wasn´t surprised when we won out of the whole school, but I was glad! A lot of students participate in different Chilean dances like the Cueca, Pascuense, etc, to be performed next week, and it´s a really big deal. Everyone here has been learning and dancing the cueca since they were little, which is embarrasing for me to say the least. The P.E. teacher took pity on me and said I didn´t have to dance, but not until after I passed a few humiliating minutes of them trying to teach me. I didn´t object to getting to dance with Rodrigo, but the actual dancing part I did object to! Whatever you believe, neither God nor genetics intended for me to be a dancer and with the teacher´s permission I accepted this with considerable relief.
Holy cow, my grandma here is a good cook. She made sopaipillas. I have consumed more than is entirely healthy in the past week...maybe one with breakfast, a couple during the first recreo at school, a couple more during the second recreo... Also she´s making homemade empanadas for the big day next week, and my whole family has been telling me how good they are so I can´t wait. Today was the Saint´s Day for everyone named Maria, which I´d estimate to be about half of the Chilean population. Since that half includes my host mom, we got a manjar cake to celebrate. It doesn´t take much to justify buying a manjar cake, which is just fine with me.
School is fun- it is so different from CSG! It is really relaxed in comparison, though for Chile my school is considered demanding. I try not to look incredulous when people tell me that. The other students here don´t believe me when I tell them how much schoolwork I have in the States. Here they actually have time to hang out during the school week, go out, even get enough sleep, etc. Didn´t do the homework? No big deal, you can just copy it off someone else and the profe probably won´t check it anyway. Prueba you didn´t study for? No problema, you can just use the answers written on your arm! I couldn´t believe it the first time one of my classmates showed me their cheat sheet! The only thing that is more intense than the U.S. is the choir- we won first place in a national competition in another city last week, and we are going to another in Santiago in October that I am excited for.
I would really like to thank Ms. Dickman and Ms. Leonard. Biology and Matematicas are the only classes here that I almost always understand. The biology teacher here takes pleasure in singling me out by asking me bio questions to see if I understand, which is nervewracking. However thanks to biology and Ms. Leonard I´ve known almost all the answers, once I can figure out what he is asking! And in math I´m actually the one explaining things to my classmates because none of them pay attention and they haven´t learned the most basic things so when we have a practice problem to do they are lost. I would probably say that one of the things I miss most about home is knowing what is going on and feeling confident of what I´m supposed to do. Here I almost never am sure of what´s going on and the only thing I´m good at is choir and track.
The stars here are amazing. You can see so many more than in Columbus. I could do with some calmer cows, though. There is one mooing loudly outside my window right now. Also whoever said roosters crow at dawn never lived within a mile of a real one. They don´t crow at dawn, they crow whenever they feel like it, which includes 1 o´clock in the morning or 7 or 3 in the afternoon. My mom here throws things at the birds when they get too loud, which I found really funny. She likes her sleep.

I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying America. Take care and carpe diem. Cuidense! Chao!

Making sopaipillas!

A classmate and I demonstrating one of the many reasons I stick out in Chile

Decorating the sala

My host family took me to a lookout point over Talca

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Change of plans

I´m just going to make my blog public because too many people are having problems with their invitations expiring, having to create a login, etc. I´m pretty sure that means you can just forward the link to anyone who might be interested, so please feel free to do so!

What I´ve been up to:
Saturday I had a choir rehearsal at the University of Talca for the competition yesterday. Unfortunately I didn´t end up going because yesterday I was really was not fun! But I slept all day and I feel loads better now, and I was fine to go to school today. Saturday my family and I ate Chilean asado, or barbecue, that my dad made. It was insanely good! Eva and Marisa (my two host moms for the year) thought I got sick because I eat too much (raise your hand if you´re surprised) but I assured her that I just have fast metabolism and I actually ate more in the U.S. than I do here, especially during track and cross country.
Tomorrow I have a choir competition in Concepcion, a larger city by the coast. I am very excited! We get to travel all together by bus.

I am going running now for the first time in months. Wish me luck. I really have no excuse not to because it is a beautiful day here and I have the time and I couldn´t ask for a more picturesque place to run. Mountains, hills, cows, dung, here I come!


I keep forgetting to upload pictures, but here they are now!

My house

Con mi familia at the airport!

My room, sorry for the mess

New friends! The guys in my class have a reputation for being loud and disruptive. Ha! Bit different coming from CSG! This was the welcome party they threw for me today during History- one of my friends was like "we have a choir rehearsal! Come on!" I totally bought it- we wandered around the school for 15 minutes and she was like "hm I guess we´re not in this room...or this one either...let´s keep looking¨ until we just went back to the classroom and I was so surprised.

My school :) The other day there was a trick basketball presentation in the gymnasium, and after it was over the mascot took off its mask and everone started screaming and jumping up and down and I had absolutely no idea what was going on. Then my friend Peggy screamed to me "es un famosa!" Turns out the guy who was in the outfit is an actor on a soap opera and is really famous in Chile. There was literally a mob of girls trying to touch him and take pitcures and get his autograph, and the basketball players had to surround him and push their way out of the gym. It was insane. I nearly got knocked over. But Peggy and I got a picture ;)