American Time

The past month has gone by in a blur. After Torres del Paine (of which there has since been a fire, causing the authorities to evacuate most of the park), I went back to Santiago for a couple nights, then travelled to Mendoza, Argentina, returned to Santiago, flew home to Boston for a couple days, went to New York City for New Years, was been back and forth between Boston and my house and just got back to Ithaca.

Since I’ve been back in the U.S. some of the biggest “culture shocks” for me have been: constantly interacting in English, witnessing the differences in diversity, not having mayonnaise smothered over everything I order, not constantly seeing the Andes mountains and no longer using Monopoly money (Chilean money is brightly colored and the conversion rate is roughly 500 pesos to the dollar, making it seem fake- although my bank account begs to differ).

Monopoly Money

One of the things that I miss the most though is the ease of getting from one place to another. Maybe it’s just because I lived there for five months, but Santiago felt much more condensed and easier to get around than New York or Boston, and especially Framingham; if I couldn’t walk somewhere in Chile, the public transportation was always visible and easy to maneuver. At home, I basically have to drive everywhere and in New York City I felt lost just trying to navigate Manhattan, never mind all five boroughs…

Speaking of public transportation, I’m also going to miss all of the performances on the buses. On a lot of them you can find some sort of musical act ranging from rap to folklore to “Somewhere over the Rainbow” on a ukulele. In addition

Bus performance

to the singers there were clowns, comedy routines, bird imitations and people selling ice cream, just to name a few. Yes, they asked you for a contribution afterwards, but a couple cents was well worth the limitless entertainment.

Finally, I can’t finish my blog without acknowledging a key part of my study abroad experience: my host family. They all treated me as part of the family and went out of their way to make me feel at home. Whether it was Laura explaining a new Chilean phrase to me, seeing Gus (her boyfriend) get super excited to spend 20 minutes learning English with me, tutoring Vicente (the oldest child, 13) in math, lending my

My home away from home

iPod to Salvador (age 8 ) so he could play Angry Birds or just watching over Lucas (age 3) there was rarely a dull moment at home. At times I did miss the independence of living on my own, but my home stay gave me a perspective on Chilean culture that I never would have gotten by living on my own and created a home away from home for me that I would never exchange.


Here are some of the most common questions I’ve been asked since I’ve been home:


So are you fluent in Spanish now?

Although my Spanish has improved greatly, I’m realizing that “fluent” is really hard to define. Native speakers will always be able to tell that Spanish isn’t my first language, but I can have a conversation with someone, read the newspaper and take classes in Spanish without too much trouble. So in that respect, yes I’m fluent. Do I still have more to learn though? Absolutely.


What was your favorite place that you traveled to?

I’ve thought a lot about it and I think I would have to say Torres del Paine. There’s something really satisfying about carrying everything you need with you on your back for over a week. There were parts where felt like we had the entire park to ourselves and could take our time enjoying the beautiful scenery. Machu Picchu was an unbelievable experience as well, but there were so many people on the trail that I never felt like it was mine and mine alone.


Do you still want to be a doctor?

That’s the most difficult question to answer. I didn’t see anything that really turned me off from medicine, but I didn’t see anything that convinced me that that’s what I want to do either. I know that there’s a lot more to medicine than what I saw, so I’m going to think about it while exploring my other options. Research is definitely a thought and I’m hoping to get involved this semester. Another opportunity that I hadn’t really though of emerged as well- teaching. Between Gus and Vicente I found that I really enjoyed seeing their progression over the course of the semester and knowing that I was responsible for it. I still have three semesters left, and hopefully I can narrow down my options before then.


Do you miss it? / Are you going to go back soon?

Absolutely. I was ready to come home and see my family and friends here, but I’m going to miss the family and friends I made down there too. Plus, even though I’ve been to the extreme north and south of Chile, there are other places in between that I want to see, specifically Pucón and the Lake District. I’m going to practice my Spanish as much as possible here, but I know that the only way to truly perfect it is to surround myself with it again like I did for the past semester, even if it’s just for a couple weeks. Once I have the time and the money I will be on a plane to my adopted home.


It'll follow me everywhere, even in New York City

This is going to be my last blog post, but if anybody has any questions, feel free to contact me, either via comment or e-mail ( The past couple months have been the experience of a lifetime and I can happily say that I have no regrets about it.



Torres del Paine- A Trip to the End of the Earth

After hiking about 100 kilometers over 9 days through the Torres del Paine National Park, I can tell why it is the mecca of trekking. Most people do the “W” route (highlighted in red), which lasts about 4 days and sees all of the “highlights” of the park- Glaciar Grey, the blue lakes, Los Cuernos and the Torres del Paine. However, my friends and I had time to spare and wanted to push our bodies to the limit and decided to complete the full circuit (highlighted in grey) and somehow managed to survive.

The first day we set up camp at Campamiento Las Torres (bottom right of the W) and hiked about 10 kilometers up the right arm of the W to see the Torres, took pictures and descended back to the

The Torres del Paine

campground for the night. After that, we embarked on the much less crowded (and extremely beautiful) backside of the circuit for the next 4 days. The weirdest thing was reuniting with civilization on the sixth day.

Starting the backside of the circuit

All of a sudden the trail wasn’t just for us and we had to share it with everybody else. There were other people hiking the circuit with us, but for the most part, we only saw them at the campsites. As we started to descend the left arm of the W, we often had to push off to the side as hikers with fresh legs and no packs would pass us in both directions. Looking back on it, it definitely wasn’t overly crowded, but our isolation on the backside really spoiled us.

Campamiento Paine Grande

What really threw me for a loop though was when we arrived at the campsite. There was a giant wooden hotel that I really can only compare to a ski lodge. It had dorm rooms to rent, a restaurant, a bar, even internet- all with super inflated prices of course. Combined with the influx of people, it was a real shock to the system from what I had been used to. We sat there for a little bit and then set the tents up before retiring to “the kitchen”- an indoor gazebo complete with stoves, picnic tables and most importantly, outlets. I only had one camera battery and had been doing my best to conserve it, but the ability to charge it made me ecstatic, and justified bringing both my charger and converter.

Rainbow after the rain

While it charged, I spent the afternoon writing in my journal, playing cards with my friends and enjoying the shelter from the wind and rain. Around 7 we started to cook dinner (Ramen noodle soup) and soon made friends with some porters. They were nice enough to share some of their dinner with us (the people they were carrying luggage for ate at the restaurant and were staying in the hotel), which was fantastic. We did our best to make flavorful dinners along the trail, but meat and spices were luxuries that we could not afford and they could. Out of all the people in the kitchen, I’m not sure why they took to us, but I’m not going to complain.

We spent the rest of the night talking with them and exchanging stories. Some of them loved the fact that I supported La Universidad de Chile, but others got legitimately mad at me and left the table. I found it interesting that even though there are teams that play much closer to the south of Chile, all of the porters still supported teams from Santiago. Regardless, all of them were really impressed that a bunch of us had been to the Estadio Nacional to see La U play in the Copa Sudamericana. At 10, the kitchen closed and most people returned to their tents, but three of us rejoined our new friends outside of the hotel for a mini carrete before going to bed.

I can’t decide on a favorite day, or even whether I liked the W or the circuit more, but the entire experience was incredible and almost impossible to put into words. I thought that the radical change between day 5 and day 6 was noteworthy, but Torres del Paine is one of those things that you have to experience for yourself to truly appreciate. For now though, I will leave you with some pictures. On Sunday, I leave for Mendoza, Argentina for a couple days before I return to Santiago and then home. Oh how time is flying…


Winding Down

I knew November was going to fly by, but not this fast. Now, all of my classes and finals are over, people leave for home tomorrow and I am heading to Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia for 10 days. I’ll get to that later though. First I’m going to talk about two really fun events that I never had a chance to blog about in November: a Chilean soccer game and Thanksgiving.


Cheering the team on as they enter

Along with almost half of IES I went to see La Universidad de Chile play against Ársenal de Sarandí for the Copa Sudamericana- a club soccer tournament between South American teams. Interestingly, there is a team called La Universidad Católica as well but neither have any affiliation with the universities on which they were named. When I told Vicente (my oldest host brother) that I was going to the game, he got so excited and immediately started teaching me all of the chants. Apparently there are over 50 ranging from general support for the team to hurling insults at the opposition’s mothers. In the interests of keeping this PG, I’m just going to leave it at that. However, I even saw a dad teaching his young son the words to one of the dirty chants. Just another difference between Chile and the U.S… The game ended up being a 3-0 blowout by La Chile who has since made it to the finals. Until then I had held back every time somebody asked me which team I support, but after such a great experience, I’m proud to say that they’re my team.


The next week we celebrated Thanksgiving at IES, and even though I missed everybody at home, it was a lot of fun celebrating it in Chile. IES provided seven, that’s right, SEVEN, turkeys for us and we took care of the rest. Although nothing can beat the feast that my family puts on, this came pretty close. My friends really surprised me with their cooking and baking abilities. The night got even better when one of my friends presented a 15-minute slideshow full of embarrassing pictures of everybody, which ended up being bittersweet. I did laugh non-stop, but I also realized how little time there was left in the semester. Between all of my finals and projects, the last week went by as if somebody pressed the fast forward button and tomorrow people are going to be leaving back for the States. So weird.


Attempt at packing.

As for me, I will be on my way to the south of Chile for a 10-day hike in and around vast ice fields and glaciers. I’m hoping that we can finish a little early so that way we can see penguins (the closest colonies are in Punta Arenas in the deep south), but that might have to wait for another trip. Regardless, Torres del Paine is one of the top attractions in South America and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to see it. As for now, I’m going to try to get some shut-eye before the transfer picks me up at 3:00 in the morning. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of down time so I’ll try to have a blog post written by the time I get back. Good luck with finals to all of my friends at Cornell and safe travels to everybody from IES.