Monday, May 18, 2009

The End

It is 2:00am and in three hours I will be leaving to head to the airport and make my way to the United States, leaving Chile and the life that I had led for the past 2 1/2 years.  This, of course, means the last blog post and the end of Michelle's South American Adventures.

Funny to think that if I would have stayed in South America this entire time (I went back to the US twice, once for a week and once for three weeks), today would have been my 1000th day in South America.  Instead, it is my 960th and last day.

This week has been so incredibly busy and exhausting, as my goodbye is not only my personal goodbye but the end of the Holy Cross Associates program.  Regardless, this time has allowed me to realize how much I truly love my life here and how much it will be missed.  As expected, the goodbyes with the orphanage kids was the hardest task of the week and leaving John and Brian here will no doubt be difficult as well.

I am so incredibly blessed for the experience that I have had here over the last few years, both good and bad.  It has been truly life altering and I cannot imagine the person I would be without this experience.  As I leave, I know that this experience has soaked into my bones and Chile will always run through my blood.  It is a large part of who I am now and who I will always be.

Thank you to all my friends and family here in Chile for your kindness, friendship, and generous spirit.  Thank you to my friends and family in the US for your love and support while I went on this crazy journey.  

Until the next adventure,

Michelle

Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto...
Chi Chi Chi! Le Le Le!  Viva Chile!!!

Monday, May 11, 2009

The last week

I have this nervous/anxious/amazed/sad/excited feeling in the pit of my stomach.  This morning I woke up and I thought "wow, it is actually here."  One week from today I will be permanently leaving after almost three years in South America.  I simply cannot believe it.  It seems like just a month ago I was on the roof of my apartment building in Cochabamba, Bolivia looking out over the city, enjoying a beautiful sunset against the mountains, and journaling about how my life might possibly play out during the next two years. That time has passed and then some.  All I can say is wow and, while the life I live now did not exactly turn out as expected, that I would not exchange this experience for anything else in the world.

As I have seen and heard, the last week for any volunteer is a difficult one.  It is full of goodbyes, last visits, and finding time to get your life in order and bags packed before the scheduled departure date.  It is even more difficult in Chile, where social custom is not a final goodbye, but more of a "see you when you return" kinda thing.  As I discussed with my spiritual director last week, while US custom generally acknowledges that one may not see the other again and that seeing the other person again is an act of fate, thus saying goodbye accordingly, such understanding does not exist in Chile.  As a result, when Chileans ask if you will return to visit them, you must show the desire to do so with the answer "Si Dios Quiere" or "Ojalá" (If God wants/God willing.)    No doubt the last few weeks I have said those phrases often, knowing that unless work brings me back here, I will not be returning in the future.

So, as all volunteer last weeks go, mine will follow the same format as shown below (last week was just as crazy.)  I look forward to all these events and the people I will share them with, while looking forward to the next step in life, knowing I am on the right path and that this path would have never been discovered without my time here.

Monday
Noon: meeting with Father Erwin to speak to the owners of Los Buenos Muchachos, where I will have my final going away party on Friday
2:30pm: meeting with both Directors of the International Student Program (exchange program I created for two high schools in Santiago)
5:00pm: tea with Consuelo
7:00pm: onces and playing cards with Marta and Cecilia

Tuesday
10:00am: Skype meeting with Juilieta to discuss Saint George book (another project I started, haha)
After: confirming final details for Friday's party with restaurant
2:15pm: meeting with Director of International Student Program at Saint George's
5:00pm: Saint George's College (one of the high schools I work at) goodbye party from the English department
9:00pm: dinner at Jacinda's

Wednesday
10:30am: go to the feria (fruit/vegetable market) for the last time :-(
noon: meeting with both directors of exchange programs and the travel agency
After: meeting with Villa Maria Academy's director of the exchange program
After: errands around Santiago
7:00pm:  mass at Parroquia San Roque (local parish where I used to live, with 20 or so Señoras coming to say goodbye.  At request of the priest, I will be conducting the homily (eek!) reflecting on my experiences and connecting it with the reading of the day.)
After: last community night with Brian and John :-( 

Thursday
Morning: packing
2:00pm-5:00ish: lunch and playing cards with good friends Michelle and Jenny
6:00pm: Onces (tea, bread, conversation) at Señora Sara's house with her granddaughter Amanda
After: slumber party with John and Brian (haha, inside joke thing)

Friday
At Saint George the whole day, saying my goodbyes to good friends, having lunch, etc.  I think I want to go and get one more very cheap pedicure after, we will see...
4:00pm: Sarah, Vicho, Tasi, and many others arrive from out of town
8:00pm-4:00am (maybe later...):  PARTY!!  Goodbye party with about 40 people at local restaurant Los Buenos Muchachos, where Chilean food is great and comes with a 2 hour show of traditional Chilean dances

Saturday
Recouperation from the night before, finding time to pack
5:00pm: leave Santiago and go to Telegante to spend the night with the orphanage kids

Sunday 
Have breakfast with the hogar kids, say my very difficult goodbyes
After: spend time with Sarah, Brian, and John while packing

Monday
5:30am: arrive at Santiago airport for 7:30am flight back to the U.S.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A Day in the Life of Michelle in Chile - Sundays

Hi all, here is a two part short (and low budget) movie to show you my adventures in visiting the orphanage kids in the countryside each Sunday.  Enjoy!



Friday, May 01, 2009

Adventures in Talca

Well, today is May 1st and that marks exactly 17 days until I am headed back to the US permanently. Time is simply flying by and I still have much to do on my to-do list, such as places to see, foods to eat. etc. Yet, as the days get colder and winter creeps in, I am glad knowing that nice weather awaits me in just a few weeks.

Work itself is a bit mundane, as the transitioning of all of my projects to new coordinators is coming to an end. As a result, I find myself with time to complete the things on my to-do list, although I seem to keep adding things to the list every day. I also find myself with time to visit people, which is nice. The best is that I am spending more time at the orphanage, playing with the kids, although each time I attempt to leave the kids there are always a few tears from some that are worried I will not come back before I leave for good, despite my assurances that this will not be the case. Last Sunday, I realized that departing from them will by far be one of the hardest things about leaving my life here.

Today is the feriado, or federal holiday, of Labor Day. As happens in the United States, no one works and everyone travels. A few days ago I decided to spend the long weekend visiting my very good friend Sarah who is a Maryknoll volunteer in Talca, about three hours south of Santiago. Last night, after spending the day visiting Señora Sara and her granddaughter Amanda for Amanda's 7th birthday, I made the trip to the bus terminal to buy a ticket and make my way to Talca. Silly me, I forgot that it is usually wise to buy a bus ticket ahead of time on holiday weekends; the terminal was packed and I found myself squeezing through people and fighting my way to the front of the line (line etiquette does not exist in Santiago and it is a survival of the fittest thing.) For those that knew me when I first arrived in Santiago, and how the large city overwhelmed and scared me a bit, they would be amazed at how I managed everything so calmly last night - in fact, it was really just second nature. Anyway, long story short, I was told there were not any buses for the night at the company I wanted and ended up walking around the terminal talking to every bus company, finding out they too were sold out of tickets to Talca for the night. As luck (or God) would have it, I heard a man telling a salesperson that he did not want his ticket to Talca for the night and that he wanted a refund. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity and found myself with a ticket for a bus two hours later. Sitting against the wall of the terminal, waiting for the two hours to pass, I thought to myself how much I had changed in the last 2 1/2 years and how comfortable and ready I feel about moving to New York City, which is great.

Arriving late last night, Sarah and I talked and walked to the corner for some late night food (love random corner food stands in the countryside!) This morning, we had a very adventurous day, walking three hours to and up the local "mountain/large hill" of the town, where a huge statue of the Virgin Mary looks down on the city with a fantastic view. After, we headed into town and ate at the restaurant "Las Viejas Cochinas," (The Dirty Old Women, haha.) Las Viejas Cochinas is a must-stop for anyone who comes to Talca. For a whole 10 dollars a piece, we had more food than Sara and I have both eaten in long time, including a liter pitcher of Ponche (white wine, sugar, and fresh strawberries), a huge steaming clay bowl of 20 clams and mussles along with a half of broiled chicken and broth, and a huge portion (that we could not finish) of bread and sopaipillas (fried squash bread) with a delicious tomato, garlic, salt, and oil salsa. Needless to say, we felt pretty good leaving (in large part due to the ponche) and were happy about the two hour walk back home.

And so, I am hanging out here until Sunday morning, when I will return to Santiago and travel directly to the orphanage to spend the day with the kids. Monday I will have my last spiritual direction and will continue to work on my to-do list throughout the week, stopping by the various schools I work at to get some things done and have a few meetings. On Friday, the priests and brothers of Holy Cross will be having a goodbye dinner for me, which I am very much looking forward to. They have been a large part of my experience here and have always been so supportive of all that I have done.

One of the things on my to-do list is to make various videos of my life here. It is not exactly top priority, but I am hoping I get to them sometime before I leave. If I do, I will certainly post them on the blog - stay tuned!

Until next time,

- M

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Details Confirmed

Alright everyone, it's official - my ticket back to the US *permanently* has been bought! Here are the details:

Monday 18May Avianca Air Lines
Flight 98 Santiago 07:25am- Bogota 12:25pm
Flight 8 Bogota 06:15pm- Miami 10:55pm

Tuesday 19May Delta Air Lines
Flight 1982 Miami 05:45am- Atlanta 07:39am
Flight 1639 Atlanta 10:55am- Kansas City 12:13pm

Until this date it will be lots of good times and some tears. I have had a hard time coming to terms with leaving Chile for good...this is my life here. My identity. It is hard for me to remember life when I didn't live outside of the US. But, while I definitely do not want to leave, I ready knowing this is the next step in life and comforted by all those that support me, both here in Chile and in the United States.

Please keep my gpa and gma in your prayers.

:-) M

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Beginning of the End

Well, it has been a while since I have posted on the blog. Nothing much has happened since I returned from my Peru trip late February.

School has started again and every day the weather gets a bit more like Fall. I spend my time at school three days a week, assisting the school in the transition of the exchange program I created to the newly hired director and making a little bit of money by being a personal assistant to the principal of the school. Other than that, I am continuing to visit people and their houses and spend time with my housemates.

Every day, too, I am reminded more and more how little time I have here. After 2 years in Chile and 2 ½ years total in South America, I have just two more months until I return to the United States permanently. Early March I was notified that I was accepted to graduate programs in nonprofit management at both Indiana University and New York University. My mind is pretty set on going to New York, but financial aid will confirm my decision soon. Either way, my mind is torn between enjoying the remaining amount of time I have here and excitedly looking forward to the adventures that lay ahead.

Now that I do not have the GREs to study for, graduate program applications to fill out, or preparation for the exchange program to coordinate, I have a bit of free time. The result is the following movie I created about my trip to Peru and the north of Chile. Enjoy!

Unfortunately to place the video on this blog, I had to put it on youtube, which made me split it into 3 parts.  After placing it online, I was notified the song I used for the first part was not authorized and was deleted...so the first part does not have music now.  It is a 1930s jazz song if you want to try to imagine it in your head, haha






Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hello all! Will update soon!

Hello everyone, hope that you had a great Valentines Day :-)

I have left the cold rainy weather of Peru and headed to the north of Chile - this morning I arrived in Arica, Chile after a 17 hour bus ride from Cusco. It is so very nice to be in the summer - and dry - sun again. I spent the entire day just relaxing at the beach! Tomorrow I will be renting a bike for a mere 10 dollars and exploring the city of Arica a bit more, including some nearby archeological sites and viewings of sea lions.

Many of you know the details of my adventures through email, but I will be sure to post more here and all of the photos when I get back to Santiago (and free and faster internet!!) Until then, hope everyone is well and that the first few months of 2009 have started wonderfully!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Michelle's Adventures, plain and simple

After a month in Kansas City visiting family for the holidays, I returned to Santiago, Chile to begin two months of non-stop travel.  On January 18, sixteen 17 year old girls and I traveled to Washington, DC for the International Student Program.  

It was pure coincidence that this year's trip was scheduled for the same week as the Presidential Inauguration.  Yet, it was an amazing honor to be witness to the ceremony and once-in-a-lifetime event.  Despite battling the enormous crowds, we survived.

This morning I returned from Washington, DC after a 11 hour flight.  Tomorrow morning (rather, in about 2 hours of this posting), I am going to fly to the north of Chile then backpack my way through Peru (Machu Picchu here i come!!) and Bolivia (Cochabama and host family here I come!) until the end of February.  I am quite excited about this journey.

I hope to write more when I return, as well as post some great videos.  Who knows where life will take us...for now, it is off to bed.


 

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Michelle's "North American" Adventures

Although I do plan to provide a post reflecting on various observations about life in the US after being away for over a year and my struggle to hop between Chile and US life, I post the following as a simple update to what I have been up to for the last month.

*****
After taking the GRE on December 1st, life was simply a whirlwind. The test went well and the next day I began planning for my birthday party that Friday. The party was a success (thanks in large part to my roommates),with a full spread dinner and patio party dancing the night away under the stars with 30 of my closest friends in Chile. Lots of fun.

Soon after my birthday I began one crazy week of finalizing last minute details for the exchange program I coordinate, trying to fulfill the numerous invitations for lunch or dinner from Chilean friends and families, saying goodbye to American friends who were returning to the States, and preparing for my own trip back to the United States for the holidays. I never thought I would get around to packing, but was able to finish the morning before I left for the States.

I arrived in the United States on December 15. My mom, my brother, and my sister picked me up at the airport - little did I know (and according to the luck of my life), I was arriving on the COLDEST day of the year: 2 degrees with a wind chill of minus 10. After having been at the beach only days before, my body was in shock and I couldn't get to the car fast enough. :-)

My days here have been spent eating, relaxing with family, eating, making occassional shopping trips and visits to the American Legion, and eating. Oh wait, did I mention eating?? I love food and there is certainly no shortage of food in my US life - and great food (especially mom's homecookin), although sometimes not healthy and sometimes (okay...always) coming in large porportions. In fact, despite my best efforts, I have gained around 9 pounds in my last 12 days in the US!

I have had lots of fun too with my 19 year old brother. For some reason, we seem to have a desire to act like we are kids again, playing tag and having tickle wars; one afternoon, we even went sledding along with his best friend Katie! (video below)

The day before Christmas Eve, my sister, her two children and husband, and I went to my father's house for lunch. It was extra special, as it was the first time that I was able to meet my new nephew Dawson who was born in early November. It was also the first time I played with the new Wii game system, a bunch of fun.

Christmas Eve was spent with as it always is, with cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents at my grandparents' house (picture of grandkids and grandparents at right.) I spent most of the time with my new nephew Dawson and cannot wait until I spend the weekend at my sister's house, spending more quality time with my neice and nephew.


Christmas Day was spent at home, eating and opening gifts. That evenig my best friend Brian came over and we went booze crusin' around the country side. Nope, depsite the distance and time apart, nothing has changed. I am so very thankful for this.

As stated earlier, I will post something later with various observations (some insightful and some downright funny) regarding my experience and my brain's attempt to hop between US and Chile life. Until then, I will continue to live life in this small town, hanging out with family and good friends, filling out graduate school applications that are due on January 15th whenever I can.

It is nice to be back in the US but I do miss my Chilean life dearly... it is sad knowing I will be going through all of this again when I permanently say goodbye to my Chile life next May. Sin embargo, saludos a todos mis amigos en Chile, les echo de menos y nos vemos pronto.

video

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

(no subject)

Just wanted to say hello to everyone, and yes, I am still alive. :-)   I will not be posting anything new on this blog until after I take my GRE exam on December 1 (including the awesome iMovie I just created about the Obama election in Chile.) Wish me luck!

One AMAZING thing worth noting: I am an aunt again!! My sister gave birth to her second baby a little more than a week ago! Dawson Walter Drummond was born at 1:06 am on 11/7/08 and weighed 8lbs. 8oz., 20 1/2 inches long.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama victory sparks cheers around the globe

As a demonstration of my last post, I post the following story. The funny thing is, I can say the EXACT same thing for Chileans. Everyone is congratulating me and there is a renewed sense of appreciation for Americans and what we are doing in the world. And while this article demonstrates that we cannot please everyone, I can certainly say from here in Chile I no longer feel hated for my country's politics.


Obama victory sparks cheers around the globe
By JOHN LEICESTER, Associated Press

PARIS – Barack Obama's election as America's first black president unleashed a global tide of admiration, hopes for change and even renewed love for the United States on Wednesday.

The president of Kenya declared a public holiday in Obama's honor, and people across Africa stayed up all night or woke before dawn to watch U.S. election history being made.

In Indonesia, where Obama lived as child, hundreds of students at his former elementary school erupted in cheers when he was declared winner and poured into the courtyard where they hugged each other, danced in the rain and chanted "Obama! Obama!"

"Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place," South Africa's first black president, Nelson Mandela, said in a letter of congratulations to Obama.

Rama Yade, France's black junior minister for human rights, told French radio: "On this morning, we all want to be American so we can take a bite of this dream unfolding before our eyes."

Many expressed amazement and satisfaction that the United States could overcome centuries of racial strife and elect an African-American — and one with Hussein as a middle name — as president.

"What an inspiration. He is the first truly global U.S. president the world has ever had," said Pracha Kanjananont, a 29-year-old Thai sitting at a Starbuck's in Bangkok. "He had Asian and American childhoods, African parentage and has a Middle Eastern name. He is a truly global president."

In an interconnected world where people in its farthest reaches could monitor the presidential race blow-by-blow, many observers echoed Obama's own campaign mantra as they struggled to put into words their sense that his election marked an important turning point.

"I really think this is going to change the world," gushed Akihiko Mukohama, 34, the lead singer of a band that traveled to Obama, Japan, to perform at a promotional event for the president-elect. He wore an "I Love Obama" T-shirt.

The magnitude and emotion of the world reaction illustrated the international character of the U.S. presidency. Many look to Washington as the place where the global issues of war and peace, prosperity or crisis, are decided.

"This is an enormous outcome for all of us," said John Wood, the former New Zealand ambassador to the U.S. "We have to hope and pray that President Obama can move forward in ways which are constructive and beneficial to all of us."

The Vatican said Wednesday it hoped Obama will work to promote peace and justice in the world.

Hopes were also high among those critical of President Bush's policies that an Obama victory would bring in a more inclusive, internationally cooperative U.S. approach. Many cited the Iraq war as the type of blunder Obama was unlikely to repeat.

Indeed, even as they raised expectations, many U.S.-watchers were quick to point out that Obama would have to confront enormous problems once in office: wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, tenacious difficulties in the Middle East and North Korea, a world economy in turmoil.

Europe, where Obama is overwhelmingly popular, is one region that looked eagerly to an Obama administration for a revival in warm relations after the Bush government's chilly rift with the continent over the Iraq war.

"At a time when we have to confront immense challenges together, your election raises great hopes in France, in Europe and in the rest of the world," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a congratulations letter to Obama.

Some South Koreans said they hoped Obama — who has said he favors direct engagement with North Korea — would press North Korean leader Kim Jong Il on human rights issues and the alleged kidnappings of hundreds of South Koreans.

Skepticism, however, was high in the Muslim world. The Bush administration alienated those in the Middle East by mistreating prisoners at its detention center for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and inmates at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison — human rights violations also condemned worldwide.

Some Iraqis, who have suffered through five years of a war ignited by the United States and its allies, said they would believe positive change when they saw it.

"Obama's victory will do nothing for the Iraqi issue nor for the Palestinian issue," said Muneer Jamal, a Baghdad resident. "I think all the promises Obama made during the campaign will remain mere promises."

In Pakistan, a country vital to the U.S.-led war on the al-Qaida terrorist network and neighbor to Afghanistan, many hoped Obama would bring some respite from rising militant violence that many blame on Bush.

Still, Mohammed Arshad, a 28-year-old schoolteacher in the capital, Islamabad, doubted Obama's ability to change U.S. foreign policy dramatically.

"It is true that Bush gave America a very bad name. He has become a symbol of hate. But I don't think the change of face will suddenly make any big difference," he said.

Still, many around the world found Obama's international roots — his father was Kenyan, and he lived four years in Indonesia as a child — compelling and attractive.

Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki declared a public holiday on Thursday in honor of Obama's election victory, and people across Africa stayed up all night or woke before dawn Wednesday to watch the U.S. election results roll in.

"He's in!" said Rachel Ndimu, 23, a business student who joined hundreds of others at the residence of the U.S. ambassador in Nairobi. "I think this is awesome, and the whole world is backing him."

In Jakarta, hundreds of students at his former elementary school gathered around a television set to watch as results came in, erupting in cheers when he was declared winner and then pouring into the courtyard where they hugged each other and danced in the rain.

"We're so proud!" Alsya Nadin, a spunky 10-year-old in pink-framed glasses, said as her classmates chanted "Obama! Obama!"

Friday, October 24, 2008

Yes, We Can

I can’t fully explain how many thousands of times I have resisted the urge to post something about politics on this blog. The reason for choosing not to do so stems from the fact that the blog is about my life in South America, thus the title “Michelle’s South American Adventures.” It is not titled “Whatever Michelle Feels Like Ranting About Today.”

Yet about a week ago I posted two videos of Senator Barack Obama, United States of America Presidential Candidate for the Democratic Party. For those who have kept in touch with me throughout the last two years I have been in South America, it is no secret that I have voted for Senator Obama with my absentee ballot. While there are many policy reasons as to why I voted for Senator Obama instead of Senator John McCain or any other candidate, other reasons relate to my experience as an international volunteer. These two videos demonstrate such reasons.

A few points worth explaining a bit further:

My experience, if anything, has taught me that we are all one global community. Every person’s individual actions impact the life of every other person on the planet (the recent economic crisis in the U.S. and its impact on the world is one such example.) In the United States, we often forget this and live as if we are on an island (and the media encourages it.) I laugh when I remember that as a middle schooler I actually supported such an isolationist point of view. Today, however, as an educated adult, I understand that we cannot continue to live as such. We cannot continue to live as if we are on an island, living as if our daily actions and the actions of our government do not affect the rest of the world. Not only do we live beyond our means both economically and environmentally, but we consistently support policies that provide short-term rather than long-term benefits, thus hurting ourselves and everyone else in the process. Even more, our isolationist reputation has inhibited us from enacting some true good in the world. There is only one person that is running for President of the United States that has consistently portrayed the message of a global community and can significantly change the reputation of the United States, knowing this is not only for the good for all Americans, but for the good of the world. Senator Barack Obama.

My experience has also taught me that education is key to the success of any one person and to any one nation. Political Science majors know that a country’s duration of strength and power have consistently been linked to the quality of education its citizens receive. The education system is the key to the future of our country and to the progression of our world. There is only one Presidential candidate that promotes education reform in a way that allows all children, regardless of the background they have no control over, to have the best education possible. Senator Barack Obama.

One last thing I want to mention here is that my experience has taught me the power of people and their role in the government, particularly in determining their own quality of life. For citizens of the United States, this is often a very hard concept to grasp. Our local, state, and national governments are typically left to their own devices, in which the citizen feels its only power to change the government rests in the electoral process. Granted, the electoral process is by far the most effective way for the government to listen to its people. I have learned here, however, that it is not only in election time, or when a certain policy affects us personally, that we should keep our government accountable. The Chilean and Bolivian people have a spirit about them that their government is truly their government, and every day the government must prove to the people they are listening. Even more, citizens must feel that their government represents all of its citizens. There is only one person that is running for President of the United States that believes in the power of the people, encouraging all to get involved and take ownership of our society, and leading by example, takes to heart that he is representing all of the people of the United States. Senator Barack Obama.

At the beginning of the campaigns of both Presidential nominees, I was truly torn who to vote for. I do not belong to any political party (I say both parties left moderates like me a long time ago, particularly after September 11, 2001.) A long time fan of Senator John McCain and his “maverick” reputation, stepping away from party for the good of the citizens of the United States, I had at once thought that I was going to vote for him to be President of the United States. I certainly was not going to vote for a senator that had only been in office the last two years, despite reading and agreeing with most of his book “The Audacity of Hope.” Yet, as my time in South America grew and I began to see more and more the effects of the United States on this continent, I realized I needed to truly consider both candidates, to be an educated voter. After researching all domestic and foreign policy positions of both candidates, I made my decision. My decision was reinforced when I started to realize Senator McCain simply does not have the ability nor the priorities to enact the type of change we need in order to promote world progress and quality of life for all.

I love my country and I very much look forward to the day in which I can say I am an American without having to be ashamed of my government and explain I do not agree with its policies. I look forward to the day in which I can say to a non-United States citizen, yes, Americans do care for you and your quality of life, and my president, President Barack Obama, understands that we both play a role in the world too. Yes We Can get the world we want and deserve, and it is only my hope that the United States feels the same when it votes on November 4.

Representing a bit of the points below, I have attached the videos for your consideration. Of particular interest is the bottom video, in which Senator Barack Obama speaks Spanish: the only candidate that has a campaign add in Spanish, speaking the language the majority of U.S. citizens will speak by 2020. It is clear that this candidate not only understands the importance of all citizens becoming involved in the electoral process, but the importance of one global community.




Monday, October 13, 2008

Over Before It Begins

As promised, below are pictures and stories about my amazing week celebrating Fiestas Patrias, Chile’s Independence Day. I had hoped to write something longer and more detailed, but it seems these days the day is over before it begins – every day is filled with a “to-do” list and writing on this blog never gets around to being crossed off.

Good news is that more and more the work that I have been swamped with these past few weeks is coming to an end. I am about done coordinating all the details for the exchange students and their upcoming trip/visit to the United States next January-March. This year the work was doubled, sometimes tripled, as I did what I always do and took on more work, coordinating the program at another local high school as well. In the end, everything worked out, but it definitely had its moments of stress…

Bad news is that while a large portion of my work is ending, whatever free time that provides is being filled with studying for the GRE and completing graduate school applications. As some of you know, I am applying to 6 different schools to study and receive a Masters in Non-Profit Management, with hopes this will lead to a life-long career of travel and little money being a consultant for international non-profit organizations. Studying for this test is going well and I am actually quite excited to take it at the end of November. The applications? Well, let’s just say I would rather be doing something else…

And so, that’s it – nothing else in life to write about. Pretty simple around here. Spring is here and every day gets more beautiful – I love that I am wearing skirts and flip flops almost every day and no longer have to sleep with my boyfriend at night. Also - I am excited thinking that in less than a month I will have a new niece or nephew AND in about two months I will be back to the U.S. for Christmas and New Year’s Eve!

Hope everyone is well, you are all always in my thoughts and prayers.

~ M

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Fiestas Patrias 2008

As I wrote last year, Fiestas Patrias is by far my most favorite time in Chile. Everyone is family and treats each other as such, and days are filled attending barbecues, cultural events, and dancing the night away.

The week started off wonderfully. Brian, John, and I took the orphanage kids I visit each week to fly kits at Bernardo O'Higgins Park, a "must-do" during the holidays. Sarah and I also received two elite invitations to go to President Bachelet's ecumenical ceremony at the National Cathedral. It was star sighting the entire time for a political nerd like me, as all the Ministers and government officials of the Chilean government were there. The highlight was being about 10 feet away from President Bachelet herself and getting lots of pictures...oh yeah, and the ceremony was good too, haha.

In the end though, Fiestas Patrias was truly celebrated this year with John, Brian, Sarah (one of my best friends who is a Maryknoll missioner here in Chile), our good friend Oliver, his family, and me. Oliver invited the four of us to celebrate the last four days of Fiestas Patrias with his family in San Felipe, a small town about an hour outside of Santiago. I said yes immediately, getting excited that I would not only celebrate the holiday in true Chilean style in the countryside, but I would return to a part of Chile I love and a location very close to where I used to live December 2006-March 2007.

The holiday certainly did not disappoint. Oliver’s family was amazing: all 20-25 of them! We ate traditional Chilean food, with the meat cooked outside in the adobe mud oven (picture left), and ate, and ate some more, then drank wine, pisco sours, and chicha. The family, who prides itself on its long standing tradition of everyone in the family being able to dance the Cueca, Chile’s national dance, pulled out the guitar and spent hours outside on the porch dancing the Cueca – teaching us “gringos” over and over again until we actually knew what we were doing. The most amazing thing was the guitar player was their 70-something year old Grandma who told John she had been playing guitar longer than he has been alive! (picture below and video at the bottom of this post of Oliver and his cousin dancing the Cueca)


Oliver's Grandma and Aunts singing traditional Chilean music

Me dancing the Cueca

The gang enjoying one of many Chilean meals in the countryside

After a night of dancing with the family at a local festival and my unique opportunity to ride a horse (which I embarrassingly fell off at some point, but my clumsy self got back on, haha), we “jovenes” (young people between the ages of 18-30) left the family and went and celebrated at a “fonda” (tent with music and dancing). We danced the entire night – not exaggerating when I say that we finally returned and went to sleep at 5:30am. We were shocked at this, but at the same time knew we actually returned early for Chileans, especially during Fiestas Patrias.

The next days were spent with the family and hiking around the beautiful countryside. I could not have asked for anything more and mentioned this to Oliver as we were getting back on the bus to go back to Santiago, stating I did not want to return to Santiago. Oliver summed it up perfectly when he responded: “Oh Michelle, I know but we have to return to reality."

video

At my friend Oliver's Grandmother's house. Oliver and his cousin dance the Cueca while his Grandmother plays the guitar and his Aunts sing

Group shot and the beautiful scenery (Brian was taking the picture)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Community

At the moment I am working on a post about the adventures in celebrating Fiestas Patrias, Chile's Independence Day.  Prior to hosting this however, I feel that two key people should be introduced: Brian Smith and John Power.

Brian and John arrived in late July as part of the Holy Cross Congregation's Overseas Lay Missions program (the links to their blogs are on the right.)  John and Brian will spend the next 18 months in Santiago, Chile, working at Nuestra Senora de Andacollo, a k-12 school owned by the Congregation (and the school where I teach English every Wednesday to 1st and 2nd graders.)  

Brian Smith is from Massillon, Ohio and graduated from the University of Notre Dame last May.  Brian studied Romance Languages and Literature, which is an incredibly fancy name for an incredibly fancy major - he spent four years reading literature in both Spanish and French, writing papers in the languages accordingly.  Thus, he is fluent in both languages.  His Chilean Spanish was further developed when he spent a semester in Santiago, Chile during college.  I was quite impressed with Brian right off the bat; on the first day he had a conversation with Chilean Father Erwin and not only understood everything Father Erwin said, but could coherently respond to Father Erwin in response.  This is important because Father Erwin has always been known for being quite difficult to understand, both by Chileans and Americans alike.  

Having Brian around has been refreshing - not only is he incredibly perceptive, recognizing all the beauty in the small details of life, but he provides for interesting conversations as well as a dictionary whenever a word in Spanish is unknown. :-)

John Power comes from Fox Island, Washington and graduated from the University of Portland this past May after studying Political Science, History, and French.  Just like Brian, he is fluent in French, not only because of his studies, but because he spent a year in high school and a semester in college in Paris through a study abroad program.  (His good times in Paris often provide for entertaining stories!)  John's laid back demeanor and easy going personality can be accredited to his upbringing on the west coast.  A self-proclaimed "big picture" person, John's strengths not only lie in his ability to see the world for what it truly is, but in his work ethic and dedication to all things that he truly cares for, particularly family.   

Brian, John, and I, being the only volunteers for the Congregation of Holy Cross, spend a large part of our time together.  At first, it was understood that due to my almost 2-year experience in Chile, I would act as a facilitator to their experience, advising and answering questions when needed.  After all, I am in a very different place than they are: I have lived this life for sometime, am very comfortable, and am somewhat beginning to start my transition out of Chile.  They just arrived with fresh eyes to this very new and different experience.  Yet, very soon after meeting, the three of us knew that the relationship between us would not exist as it does on paper, but something more.  Judging by the fact that I pretty much live at their apartment now, I can confidently say our assumption was correct.

The other day we laughed when we realized that Brian and John are as different as night and day, and I oddly have qualities of both, providing a nice middle balance.  I thoroughly enjoy how different we are and how we each contribute a different characteristic to the group dynamic, yet we all seem to compliment each other nicely.  

It is often said that you do not miss something until its gone.  This was certainly true for me with living in a community; I have been living on my own without community since I became the last Holy Cross Associate way back in March and recently have become aware that sharing the experience of Chile,  with all its trials, tribulations, and successes, is something that I have grown to miss and have found once again in Brian and John.

In the next few weeks, I will be moving into John's and Brian's apartment.  We had to consider this option when we realized I was unofficially living there anyway, spending about 4 of the 7 nights of the week at their apartment.  In discussing this possibility, we realized the decision for me to move in with them officially is a good decision for all of us, with extra financial and mental bonuses for me (no more living with crazy old lady!)  So, I look forward to spending my remaining 5 months in Chile with them, growing from their presence in my life, hoping that I can enhance their lives as much as they do mine.

In order, from left to right: Brian Smith, me, John Power.  Photo taken during a visit to the coast of Chile, about an hour outside of Santiago.




Thursday, September 11, 2008

Welcome to Chile!

The other day, when speaking to one of my American friends here in Chile, my friend rightly expressed our shared frustration to fully explain to our family and friends what exactly is “Chile” and what Chilean culture or values are.

Past May, I attempted (with the help of a few Chile culture books) a “Welcome to Chile” packet full of small tips and notes about Chilean culture to assist the visiting U.S. students with their daily life and struggles in the Chilean culture. Remembering our conversation, I showed this document to my friend yesterday. After living here for a while, we both found these common every day occurrences for us fascinating, realizing that the “odd” things have now become “normal.” After commenting that she wanted to send this information on to her family, I realized that was not a bad idea…and not a bad blog post.

And so…I post an adapted version of the short section about Chilean culture here on my blog. It is certainly not all-inclusive, but I hope that it gives you a better idea of things I have experienced within the last (almost!) 2 years!

Greetings (Saludos): When saying hello or goodbye to someone, males and females have distinct roles. Women always give an air kiss on the right cheek (thus your head goes left), regardless of the gender of the opposite person. Men, when addressing other men, shake hands. Men, when addressing women, give the air kiss. Also, it is very common for good friends, regardless of gender (even between two males or two females) to hold hands or link arms when walking together. It was a bit weird for me at first, but when some of my students or friends did this to me, I recognized it as a sign of a great friendship!

Personal space: Chileans tend to not care about personal space as much as Americans do. Do not be surprised to find a person speaking directly in front of your face during conversation, or to find a person behind you in line breathing down your neck or inadvertently poking you in the back. The lack of personal space is also very evident in the subway during rush hour when each bus and subway car is packed to the max. This is a bit aggravating but there is nothing you can do to widen the space.

Time: Time exists in Chile, but far different than it does in the United States. More emphasis and value is placed on personal relationships and what is being done in the moment rather than what comes later. Thus, many Chileans do have a schedule, but it is not uncommon to be anywhere from 30 minutes-1 ½ hours late for an appointment, especially if they are in good conversation or visiting with someone. This was frustrating and hard to get used to…but now my US friends joke that I am a bit too “Chilean” now, having adapted the whole “late” thing!

Myths and Truths: One way in which Chileans express their pride to foreigners is to downplay their performance and insult themselves. Chileans ceaselessly complain that they are lazy, disorganized procrastinators. Even though there is some truth in what they say, they must get some credit because it is the best-performing economy in Latin America.

Am I “American”?: At twice a week I hear many Chileans say they do not understand, dislike, and/or are frustrated with the fact that United States citizens say they are the only “Americans”; Chileans (and most of Latin American) learn that North America, Central America, and South America are all one continent (the continent of America). Thus, Chileans say they are Americans too. The response to these comments is very crucial in one surviving the conversation. First, I have to always acknowlege the differences between Chile and the United States in learning how many continents there are, that I learned there are 7 instead of 5. Additionally, and most importantly, I have to kindly remind them that in English, it is grammatically correct to say United States of America citizens are Americans, just as Republic of Chile citizens are Chileans. It also helps to mention that I never say I am "American" in Spanish, because that is improper Spanish. I am "Estadounidense" (United States-ian) NOT "Americana."

Family: In Chile, family is the central and most important social unit. Children live with their family until well after college, sometimes until they are married, because the concept of living on one’s own is not as pervasive as it is in other cultures. If they do move out on their parents’ house, it is not uncommon for Chileans to find a new home or build a house just down the street from where their parents live. Regardless of where they live, it is a common practice for the entire family (including first and second cousins, as well as in-laws) to gather at least once every week for a big meal.

Comida es amor. “Food is love” as they say here in Chile. Many times, although we may have stated several times that we are full and cannot eat any more, Chileans continue to offer food, particularly if they care for you or have a relationship with you. It is somewhat rude to reject the food full out, especially if it is food you have not yet tried. General unspoken rules between the gringos are the following: If you are full, take the food graciously and eat a bit, leaving the rest. It is okay to leave food on your plate. Addtionally, we have to remember that lunch is the biggest meal in Chile and it often consists of several courses – taking your time is key. And, if we think we will continued to be offered more food after, we stop eating before we are full in order to be prepared for the pressure to eat more that will follow (easier said than done of course!)

No toilet paper????!!!!: One thing about using a public restroom (in anywhere but a really fancy place): you will have to supply your own toilet paper. For some reason, it is just not an automatic part of the restroom offering, as it is other places in the world. In case we do not have any, some places offer a fee for using the bathroom, from 100-250 pesos (20-50 US cents), which covers the cost of bathroom usage and a bit of toilet paper. Most of the time it is thin thin thin – just because they provide it does not mean it is the best quality!! Some people, such as us gringos, prefer to carry a small travel pack of kleenex in our bags/purses at all times...just in case.

Additional note on toilet paper: Some septic systems in Santiago (and most of Chile) cannot handle both human waste and toilet paper. Thus, it is custom that after using it, you dispose it in a small waste bin located at the side of the toilet. In nice areas of Santiago, where fancier septic systems are located, this is not something that one has to concern themselves with. What if we are not sure if we can dispose the toilet paper in the toilet? Just look – if there is a small trash can there, we know it is a sure sign that no, we cannot put it in the toilet and need to put it in the trash can. If we are really confused, we look for a sign – they usually post something for the slow people in the world...

Nanas: Working mothers in Chile are not faced with the same problems that they are in some developed countries. Because labor is relatively cheap, most upper, and even some middle and lower-class families, hire nanas (nannies) or empleadas that not only look after the children but also clean, cook, and do the laundry. The nana is the trusted partner in raising the children and her presence is a great source of relief, and many nanas live with the family rather than live in their own house.

Paloleando – “Dating.” Dating in Chile is a very serious undertaking. Yet, it is not uncommon for Chileans, especially men, to date casually or more than one person at a time. The world “palolo” is very appropriate in describing the dating culture of Chile – the word comes from the name of a bug that buzzes around people: Once a couple is officially a couple the relationships becomes very intense and possessive. Couples spend all of their free time together and if they see their friends, they do so as a couple. Coming from a different culture, some view this as very suffocating.

PDA is a definite part of the culture. Couples are very, very, very affectionate in public. (Much more than I have ever seen in my life – I feel the last sentence is an understatement!) Young couples hold hands, embrace, and kiss passionately regardless of where they are. For many of us foreigners, this is a bit uncomfortable and despite my large amount of time here, this still remains the case. Speaking from experience, giving them dirty looks (or hollaring "get a room!" in Spanish) will not cause them to change their behavior. The reason for this is because most young couples live at home, they have no private areas where they can be intimate and take advantage of whatever time they have outside the house together.

And so, that's it! I am hoping to post some recent photos I took of me and the orphanage kids up on here within the next few weeks or so. If I do not get around to it any time soon, the next post will definitely be about Fiestas Patrias, Chile's national holiday on September 18 (check out my post from last year here.) It is coming soon and we are all anxiously awaiting its arrival!!

Hope you are all well. ¡Saludos y abrazos!

Until next time,

M

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Perfect Escape

Bahía Inglesa’s white-shelled beaches, turquoise sea, clear waters, abundant sun and seafood make this beach town, 75 km west of Copiapó, bubble over with summer guests. The rest of the year it is a yawning retreat, and even though the water is equally good the prices are slashed and the beach is nearly as deserted as the surrounding Atacama Desert. Locally harvested scallops, oysters, and seaweed sweeten the culinary offerings.

At the beginning of August, my good friend Leah (who is also a volunteer in the south of Santiago with a program named Response-Ability) told me that she was aching to escape the cold winter weather and smog-filled Santiago. After all, she left the U.S. at the end of winter and came to Chile, only to find it just beginning here. The funny thing is, when she told me this, I found myself going a bit stir-crazy too. Almost six months had passed without a single day off and whenever I did have a day off, I found myself working on things I did not have time to do during the regular work day rather than relaxing (surprise, surprise, I know). The winter weather was also taking its toll on my insanity and each day I commented how much I hated the city and missed the countryside. Even more, my boss was driving me crazy and making my life more difficult than it had to be…thus, I was ready to escape too.

Reading the above passage in a Chile guide book, we couldn’t help get excited about this so called “paradise” in the north of Chile, thinking it as the perfect trip to escape. Despite our excitement, we are both working on a volunteer budget and attempting to live out a promise of “simple living;” thus, we had our reservations as to whether this dream could become a reality. After a little bit of investigation and finding round-trip plane tickets for a mere $138 dollars, we realized this was an opportunity that could not be passed up – tickets were bought and August 21 was put on the calendar as the scheduled departure date.

The decision to go on this trip has been placed on my list of “best decisions I have ever made.” It was everything we wanted it to be and much more. Flying to the north was simply incredible (my first despite many trips to the South). The flight provided many opportunities to see across the entire country of Chile at the same time, with Andes Mountains on the right and blue Pacific Ocean on the left. Landing in Copiapó, Leah and I were simply giggling with excitement: we were in the middle of the desert. Nothing around us for miles. We had escaped. :-)

Taking an airport transfer to local Bahía Inglesa (translated English Bay), we travelled through the desert, and again, could not contain the big smiles that appeared on our face. When we arrived in Bahía Inglesa, we were greeted by the turquoise sea, white beaches, and SUN. I honestly gasped out loud at amazement. I could not believe that we had arrived, only having been in grey cold Santiago a few hours prior.

Finding our hostel was very easy, as it sat directly on the beach. Although it seemed a bit odd at first, due to its futuristic dome shape, we found that its facilities were comfortable and it quickly became home with its staff becoming family. This remained throughout our four day stay.

And so, we did what we planned to do: nothing. We laid out on the beach and soaked up the sun. The book was right: off season means the town is virtually deserted. The beach was all ours, no one to share it with (well, except for one day when the Argentinean waiter we met the night before joined us, offering to share his mate.) Each day was capped off with an amazing seafood dinner at a local restaurant. One night was shrimp and scalloped lasagna (picture left). Another night was a broth soup with every type of seafood imaginable: shrimp, crab, scallops, oysters, squid, etc. Fantastic and of course, the meals were never complete without a shared bottle of Chilean wine.

Outside of the highlight of doing nothing while escaping ugly scenery and horrid bosses, two other events were the highlight of our trip. On the third day, Leah’s desire to go running in air free of pollution seemed like a good idea to me as well. And so, we woke up early and ran 6 kilometers to the nearest town of Caldera (photographic evidence of me reaching Caldera on the right). I am not exaggerating by saying that we ran through the desert. Guiding us was a small bike trail on the side of the road and outside of this, there was no evidence of civilization until we reached the next town. Although we would like to say we ran the entire time, the surrounding scenery and the experience alone caused us to stop a couple of times to take pictures. :-P

On the last day, preparing myself to return to reality, I went on a walk with my journal. An hour later I was hiking up a large hill (it is not uncommon for me to search out the highest and/or most scenic spots to do my journaling.) Upon reaching the peak of the hill/small mountain, I stared out upon the world in amazement. On my right, the open Pacific ocean. Straight ahead, the Atacama Desert. On my left, the Andes Mountains. And directly behind me, a turquoise sea, lined with a white beach. All I could do at that moment was praise God. My heart was open and it was a truly magical experience. After journaling a bit, Leah called me on my cell, a bit worried because I had been gone for some time. I told her that she needed to come and see for herself what was causing my delayed return. Her arrival and her reaction were the same as mine, and we shared a moment together in prayer. Additionally and now quite hilariously upon reflection, we also screamed out all of our frustration and stress, saying things like, “I hate my boss!” “I hate Santiago!” and many other things that will remain unmentioned here. :-) All in all, as we climbed down the hill, we realized it was the perfect end to the perfect escape.

Back in Santiago for about the past two weeks, things are good. I am working every day on the exchange program, doing my homework helper workshop in the evenings and visiting the orphanage kids each Sunday. Any extra time I have is spent studying for the GREs I plan to take sometime in November. It feels good to say that although life has returned to normal, with all its frustrations, the calmness that our trip provided still remains and fortunately, still has our tan. It was the perfect escape.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

It's official - home for Christmas!

This post is an adaptation of an email that was sent to close family and friends. After consideration and in response to my excitement, I decided to post the information on the blog as well.

Well, the flight has been booked and I am already excited to come home!!

Here is the information:

Day Date Flight City Time
--- ----- --------------- ------ -----
Sun 14DEC DELTA 146 SANTIAGO 1030P AR ATLANTA 615AM
Mon 15DEC DELTA 1758 ATLANTA 745A AR KANSAS CITY 848A

Wed 14JAN DELTA 871 KANSAS CITY 325P AR ATLANTA 625P
Wed 14JAN DELTA 147 ATLANTA 910P AR SANTIAGO 840A

As you can see, although my 27-month contract with Holy Cross Associates is officially fulfilled with my return to the United States this December, I will be travel back to Santiago on January 14. This is so I can travel to the United States with the Chilean exchange students who will go to Washington, DC with me, leaving Santiago on January 17. I will be in Washington, DC until the 21st, in which all the students will go to their respective schools around the U.S. Just as last year, I will stay for a few days visting friends in DC, then return to Santiago (this return trip is paid for by the school, a round-trip ticket from Santiago to the U.S. is actually cheaper than one way - I think it is a way to secure that one will not stay in the U.S.)

The plan from there is that I will travel for two or three weeks, going back to Bolivia to see my Bolivian family for a week or so (now that I can understand everything they say :-) ), as well as making my way to Peru to hike and see Macchu Picchu. Plus, staying in the United States would mean two straight winters. I want to enjoy the Chilean summer sun, being with friends, the beach and the ocean.

I have been offered a job here in Santiago from February to May, allowing me to work until mid-May and save some money in order to start graduate school in the Fall (the living expenses here are very low, so much that I am certain a good amount of money can be saved...more than what I would make with a job in the U.S. at that time. And that would be if I found a job in the U.S. that would only hire me until I leave for graduate school a few months later.) I also feel that this time will allow me to tie-up loose ends and put a full closure on my time here, particularly all the projects I have, including a few new projects I just started just this week. It is funny, realizing that I need these four months to truly feel complete in my experience - with those four months, I will complete two years of work in Santiago, exactly the amount of time that an Associate spends in one place if they do not move and change locations, as I did several times throughout my experience.

I am very much looking forward to returning home, particularly for Christmas - Christmas Eve is my second most favorite holiday of the year (with my birthday being my favorite of course!) This Christmas Eve will be particularly special because I will be in the United States, after having been in Chile for the last two, and I will have a new neice or nephew to share it with!

That being said, 4 months and 16 days until I will be back in the United States! Until then, the work and daily Chilean life continues....

A hug to all,

M

Friday, July 25, 2008

Just call me "camp counselor"

“It’s chilly in Chile” and “I love mint tea” are my most common gmail chat away messages these days. Lately, in the midst of another cold Chilean winter, keeping warm with my very loyal boyfriend and a large mug of mint tea have pretty much been the highlight of my social life once the work day ends.

So, it comes down to my work to provide entertainment. Luckily, this has not been much of a problem, as I have been playing host to 6 teenage girls the past month or so. That being said, there is never a dull moment. These girls, part of the exchange program I created at a local high school I work at, come from Idaho, California, Idaho, Kansas City and Chicago. It is funny how these girls are unique but very similar all at the same time.

Two weeks ago, while students of the high school were in semester final exams, the girls and I took advantage of the free week to travel and see the sites in and around Santiago. Of course, we hit up all the highlights, with trips to my favorite town of Pomaire (family: where all your clay bowls came from), Pablo Neruda’s house in Isla Negra, and of course, the beach towns of Viña del Mar and Valparaiso. The beach towns would have been great…but the clouds were so thick that the ocean could barely be seen. We took a chilly horse-drawn carriage tour of the cities anyway.

It has really been eye-opening seeing Chile all over again through these girls’ perspective. Although I was a bit older, and I would like to say more mature, these girls had the same basic level of Spanish and same amount of experience with Chile (none) as I did when I arrived for the first time almost two years ago. I laughed to myself several times when I heard the same comments come out of their mouths as did mine when I first arrived. I smiled when they tasted pisco sour for the first time, reacting with a sour-puck face, then a few minutes later asked for more. I even comforted them when they expressed frustrations over the non-existent concept of time in Chile or being treated like a child/stupid by others simply because they could not understand the language. Overall though, my relationship with the exchange program participants was summed up by one of the girls during our Valparaiso trip, when she said, “Michelle, I feel that you are our fun camp counselor and we are at camp.” I will take it as a compliment.

I guess because my family or friends will not be able to come down and see my life here in Chile, I really did enjoy the moments when they asked about my life and I was able to share some part of it. I was still not able to answer the questions “What do you miss most about the United States?” and “What will you miss most about Chile when you leave?” and I am sure those answers will not be discovered any time soon. Regardless, at the end of their very short stay, I am confident to say that they at least got a sense of this country and this culture…if nothing else, they will go home with a lot of new friends, including one very fun “camp counselor.”

A group of Gringos: Some of the visting U.S. exchange students, their Chilean "sisters," U.S. teachers who teach at the high school they are visiting, and me.





Some of the visiting U.S. exchange students and me, riding the Santiago subway







Some of the visting U.S. students and me, at Isla Negra and Pablo Neruda's house

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Chilly morning thoughts on an overdue blog

This is long overdue. I know. Every morning as I get up, bundle head to toe in three layers of clothes, a scarf, and gloves to brave the Chilean winter, I think to myself, “Today I am going to post something on my blog.” This thought always continues as I leave my house at 6:30am and walk 20 minutes to meet a friend who drives me to work each day. During this time I think about my life here, what I have been up to, and if anyone actually wants to know that I am truly happy. Funny thing is, many times I have actually come up with some pretty creative things and or insights that are prefect for such a long overdue blog…too bad I never had the sense to write them down. For now, I am just drawing a blank

After my last post, a few people emailed me and asked “Are you okay? You sound depressed.” I was surprised to receive such responses because in fact, the opposite couldn’t be more true. I am happier than ever, happy with life, where I am at in it, and what lies ahead. So no, not depressed. I guess my thought process behind the last blog was that of giving an update of my life, but at the same time saying that in grand scheme of things, what I am doing here is not really what people should be focusing on. I was writing, and am still writing today, during a time that so many important things are going on in the world. The Earth is telling us something: earthquakes in China, volcanoes in Chile, terrible storms in the Midwest, cancer cases on the rise in both suffering adults and children, some of whom we care about - all this just to name a few. Genocide. Governmental oppression. A world food crisis. Strikes and protests around the world due to the increasing price and dependence of oil. Again, this is just naming a few and is really the tip of a large iceberg that only a portion we are aware of. Regardless, within a large majority of these events, people have died or have lost a loved one. People have lost any possession that they had in their life, forced out on the street with absolutely nothing and no one to help. And those are only the tangible effects. The psychological effects will certainly remained unseen. Yet, increasingly, the world constantly turns a blind eye to such events unless it affects them directly. So, rant aside, if someone is taking time to read my blog, it is my hope that they will take the time to at least read or pray for others who are in positions far worse off than they will ever be in their life.

Okay, sorry. I can guarantee you that the last comment/random rant was certainly not one of the creative insights I came up with during my morning walks. :-)

I guess in response to the above posting, I should apologize and say yes, you visit my blog to find out what is going on with me, not what is going on with the rest of the world or hear about how the world is going to hell. So, I will not try to disappoint.

Life is busy. I have said it before and it continues. The funny thing is, I am doing more work than the last time I said that. I have two full time jobs right now, working at the high school each day. I teach Sophomore, Junior, and Senior English while also coordinating the exchange program, debate team, and 1st grade English workshop. My initial reaction to teaching English has changed – as I have said before, I did not come down here to teach English. That is the job of others who are here through a different program. But, the need is there, and I was able to fulfill this need through the gifts that I have. In the end, that is all that matters. And so, my two full time jobs at the school continue.

On Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights I am continuing with my homework helper program at the local perish. The kids are so great and a lot of fun. Their grades have improved and that is always nice to see. The only thing now is that they come each night, sometime even if they do not have homework, which leaves me feeling at times if I am an educational babysitter. But, the kids say they like coming, so I guess anything that is fun and encourages kids to continue to study and learn after school hours is always a good thing.

A recent addition to my schedule has forced me to not visit as many people as I usually do during the week. About a month ago, I was searching online for a GRE preparation course (the SAT-like exam you take to go to graduate school). I have decide to apply for graduate school for the Fall of 2009 to study non-profit management and will be taking this test here in Santiago sometime in September or October, in order to send in my graduate school applications by December. The search for the preparation course led me to find the only offered in Chile, coordinated by the highly respected North American Institute. Unfortunately, the website did not include the date of the next session, saying to email inquiries. I emailed accordingly, and the next day I received a phone call from the director of the institute, telling me that the classes were twice a week, for three hours, AND the only session of the year was starting that evening, that there was one more space open in the class which I could have if I wanted. I simply couldn’t believe it, nor could I imagine adding one thing to my already crazy schedule. But, I knew that I would not be able to take this test without the course, even if I were to study on my own. And so, I signed up for the class and am doing math and English exercises for GRE preparation each Tuesday and Thursday from 6:30-10:00pm. I have two more weeks of the class left (lasts for a month and a half) and now I know Dios quiere (God wills it.) Something certainly played a role in me looking and finding that course the day before the session started, and I am so glad I did.

And so, that is me. Visiting the orphanage kids each Saturday is still the highlight of my week and Sunday is my day to relax, get some work done for school, and visit a family. I am happy. I cannot say it enough. Life is good. Life is manageable. I am enjoying this experience and have some of the best friends in the world here with me in Chile to enjoy it with. As I said earlier, I love my place in the world and where I am in it. I am comfortable with where I am heading. I have been so blessed to have the experiences I have had and continue to have, and at the same time, able to take time out to focus on myself, to find out what I truly want out of this life. I cannot tell you how amazing it is to say yes, I know what my calling and my vocation is, that a life of a international non-profit consultant is where my heart lies and where I will best be able to use the gifts God has given me. It is only through this experience that I would have reached this conclusion, and to be honest, it scares me to think of the life I would have led if I did not come here.

Yet, despite everything that I going on, each morning during my chilly walks I always seem to end with thoughts about family and friends. While I am happy here, I know that my life is not as complete as it could be with them. I very much am excited about when I will return home for Christmas and be able to share that time with them. This experience has taught me that with anything, there are sacrifices that must be made, and I am so grateful for those that continue to support and love me despite the fact I have sacrificed my interactions and relationships with them, only making up for it with infrequent phone calls and emails. They too, are making a sacrifice in support of my life here, and for that I will always be appreciative.

These people will remain in my thoughts, as well as all the others who make even greater sacrifices each day and live with that suffering, those who are known and unknown.

Until the next blog, whenever that is :-).

~ M

Friday, April 25, 2008

Life. It is what it is.

I keep staring at the computer screen, knowing I want to write something on this blog, but having no idea where to start. It has been almost a month and a half since my last post and so much has happened. At the same time, I keep thinking nothing that has happened is really worth writing about. So much is going on in the world, or with the lives of others, things that are much more important – why take the time to read that my life here has been crazy busy, that it is only now that I am able to take a breather?

But, I guess that writing about what is going on in the world or about the lives of others would just defeat the purpose of this blog, wouldn’t it? So, I will attempt at the difficult.

Life has been just, well, life. Working, living life here, and enjoying it. The weather is getting colder by the day and I found myself more in hoodies and boots than I do in t-shirts and sandals these days. As the cold weather comes closer by the day, I find myself a bit nervous about what the change in weather will do to me here – it is so incredibly depressing here during the winter, just gray, cold and wet to the bone 24 hours a day. People are different here too, not quite as friendly and willing to do whatever they can to get where they are going, to get out of the cold. This time of year last year was difficult for me. But, I have to keep reminding myself that I am a different person than I was last year, that this year I am in a better place about where I am in life.

Work on a whole is going great. The last month and a half everything was heightened a bit, increasing my work load. The process for next year’s exchange program has begun, along with preparing to receive students from the United States this winter (their summer). The debate team was preparing for a debate tournament each day. Coordination between the two high schools for the new English workshop was finishing, and I was now up to 30 kids each night for my homework helper workshop at the local parish. On top of everything, I was spending any free time I had putting things into boxes, packing away the last remaining items of the Holy Cross Associates program and condensing my life down from an entire apartment to one single room two blocks away. The move was difficult, especially because I did it all by myself, and there were definitely a couple of days where I felt that I was just swimming, attempting to keep my head above water to prevent from drowning. But, in the end it all worked out and I survived. I am in my new place and most of the things on my list have been checked off as complete.

I am looking forward to getting back to my routine, to getting back into contact with the people who I have lost communication with over the past month or so while life was crazy. No big plans other than that for now - tomorrow I am taking Ely, one of the orphanage girls (and definitely my favorite), to the movies for her 13th birthday, so that will be fun. Next weekend is a four day weekend due to Chile’s Labor Day, so my friends and I are planning a little trip to a small town about 5 hours away. It should be fun and I look forward to taking some time to just relax and enjoy the trip.

Thanks everyone for the emails to check up on me, you all are always in my thoughts. Remember to keep Lily, Cheryll, and Syndey Clevenger in your prayers as well as the Early family.

A big hug to you all – looking forward to writing another blog post soon :-)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Las Despedidas of Summer and Natalie

The word despedida is on the list of Spanish words that I love, being a word whose meaning and the feelings it expresses cannot be fully explained if translated into English. Any attempt would be something like "goodbye party" or "time to say goodbye." As I said though, the word doesn't quite express the same sentiment in English as it does in Spanish.


February is the last month of summer, and Natalie and I used any opportunity we had to give summer its proper despedida. We couldn't have started it any better - soon after my return from the U.S., we went to the beach towns of Viña del Mar and Valparaíso and attended one night of Chile's yearly national summer concert festival, seeing Nelly Furtado, Calle 13 (Reggatone/Spanish rap), and Amango (Chile's TV version of High School Musical.) At times, it seemed it was teen night, but we had a great time. In the days leading up to the event, Natalie and I laid out on the beach and soaked up the sun. Returning froom the beach weekend, I joined Natalie in working at the Congregation's pool each day, supervising the orphanage kids as they swam (when I say swim, it really meant jumping in the pool over and over, or climbing on me asking to drag them all over the pool while I swam, haha.) Any extra time we had was spent going out with friends, often to small bars or pubs where we could sit out and enjoy the summer night with a few cocktails.











The first week of March brought cause for another despedida: Natalie's departure from Chile, ending her time as a Holy Cross Associate. Like Summer's despedida, Natalie's extended over several weeks. Literally each day soemething was scheduled, whether it was a barbecue or lunch at someone's house, bowling night with the gringos, or one last card night at a friend's house. The main event of all this was a party in which all the people Natalie's life has touched throughout her time here were able to show up and say goodbye over drinks and food. The party was a huge success, so much so that around midnight we were afraid of making the neighbors angry so we went out to a bar. The bar was okay, although Natalie and I were not impressed with the music (techno? really? come on now...) So, Natalie and I decided to leave and head back home. Feeling pretty good from a few cocktails and while searching for a cab, Natalie spotted a large plaza with lots of people and restaurants, and said "they look like they are having fun, let's go see what they are up to." And so, we crossed the street - in which a sushi restaurant was found and prompted us to stop for some late night/early morning eats. Who knew you could get sushi and margaritas at 3:30am in Santiago?? A great end to a really fun night and weeks of celebrating Nat's 1 1/2 years in Chile.

And so, the same day we said goodbye to Summer, we sadly said goodbye to Natalie. It was even noted in the weather - the first day of Natalie's absence brought rain and grey skies for the entire day, signaling fall is here and winter is on its way. She is certainly missed, but those who know Natalie know that this was the best decision for her and her time here in Chile was certainly not wasted.

With any despedida brings changes, a new way of life combined with the old. As you can imagine, two despedidas in the same month certainly makes things a bit different. On my own now, it is a new way to live, but one I have found myself quickly adapting to due to the return of the school/work year, and 14 hour work days. Yet, the work and all that it brings has been welcomed and the way that things continue to go, my own despedida will be here before you or I know it.