The GoGlobal Blog

Tag: Santiago

“Losing Myself” in Immersion

“Losing Myself” in Immersion

Studying abroad this current semester is my first time ever leaving the United States. Before my departure I dreamt about the rolling vineyards in Chile and the extensive coastline, visiting Patagonia and having wild excursions up into Las Cordilleras. Although these daydreams are not at all impossible to experience, they have not necessarily been my reality thus far.  I have been in Santiago de Chile for exactly two weeks as of today, I have been lost, confused and bewildered beyond belief for 90% of the time, and I already know that this has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.

I am living with a host family for my 6 and half months in Chile whom I adore, even though they barely speak any English.  When I first met my host mom at the airport I was hit with unimaginable culture shock that still has not gone away. The people of chile speak so fast and use their own “chileansims” as figures of speech that makes it extremely difficult to understand native speakers. Although I have gotten a little bit more used to the Chilean accent, I still find myself asking people to repeat themselves over and over again. However, this doesn’t seem to bother the people of chile in the slightest.  The Chileans that I have met in my home, on the street, or even in my university are the most welcoming and friendly people who are excited to share their vibrant culture and are more than happy to help someone (me) who is lost find their way to the bus stop.

One example of this, and probably my favorite experience thus far, happened about a week ago when I had to go to a meeting for Nexochile, which is the program that organizes homestays.  This meeting was held at a country club located not to far from my home; however, on a different train line.  My host mother was at work when I had to leave so she called me from her office and gave me directions, telling me to take a specific bus to this club.  My Spanish is still in the works so I had a bit of trouble understanding her directions but eventually made it on the bus where I asked the driver when my stop was (the buses in Santiago are a bit unorganized).  He responded in Spanish so fast that all I could do was stand there and think “oh my god I can’t do this.” I asked him to repeat himself about 4 times until I was too embarrassed to continue and just pretended to know what he was saying.

I walked away from the front of the bus and a man sitting in one of the seats recognized the worried look on my face.  He too tried to tell me where the stop was but my anxiety had taken over and I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. At the next stop the man got off of the bus and patted me on the shoulder as to say “you got this kid.” I appreciated the sentiment but still had no idea where I was going. Then, out of nowhere a women walked up to me, gave me her cell phone and told me to answer it.  I was extremely confused but I didn’t know what else to do so I put the phone up to my ear and heard a women’s voice so clearly speaking in English saying “Hey sweetie just wanted to let you know you’re getting off at the next stop.” My face immediately lit up,  and I was covered in chills as I returned the phone to the lady and thanked her endlessly for her help.  Sure enough I got off at the next stop right in front of the country club and made it to the meeting.

Studying abroad introduces the incredible diversity in the world and I have been fortunate enough to experience the amazing people that Santiago has to offer. I would highly recommend this experience to any other students who are interested (even though I have only been here for 2 weeks).

Las Marchas

Las Marchas

During the past two weeks there have been two protests here in Santiago. They are called marchas and are basically a parade full of people that march in protest for some cause. On May 1 there is a march every year for the workers of Chile. Many workers gather with their coworkers, groups of friends, or people from their school and together they march down Alameda (the main street in downtown Santiago) with signs, shouts, and music. We had school off that day so I went to the march just to watch and take some pictures.

The first thing I noticed is how dead downtown was. There was hardly any activity besides the march. All of the stores were closed (probably due to the combination of the march and Labor Day) and the streets were blocked off with no cars. There were not nearly as many people walking on the sidewalks as usual, although there were some. The people were either meeting with their friends and going to the march or were like me and just taking pictures or filming it. There were lots of police officers in various parts of downtown. Some blocked off streets in riot gear, some patrolled the area on motorcycles, and others monitored the march, walking with the protesters in the very front and the very back.

I picked my spot in front of Universidad de Chile, which was about the halfway point of the march. The demonstrators started at metro Los Heroes (right next to my university) and would finish at Plaza Italia. I had no intention of going to Plaza Italia. Many Chileans warned me that there is often violence and problems there because the police and protesters always fight at the end. Most of the people marching wanted more rights for workers, such as pensions, less hours, things like that. A lot of them were communists – most people were wearing red and there were a decent number of communist flags being waved about. I also saw a lot of Mapuche flags (the main indigenous tribe of Chile).

It was cool to see the march but it was not anything mind-blowing. At one point I thought a gas grenade exploded. There was a loud noise and about 100 feet in front of me there was white gas all in the air. I prepared myself to run into the metro and leave, but turns out it was only white powder, and not gas. It dyed the ground white and the march continued on uninterrupted. At the end of the march, there were a group of anarchists marching, mostly young people. This really shocked me. They were dressed in all black and legitimately promote anarchy with the A symbol and everything. I didn’t notice it at the moment, but when I was leaving I saw they had spray painted graffiti on the walls of the buildings with their phrases and symbol. I am almost positive that they are the ones that cause trouble with the police at the end.

Fortunately, mi primera marcha passed without incident. The second one, however, was a different story. The student march happened a week later on this past Thursday. I was not going to go to this one, because the student marches are typically more dangerous and a lot bigger than the workers’ march. In Chile, students are fighting for free and quality education at the university level. The president, Michelle Bachelet, has promised to make college free for students during her second term, which she just began serving in March. Many students, however, do not believe her attempts are sincere and think that her plan is flawed as well. Thus they take to the streets to voice their discontent.

My history classes were canceled for the day. At Universidad Alberto Hurtado, the students of each major vote to see if they will go to the march or not. If the no’s win, they go to class instead of the march. If the yes’s win, they go to the march and send the professor an email telling them that nobody will be going to class. The history students voted yes, so naturally I didn’t have class. The march went well until the end, when some young bandits caused some trouble. These people are similar to the anarchists, they wear all black, have their hoods up, and place bandanas over their faces so only their eyes show. Apparently, they go to some marches just to fight with the police at the end.

At the end, they threw some molotov cocktails at the police, who threw back gas grenades, and the scuffle began. Many police officers were hurt and most of these bandits were detained. By this time, the students had filed into a park for a concert that marked the end of the march, so they were not involved in the fight. The conflict was all over the news and in the newspaper.

Disclaimer: This does not mean Chile is a dangerous country. I have felt extremely safe here and have had little to no problems with my personal safety. The marches typically only have conflict in the end, yet it does not affect the majority of the protesters nor the majority of the police. On Thursday, nobody was seriously injured.

To conclude, it has been very interesting and informative to see these marches. To me, these rarely happen in the U.S., and when they do they definitely don’t have this type of conflict. In Chile, the marches are fairly common. These marches happen at least once a month for various reasons, and in 2011 there were a great number of student marches. Because of this, they are in the news, people talk about them, and las marchas have become another part of Chilean culture.

Cajon de Maipo

Cajon de Maipo

Last weekend, Theo and I went camping in Cajon de Maipo, a valley in the Andes about an hour away from Santiago. We got there on Thursday afternoon after taking a bus from the end of the metro. Unfortunately for us, it was May 1, or Día del Trabajador, also known as Labor Day. Due to this, all of the main grocery stores were closed, forcing us to buy our food from an overpriced convenient store. A nice girl on the bus gave us some advice on where to go and what to do in the valley. She recommended going to El Morado, a glacier just off the border from Argentina.

The bus took us to San Jose de Maipo where we bought a little more food and went to check out the tourist center. As we expected, it was closed, leaving us with only the girl’s information on what to do. Like good travelers, Theo and I did hardly any research about Cajon de Maipo. We only knew how to arrive to San Jose and from there we were winging it. From my experience, traveling works out better this way. You never know what to expect and a lot of surprising and cool things end up happening.

We hitchhiked (which is perfectly legal, common, and safe in Chile) from San Jose heading deeper into the Andes and closer to the mountains. Along the way when we told people we were going to El Morado we got some strange responses. A woman in San Jose told us we were very brave men to be doing this, especially with the weather (it was raining all day). Later when we were deeper and higher up in the mountains a taxi driver stopped and asked us where we were going. After telling him, he asked if we were prepared, warning us that it’s dangerous and we should notify the police that we were going there in case something happens!

Wow! At this point we started to think what is El Morado? We definitely were not prepared for any intensely cold weather. We did not have winter hats or gloves and Theo’s tent is not made to camp in the snow. We started to have second thoughts but decided to keep going until Baños Morales, where the park entrance to El Morado is and where we could get more information. At around 6PM, we stopped at a man’s house who lets people camp in his yard. Fortunately, he let us spend the night in his house. His name was Josepe and he helped us out a bunch! He let us stay inside, gave us food, made us a fire, brought us mattresses, and then played guitar with us for two hours!

In the morning, I woke up and looked outside to an incredible view! Less than a kilometer away on each side of the house stood mountains with the top third covered in snow. Outside the house there was a flock of sheep, with sheep dogs and shepherds directing them, and a flock of goats fenced in. There were also pigs, horses, chickens, and dogs. It was pretty much a farm for animal husbandry. Josepe told us that another man owns the animals and uses them for milk (to make cheese) and wool mostly. On top of his generosity, Josepe made us breakfast and let us keep our backpacks in his house while we continued on our hike.

We walked the eight kilometers to Baños Morales on the dirt road surrounded by beautiful scenery. This was a Chile I had never seen before. It was very rural, with about a house every 400 meters that usually had some flock of animals. There were little to no cars, only big trucks passing us by that were working on construction up ahead. At one point, a man even passed us riding his horse and accompanied by two dogs. He greeted us in a very thick, mountain accent that was tough to understand, which we laughed about and imitated later. It was a beautiful morning, clear of rain, cloudy and with fresh, unpolluted air (unlike Santiago). We were also ascending deeper into the mountains and it was getting colder and colder because of the altitude.

We reached Baños Morales, a cute little town built on the summer tourism season from El Morado and las termas (the hot springs). Unfortunately, the park was closed due to the rain. Every time it rains there is a chance of rock and mud slides and they close the park for a few days. A little disappointed that we couldn’t get to El Morado, we went to las termas instead. That was even more disappointing. The hot springs were man-made pools with water running from pipes into the pools. Furthermore, the water wasn’t even hot – it was room temperature. With it being probably 40 degrees, starting to rain and no clothes to change into, we didn’t get in. A Chilean couple did though, although they did not stay in for long.

We hitchhiked back, stopped at Josepe’s to pick up our bags and said goodbye to him. He gave us a big, warm, circle loaf of bread as a gift (check my Facebook pictures) and told us to come back and stay there again. He was very nice and we thanked him many times for everything he did for us. For the day we hopped around the valley, checking out the small towns and trying to find a spot to camp. Finally we camped under some trying conditions (nighttime, no lighter, limited food and water) a little bit past San Jose. In the morning we tried to find a trail to hike but to no avail, so we hitchhiked back to Santiago.

Overall, I had a great time in Cajon de Maipo and am really glad I went. It was my first time in la Cordillera (the Andes) and I saw a part of Chile completely different from what I had already experienced. Once again, my travels have given me with many stories to tell and have introduced me to amazingly kind and wonderful people.

A Month of Vacation

A Month of Vacation

Tomorrow I leave for vacation for almost an entire month. I’m heading to Puerto Varas in the south of Chile to do some camping, hiking, fishing, and other outdoor activities with Theo. We’ll be there for about five days, and then we leave for the island of Chiloé to meet up with some of the other people in the program. From what I’ve been told, the island has a very laid-back culture and is completely different from the rest of the country. After Chiloé, I’ll head to Coyhaique with Theo. It’s a small town in the mountains that is globally known for its fishing. Finally for the last five or six days, I will be in La Serena with Dee and maybe Gaby. La Serena is a beach town on the Pacific that is north of Santiago. Once everything is finished, I’ll arrive in Santiago on March 5 to begin orientation.

Those are my plans for the next month, now on to some things I’ve done in the past two weeks. Probably the most fun and most authentic cultural experience I’ve had is when I went to a salsa club last Friday with some other gringo friends. We paid 4000 pesos to enter, or about $8. The dance floor wasn’t that big, but the place was packed with people. We were definitely the youngest ones there – most people seemed to be in their 30’s or 40’s. I had taken some beginning salsa lessons before, so I thought I would be okay and be able to blend in. What a joke that was! I spent most of the night bumping into people and trying to learn how exactly to dance. Despite the learning curve, the night was a ton of fun and all of us thoroughly enjoyed it.

Another memorable moment, this past Sunday a few of us went hiking in the Andes. The park was about ten minutes from my house and we completed the three hour loop. For the first half, we basically walked uphill and into the mountain range. Although there were still plants, the environment was the closest I have been to visiting a desert. The ground was dirt/sand and there were many dry plants and even cacti! At the halfway point, we descended into the valley and found a small creek running with much more vegetation than on the sides of the mountain. There we had lunch, ate some wild blackberries, and even drank water from the stream! It wasn’t my idea, in fact an employee there told us it was perfectly safe. After seeing others do it and her telling us that she drinks the water often, we filled our bottles with the water. After a long, hot hike, it tasted delicious!

Once again, I cannot thank God and my parents enough for this incredible opportunity. To those reading who have not traveled abroad before, I highly recommend it, even if only for a short period of time. Every day I am learning more about Chilean and Latin American culture. Hopefully I can figure out how to post pictures and allow people to comment and follow me. To everyone in the states, stay warm!

Nos vemos!



Primer Post!

Primer Post!

Hola! My name is Tom and this is my first blog post from Santiago, Chile. If you want to know a little bit about myself, go ahead and read my short bio. I’ll try and recap my last two weeks here, be prepared though because there’s a lot of stuff.

First flew in to Santiago on Friday, January 10. My first full out exposure to Spanish included my luggage not arriving at the airport and having to describe my bags to an employee hahaha. Fortunately, my host mom is super nice and she called the airline company every day until my luggage arrived on that Sunday. I live in a house in Las Condes with her and my host sister Carolina, who is studying to pass her law test to become a lawyer. They are both very engaging and supportive, I feel very comfortable at home. I also have a brother here, but he lives in a different house with his girlfriend and daughter Rosilo, who is three years old and so cute!

Basically I commute from my house during the week to downtown (or El Centro) Santiago where I’m taking a Spanish class at Universidad Alberto Hurtado. It takes me about 50 minutes to get there after taking a bus and the metro, which is extremely fast compared to the L in Chicago. My Spanish is pretty good – I had a lot of exposure and practice before coming here – so the class is easy to me. That leaves me plenty of time to explore Santiago after class in the afternoon. So far I have seen La Moneda (Chile’s White House), La Catedral (the Cathedral), Cerro Santa Lucia and Cerro San Cristobal (two mountains you can climb and see the whole city), the biggest mall in Latin America, and many other places!

Of all of those places, I think Cerro San Cristobal was my favorite. It is this mini mountain that you can either walk up or take an elevator-like machine. My friend and I took the machine up and then walked down the mountain on this awesome, dirt bike path through the woods. At the top of the mountain, you can see all of Santiago! The city is very flat, except for Tobalaba, where the skyscrapers are. Besides that neighborhood the city does not have many large buildings like cities in the U.S. Due to this, the city just keeps going and going and going. It takes up a lot more space because there are not many skyscrapers, thus most people live in houses or small apartment buildings.

To summarize, it has been a great first two weeks and God blessed me incredibly. I’m starting to meet some Chileans, understand the culture, and communicate effectively. More to tell later, let me know if you have any questions! Hasta luego!

P.S. I’m having some trouble uploading pictures but as soon as I figure it out I’ll post them.

You always learn from your mistakes

You always learn from your mistakes

I hope this is true, and if it is then I am possibly one of the most learnèd 20- year olds on the planet. Or, at least, in Loyola’s study abroad program.

My stay in Santiago started in a very… interesting manner. And what I mean by ‘interesting’ is a 5-hour stay in the airport. Think Tom Hanks in ‘The Terminal’.

Mind you, this situation was one completely of my own making, as these kinds of things usually are. It started with me leaving my passport in Chicago and needing to get a new one when I came to stay with my family in New Jersey after fall semester ended and I vacated my apartment.


I received my passport a little less than a week before my Chilean adventure was to start and due to the complete unresponsiveness of the NYC branch of the Chilean Consulate and the unfortunate vacation period of the person who approves passports in the Philadelphia Chilean Consulate branch, I was unable to receive my student visa before coming to Chile. I couldn’t bear the thought of waiting to come to Chile, so I decided to come as a tourist and get my student visa after getting here.

Some countries require tourist visas, but in the case of Chile, tourists are able to stay without a visa for 30 days, and only have to pay a reciprocity fee (which is a fee that the government of Chile charges incoming tourists from countries who charge their citizens. Example: US charges Chileans $160, and therefore so too does Chile to the citizens of the US).

So as to be able to pay this fee, I made sure to have $200 in cash with me when I travelled. This would have been perfect, except that when I got to the front of the checking baggage line in JFK airport, I was told that I would not be able to bring my longboard on board (no pun intended) with me, as I had been able to do with Southwest. My only options were to get rid of my board (trash? random donation to the people behind me in line? who knows) or pay, as my father was long gone by then. How much was the fee you’d like to know? $180.

Lesson 2: Be ABSOLUTELY SURE about the rules regarding special baggage.

addendum: or just…. don’t bring a longboard.

As you might have guessed, I paid said fee. With the $200 meant for the reciprocity fee. Once I got to my gate I called my parents, knowing that this would be the last time I would be able to do so until probably Chile a day later. Because now the problem lay in my lack of money. Because, you see, I only had about $50 in my bank account at this time, as my parents were going to transfer the other money in two days later on Saturday. The best my parents could do was promise that they would try to get to the bank on their lunch break tomorrow to transfer some money into my account. And that was the last time I would be able to contact my parents for a long while.


12 hours, a rerun of ‘Pretty Woman’, two in-flight meals, and a layover later, I touched down in Santiago, Chile. What a beautiful country! And now to see if my father was able to get to the bank on his lunch break… too bad we had thought that Chile was two hours behind EST rather than two hours ahead, which left my father with the idea that he had until around 4PM EST to get to the bank rather than 12 PM EST (I touched down at 1:45 PM … ‘Chile time’).


After I tried paying with my debit card (twice, about an hour apart from each other), I knew something was wrong. And not only was I stuck in the airport unable to leave the section cordoned off by the Chilean police, but my host mother, Yali, was also waiting for me outside, and now, cellphone-less, I had no way to contact her. Worse, even if I had had a phone, I didn’t have her number.


I had my United States OIP coordinators number and an iPod touch with a calling app, but unfortunately I was unable to access the wi-fi, and the only place with wi-fi happened to be in the departing section of the airport. With my stumbling spanish I was able to explain my problem to the guards and was let through to the departing area. I found the VIP Salon, where there was free wi-fi, and beggared my way in.

I started sending e-mails to everyone I could think of, as well as sending my Chilean mother a message through facebook (the means through which we had been communicating) saying that I would be fine and would take a taxi to her address when my parents were able to transfer funds into my account. As I was sending this I received an e-mail from my father saying that he would be unable to reach the bank until the next day, Saturday. And so I started to settle in to spend the night in this VIP lounge.

However this was not to be: the people from the program were having none of that. I know this because at that point Yali (well, the coordinator for my program in Chile using Yali’s Facebook from cell phone of my coordinator… yes it’s all very confusing I know) reached out to me through a Facebook message telling me to STAY WHERE I WAS SOMEONE WILL COME TO GET YOU.

The program, the woman told me, would lend me the $100 I needed (I had at the time $20 left on cash and $60 in my bank account) and would deliver it to me by one of the airport personnel.

Aren’t you happy that my story’s almost over?

I think that I would have appreciated that as well.

Except… remember how I wasn’t really supposed to be in the lounge? Because of this, when the airport personnel came to find me, she was told that I couldn’t possibly be in there. So after another hour of searching, they said my name over the loud speaker and I was able to find the woman, who gave me the $100 passed on to her from my program coordinator.


Spoiler alert: Nope.

When I returned to the window to pay the fee, the woman, who was the only person in this ordeal who spoke a good amount of English, shared with me a look of amused sympathy. Which then turned into a look of apprehension and regret.

Because, as she told me, you couldn’t pay half on a card and half with cash.

And where was the nearest ATM (‘cajiera’, as I learned that day)?

It was inside the ‘country’, where I could not yet go.

Of course it was.

So I waited in line for the Chilean police, as I would be able to get to the ATM if one of them were to accompany me.

The man to whom I explained my situation acted just as most of the people there I had met acted; with concern for me and with a wonderfully helpful manner. However no amount of helpfulness could have made me understand that gosh darn cajiera (cah-hee-erra).

Lesson 6: BE FAMILIAR WITH THE MONETARY SYSTEM (clarification: VERY familiar!)

Because that cajiera was NOT in dollars, and furthermore, it kept telling me that I had MUCH less money that I had (most likely because it was saying something like $30000 pesos and I was thinking ‘$30.00’.

Eventually (after three failed tries which left me near tears) I was able to take out [what I thought] was $20. It was also in pesos, which I wasn’t able to comprehend at that moment! I was very, very scared, because having only $20 more meant that I still would be unable to leave the airport.

I returned [YET AGAIN] to the register to try to pay the fee, and my new friend Mr. Chilean Policeman came with me to help. The woman looked at my money and said [to my relief] that there were $50! But then… “I’m sorry, but you can’t pay half in pesos.”

And so I climbed the stairs once more and Mr. Chilean Policeman (whose name is Hector, if you’re interested) handled the transaction for me.

I was finally able to pay. What relief I felt! And after some paperwork, I left Hector behind with this:

“Querría decir algo, pero no sé como… en español. Gracias. Por todo de tu ayuda.”

My grammar was horrible, but I got enough right that it was comprehensible. I wanted to get across what his help had meant to me.

And he knew.

Lesson 7: One person can change someone’s experience completely.

Without Hector, I wouldn’t have been able to change my dollars into pesos so easily or more importantly, been able to get through my ‘journey’ without a heart attack. He listened to me worry aloud [in very bad Spanish] and ask questions to calm me down, and went faaar out of his was to help me. I’ll always remember that experience.

I’ll always remember, also, my Chilean mother waiting for me when I finally exited out into the waiting area (Well, I exited the wrong way at first, but really, would you expect anything different of me? Eventually I got to her.) The first words I said to this wonderful, wonderful woman holding the sign was “LO SIENTO.” I think you probably know what this means.

The first thing she did after recognizing me?

She hugged me. “Mi hija!”

Most people might think that my 5 hour ‘journey’ in the airport was something to look back upon with horror, and while I can understand that sentiment, I also think that there is no better way that I could have been introduced to the absolute best part of Chile: the Chileans themselves.

Lesson 8 (and the moral of my story): You can learn a lot when you screw up.

Whether you learn that it’s important to double check everything, or you learn that people are a lot more wonderful than you expected. Both are valid, and both are things that I will remember for the rest of my life.

I’m including a picture of my Chilean mother, Yali (who says she ‘labored for 5 hours birthing me, her hija’) and some of my wonderful friends who came to eat ‘onces’ with us on my second day in Santiago.

Yali (mi madre chilena) and some of my wonderful LUC/UAH friends!

Hasta luego, amigos míos.