The Meaning of Rico.

In beginning level Spanish classes you learn that the definition of “rico” is rich. Makes sense, right? But then as soon as you are getting your Spanish language sea legs they flip in on you and inform you that “rico” can also mean “delicious.” In Chilean, however, which I have mentioned is very different from General American Spanish, “rico”can refer to anything that is good, pretty, delicious, awesome, exciting, or just plain wonderful. And so I digress, Friday was “rico” in the best, most Chilean, sense of the word.

I started off my day very early to go to Valparaíso and get my Chilean ID, a process that entailed having to wait in a line from about 8:30 to 10:30 am. Ok, so maybe that isn’t so rico. But the fact that I was forced to get up so early left the doors open for an amazing rest of the day.

Following a heavily bureaucratic operation, what is the best way to lift the soul? That’s right, coffee. Real coffee. So friends Maya, Emma, Evan and I, went wandering around Cerro Concepción looking for a coffee shop. Unfortunately, at 10:30 am in Chile it may as well be 5:00 am in the States, because all the cafes were closed. It forced us to wander around and explore until the ripe hour of 11:00, which was a lot of fun in itself.

We eventually landed at Café con Letras, a quaint little place that also stocks books from wall to wall (everything from Neruda to Harry Potter in Spanish!). We resisted the urge to order from their extensive list of pancakes, knowing we would be eating lunch within a couple of hours, and all ordered coffee. I got a café mocha, which unlike the mochas typical of the U.S. was not uncomfortably sweet, but rather simply had the depth offered by cocoa powder. Result? Rico.

After coffee we wandered around some more until it was lunch time.

For lunch, we met up with a few other friends to go to “Le Filou de Montpellier,” a French restaurant owned by a “mad Frenchman” (according to Lonely Planet, at least) that serves up fixed menu feasts with constantly changing selections of appetizer, entrée, and dessert.

I started with a ham, cheese, vegetable, and the most heavenly cream sauce filled crepe and a small salad,

Then moved on to a fillet of reineta (a type of fish) with a vermouth sauce, paired with a side of roasted potatoes and caramelized onions.

To finish I had chocolate topped profiteroles, a puff pastry filled with icecream. There was also a raspberry sauce drizzled on the plate, which added the best bit of tartness possible. Rico. NOM.

So after having our tummies being filled up with so much deliciousness that we could barely stand, we made our way back down Cerro Concepción to meet up with a larger group of CIEE students and a couple of staff members to go on a walking tour of Valparaíso. It was pretty cool, we took a trolley around town, saw a bunch of plazas in the “plan” (the flat, sea-level area of Valparaíso), and rode up an acensor I hadn’t been on, among other things.

We finished up our day by going on the same boat tour that I had gone on with Coni, Alonso, and Camilo, but this time we saw sea lions! ¡Rico!

I finished up my day by going to a concert by a group called Arak Pacha. They perform Andean music and poetry from the North of Chile and are really into saving the world and maintaining our environment. They also somehow made a chorus of pan flutes sound almost electric. Super-rico.

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Country + City

There is an English proverb that says “after a storm comes a calm.” The day after the tsunami warning was no different – a beautiful day with not a cloud in the sky. Perfectly fitted for the weather, I went to an “asado,” or barbecue, with a bunch of students from my program as well as some other international students. We all hit the grocery store on the way to the Jardín Botánico Nacional, a public garden and park that is also equipped with charcoal grills to host asados. What ensued was some delicious grilled food, frisbee, mini dance parties, hiking, sing-a-longs, and lots of nature.


Jumping ahead from Saturday to today (not that the days in between aren’t noteworthy… I am just itching to put up the pictures that I took today!), this morning Maya and I went on a little adventure in Valparaíso with the only aims being a) to find good coffee and b) to explore Cerro Concepción, in that order timeline-wise and priority-wise. I am happy to say we succeeded at both! After riding up Acensor Concepción, we found a little coffee shop/art gallery called Vinilo, a converted butcher shop that sells (organic Colombian!!) coffee and food by day, and apparently converts into a pretty happening bar by night. After our coffee fix we proceeded to wander the streets of Cerro Concepción, which, as Maya put it, is the “heart of Valparaíso.” And since life in Chile doesn’t really get going until noon, we mostly had the streets to ourselves (perfect for taking pictures). We wandered into shops and took pictures of the street art and murals. Eventually, we heard some salsa music echoing through the streets and followed it, landing in a plaza in Valparaíso where there are a bunch of cafes and stores. In the center of the plaza three men were playing salsa music. They drew quite a crowd, even prompting some of the more enthusiastic onlookers to do an impromptu salsa performance.

Maya and I had such a great time today that we have decided to, once a week, make a point to get coffee at a new cafe and simply explore! Perhaps said excursions will eventually become weekly blog features; here in Valpo the possibilities are endless!

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Johnny Tsunami

If you have turned on a television or accessed the internet today you are probably aware of the 8.9 earthquake that struck off the coast of Japan, and subsequently the tsunami that hit. Because of the tsunami, the Pacific coast of Chile (which, as a reminder, is where I happen to be) has been on a tsunami warning for most of the day, with an upgrade to tsunami alert happening more recently. But don’t worry, loyal readers, friends, and family, because chances are a tsunami won’t actually hit us, and even if one were to (knock on wood…) because I live on the 10th floor of an apartment complex I am pretty much as safe as one can be. It is just so surreal to think that I am actually in the midst of a tsunami alert.

Even though I know I am safe, since there is in fact an alert, I have stayed home all day, spending most of my time crocheting and watching cheesy movies.


And so now the sun sets on another gorgeous day in Viña del Mar. The alert is supposed to last until just after midnight tonight, so hopefully tomorrow will be just as beautiful, and I will actually be able to leave my house and enjoy it.


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Back to school, back to school.

After approximately three months since my last class at Vandy, I am proud to say that I am once again a full-time college student. Thank you, thank you.

I started my classes at La Católica on Monday, beginning with my Danzas Folklore class. That’s right, of all people, I am taking a dance class. But my overall lack of coordination doesn’t seem to be a problem, and I am already learning how to do one of the dances that was performed at our orientation!

On Monday I also had my Spanish class, which is called Español Comunicacional y Cultura Chilena. The teacher is really great, and he has a really interesting syllabus planned for us, including field trips to look at graffiti in Valparaíso! And it is also really interesting that, although the class is just for foreign students, we aren’t all from the States! There are also two girls from France, a girl from Germany, a boy from Denmark, and a girl from Switzerland! So there is quite a bit of diversity and makes for interesting discussions in class.

On Tuesday I went to my History of Modern Chile class, which was fine, but there is another class I am interested in that is during the same time period (Art and Culture in Pre-Hispanic Chile), so after attending that one I will be able to choose between the two. The highlight of the class was definitely going back to the History Building/Castle…

Yesterday my only class was my Spanish class, which is in the evening, so I spent the earlier part of my day strolling around Valpo with a few of my girl friends.

That brings me to classes today. Thursday, which will usually be the fullest day I have, was not so full this time around. I started off with my Urban and Regional History of Valparaíso class, which was let out after the professor gave a run down of how the semester will proceed, which took a whopping 20 minutes. Thankfully the class sounds great, so it wasn’t an utter waste of time. My next class was cancelled, so I had ample time to roam aimlessly around Viña before my afternoon classes began. After enduring the most annoying trip to the bank ever (I won’t bore you with the details…) I ended up eating lunch in Plaza Viña del Mar with a couple of my friends.

After lunch I had my two CIEE classes – one, a seminar on “Living and Learning in Valparaíso” during which we basicallly discuss our feelings and our integration process. Our homework for this week is to find a cultural exchange partner, and I think I have someone in mind… a Chilean girl in my dance class that happens to know the program director of CIEE and wants to work with foreign students that come to study in Chile once she graduates from college. I hope she is interested!

My next class was Cultural Geography of Chile, which again, seems like it will be a wonderful class. Today we learned the names of Chile’s 15 different regions, which, because Chile is so long and skinny, are basically stacked on top of each other like a Jenga tower. And, as a bonus, I already found a Sporcle quiz that will help me study them.

Now, because tomorrow I have no classes, my weekend has officially begun! Hopefully tomorrow I will get to spend some quality time in Valpo again; Some of my friends and I have talked about hitting up a museum and getting some quality coffee (they drink instant coffee here for the most part, unfortunately). Tomorrow is also my mom’s birthday, so I will be sending some “feliz cumple” vibes from Viña to Nashville!

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One foot in sea, one on shore.

Yesterday afternoon I…

Went on a boat tour of the Valparaíso harbor,

Took an acensor (hillside elevator) to the top of Cerro Alegre,

And wandered all the way back down.

Overall impression – Valparaíso is one of the most charmingly quirky cities I have ever been to.

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A week in the life.

Ok, I know. I had these big plans of being a super-ambitious blogger and blogging every day in order to satisfactorily document my trip. And now here I am, Friday, having to recap the entire week. In my defense, however, our group has been kept extremely busy these last several days, as we are still in our “orientation phase.” I am hoping that come this next week, as I enter the “studying and living phase” I will actually be able to keep my blog current and even take some pictures. But now what’s done is done.

On Monday, we had our first CIEE classes. These basic introductory lessons to Valparaíso and Chile we take as an entire group during orientation, then come next week we will be splitting into more specialized courses that will remain with us for the rest of the semester. The two professors that led our classes were both really engaging. One of them is teaching the CIEE course that I want to take for the rest of the semester, so it was reassuring to know that not only do I like the topic of the class, but also the professor.

After class, I went with Coni, her boyfriend Camillo, and a few of my CIEE friends to get ice cream at an heladería called “Bravísimo.” It was heavenly. They have a really interesting ice cream flavor here called “lúcuma.” It is a fruit that is native to the sup-tropical, Andean region, and is super popular in Chile and Peru. Apparently, it even outsells vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream here, but that fun little factoid came straight from Wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt.

Tuesday morning I woke up feeling nice and rested, after having fallen asleep watching The DaVinci Code (El Código DaVinci) in my house at 7:30, and then going to bed when it ended. Good thing too, because at 9:00 am I had to be at La Católica, the Chilean school that I am studying at. We had our orientation with other international students in a lecture hall, during which they basically just welcomed us to the school, and then we went out into a courtyard where we ate snacks watched a performance of traditional Chilean dancing. It was so great! During one, the ladies even balanced wine bottles on their heads as they danced. Very Fiddler on the Roof.

But, after having been lulled into complacency with food and entertainment, we were presented with a diagnostic exam to evaluate our language abilities. It went well, but as expected, I was confronted with many grammatical rules I haven’t really studied since high school. But, to my satisfaction, when I got my exam back Wednesday morning, I had done quite well and was told that based on my results and my speaking abilities I have the leisure of choosing whichever Spanish language class I want to take.

Wednesday afternoon, CIEE organized a scavenger hunt for us, which was not only fun, but also quite a workout – it involved walking all over Viña del Mar taking pictures of things on a list (such as a “completo” – a Chilean snack consisting of a hotdog topped with avocado, mayonnaise, and tomato), interviewing Chileans, and doing physical tasks (the “human knot” stopped our group in its tracks). In the end my group finished third (out of four…), but I got to know the area a lot better.

Yesterday, our group went on a tour with the other study abroad groups to see the various parts of the Católica campus that are sprinkled around Viña del Mar and Valparaíso. My favorite building that I saw was that of the history department, which my friend Maya described as “a Spanish Hogwarts.” The architecture is breathtaking, and I am definitely stoked because not only am I taking Chilean history classes but also because it is just right down the street from my house! Very convenient.

The highlight of yesterday, though, had to be our trip to Cerro Bellavista in Valparaíso – the location of one of Pablo Neruda’s three houses in Chile. The house, called “La Sebastiana” has been beautifully preserved and turned into a museum. Just like Neruda, the house was so unique and quirky that I don’t feel at ease describing it in this quick “recap” post. So keep an eye out for a post dedicated to Neruda and La Sebastiana coming soon to a computer near you. Hopefully, I will eventually get to see his other two houses (one in Isla Negra and one in Santiago) also.

This morning, I registered for my classes that I will be taking through Católica. I am taking three history classes about different aspects of Chile and Valparaíso, a Spanish language class, and a folkloric dance class! In addition I will be taking two classes through the CIEE program. I am really excited for all of my classes, and to make it even better, I don’t have class on Friday! Two thumbs up for long weekends.

This afternoon we have a CIEE activity that basically consists of hanging out at a cafe and talking about how we are adjusting so far, and then tonight my host brother is celebrating his birthday! So I will get to spend some good quality time with the extended family celebrating twenty years of Alonso.

¡Hasta pronto! (I promise this time.)

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“…if you pay attention.”

So guess what? I am in Chile. That’s what.

I arrived in Santiago on Wednesday morning after a flight to Dallas, a long layover, and an even longer overnight flight. Total commute length? 18 hours. But still, I got to Chile a happy (though sleep deprived) camper and made my way through the airport and to the group of students that I will be sharing my study abroad experience with.

The program that I am doing is through CIEE, or Council of International Educational Exchange, and there are a whooping fifty of us. There are a good number from Lewis and Clark, and quite a few from University of Colorado Boulder, and in general there are a lot of multiples, but I am definitely enjoying being the only Vanderbilt student there. It has allowed me to really branch out and meet people quickly.

We had to take a bus from Santiago to Reñaca, a small town that borders Viña del Mar and Valparaíso, the former being where am living and the latter being where my university is located. Our hotel orientation lasted until Friday afternoon, where we learned the ins and outs of what our next five months. I won’t bore you with all of the details, but I will provide some highlights (in the tried and true form of a numbered list):

1. Empanadas are the bomb. I already knew this. But seriously, I don’t think anything beats sitting by the beach with two empanadas the size of your face, enjoying the view and the fried goodness.

2. Chileans are beautiful. Every single person here is a bombshell, and it is kind of ridiculous.

3. Chilean ≠ Spanish. The people here speak so fast and with so many modismos (Chilean slang phrases) that it can be very difficult to catch what people say. At least the modismos are pretty much restricted to younger people, so I can still understand my host mom really well (more on my host family later).

4. My group is wonderful. Every student that I have talked with so far in my CIEE group is gloriously laid back and just wants to take in everything as much as I do. There doesn’t seem to be any propensity for drama, which is always a bonus when you are thrown together all willy nilly with a group of people you don’t know.

5. The course registration here makes YES and even OASIS look like a sparkling mountain of ice cream and ponies. I’m sorry that that statement only makes sense if you are a Vanderbilt student. Basically you get a giant excel spreadsheet with all the classes offered by the university, make a list of ones you may want to take, and let the cards fall where they may.

6. “Chile is the most wonderful place on earth…if you pay attention.” While eating the aforementioned empanadas, our group was talking with a couple of guys that were from Santiago. One of them said this to us, and it really resonated with me. New trip motto, activate!

But our hotel orientation was just the start. On Friday at about noon I was picked up by my host mom, Vicky. She is a single mother whose daughter lives in Santiago. She was accompanied by her niece, Coni, who will essentially by my host sister. They drove me to Vicky’s apartment in Viña del Mar, which is right down the coast a bit from Valpo. I have my own little room with a desk, some cabinets, a cute day bed, and a television. Oh yeah, and this view:

Yesterday after arriving, my sisters Coni and Tamara took me for a walk around Viña with their two boyfriends (or “pololos” in Chilean Spanish). After we were all getting hungry we went back to their house for “once” which is an evening snack which can be eaten in addition to or instead of dinner. We had a very basic, but delicious, once with tea and coffee with bread, palta (avocado), and ham. Afterwards, we went upstairs and watched tv; right now in Viña there is a big music festival called Festival de Canción, and even though it costs money to go, they still air it on tv. And last night’s performance was by the one and only Sting, which was great. I went home and fell asleep to a view of Viña and Valpo at night – exquisite.

This morning I woke up feeling the most well-rested that I have since leaving Nashville. After showering and eating breakfast I worked on figuring out what courses I may want to take, but then Coni called and we decided to go walk around the shopping district in Viña. I’m starting to get my bearings in Viña, but I can honestly say it will be a very slow process – given my stunted sense of direction.

For lunch I had a delicious Chilean dish called pastel de choclo, which has ground corn (choclo), chicken, beef, and is somewhat like a casserole. Or shepard’s pie. Add on some fresh melon and I am one happy gringa.

And that takes us to now, folks. Keep in touch!

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