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.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Though I've been from Santiago to La Serena and am now in San Pedro...I have some catch up to do with blogging...

The night life in Chile is hopping. I personally never went to any disco discos—we ended up just staying close to the hostel and going to local bars (which turned into discos, anyway). There are PLENTY of places to go out to at night. The catch is, though, they don’t go out til after 12/1am in the morning and party until 4/5. So, waking up at 7:30am for training didn’t work out too well with that.

There are a ton of street vendors and small shops scattered throughout the city. If you ever needed food, it wasn’t hard to get. If you wanted healthy food, on the other hand, that was more difficult ot come across. Dogs. Stray dogs. There are probably more dogs than shops in Chile. The stray dogs are EVERHWERE…they sleep anywhere, they poop anywhere, and mate anywhere. I never saw an aggressive dog, they were all seemingly nice, but it was realllly hard for me not to bend over and pet them…or let them walk around with me. We went jogging one morning and, of course, the stray dogs flocked like crazy. We usually were able to get rid of the dogs…except one. We named him Atlas. He was completely neurotic and never stopped moving his head from side to side looking at the street, sidewalk, and buildings.

Outside of the hotel where we had training were a few cafes. These cafes were special, though, bc you walked in the door, paid the cashier, gave your receipt to a woman dressed in a short, skin tight dress in high heels, and watched her buzz around the bar on a stage. Twas an experience to say the least.

:) Hasta luego...

Monday, July 12, 2010


Monday through Friday we woke up around 7:30am for “breakfast” (white bread, coffee, and tea)(I bought some wheat bread, peanut butter, and green I survived), then we went to training at 9, had a coffee/tea/cookies at 10:30 (picture on left), ventured the busy streets of Santiago for lunch at 1:30, and finished training around 4:30pm.

Since it’s winter here, the sun goes down at about 6, which didn’t leave much time after training for exploring the city. We usually ran errands and walked around the city for a bit. The wine and beer here are VERY cheap and delicious…we’re talking a huge bottle of wine for $1900 pesos (about $4 American Dollars). We had wine just about every night with dinner and hung out, talked, played cards/drinking games, and practiced our Spanish.

It was quite cold in Santiago, not just because of the weather, but also because central heating is not common. I slept in thick socks (I am so thankful you found those Brad), running pants, a t-shirt, and a hoodie. I’ve learned the art of layering and rarely take off my scarf (now I understand their true purpose other than for fashion).

Though I have only been in Chile for a week (that went by extremely fast), I feel like I have been in Chile for quite some time. The people here are so nice and every day is a new adventure. When I would get a (rare) spare moment by myself this week, I came to terms with the feeling that there is no other place I should be right now. Chile feels right. I’ve met some really quality people while here—other volunteers and Chileans. It’s interesting to put 30 strangers together in a room with one commonality and hear the diversity of backgrounds from which we all come.

I spent the majority of my time with Saniye (born in Turkey, lives in Scotland), Paul (THE man….from Iowa), Liz (NYC), Liz (from New York and whose B-day was on Thursday...the picture to the left is a group of the volunteers out celebrating the girl in white's bday...and we also made some new Chilean friends), Kendra (from Cleveland but lives in NYC), and Eric (New Jersey). My hostel roommates were from Michigan (Michelle…she went to MSU…ew), Florida (Francey), and Australia (Zan…spelled “zed-a-n” in her little Australian accent). Though I may be thousands of miles away from Denver, there is a guy here (Ari) who went to Cherry Creek. We automatically bonded over this and proudly chanted Cherry Creek cheers some evenings. Small world… OOH!!! And one of my fave people: Patricia. She's one of the workers at the hostel, and she is a sweetheart. She’s from Honduras, so we were able to understand her Spanish a bit better than the rest of the Chileans. She’d always hook me up with a second helping at dinner and “agua caliente” (hot water) for my sleepy time tea at night.

Jon, Kendra, me, Paul, Saniye, and Liz at the send off

The Roomise--Zan, Francie, me, and Michelle

Will write more soon!!

Peace and lots of love to you all :)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

America to Santiago--Day One!

Well, my first day in Chile could not have gone by any faster. The flight FLEW by… got on the plane, filled out some paperwork, ate a delicious meal, was served a generous amount of wine, and then I “slept” for a couple of hours. No one sat next to me so I had two seats to sleep on, but curling up into the fetal position over two seats, even for my 5’4” self, was not the most comfortable. Side note: airplane food--is it just me or is it always good?! I have yet to experience an airplane meal that I don’t like. Maybe it’s because my expectations for plane food are so low that when it actually tastes decent, it seems to be that much better? Or maybe it’s because plane food is just that good…am I alone on this notion?

Before eating dinner, I asked the flight attendant what was in the food (surprise surprise), but he didn’t know…However, the inquiry about the cuisine apparently gave him the green light to pop a squat next to me and talk for the last 30 minutes of the flight. Franklin was in the Peace Corps for 6 years and spent time in Zaire, Colombia, and various other places in South America. Interesting man with an interesting life—he made me even more excited for Chile :)

Finding my shuttle from the airport to the “Hostel Internacional de Santiago” was a bit of a task…and my first real encounter with Chilean Spanish. Oy. Luckily hand gestures and smiles got me on a bus, where the completely foreign land of Santiago went flying by my eyes. There is about three times the amount of smog you see in San Fran, trash EVERYWHERE, and a lot of small houses piled on top of one another.

Within 30 minutes of getting to the hostile, I was off with a group of 11 people to go explore Chile, which eventually turned into a core group of 6 after people dwindled off. Today’s adventures included going to the “Museo chileno de arte precolombino,” walking around the Plaza de armas, grabbing some empenadas y cervezas (beer) at a little cafĂ© in Santiago, bargaining with some local Chileans at the market for fruit, and visiting the Cementario general where we saw the grave of Salvador Allende (cool history, click on his name) and “los desaparecidos” (the disappeared) (also click on this link). And now I’m waiting to have some dinner at the hostile!

The English Open Doors Program orientation starts tomorrow morning at 9am, so I’m hoping to get a quick jog in before we start (don’t worry mom and dad, I rallied together a small group of people to take on the streets of Santiago with me).

Hope you enjoy the videos and pictures!

What I had to pack...

What everything fit into...

...and I'm off!

Plaza de armas

Some art of the Moche people chewing cocoa leaves

gente de madera (wood people)

Aztec god

my first beer in Chile! came with empenadas for under $2 USD...

view of the Andes from the city.

flower market outside of the cemetery.

another picture of the mountains....

at the cemetery

First sunset in Santiago...view from the hostel :)

At the market!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

My First Blog!

As I write this blog, there are three days left before my departure to Chile! I still have plenty to do (understatement)...but am feeling a lot better after beginning to pack my HUGE backpack with an entire new teaching-appropriate wardrobe (special thanks to my bro, Brad, for finding such a great deal on the pack and to my momma for her stellar bargain hunting skills and taste for teacher clothes).

That's is for now...more to come soon!

Peace in Love.