Wednesday, April 8, 2009

---> One-month orientation

It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right…

I can’t begin to describe how much I enjoyed the one-month orientation that I went to last weekend. It was one of those times that you measure how fun they were by how you feel when it’s over. Which was, for me, and surprisingly too, that when my friends at school here asked me how the weekend was, I started to cry. The bond that exchangers’ form is an incredibly close one, it’s like having a best friend that you share everything with, after knowing them for two days. My ‘group’ of friends at orientation was Ashleigh from New Zealand (Punta Arenas), Connor from the USA and Ananda from Brazil (Copiapó), Captain Awesome from the USA (San Bernando) and Angela from the USA (Linares). Of course I didn’t only hang out with those people, but we spent the most time together when orientation activities weren’t taking place, and sat next to each other nearly every mealtime, not to mention all the ‘inside jokes’ that we share.

On the whole, everyone was a lot more relaxed than at our arrival orientation, when we were all jetlagged and nervous to meet our host families and our new homes. My orientation was for students from the Central area, so there were about 50 of us, and the two from Punta Arenas and one from Coyhaique, as it was easier for them to come to the central one. There were two other orientations, one in the north for the 10 students, and one in the south for about 15.

So here’s how the orientation went:

The Copiapó people (me, Connor, Ananda and Fabian) left the Copiapó bus terminal at 10pm on Thursday night, for an overnight bus ride on those incredibly comfortable seats again. We weren’t all sitting together, so it kind of sucked, but being an overnighter, sleep is more necessary anyway. And for me that was about 2 hours of sleep. Which was ok, I mean, I got to see more of the countryside, and a bit of La Serena as we drove through. We arrived at the bus station and Rodrigo from AFS was there to greet us, and drove to the orientation place in a taxi, and the two of us in the car of another volunteer. This orientation place was different, it was still nunnery-ish, but this time with more a hint of Harry Potter – there was a Harry Potter staircase! It was two-storeyed, the rooms were bigger – Ashleigh and I scored on getting one of the bigger bedrooms – and the garden had more shade.

Day One
The only students who arrived so early were the Copiapó students, and the three from the far south who arrived the night before. And because of that, we got to see a bit more of Santiago than the others who arrived that evening. On arrival, we had time to take our bags to our rooms, change/shower and unpack a bit, and then one of the volunteers took us for a trip to the mall! We had to catch a metro, which was a first for me. 

On the metro
The mall we went to was absolutely huge, and really fancy. Why don’t they have cinemas and 10-pin-bowling in malls here? First we went 10-pin-bowling, and were one of the only two groups using it.
Bowling, me and the Germans
Happyland! Where the bowling alley was

After that, it was lunch in the food court, so four of us got DoggiS, which was completes, fries, processed empanadas, coke, and a sundae, for about 2000 pesos, or $6 NZD. And it was good value for money – we could have had McD’s, but chose the Chilean take-out place. Connor was in charge of ordering the food, and when it came time to give his name, the lady looked at him funny, so he ended up calling himself ‘Pablo’. Which became his new name.
After lunch, we went to see a movie, and the Germans chose Underworld, which was a vampire/lycon fantasy gothic flick, and after it, I don’t think anyone found it that great, but the cinema was! The seats were elevated in levels, the screen was huge, and yet again, it was practically to ourselves.
We returned to the orientation place, and more students had begun to arrive – the part we had all been waiting for, seeing one another again! We had an orientation activity in groups – my group was the Kiwis, the Austrians, and Icelandic, and the Finns. The other groups were only the Germans, the Thais and the Japanese girl, and the USA people. So I got a mix of cultures!

There was a dinner, and the rule with AFS is now, I think ‘thy exchange student shall never be underfed’. I can’t remember what it was, but all of the meals were delicioso.

And after dinner, what do exchange students like to do – talk! We talked so much; you find that when you haven’t been able to communicate for 5 weeks, you have quite a bit to say! My playing cards came in handy too, but there was a lot of talking!

Day 2
Breakfast was rolls, ham, cheese, coffee or tea. And chatter as well! We went straight to orientation activities, talking about our first month in Chile, and how much we knew about our routine, host family birthdays, where to put dirty laundry, etc. There was a break, then an activity on the cycles of adaption, and we got a chance to share if we were having problems with our host family. Luckily only one of us was. But for the rest of us, no problems. 
Then it was lunchtime, as usual it was delicious, and after that we piled onto two double-decker buses for a tour of the city. As Santiago is so huge (6 million people, 1 ½ times the population of New Zealand), we got to see downtown, including the main plaza, a lot of the amazing architecture, the Presidential Palace, and we also saw Jesus, in an outdoor performance of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Outside the Presidential Palace
Ananda, Alvaro, Connor, Me and Captain Awesome outside the Presidential Palace
Jesus, and the Jesus Christ Superstar Performers

They wanted a photo with us!

About 30 minutes into the tour, the tour bus behind us crashed into our tour bus, and it was only after the tour when I found out why. Turns out, a girl from the USA tour bus was waving at her bus driver, and the bus driver waved back at her – and therefore wasn’t looking at the road!
There were so many people in Santiago downtown! I’d never seen to many people congregate in one place. It was absolutely crowded, and when people had a turn to cross the streets, they kept crossing well after the traffic light was green. 

Some photos of Santiago, and the architecture

We did another orientation activity about different ways of adapting, had another delicious meal. Before the meal we had a little random corridor conversation, which turned into a huge discussion about kebabs, marmite, cities, and other things like that. I swear that there were no awkward silences ever at this camp. It was great.

But this meal came with a difference – the day before I left, I had received a package from home, and in it came none other than MARMITE!!! So we had the Great Marmite Taste Test. Connor liked it, none of the volunteers did, and Captain Awesome with his dual USA/Australian citizenship told me it tasted like vegemite. I have a video of it too!

The dinner table  - Me, Ashleigh, Felix (Germany), Angela, Simon (France), Captain Awesome/Alex (USA) and Connor

After that, and another orientation activity, we had to announce the King, the Queen, the nicest person, and the nicest volunteer. Thor from Iceland was the King, Olga from Finland the Queen, Erika from the USA the nicest person, and Jorge the nicest volunteer. The volunteers had decorated the place with balloons, and the winners got cute hats and chocolate. Then, we had 
to sing happy birthday to Leonie from Switzerland, and everyone sang it in different languages, which was really sweet. Afterwards we had a little party and cake, which was, yet again, delicious.
The King and Queen (Rey and Reina)

That night went into early morning, as my group just talked and talked and talked, and about serious stuff too, like what we had been worrying about, that kind of thing, but it was a lot of laughs too, as when we went into Angela’s room to mime out an awkward scene that had taken place (or just see where everyone was sitting), we heard footsteps, and thought it was the people we were talking about, but it was Captain Awesome. 
It was just one of those funny moments, nonetheless. Later that night, when Ananda and I were brushing our teeth, the German boys thought it would be funny to use the girls’ bathrooms, and when a volunteer noticed something was up, she waited for them to come out, but they didn’t, they had perched on the loos in the cubicles to no feet would show, but then a German head popped up, and they all got caught out. It was absolutely hilarious, the whole scene, and especially when all the volunteers gathered round to wait for them to come out.

Playing cards in Ashleigh and my room
Day 3
This was the last day, and everyone was really tired from the night before, but breakfast still managed to be cheerful and funny. We had our final orientation activity, then played an obstacle course game outside, which involved being spun around 10 times, doing the egg-and-spoon race thing, except with water balloons, fishing a lolly out of a plate of water with your hands behind your back, doing the same afterwards, except with a balloon in flour, blowing up the balloon, then jumping over something, army-crawling under chairs, doing the limbo (all with the balloon in your hands) and finally sitting on the next person’s lap with the balloon
 underneath to pop the balloon. Afterwards, we all had beards of flour, but it was huge fun.

The obstacle course:

And after! Olga (Finland), Thor (Iceland), Emily (USA), Me, Mollie (USA) and Marrta (Finland)
Getting funky with the water balloons!

Ashleigh, Anita and Angela

People’s host families in Santiago arrived, so goodbyes were said. After we had the ultimate lunch, first of fruit and bread and salad, then huge, delicious empanadas, then pasta and chicken. The empanadas were amazing. And finally, at 3pm, the bus station group said their goodbyes and headed off to the bus station.

Us Copiapó people were the 3rd to last to go, which meant waiting in the bus station for 7 hours. And yet again, my cards came in handy. Finally the only students left were the Copiapó four, the Punta Arenas two, and the Thai girl in Coyhaique. The other three had to stay the night at the bus station hotel and catch planes early in the morning, so we went to McDonald’s to have dinner. And for my first McDonald’s burger in ages, it was actually quite delicious! At 10pm the Copiapó students said our sad goodbyes to the others, and boarded the bus to reality.

I hope you had the time of your life.

And this is me, Felix and Emily, Felix had the most adorable tee shirt

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