Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Metropolitan Santiago

One of the things that has surprised me, even though I knew before arriving, is that Santiago is HUGE! It is compared to the sprawling LA, while over in Argentina, Buenos Aires is the tall San Francisco of the Southern Cone.  (A problematic comparison because there are actually many more differences, but helpful to realize how big Santiago is.)  There are numerous comunas, or "neighborhoods."  However, these are more than neighborhoods, because they are like little cities inside of the larger Santiago.  Each comuna has its own municipality with a mayor, fire department, police, etc.  An interesting consequence of this is that the cultures and public services of neighboring comunas can vary greatly depending on tax dollars (pesos), especially the quality of elementary education.

I am living in Nuñoa, a quaint, upper middle class comuna that is fairly centrally located.  There are well-paved streets, nice gardens, a plaza and central park, and bike lanes in between the street and the sidewalk.  People can safely walk their dogs, jog, etc. into the warm evenings.

Plaza and municipal building in Nuñoa

Streets of Nuñoa

Church off the Nuñoa Plaza

Downtown is very developed and western.  There are pedestrian streets that are completely closed to cars, with small trees and various vendors or performers. Small things remind me of other parts of Latin America, like stray dogs and less-manucured parks.  But otherwise, I could have been in parts of Barcelona!

The transportation system is also very modern (a city this large needs a good one).  The metro and the bus, called la micro, all cost 590 pesos per ride, which is about $1.  This seems cheap compared to the DC Metro and the BART, but the public trans is privatized here, and is expensive relative to other Latin American systems (so I hear). 

Murals in a metro station near my house

Another really fun thing about the buses is that they are a stage for public performances.  On most buses, you'll see someone or a group of people playing and instrument and singing.  This is like the US, BUT they don't ask for money.  They do it as a public entertainment service, for fun.  It seems like Chileans in general really value music, and being able to play an instrument.  Many of the people on my program have said that their host siblings are in bands.  Hopefully I'll see some great live music while I'm here!

An old abandoned building and graffiti downtown

Monday, January 28, 2013

Back to School (sort of)

Today was the first day of my Intensive Language Program through the California program here.  We went right into grammar lessons!  I think it will really refresh my language, having review and fun language activities for 4 hours a day, for 3 weeks.  The classes are being held at one of the Catholic University's Campuses, called Campus Oriente.  It used to be a convent up until the 1880s.  The campus is full of arched doorways, stone and tile hallways, beautiful gardens, and lush courtyards.

Campus Oriente - Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

This weekend I went to a Canyon called Cajón del Maipo in the Andean foothills just outside of Santiago.  We had an orientation there and got lots of info about navigating Santiago, registering for classes, finding housing, etc.  We stayed at a beautiful ranch called Rancho el Añil, with cabins, pools, and hiking nearby.

View of the Andes in the distance from Cajón del Maipo

Exploring the canyon

Swimming with other UC girls at the ranch where we stayed

Water slide!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Warm Welcome

When I got to Santiago, I went to one of the university campuses to meet my host family.  Mine isn't a large family, but a lovely retired woman named María Elena.  She came with her 8 year old grandson, Sahid, who was staying for a few days since it is summer vacation here.  She lives in a 3 bedroom apartment building in the Nuñoa neighborhood, a middle class, clean, very quaint area.  I got a room with a balcony!

My balcony view of the Andes, just before sunset.

My host mom is very sweet and accommodating.  She calls me cariño and mi amor.  She's been hosting students through this and other programs for 11 years, a champion host mom!  Although she's very relaxed and laid back (I have a key, no curfew or rules so far), she insists on making all of my food and serving me - something I've never experienced!  I think it's a cultural thing, and could be a little rude to insist on doing it myself.

This is an humita de choclo - basically a corn tamale (but not sweet like in Central America).  At my new home I've had a lot of baked chicken, baked potatoes, some stew, and cold salads like this one and one with beets.  It's good quality healthy food, but the warning that Chilean food can be bland holds a bit true.  If not, it's all pre-salted and pre-sweetened.  I look forward to cooking for myself later on with all the great produce.

Another Chilean specialty - Mote. This is peach juice with a whole peach in it.  At the bottom is a type of grain. The way I'd describe them is a clash between oats, quinoa, and barley.  They are kind of like chewey, oatey pieces of rice.  A typical summer drink in the hot, hot city.

The Beginning of an Adventure

Hello all, friends and family!  Here I'll be posting about my observations, stories, experiences, friendships, qualms, travels, and much more while I'm in Chile for the next seven months!

I am studying abroad through the University of California Berkeley.  My program is really exciting, and has a few components.  When I first arrived I was received by a host family that I will stay with for about 4 weeks (more on that later!).  After an orientation with the very dedicated staff at Chile's very own UC study center, I will start a 3 week ILP, Intensive Language Program.  We start tomorrow, and I am looking forward to a lot of information on Chilenismos (Chilean slang), culture, history, as well as more Spanish readings and writing practice to get me back in the groove with my Spanish.  After that, I have 2 and a half weeks off, during which I plan to go to Patagonia and perhaps regions of central Chile!  More on that later as well!  Finally, the Chilean fall semester starts in March and goes through the beginning of July.  I will be able to take classes, do an internship, and more, all of which I am still figuring out.  Very exciting!

I feel so lucky to be able to travel like this, to enjoy an academic experience in Latin America, to be received so well in Santiago thus far, and to have lovely people at home who supported me and let me go.  Thanks to all on all ends, and I hope to keep you informed of my life down here!  Please feel free to contact me at or write comments on the blog.