Tuesday, March 27, 2012


If you've been following my blog you have read a lot about the sites I've seen, the people I've met, the parties I've been to, the food I've tried and of course, the things I am "studying" during these five months. This past week I visited the Museo de Memoria y Derechos Humanos and Villa Grimaldi, both important places of remembrance for the human rights violations that occurred during the Pinochet dictatorship/military government/whatever you would like to call it (I'll get to that later) from 1973-1990. These experiences as well as my time spent with Chileans discussing the events of the golpe de estado (coup d'etat) have left me turning over the issues of human rights, the economy, and Chilean culture in the wake of the end of the dictatorship. I don't consider myself a particularly pensive person, but this has really got me thinking.

Before I left I spent a considerable amount of my two-month winter break trying to convince my father that studying abroad wasn't actually about the classes I would be taking but about the people I would be meeting and the things I would be learning about various cultures through those conversations. This generally elicited a laugh but the truth is, in the past month I have learned quite a bit outside of the classroom (and no, I don't mean learning how to make pisco sour).

All of the guidebooks and websites about Chile advise travelers not to mention the Pinochet government or its predecessor, Allende. Although I have tried to stay clear of politics in an effort to be polite, I hadn't been in Santiago for more than an hour when my host mom brought up the golpe. On one hand, Claudia is super open and pretty much talks about anything with me, but still, for such a sensitive issue, that was pretty soon.

One reason is that my birthday is September 11, the day that the coup occurred in 1973. When Chileans hear my birthday, they solemnly nod and inform me that this isn't just a sad day in the U.S., it is also an important day in Chile. Another, more concrete reason, is that the coup really isn't that far in the past. 1973? My parents were alive then. That's not that long ago. Additionally, the country held Truth and Reconciliation commissions during the late 90s and early 2000s, so the wounds are still pretty fresh.

Needless to say, talking about Pinochet quite a bit has shown me a panorama of viewpoints on his government. Before getting into that, here's a quick summary of what happened in 1973: In 1970, Salvador Allende, a socialist, was elected president of Chile but with only 36% of the vote since there were so many candidates in the election. Protests erupted and the country was in some turmoil. Then on September 11, 1973 Pinochet and the military staged a takeover of the government. That day, Allende committed suicide. Pinochet remained in power until 1990 and put in place many neoliberal economic reforms, which were welcome in a nation that was very poor. At the same time, Pinochet and his men arrested, tortured, and often killed anyone suspected of being a communist or socialist. People were taken from their homes in the middle of the night or on the street in the middle of the day. Many were never confirmed dead but have not been seen since, they are referred to as "disappeared".

Pinochet left the presidency in 1990 to a very positive environment in Chile. Many saw him as a hero for saving the economy. When the Truth and Reconciliation commissions began and the gory details of torture and death came out, the discourse in the country changed. Today, virtually no one will speak in public in favor of Pinochet.

At first, this left me with the impression that Chileans as a whole agreed that the horrific acts committed by the government during this period were unjust and that that time period as a whole was something that should not happen again. Over time, what I have found is that some people (mainly the wealthy) actually support Pinochet because of his economic policy. In one of my classes the professor told the class that he would be referring to the government during Pinochet's time as a dictatorship but he did not want to offend anyone, so students should use whichever term they were most comfortable. While UDP hails itself as progressive university, many of its students are very wealthy. Although I have no actual evidence of this since it is somewhat taboo, I'm pretty sure the professor felt the need to preface that statement because he did not want to put off anyone who might support Pinochet.

All of these varying opinions left my head spinning. Where did I stand on this issue? What extent of torture could be justified in the "name" of saving the economy? Then I visited Villa Grimaldi.

Saturday morning my Globalization class and our professor took a bus to Villa Grimaldi, one of the many torture sites used by the Pinochet government. It used to be sort of a country club for Santiago's wealthy citizens, but after the coup it was taken over and turned into a torture camp. We saw the tiny cells were prisoners were housed, the tower where they were tortured. This was the first time I'd ever visited a site that was home to so much human suffering and death. It was indescribable. No one, except our professor acting as tour guide, spoke for the duration of the hour long tour. Hearing about human suffering is one thing, walking on ground where it occurred is another.

On the bus home, I talked with my friend Kevin about how we felt, where to go from there. I had so much emotion and no place to put it. He mentioned that prior to that day he felt he had known Chile, understood it. Our visit proved that we truly didn't. To me, no matter what sort of "economic improvement" Pinochet was able to offer Chile it could never make-up for the suffering of just one tortured person, let alone the hundreds who were left at the mercy of the military government.

As we got off the bus for lunch and I resumed my ordinary day I was overcome by emotion. I'm living in a nation which, like most nations, has a stained past it is still struggling to deal with. I hope that my time here can serve as an opportunity to bear witness to Chile's recovery and struggle to come to terms with what happened here.

Naturally, Claudia and I had a long conversation about Villa Grimaldi and its importance. She explained that many Chileans don't like to visit because it brings up bad memories or they are simply in denial.

To be honest, I'm still not really sure how to come to terms with setting foot in a place where people were tortured and killed, except that I had a profound feeling of being a part of the human race. I guess the only thing I can do from here is bear witness to the past and do my best to be a part of a better future. That's a tall order, but I'm not jaded yet so off I go!

"El olvido está lleno de memoria" -Mauricio Benedetti (Oblivion is full of memory) written on the memorial for those who lost their lives at Villa Grimaldi

Friday, March 23, 2012

Middle School Cafeteria

So, I've been crazy busy all week and as a result haven't updated. Homework, exploring Santiago and eating too many sopapillas has been taking up my spare time. At some point this weekend I will hopefully get a chance to write a quick post but for today I just wanted to share a quick story:

Each building on campus has a cafeteria that us gringos heard had good cheap food, so today we decided to check out the one in the Medicine building since it was on a rooftop. A bunch of us piled into the elevator prepared to take the cafe by storm. The doors opened  and we all just stood there: it was packed. With Chileans. Speaking really fast Spanish. And they all knew where to go. We're used to that at this point, so we followed the crowd and ended up in line. So far so good. At the cash register we discovered it was only $2,000 pesos (4 dollars!) for a salad, an entree, bread, dessert and a drink. Score!

Jesse, Mark and I set off to find a table while everyone paid. "Finding a table" consisted of us standing in the middle of the rooftop patio with our trays and big gringo backpacks getting stared at. SO INTIMIDATING. I felt like Cady Heron in Mean Girls (see photo below).

Anyway, the only available seating appeared to be this bench in the middle of the giant patio thing. Not only was it in completely in the sun, but basically every person eating in the entire cafeteria was still staring at us. We all looked at each other, decided this was embarrassing but probably the only option and sat down. Less than 5 minutes later, this girl came up to us and asked us if we would rather sit at a table and brought us over to a table she where she was eating with her friends and there were extra seats. Moral of the story: Chileans are the nicest people ever.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Putting the "Study" in "Study Abroad"

My avid readers, you may have spent the last three weeks wondering if I were ever going to start class or if I was even planning to study anything this semester. Well, as you can see from my very creative post title, I am in fact attending classes. My schedule is pretty relaxed until April when I start my internship, but so far my classes seem pretty interesting, especially my Latin American Politics class, mostly because my professor is so interesting. He lectured about economics for an hour and a half in Spanish and I wasn't even bored.

I'm getting adjusted to my Chilean lifestyle more each day, especially my siesta time. Last night I may have caved and gotten an Italian sub from Subway but I swear, I'm loving most Chilean food. Another adjustment for me has been "Chilean time". If you know me at all, you know that I am compulsively embarrassingly early for everything. Like, at least 15 minutes. In Chile, everyone is late. For everything. Even class. Rush hour on the metro may be crowded and you are always packed like a sardine into the cars but people walk SO SLOW. EVERYWHERE. I'm not a particularly fast walker but I feel overly aggressive half the time because everyone just meanders along. I think I'm making progress at becoming less compulsive about time because yesterday my metro train was super slow and I was 10 minutes late to class and I wasn't stressed. Then I got there and only 2 other people were there. Oh okay Chilean time. On the other hand, this means that class sometimes goes 10 minutes over time because professors don't really have a concept of time.

Wednesday night I went with most of my group and a few Chilean friends to this event called "Miercoles Po" which is basically just a big weekly party with free entrance for gringas. This week was St. Patrick's Day themed which was pretty fun, but it was also interesting to note the difference between a more Chilean going-out experience and the gringa central that is Miercoles Po. Chileans are a little more chill even though they stay out all night. It's a "más lento" approach to everything here, even the carretear (going out).

 Gringos go out!

I'm off to another St. Patrick's day celebration tonight and then Claudia's family is having an asada (BBQ) tomorrow. One of her grandsons just spent the last year studying in Australia and New Zealand and he gets back tomorrow. Her youngest grandson is 5 months old so the two have never met, it should be pretty exciting! I'm really excited to meet the rest of her family since they're so important to her. I'm sure it will be a little overwhelming, but Claudia can't wait to show off her new hija gringa (gringa daughter) so I'm sure it will be fun. Also, asadas usually have an abundance of food, so I am pumped.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Becoming Chilean, po!

Today was my first day of class, although I only had one which didn't start till 5 PM and ended early. When I showed up I realized I do not own a day planner or a notebook. Gotta get on that. I also signed up for the gym which turned out to be confusing. In order to use the weights you have to go through a "fitness evaluation". I don't really know what it consists of but my understanding is that it is basically to make sure you don't hurt yourself using the weights. I assumed I could just show up, meet with some random gym employee and then I'd be free to do some bicep curls. Turns out I can't get an appointment until March 27. Awesome. But not really. Luckily, I still get use of the elliptical and mats and such because otherwise I might actually pass out on Machu Picchu.

Also, within a 20 minute time span I went from feeling like a really capable Spanish-speaker/traveler/maybe even a little Chilean to being the silliest gringa on the planet. Let me explain. On the way home from school I stopped to by a sopapilla which is basically fried dough with spicy sauce in it. I managed to understand the vendor and give him the correct change. Then I got on the metro and was able to give up my city to a lady with a baby using correct Spanish, even remembering the correct formal Usted form. I spent the next 10 minutes silently congratulating myself of my assimilation. I was basically Chilean, po. I hopped off the metro and headed to the ATM. ATMs here confuse me because when you put them in English they sometimes operate in dollar values but sometimes in Chilean pesos. COOL. anyway, this one seemed to be in Chilean pesos and I was trying to take out $100. If I were paying attention more/had the ability to do math I would have realized that $10,000 pesos is roughly $20 dollars so $50,000 pesos is $100. Somehow the math got all screwed up in my head and I took out $200,000 pesos, also known as $400. As soon as the cash started spilling out of the machine I realized I had a major #gringaproblem on my hands. I was definitely overdrawn due to my lack of exchange rate capabilities and also my lack of math skills. I hurried home, called my Mom, who I'm sure shook her head and added some money to my account so that I wouldn't end paying a huge overdraft fee. On the brightside? I won't have to pay an ATM fee for another 3 weeks.

Here are some pictures from my weekend in Valparaiso, about 1.5 hours north of Santiago on the coast. Before the construction of the Panama canal it was one of the major ports of South America. After that time, it went into decline until Pinochet relocated the Congress there in the 1970s and it became a hippie hangout in the 1980s. It's a vibrant colorful city as you'll see from the pictures!


New friends in Viña del Mar haha :)
The port of Valparaiso!

Chocolate helado! Deliciousness in a glass!

Valpo at sunset!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Las Casas de Neruda

Voy por el mundo/cada vez más alegre:/cada ciudad me da una nueva vida./El mundo está naciendo. -Pablo Neruda, Cuándo En Chile
 In the last week I have visited all three of Pablo Neruda's houses: one here in Santiago called La Chascona, the second in Isla Negra, Casa de Isla Negra and the last in Valparaiso called La Sebastiana. Each house truly speaks to Neruda's personality and life. While inside I could imagine him being there, drinking and laughing with friends or writing and staring out at the sea. The poets, painters, writers and other creative types from the late 60s and 70s really fascinate me: I have an image in my head of these amazing artistic people who were all friends, striving to make the world a better place with their art. Diego Rivera is one of my favorite artists and seeing the paintings he gave to Neruda and his wife Matilde made these figures more real to me.

La Chascona in Santiago
As with most everything in Chile, the golpe de estado (coup d'etat for all you gringos out there) played an important role in the course of Neruda's life. A known communist, his houses were all ransacked when the golpe occured and Pinochet came to power. Only 12 days after the golpe Neruda died of prostate cancer, although some say he died of sadness.
Casa de Isla Negra 

Neruda remains an inspirational figure to Chileans and it is clear why. His houses brim with personality: each designed to resemble a boat to represent his love for the sea. I think maybe the reason I so idolize Neruda is his ability to just do what made him happy. He built houses by the sea, collected children's toys,  drank as much as he wanted, stood up for his political beliefs, sat around for hours discussing life with close friends, what more could you want in life? Granted, Neruda's ability to do what made him happy was partially due to his wealth, but still his spirit inspires me.

This past weekend our group went to Viña del Mar and Valparaiso and had quite a few adventures, which I'll blog about soon, but for now it's time for me to attempt to turn on the caléfon and go to bed early since I actually start school tomorrow. Guess I gotta put the "study" in "study abroad" at some point!


Monday, March 5, 2012

Empanadas, Un Temblor, y la Playa

What a weekend. For the first time since Thursday I'm able to take a step back, rest a little, and blog. But that's okay with me, it just means I'm having a blast!

Thursday night, I ended out over to my friend Jesse's house in Nuñoa to go out with her host sister and a bunch of her friends. Here in Chile they use the verb "carretear" to mean going out with friends drinking and dancing. The trip out to Nuñoa itself was an adventure because it involved a metro and a bus, but I got on all of the correct lines and modes of public transportation and met up with everyone and we headed to a "pre" at her older host sister's apartment. Everyone was super nice and super excited to introduce us to "piscolas" (pisco and coke). I was somewhat confused as to where we were actually going out but as usual, I went with flow. Turned out we were going to a concert at a bar in the neighborhood of Bellavista, which is super young and hip. The band, Astro, was amazing and I ended up getting to meet some of them. When the band wasn't playing, the DJ played a variety of 80s and 90s rock and pop, everything from Rock Lobster to M.I.A's Paper Planes. Definitely an interesting mix but for sure a nice break from the endless top 40 at every U.S. bar. This time when I got home I managed to avoid locking myself out and slip quietly inside without waking up Claudia. Success!
New friends!
Astro performing!

 The music video for their song "Ciervos"

After a boring day of class on Friday, the gringos from AU hopped on a bus where I was thankful to finally get some sleep and end up in Tongoy 5 hours later. Carolina's uncle owns this super cute little beach resort with a bunch of different cabañas, a pool, a mini golf course, and within walking distance of the beach. It was great to hang out and bond with my fellow AU students since I didn't really know any of them before I got here. Tongoy was pretty quiet since it's the end of the summer, but that was okay with us. The big nighttime activity of the sleepy beach town was the small amusement park aptly named Parque Americano. The rides were a little rickety for my taste but it was fun to walk around and take in the lights. The highlight of the weekend was certainly these delicious empanadas from a roadside stand. They were fried and delicious and as a group of 13 we consumed over 60 in three days. Impressive.
Parque Americano..super estadounidense no?
Empanadas <3

Also: Saturday morning around 8 AM I awoke to my first ever earthquake, or temblor, as the smaller ones are called here. By the time I realized what it was it was over, but still, pretty cool huh?

I arrived back in Santiago last night to Claudia's welcoming arms. She's so great. Although I'm going through empanada withdrawal, I have a lot to look forward to: Pablo Neruda's house in Santiago tomorrow and then the beach towns of Viña del Mar and Valparariso this weekend.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


This last week has been such a whirlwind-but in a good way. After two months at home anticipating what this experience would be like it's surreal to actually be living it. So far, I haven't been too overwhelmed, but I think this might be due to the fact that my "intensive" Spanish review class has so far consisted of a review of the conditional tense and a viewing of the (amazing) movie Motorcycle Diaries. We also have a variety of "projects" to do, which are sort of a joke. I plan to enjoy the next week of orientation before my real classes start.

Claudia and I are getting along "superbien" and I feel really close to her. It's nice to have someone around listening to my stories, cooking, cleaning, and always telling me my outfits look good. She's like my personal superfan. Today I managed to "lock" myself out again. Turns out I was just unlocking the various locks in the wrong order. Oh okay. I'm such a silly gringa.

Yesterday, our group explored La Moneda where many of the government buildings are again and then headed over to the Cerro Santa Lucia to take in a view of the city. Apparently there are many cerros in Chile and the coastal city of Valparaiso where I'm headed next week is full of them. I got some great pictures and a little bit of exercise.

After, we had lunch on the lawn at the Cerro, enjoying empanadas from a little hole-in-the-wall place. We wandered around the neighborhood of Bellas Artes taking pictures in for an assignment for class when Mark, Kevin and I decided the rest of our group should have the pleasure of trying the terremottos at La Piojera, so we headed over there for what turned out to be a great bonding experience and a fun afternoon meeting and laughing with random Chileans.

Today was uneventful, although I ate another Italiano and am concerned I'm developing an addiction.

BUT: super exciting, my friend Carolina has an uncle who owns a resort in the small northern costal town of Tongoy and he has invited all of us to spend the weekend there! We bought our bus tickets and this weekend the gringos are off the the playa! Don't worry Mom and Dad, I'll be back in time for class!