Monday, September 27, 2010

Week of Celebration + Vina del Mar/Valparaiso

These last few weeks have been quite eventful! Here's a little "itinerary" of the happenings...

Thursday: Party at the school with performances by every grade and then a party for the teachers after (last blog post)

Friday: Day/Night-long cookout in the mountains...a lovely, relaxing time filled with delicious food, games, music, dancing, and family. The group consisted of friends from La Serena and nearby. Everyone brought food and smiles. Towards the evening there was live music, and though I may not have understood all of the words, the guitars were beautiful.

Top: One of the music performers and an outgoing father
Bottom: View of the house/patio

Saturday: Celebration at home all day and night...we decorated the patio with balloons and other "fiestas patrias" goodies. Rodrigo grilled out a ton of meat, and grandma came over to make the salads. We ate and then sat around, drank wine, and talked for hours...which then turned into more eating and TONS of dancing! I learned how to dance Cueca (the official dance of Chile), then I taught everyone how to line dance, and then the family showed me how to dance many other dances from Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. This night was by far one of my favorite nights in Chile. I had a blast dancing and drinking with the family :) Oh, and, if you notice the attire worn by the family, these are classic, central-northern Chile clothes (they do not wear these clothes all the time. Just for special occasions).

Sunday: Trip to Ovalle (about an hour away in the middle of basically nowhere) to celebrate some more! Rodrigo's mom and brothers live out in Ovalle, so we spent the day with them. This day was fairly uneventful (other than food and conversation), and then we finished the trip with a concert in the center square of Ovalle...Los Jaivas! A very loved and well-known group in Chile. The entire town made it to the concert. On the way home, my "sisters" fell asleep on my shoulders. Needless to say, I feel like I'm a part of the family now. :)

Monday: La Pampilla. The EPIC Pampilla that everyone in Chile knows about. Alvaro, Megan, and I spent about 8 hours at this massive carnival. Nearly 500,000 people in one, small(er) place = mayhem. We met up with some other "gringos" (people from gringolandia/aka America) for a few hours, and it was great to speak some English for a bit. Not only did we have to wipe away layers of dust from our sunglasses, but we also had to fend for our lives to get on the carnival rides. Megan and I (accompanied by the ever-so-wpatient Alvaro) stood in line to ride "Kamikaze" for about an hour and a half. Basically, the closer you got to the front of the line, the more crowded/suffocating it became. We literally didn't have to move my feet bc the crowd just pushed us forward. To actually get up the stairs and onto the ride...I had to use some middle school basketball boxing out skills and then muscle myself through so we wouldn't get pushed out of line and into the crowd of screaming teenagers (and adults). Some Chileans (well, some adolescents) have NO sense of personal space, patience, manners, or organization. What about lines and the people working the ride you may ask?! BAH! The workers could care less and the only way to survive is to push and squeeze right back. After the ride we went to the Americo "concert," which by the time we walked to the concert venue there were so many people that Americo was the size of an ant and the music was barely audible. So, we aborted that mission of listening to music that sounded like the same song over and over again (to listen to Americo's top hit and to get a feel for what all of his music sounds like, click this: Te Vas)...and then went to stuff our face with food that I never thought I would eat in my entire life (see picture).

Tuesday: Recovery. And a nice run to the beach, along the beach, and through the city "centro." :) Also, the ever-so-fabulous Alexis (my host teacher) gave me a bunch of tourist information about Chile, which was a HUGE help! Alexis, you're the best!!

Wednesday: Travel preparations! And Megan's Birthday! Megan's host family is kinda like my second family here. They are all so friendly and nice...and get so excited when I come over. Needless to say, I always have a full stomach and a huge smile on my face every time I go over. To celebrate her birthday we made "cocaidas" (little sugar balls topped with coconut) and ate pizza. Oh, and, drank beer. Yes, Steph went to bed with a smile on her face this night :)

Thursday - Saturday: Vina del Mar and Valparaiso. Megan and I jumped on the bus and headed south about 6 hours to absolutely nothing planned About 10 minutes outside of the city her "cousin" called us and invited us to stay at her apt in Vina. She lived about 15 minutes walking distance from the bus stop/city, which was perfect. It was a very relaxing trip--we started the morning by grabbing a "colectivo" (a communal taxi) to Starbucks, walked around Vina del Mar/chased some castles, then jumped on the "micro" (a bus/taxi) to "Valpo" (abbreviation for Valparaiso), boarded a "lancha colectivo" (a communal boat tour) of Valparaiso port, took an "ascensor" (lift/elevator thing) up a hill (picture on right), and had lunch overlooking the city. The view was worth every peso and grain of salt! We made friends with the owner and came to find that the people in Vina and Valpo are really nice and friendly.

Sunday: Recovery

PHEW. lots of adventures :) Below are some detailed pictures of all the fun. This blog doesn't do justice, but I think the pictures help illustrate everything a bit more.

Fiestas Patrias:
Fiestas Patrias

Vina del Mar and Valparaiso:

Friday, September 17, 2010

It has begun!! Fiestas Patrias in Chile

Buenos Dias!! Fietas Patrias has begun!!!

Yesterday was the start of the week-long celebration of Chile's independence. This year is already amazing, considering it is Chile's 200th year of independence! Every single class at the school prepared a dance/performance of all sorts to celebrate the Fiestas Patrias. The dancing were awesome, very informative, and beautiful to watch. The kids spent SO much time and effort preparing the dances, as I'm sure you will see by the pictures.

After the performances the teachers had an "asado" (BBQ) at the school, which consisted of TONS of meat, games, wine, beer, and dancing. I had a blast and learned how to dance-ish "Cueca," the national dance of Chile. BTW, the Chileans can't believe that America doesn't have a national dance...and I can't either.

We're (the host fam and I) are about to leave to spend the day at Ferni's best friend (Nicole's) father's "Parcela" (plot of land) to eat, drink, eat, play games, eat, and dance.

Here's the link to some pictures/videos from yesterday...enjoy!

CAB Actos y Asado con profes!


Friday, September 3, 2010

Spelling Bee and Ferni's Bday!

A few weeks ago Colegio Andres Bello had it's First Annual Spelling Bee!! The week before and the week during the Spelling Bee were eventful getting ready for the big event. There were two Spelling competitions--one for the Basico students (5th - 8th grade) and one for the Medio students (9th - 12th grade).

The kids were so cute about the Spelling Bee!! Some of the participants had written pronunciation, definition, etc. on their study sheets. Others didn't look at the study sheet once...but it was all good in the end! Everyone had smiles and felt "special" for participating. Also, it was a full house! Many of the other English classes came to watch the event and cheer on their fellow classmates who were competing.

My role in the "Bee" was the "announcer of the words," host, and judge. It was no Mock Rock, but it sure was a lot of fun. :)

The best part: BOTH of my sisters participated. Paula and Ferni are by far the best English students at the school. Paula (13) had a slight mess up with the word "book"...she spelled it with a "c-k," and knew she messed up...but since the Spelling Bee is so hard core, the kids can't correct their mistakes. The events that happened after this reminded me why I loathed middle school as much as I did...

When Paula went back to her classroom after the Spelling Bee, the kids had drawn a huge book on the board and written "B-O-O-C-K." This really upset Paula, of course, and she came home in tears and all the women in the family proceeded to cry in sympathy for her. Kids can be SO mean! However, as we assured Paula, they're just jealous...ugh kids.

As for Ferni, 17, she won the whole thing!! And quite humbly may I add :) I mean, she's basically my walking English-Spanish Dictionary, so I'm not surprised one bit!

The day of the Spelling Bee was also Ferni's 17th birthday!! Just one more year til she can drink...not that it's a big deal for her since she is so "tranquila" (chill), but she is getting old :( We had a DELICIOUS "asado" (bbq) for lunch and some equally delicious desserts at night to celebrate the special day. Her rents gave her a really nice digital camera and Paula gave her nail polish. Both gifts brought tears to eyes immediately! So cute :) I gave her a homemade birthday card...the best this volunteer could do considering I'm still waiting for my first stipend that's over a month late...

On Friday night Ferni had her best friend Nicole over for some karaoke. Needless to say, we sung the night away...and all songs were in English! The family sets up their living area with a projector, speakers, microphones, and all for karaoke. Everyone participates and everyone has a great time. My family patiently watched my rendition of "Always Be My Baby." Within 20 seconds of the song they were able to tell it was my favorite song of all they let me belt out my horrible attempt to sing like Mariah Carey. It wasn't the same without my best friends singing along with me.....

Anyhoo, here is a link to some pictures from the Spelling Bee and Ferni's B-day. Enjoy!

Spelling Bee & Ferni's Bday">Click here for pictures!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Getting Settled in La Serena :)

It has been some time since I have written on here! I may have gotten a bit caught up" in the (laaaaaaid back) Chilean way of life. Needless to say, I've been enjoying myself :)

Right now I am hanging out at the house after having "almuerzo" (lunch) at my host-house. Every day I come home from school to have lunch with Alejandra (my host mom), Fernanda, and Paula (my host sisters). Almuerzo is a big deal here...a large meal with lots of great food. Today, we had steamed artichokes with lemon + vinegar for an app, then a plate full of chicken in special broth with potatoes + carrot, lettuce, and a tomato + onion salad. Oh, and, of course, bread...freshly made today. It'd be an understatement to say I look forward to lunch every day... :)

On Thursdays I only have one class, so it's a very relaxed day. To switch things up in the classroom this week, I've been teaching the kids an American song. Every class picked to learn the song Jason Mraz "I'm Yours"...and let me just say...after 16, 45 minute classes of teaching this song, I NEVER want to hear the song again. However, something about the kids smile at the end of class when they understand the song and they can actually sing along, gives me some energy to continue one with the next "curso" (grade).

After class I spent about an hour watching the 11th grade gym class rehearse various dances for the 18th of September. The "Fiestas Patrias" is a week long celebration of Chile's independence from Spain. This is a HUGE (huge is an understatement) deal here. How so? Well...we get one, whole week of school off, everyone in Chile is already preparing for the day (hence evidenced by the high school's month - early dance preparations), and it comes up in nearly every conversation. Upon that, this year it is an even bigger deal because 2010 marks Chile's 200 years of independence...the "Bicentenario" (bicentennial). I CANNOT WAIT for September to come around...lots of food, dancing, food, wine, dancing, food, food food food foooooood....

For the last few weeks I've been helping out one of the gym teachers, Michael, with his gym class b/c...drum roll...they are playing field hockey!!!!!!! The PE department had actually just purchased the sticks right before I got here in July, and it was by mere coincidence that the school started to learn "this new, weird sport" upon my arrival. Though the sticks are from 1980 and the game is completely foreign to the kids, we have a ton of fun. The students are totally open to trying new things and go crazy during the games (chants, goal celebrations, and more). Just another example of how grateful I feel here in Chile...I get to share my passion for hockey with 30+ Chilean children!

I was hoping to write more about these last few days, but I have to go get ready for class (some 5th graders asked me to visit their class today...the younger kids are a lot more "carinoso" (loving) than the older kids), so I'm on my way to do that. Then play FH. And then lead a spinning class for 4 other teachers at the school.....

just another day in Chile :)

Paz y Amor!

The kids doing a little drill before scrimmaging...

The kids getting into the scrimmage/screaming "gol gol"...the ref was apparently too distracted taking pictures and missed the call...

Friday, July 30, 2010

First Week at School!!

So...after a gorgeous run after school today (something about standing halfway up a hill and overlooking the entire town of La Serena with the sun reflecting off the ocean, outlining the mountains that surround the city), I came to a realization with my blog: I just need to write. As most of you know, sometimes I have a tendency to make things "perfect"/put things in perfect order/make lists/etc. Because of this, I have been putting off blogging since I have so many events with which I need to catch up. Instead of writing about my Chilean adventures in chronological order, I am just going to write it as I go...

Today was my first week at school!!! The week went by so fast, and I am already loving it. The past 5 days have just been "observation," so I went to all of the English classes and met the students. Each class consisted of me standing in front of 30+ smiling/giggling kids and introducing myself with the following spiel: "Hello. How are you. Good! My name is Stef, and I am from the United States. I was born in a state called Colorado. Do you know where Colorado is? No? Do you know where California is? Yes? Well, they are kind of close. Not really..." And then commenced about 30 minutes of Q & A. They asked typical questions...age, music, movies, etc...but here are some funny ones:

"Are you single? Do you want to find a Chilean boyfriend? Do you have a younger brother or sister?
"How many kids do you want?"
"How many places have you traveled?" (and when I told them Tanzania, Australia, and Puerto Rico they all looked at me like I was crazy and was a decorated world-traveler)
"Did you know Michael Jackson?"
"Do you like Justin Bieber?" (and when I said no, the room erupted in laughter and applause)

My favorite class I visited was the little 5th graders. They were SO cute and well behaved. The teacher (Alexis...more about this awesome man later) had them prepare questions ahead of time, so I was just going down the rows of the attentive, brown-eyed kids answering their cute little questions. Of course, being so young, they didn't understand all of my "big" English words, so Alexis helped me translate to "Chilean" (for the record...they do NOT speak Spanish here...they speak Chilean). At the end of the class, two little boys ran up to me and gave me an apple juice box and a ball of yarn. Yes, yarn. Then a little girl asked me for my autograph. Needless to say, I left with a GIGANTIC smile on my face and a few extra bounces in my step :)

The students are really nice, light-hearted kids. They are constantly smiling, laughing, and making jokes. Though this can make it difficult to have "control" over the classroom, the positive energy is contagious, and I have come to accept it's just the way it is here.

Here's the skinny...
I am teaching at "Colegio Andres Bello Pampa," a semi-private school from grades "pre-kinder" (preschool) to "cuarto medio" (12th grade). The school is small, with about 75-100 kids per grade. When I tell them I graduated with 800 people they look at me like I have about 800 heads standing behind me. Pretty typical look around here...thank you blond hair and American accent.

I will be teaching 8th grade - 11th grade for about 25 hrs/week since they have a bit higher level of English. Each class is 1.5 hours long, so I will teach half the class in a separate (my own!!) classroom for the first 45 minutes and then get the other half of the class for the remainder 45. I'll be working with Alexis and Violeta for the majority of the classes, as well as Yasmin and Gina for one class each. Having my own classroom is a big deal b/c each class of students has their own room that they stay in the entire day, and it's the teachers that go from class to class to teach (this creates interesting dynamics which I'm sure you can all imagine...).

Alexis is my "host teacher" at the school. He is absolutely AMAZING!!!! He's 28, is a total sweetheart, is really cute, has nearly perfect English, and is engaged to his girlfriend of 9 years (who is also really nice and funny). After meeting him in person I told myself, "It's official. I could not have been put in a better situation in Chile." My host family ROCKS. My host teacher is amazing. La Serena is the best town in Chile (seriously, the entire nation of Chile took a survey and voted La Serena as the best city to live in).

Tonight I am meeting up with Megan (a fellow volunteer) and we are going to an "asado" (a BBQ) and then out with her "primos" (cousins) to "carretear" (party) at the discos. Tomorrow afternoon some of our English Winter Camp students invited us to make empanadas and hang out, so we will be doing that, too!

Smiling, always :)


Monday, July 19, 2010

The Drive from Santiago to La Serena

The drive from Santiago to La Serena was absolutely gorgeous. There are mountains everywhere in Chile—from smaller, brown hills to massive, snow capped mountains. The colors vary as much as the topography—bright greens, almost like an electric lime green, dull browns, robins egg blue sky…it is a complete pleasure to take all of it in. There are a lot of vineyards alongside the hills/ is amazing to see how far up the grapes go on the mountains! There weren’t many houses during the drive, just blotches of small towns along the way with small shack-like houses painted in yellow, blue, green…you name the color, there is an entire house painted it in Chile. They really make American houses seem “boring.”

A man came through the bus selling “dulces” (sweets) and Vicki (another volunteer who is working in Coquimbo) bought 3 of them. I had a bite of one, and it tasted like matzah with dulce de leche (caramel). Speaking of food, the food here is very bland...with A LOT of salt...even the pastries. TONS of bread/empty carb calories…so, needless to say, I’m hungry often and eat a lot. The fresh produce (fruits and veggies) is great here and easy to come across. There are produce markets scattered basically everywhere in Chile, so we always made sure to have fruit on hand. Hot dogs (completos) are HUGE here…the Chileans looovvveee their hot dogs (with every condiment ever created, too).

The first part of the drive was mountainous, the second part was coastal water and mountains, the third part of the trip was more rolling hills/plains (and still mountains), and the last part, going into La Serena was very unique. Coquimbo (the town right before La Serena) was a break from all of the rural driving--tons of houses piled one right next to the other, sweeping across the countryside. We stopped about halfway at a small town for lunch where we had lunch (I don't know the name...sorry!). Instead of eating at the food court, we went across the street from the bus station to some side shack restaurants. I got an empanada con pino (a mixture of meat, onions, sometimes eggs, and olives). It was fresh out of the oven and delicious…and about $1.50. This entire drive kept my attention—the scenery just kept changing. Chile truly is a beautiful country with so many different sights to offer.

Here are some videos from the drive...WARNING: if you get motion sickness, have caution while watching these...

About an hour outside of Santiago

Somewhere between Santiago and La Serena

A typical Chilean town

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Adventures in the Andes (or nearby)

A little recap of a "hike" through what we thought were the Andes mountains, but really turned out to be Cajon de Maipo (a range near to the Andes)...

Jon and Karen (THE cutest couple, ever…they had little performances every night...Jon plays the guitar, Karen plays the cello, and they both sing together) recommended a hike in the Andes, so a group of 5 of us jumped on the metro (like the L from Chicago), got off at this produce/fish market, purchased way too much fruit from a Chilean entrepreneur (he lured us in with free samples, which was smart on his part because it was by far the best fruit I have ever had….not kidding), bought oatmeal bread from German woman who had just baked it that morning (it was still warm), then took the "C02 bus" to the base of the mountain, and got off at the "Escula Italiana" (which had an impressive sporting campus…and sand-based field hockey fields!!). From there we asked a few people how go “climb the mountain” and we eventually found a map.

At the market, right outside of the metro (left)
The fish at the market...look at the size of the clams!!(right)

We chose the 1 hour hike, but once we reached “the end,” we all weren’t satisfied with the view. So we asked a biker and his wife for directions to get to a better “Mirada” (viewpoint). He then drew a map on paper and said we should be able to do it in 30 minutes and that there was a loop we could return on. First lesson of the day: 30 minutes for a Chilean = at least an hour. We hiked a bit more and came to a steep, muddy, and snowy/icy hill and were debating whether or not to continue. Liz, being the older/more cautious of the group, alluded to not going up the steep, slippery hill that was off the path. I really wanted to get up to the top for a better view, so I ventured up the hill and discovered it wasn’t "that bad"…so Liz and Eric followed (the other two girls turned around when we get new directions because they were tired).

The hike on the way up (left)
The map that a random biker drew for us (right)(obvious how we got a bit lost?)

We hiked up the hill to a great view…and around each turn and down various paths, it always looked like the view was getting better. That being said, I kept convincing my two travel comrades to go down the path for a few minutes, check it out, and turn around if it didn’t lead anywhere. Needless to say, we never turned around and just kept going up and up, all the while the view kept getting better and better. We reached the top and saw a path that looked like it went down, so we followed it. This steeeeep and rocky path eventually ran into a waterway…which then lead to a road…and by this point, it was 4:00pm and we were worried we weren’t going to make it back before sundown. Second lesson: start hikes earlier in the day just in case one wanders off the path…

The view from the first "mirador"(picture spot) (left)
The next view from the next "mirador" (right)

The very top of the mountain (note: cactus + snow = Chile is awesome (left)
And another one (right)

We found a house in the middle of nowhere, guarded by multiple rottweilers, and called for help. A man came out and spoke reallllly fast, broken Chilean. I served as the translator, and managed to get some directions out of him. We ended up heading towards the electric tower and following a ZIG ZAG of a path down to the bottom of the mountains. We made it to a suburb-like area, but were not able to get in because the town was enclosed by a fence with barbed wire. At this point we had been “exploring” for a few hours and finally made it to civilization, but we had no way of actually getting into the town to catch a bus. Luckily, a woman who was at a stop light nearby yelled to us that there was an opening up 100 m where we could crawl under. So, the three Americans climbed under the fence and broke into the town. We found a bus stop and asked a local girl how to get back to the Escula, and she (willingly) helped us. Within minutes we were on our way back to the metro.

Along some random path..."lost" (left)
Eric crawling under the fence into civilization (right)

It was an adventure to say the least, but I had a smile on my face the entire time and am glad we did it. The pictures don’t quite do justice, but, hey, pictures never do.