Sunday, September 27, 2009

---> Time's a loaded gun

Seven months into my Chilean exchange and I think the only thing that still hasn't met the (very few) expectations I had before I came is that my hair has not grown nearly quite long enough just yet! (Chilean girls have long hair in general - my hair was chin level when I arrived!)

I think a good analogy for an exchange is that it's like a show in the theatre. The first part of a show is always the rehearsing - learning the lines, where to go on stage, what else will be happening while you're performing and those kind of things. The second part is knowing what to expect and performing, everything in synch. Which means, the first half of the exchange is learning the language (or getting a good mastery of it), becoming accustomed to the culture and day to day life and making friends. Then comes the second half, which is easier than the first half because most of the hard work is done, and you now know what to exepect, understand what is happening and can communicate well to other people what you want. 

It's also the best half of the exchange, but that is bittersweet because time goes by fast when you're having fun. 

Extra, extra! Exhange advice section-
One of the aspects I like most about where I am now is having true friends, who I can communicate well with. I am really going to miss them - the first few months can be so isolatin because although people try to include you, you can never laugh along with the jokes knowing what the joke is actually about, whereas now it's possible to tell jokes yourself. Communication is the big thing, it's possible to have another level of friendship, because I can talk to my friends about more serious things, and they too confide in me, because they know I actually understand what is being said. It's probably the most rewarding part of exchange, when the friendships become more profound and meaningful. (Unfortunately it makes it harder to leave too!)

There are so many rewarding things about going on an exchange, it's an oppurtunity not to miss. To know that you are capable of making such strong friendships despite not understanding well the language for the first few months actually really rocks. I love the 'moments' I share with my friends and gosh to think I only have so much time left to spend time with them. 

And although I'm talking here about friendships becoming stronger, there are still new friendships forming. In classes, if for some reason people sit in other places I'll probably end up talking to some other classmates, and that means I'll greet them too when I see them, which means we'll probably talk more, and viola! more friendships formed! There's absolutely no way of knowing how many potential friends one has in the world, I've learned. 

I still laugh about the day (during the school anniversary) when hardly anyone came to one class (civics) and because it's an elective, there were kids from the other third grade class there. All of the friends I normally sit with had chosen not to come to class, as well as about half of the class. So what did we spend the class doing? Hiding in boxes and sellotaping bags to chairs . . .  good times!

With (some) of my awesome friends

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

---> 18th September

Last week every single house flew the Chilean flag, cars put flags on their bonnets and way too much meat was barbecued.

Last week lots of Cueca was danced, empanadas were eaten and reggaeton was played.

Last week was the 199th anniversary of Chile's independance from Spain, and being the patriotic country it is, it sure was celebrated!

On the Wednesday there were activities at school, traditional dances from Rapa Nui (easter island), Mapuche dances (the native inhabitants of Chile), Cueca, and a lot more.

A lot of people, especially the younger ones, came to school in traditional costume, which for girls is either a colourful patterned dress and white socks, or a long black skirt, white blouse and black jacket, and for men is black trousers and jacket, hat, poncho, boots and spurs and shin guards (my host sister also wasn't lying when she said that the guys look exquite in their 'huaso' clothes).

School festivities

At a large park in Copiapó was a colection of stages, where different groups supposedly played traditional music, which sounded a lot more like Cumbia (tropical) to me, and people danced, there was a market and traditional food stalls.

So what are some of the traditional Chilean 18th September foods?
-First, empanadas, a meat turnover. 
-Choripan, which is Chorizo sausage in a bread roll. 
-Churrasca, thin bread rounds cooked on a barbecue.
-Ferros, meat skewers with capsicum and onion.
-Mote con Huesillos, which is barley with a syrup and rehydrated peach (sounds strange but it's yummy)

That's all I can think of for now, but so much barbecued meat shouldn't be eaten in one day! 

In my family, we celebrated my driving two hours south to my uncle and aunt's in Vallenar, where, like every family in Chile, we had a barbecue, with lots of yummy food and salads, a typical family get together, making the skewers together, sharing a meal and sharing laughs. It went well.

Also, another interesting fact is that it is illegal NOT to fly the Chilean flag from your house on the 18th!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

---> Cumpleaños Eileen

There's getting to be quite a big list of things I haven't done before coming to Chile, and one of those things is going to a birthday party on a weeknight until very late at night . . . 

On Monday was the celebration of my friend Eileen's 18th birthday, and to celebrate was a dinner with family and close friends. It was different from other birthday celebrations I have been to, on Saturday I went to one that was exactly the opposite - a huge party with lots of people in a rented out location. This was a family kind of celebration, with a huge table full of yummy food like barbecued meat, salads and most surprisinly of all these onions that had been bathed in water and marinated in cumin. Food was eaten, speeches were made, then birthday cake and dancing! 
Andrea, Eileen, Cony and I
The last weekend really was a busy one, because not only on Monday did I go out, but on Friday night went to my friend Sofía's house to watch movies and have pizza, but on Saturday was a barbecue for members of the Rotary club, and family.
Friends in Sofía's room

The barbecue was really fun, it was at like a kind of park one rents out, it had like a little unit, a barbecue and some swings and a fire pit. We ate lots of barbecued meat, then after played pool, danced Cueca, the national dance of Chile. Rotary does student exchanges too, and one of the Rotary exchangers was there, as well as a returnee who went to Canada. Us three hung out a bit, and waited for the bread cooked in the barbecue to be cooked. Pan Amasado is really really really yummy with butter, like pretty much all the bread here.

And here's a thing which makes me think 'oh, Chile'. Last Sunday night was a kind of cultural celebration of Chile, and later on was a concert. There's not really a mosh pit, but there were a lot of people there watching the show. I was right at the front, when I looked back and saw that some of the people standing behind me were standing around something. I looked down and there was a drunk man sleeping, right in the middle of the crowd of people watching the concert. Ah, Chile. He'd just fallen asleep right there.

Coming up is the 18th of September, which, this year, is the 199th anniversary of Chile having it's independance. It's a hugely important celebration here, because Chile is an incredibly patriotic country. Even now cars have Chilean flags on them, houses have put up flags, and today my school had a celebration of dances and traditional Chilean food to celebrate. I'll update after the 18th to let you know just how it went.

Friday, September 11, 2009

---> Revolution

Out of the 7 exchange students here in Copiapò, I am the only one by myself at school (eg, without another exchanger) and also, in a public school. It was a bit strange at first to get used to taking toilet paper to chool, as although we have school toilets, and toilet paper rolls, there is no toilet paper. Rarely there is soap, and quite a few of the toilets don´t flush. However, now I a happy to say that for the first time in my history of being here, the toilets had toilet paper, liquid soap AND paper hand towels. It´s a revolution baby.

I was also told by the school inspector, that my school is probably the only public school in all of Copiapò to have toilet paper in the toilets, let alone soap and paper hand towels, and we could be the only public school in the whole of Chile to have that.

Some of the differences between my school here and my school in NZ are:
-firstly, it´s mixed and the kids start at primary
-little kids start doing tests right from the word go
-there´s no playground for the littlies and a tiny patch of grass that nobody walks on
-during the first break the school gives those who need it a breakfast of hot milk and bread
-the littlies wear an apron like coat over their uniform
-supposedly we´re not supposed to, but everyone wears noticable earrings
-chairs are uncomfortable and normally you stay seated at the same desk all day
-the gate shuts at 8am and if the inspectpor is nice he´ll let you in without taking down you`re name and class, if you arrive after 8am
-there are these dudes called inspectors that make sure everyone behaves well, and usher everyne into the classes when the bells go. but most of them are really cool
-my school has a dining room and microwaves to heat lunch!
-after lunch you brush your teeth
-and after PE, you shower and wash your hair (that´s when we actually do something in PE)
-there are school dogs
-the palm tree is the best place to sit and the 30 cent ice blocks are the best
-and th 45 cent packs of alfajors... yum yum!
-everyone in the class is friends
-and because of that generally not much work gets done . . .

That`s all I can think of for you. Been busy lately, going out, watching a television series wth my sister and just general things, I love it like this.

Chau for now!

Friday, September 4, 2009

---> The BIG shock

Some might say that moving into a new country, the differences and strangeness of everything comes as a huge shock. It's true. Adjusting to a new culture is a strange process, when strange little things can throw you off or make you incredibly homesick. I went through that in my first few months here, but little did I know there was a bigger shock to come. As an exchange student,  I knew the best thing to do would be to stand talk, keep my chin up, keep on walking and toot the flute. It was the moment I realised 'Banda' didn't mean concert band, but marching band.

The first clue I got about the band I had joined at my school would be different was when the director asked us to memorise music. The other students had been in the band for longer than I had, so alread had the music down pat (I didn't realise they played the same tune each year at first, I thought, being in a music high school, that they were talented musicions and learnt 4 songs in a week, while I was struggling to learn 4 bars in a week). 

The first shock came when I realised the reason we had been asked to learn the music off by heart. At 5pm one Friday afternoon, during my first few months here, when to my hope and joy we seemed to be packing up early . . . to my dismay, everyone was simply moving outside with their instruments. Why? Another thing I haven't done before - play music off by heart on the flute while marching in the first line of a marching band. It's not as easy as it sounds, and my first time I was awful at it. Firstly marching in time. That's not too hard, but when it is your first time and you are in the first row and don't know the director's hand signals, it gets messy. Secondly, marching in time AND playing an instrument, supposedly with music you know by memory. Concentrating on marching is one thing, and concentrating on playing music off by heart is another thing, and they must use different sides of the brain or something because I almost walked into about 3 poles. (While trying not to bump poor Carolina with the end of my flute). Then there's the marching well, concentrating on the music and trying to keep your flute held high. It all sounds pretty complicated, and as I now know, some things are a lot easier said than done.

However, we have not come to the BIG shock. What we were practicing for in my first few months was the 21st of May, a date of a naval battle in Iquique, and all of the schools' marching bands play on that morning. However, due to the strike of the teachers in the public schools, my school did not play - and I thought that was the end of marching band - back to the familiar playing the flute sitting down stage.

Ha. Last week at Band practice, guess what we did - Marching band again! 

This was for the school anniversary, so on Sunday morning we had to be at school in uniform, ready to march from the school to the town plaza to celebrate the anniversary.

Marching Along

We marching on one side of a two lane road at one stage, and cars still came along alongside us! That's one of the things different about here, traffic isn't as considerate. (I won't scare my family reading this by telling them that I have lost count of the times I have nearly been run over here). Stray dogs aren't very considerate either, but it's lucky they poop on the footpaths and we marched on the road. But one did join the parade. It wasn't just the marching band marching either, the whole school (or those that could get themselves up on Sunday morning and weren't in the choirs or dancing Cueca in places around town) had to march. So we waited for a while by the mall, and my friend Barbara took some photos.

Waiting . . .

The marching band it very traditional, and there are certain 'passes' we have to do, one of them it the Retreat. I accidently stood on the back of someone's shoe when I was coming forward. But the retreat is when all the classes come through and they say the name of the class, as I understood.

Then, before we could go home, we were given cartons of juice, and started to set up chairs for the concert in the plaza. We played a few songs, then packed up and were given free empanadas and more juice - it was a hot day! One of the interesting things my host parents told me is that in the times of Augusto Pinochet, every single Sunday there had to be a parade in the plaza, because Pinochet (militarist dictator of Chile about 30 years ago) liked military things.

The concert
In other news, another week has passed, I have been out a few times with the other exchange students, and now know the best place to eat completos! This is fure sure the best half of the exchange. I'm having the time of my life here.