My Semester Abroad in 10 Photos
I'm finally back in the United States after spending five months in Chile, then my Winter Term in Italy (more on that later!), and already I'm nostalgic about my semester and itching to travel again. As I've been processing my experiences and reminiscing, I've been looking back through all my photos from the semester. These are some of my favorite moments that best represent my time in Santiago.
My host family's beautiful backyard is one of the things I miss most. I spent a lot of my time staring out at this view as I struggled through Spanish homework on the back patio. When the weather got nicer, everyone in the house would be outside in the evenings-- the dogs played with each other, my host parents gardened, and I studied for finals or took a dip in the pool. In the mornings, I would pick oranges from the tree and we would have fresh orange juice, and in the afternoons, my host mom and I would eat walnuts from the walnut tree. Seriously, what more could I have asked for!
My friend Sarah happily distracted by some friendly campus dogs at our university in Santiago. The street dogs were one of the best unexpected aspects of life in Chile. As evidenced by this photo, they break every stereotype of streetdogs. Most of them are super sweet, and if you pet them, drop food for them, or show them the tiniest bit of affection, they become your instant best friend and sometimes follow you around for blocks. Local Chileans even told me that if I was ever walking at night and felt unsafe, I should give a dog some food so that it would act as an escort and protect me, because that's how loyal they become. Santiago dogs know how to use crosswalks and streetlights, which is the most adorable thing to watch. During one of my swim meets, a street pup managed to sneak onto the pool deck and proceeded to lope around attempting to jump into the pool for a few minutes before it was caught and gently led out. The dogs aren't seen as a nuissance at all but in fact are well taken care of and loved as an integral part of Chilean culture.
I arrived in Santiago in July (winter in the southern hemisphere) to discover that most homes have no central heating. My host house was very comfortable, but I spent the first month of my stay freezing. All the exchange students in my program had a good attitude about the lack of heat and it became a subject of bonding for us. Many of us had small space heaters-- estufas in Spanish-- in our bedrooms and they were lifesavers. When I got home from school, I would put on thick socks, a sweatshirt, drape myself in a blanket, then crank my space heater up and put it right next to my feet as I studied at my desk. I will be forever grateful for the companionship of my estufa during the Chilean winter.
I took this picture on a trip to San Pedro de Atacama, the driest desert in the world. We visited saltflats in the evening one day, where we witnessed this incredible landscape that's home to a colony of flamingos-- yes, flamingos! As we were leaving, the moon started rising behind a volcano and I was literally moved to tears. To me, this photo perfectly represents the unbelievable, raw, captivating beauty of Chile. I will forever believe it is the most naturally beautiful country in the world with the Atacama in the north, Patagonia and an island district in the south, the Andes along the east, and an extensive coast in the west.
This was taken at La Vega, a huge outdoor food market in Santiago. I love La Vega because people of every age, economic status, and background all go there to do their grocery shopping. The prices and freshness of the produce were unbeatable, plus it was fun to just walk around and see all the foods that we can't get in the U.S. One of my favorites was chirimoya, the green, spiky fruit at this stall.
I noticed lots of seahorse drains around Santiago, but it wasn't until I visited the Museum of Memory and Human Rights that I understood their significance. After Augusto Pinochet seized power in 1973, he detained and tortured thousands of people in makeshift prisons around the country. Many of the prisoners were blindfolded to keep them from knowing where they were, but when they were allowed to go to the bathroom, their blindfold was lifted a little and many described seeing drains such as this one. The seahorse became a symbol of resistance against the dictatorship and of hope for those wrongfully detained. To me, these drains represent what it's like to live in a country still dealing with the aftermath of this human rights crisis, which ended relatively recently in 1990. There are still remnants everywhere. Walking through the streets of Santiago, you inevitably pass a building that previously functioned as a torture center. Many people still don't know what became of disappeared family members and friends. The Chilean dictatorship and its lasting effects are painful, complex, and difficult to process-- especially because the United States was heavily involved in deposing the democratically-elected socialist president Salvador Allende and putting Pinochet in power. I was extremely grateful that my host family was willing to openly discuss their experiences and views of that era with me. I have so much to say on this topic and am still thinking about everything I learned about the dictatorship. It was an eye-opening experience to see firsthand how destructive a government can become when democracy is cast aside.
My friends Alexa and Zack with me in Torres del Paine, holding our favorite Chilean candy bars called Super 8 (super ochos). It was fun trying all the different Chilean treats, and these were by far my favorite. They're kind of like Kit-Kats but with lighter wafers on the inside. Any special occasion called for a Super 8 to celebrate, and you could almost always find someone selling them for about 25 cents on the street, metro, or in a store. We carried these candy bars with us on our 4-day trek in Patagonia, employing extreme willpower to save them until our last day so we could eat them in front of the famous Torres of Torres del Paine.
I loved being an exchange student because it was an opportunity not just to meet Chileans, but to bond with other exchange students in my program going through the same exciting, confusing, frustrating, and rewarding cultural experiences. This is the makeshift Chilean Thanksgiving I had with friends. A few noted differences from my normal celebration in the United States: we got to have a picnic because it was summer weather and we had to have our feast on the Friday after Thanksgiving, because we all had finals on Thursday.
A picture that proves traveling never goes completely as planned. At the end of the semester, I went to Peru with four of my friends (pictured) and when we got to the Lima airport for our flight to Cusco, we were told not only that our flight was cancelled with no warning, but that in fact the airline we had booked tickets through, LCPerú, had been shut down indefinitely by the Peruvian government. Luckily, we were able to book another flight quickly but in Cusco, we happened upon the airline's shuttered office and had to stop for a photo op.
I did the W trek in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, through a program that arranges trips for exchange students in Santiago. This was our group at the top of Torres del Paine. We were from ALL over-- the U.S., Germany, Belgium, Mexico, Portugal, Ecuador, Colombia, and Chile. The whole week, we spoke the funniest mishmash of English, German, Spanish, and mostly Spanglish. This picture shows by far the best part of my semester: adventuring while meeting amazing new people from all over the world.