1. 2 Months In!

    Hello again! 

    Over the past month, I moved, started teaching 2 classes, and have taken a couple of weekend trips.  I moved to a house in an authentic Colombian neighborhood, and was the only gringa for miles until my roommates moved in!  I live with two other girls that are part of the same teaching program, so we have a lot in common.  It is both a blessing and a curse that we all speak English: I don’t get any Spanish practice at home, but it’s nice to be able to communicate with ease.  I also joined a CrossFit gym here, and let me tell you, CrossFit in Spanish is quite entertaining!  They pretty much say the same words for the exercises, but with a Colombian accent and a lot of enthusiasm.  It has been a great way to meet Colombians and practice my small talk skills in Spanish, plus exercising on the reg just makes me feel better overall!

    Work has been a rewarding challenge.  I feel like my students are improving, but of course, there are daily frustrations.  This is my first time having classes all to myself, and it can be hard to keep everyone engaged!  Classes are 1.5 hours long, Monday through Friday.  Currently I teach from 8AM until noon daily.  So it sucks getting up early every day (madrugar), but I love having the afternoons free to lesson plan, run errands, or meet up with friends.  Another challenge is that students do not come to class consistently.  I have one group of 25 students, mostly in their 20s.  My second class is for other instructors at SENA, and they seem to come and go as they please!  Their English levels vary immensely, as do their schedules.  So that makes lesson planning a bit of a challenge.  SENA also does not have an established curriculum for English classes, thus each teacher is responsible for creating our own lessons and activities.  So literally, I come home every day and think, what the hell I am going to teach tomorrow?  It’s an adventure!  But I am definitely becoming more confident in my teaching ability, as well as more comfortable with my students and their differing abilities.  Overall I really like teaching, and I find it much more engaging than my previous desk job!  I’m forced to take an active role in every aspect my classroom, which is exhausting, but you get out what you put in!

    Some highlights of the past month have been:

    • Trip to Jardin – I went with two friends to the south of Antioquia to a beautiful pueblo called Jardin.  As you can tell from the name, it’s like a garden, and was so luscious and green!  We went horseback riding to a hidden waterfall and took some amazing pictures.  Pasias often say, “Vamos a pueblear este finde…” which means that they are going to visit a pueblo this weekend.  They do it so often that it merited its own verb!

    • Tropical fruit tour – In my last post I mentioned my desire to branch out and try some of the exotic fruits that are common in Medellín.  I paid about $15 USD to go to a huge indoor marketplace and sample 20 different fruits.  It was so worth it!  Now I can identify random fruits on the street, and actually know how to eat them.  Skin or no skin?  Eat the core or trash it? Slurp it down or slice it?  Now I am prepared to enjoy the sweetness of these Colombian treasures!  My favorite discovery was nispero, which looks like a kiwi from the outside but has the texture and color of brown sugar.  I loved both the fruit and drinking it as a juice blend – so good!!

    • Trip to Santa Fe de Antioquia – I just got back from a weekend getaway to a finca (country house) about 2 hours outside of Medellín.  IT WAS GLORIOUS.  The property was one of the nicest that I’ve seen in Colombia, let alone back home!  It was amazing to get out of the crowded city, breathe clean air, and take some time to read by the pool.

     

    Lastly, an interesting tidbit for you tall people – Colombia will not accommodate your height!  Most people here are around 5 feet…5’5’’ max.  So I, being 5’11’’, am constantly cramming my lengthy body into tight spaces.  In the bus, I have to sit side-saddle (or choose the much less lady-like option of spread legs) in order to not have my knees jammed against the seat in front of me.  All desks are made for dwarfs in my opinion, and I have smacked my head in doorways multiple times.  Tall people beware!  Short people, you’ll fit right in.  Ya bastards. 

    Until next month!

     

  2. Los primeros días en Colombia!

    Hi everyone!

    So today marks my tenth day in Medellín.  A lot has happened in 10 days!  I have been meaning to sit down and write for a while, but cool events keep coming up and I get distracted!  It’s a balance between making time to blog and having experiences worth blogging about!  I’ll start from the beginning:

    I left Albuquerque on January 23rd and flew to Fort Lauderdale, close to Miami. 

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    I spent the night there in a hostel and stayed with 3 awesome girls and one crazy lady.  The crazy lady was about 60 years old and lived in this hostel permanently.  She was convinced that the US government was after her and that she had to live under the radar.  She also only wore one outfit – a black leotard.  No pants, no socks, just the leotard.  She was definitely entertaining but I’m glad I didn’t stay there too long, because I was a bit afraid that she was going to attack me in my sleep!

    imageThe next day I got up and explored Fort Lauderdale a bit, went to the beach, and then took a shuttle to the Miami airport.  I hung out there for a few hours, savoring the use of the data plan on my iPhone.  Being in Miami I was surrounded by Spanish.  It was almost like I was already abroad! 

    Putting my iPhone in “airplane mode” and knowing that communications were going to be far more difficult in Colombia gave me some serious anxiety!  I know I am dependent on my iPhone, but I hadn’t realized I was an addict to this degree.  I do everything on it: calendar, email, Facebook, iMessage, camera, iPod…so not being able to whip it out whenever I want has been a struggle here so far.  I can still easily communicate when there is wifi, but I am very cautious about taking it out in public.  I’ve noticed that a lot of Colombians have nice phones, but I’m still a bit paranoid about getting robbed.  So!  My current situation is a cheap pay-as-you-go Colombian flip phone, and then using my iPhone when there is wifi and to listen to music/take pictures.

    When I landed in Medellin, the two French owners of Internships Colombia met me at the airport.  Internships Colombia brings foreigners to Colombia to gain work experience and help change the perception that Colombia is a dangerous place.  They were both very excited and it was a warm reception!  We then took a windy taxi ride from the airport (which is up in the mountains) to my apartment.  I currently live in Envigado, which is just south of Medellín and is considered a separate municipality. 

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    Check out the apartment I’m currently staying in – it’s super nice!  However, because Envigado is far away from the center of Medellín where I work, I am currently looking to move to the Laureles/Estadio area.

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    The transition to living in Medellín has actually been pretty smooth.  For example, the outlets are the same as the US, so I don’t have to use converters.  All of my current roommates and the people I work with speak English, so I can actively communicate and ask questions.  The metro is very accessible and fast, and it is less than $1 USD per trip. There are also tons of city buses, so once you figure out where it goes, you’re golden!

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    Some challenges so far have been: 

    My commute to work is about an hour each way.

    The apartment hunt, specifically coordinating in Spanish with Colombians over where to meet, prices, directions, etc.  It’s kind of a stressful process!

    Feeling behind at work.  The rest of the teachers who are part of the same program at SENA all went to a training in Bogotá for the past two weeks.  So when I met the rest of the group, they already all knew each other!  Plus, they all did their visa process while in Bogotá, and I am doing mine independently.  I think that because I was one of the first students as part of Internships Colombia that there was a mix up as to me going to Bogotá with the rest of the group.  I’m sure it will all work out, but I’ve definitely felt a few steps behind others in terms of the logistics!

    The Colombian government recently invested in a program to educate more students in English as a way for them to have more job opportunities in the future.  So I will be getting paid by the government, and my job title is a “Voluntario del Bilinguismo”.  We will be making about $1000 USD/month, which is definitely enough to live on in Colombia. 

    Because this is the first year of this initiative, it has been a bit disorganized so far.  We have mostly had orientation, tours, and gone over the expectations/goals.  I am not sure when our first day of actual teaching is either…the ambiguity is very normal in Colombia.  So, I’m just going with the flow!  I’ll be sure to update you when there’s more to report!

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    Because we’ve had a flexible schedule with work so far, it has allowed me to spend time getting to know the city.  It’s a huge place!  But every day I am becoming more comfortable.  There are lots of restaurants that offer “daily menus” that are about $4 USD for a huge plate of rice, beans, meat, avocado, soup, and a fresh fruit juice.  So typically I eat breakfast at home, and then a huge lunch out, and am not hungry for dinner!  I would like to cook more often, but I don’t want to buy a ton of groceries if I end up moving soon.  I also don’t know what all the foods in the grocery stores are…especially the fruits!  But there is an Exotic Fruits Tour that I want to take to help me identify what the heck I’m eating!

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    Thanks for reading!  Talk to you soon.  Un abrazo!

     

  3. Nuevo Departamento, Nuevo Vida

    I haven’t blogged in a long time because (a) laziness and (b) my computer was broken for casi 2 months!  So I was even less motivated!  But now I’ve had my computer back for about a week, and it has been glorious to be reunited!  

    Trekking en Parque Nacional del Torres del Paine en marzo


    I have really become more acclimated to my life in Santiago.  I have a steady group of friends, and I moved from my host family into an apartment downtown.  It’s awesome because I’m getting to experience both types of living during my time abroad.  Now I live with 3 other foreign girls, but our language at home is still Spanish.  I am a lot happier living here because I feel less isolated, but I also miss getting to experience the traditional Chilean customs that I was introduced to during my time with my host family.  But we still stay in touch, and are planning to meet up when my mom comes to visit in June.

    Un póster en campus San Jaquin, Santiago


    My classes are overall going well - much less frustrating now than at the beginning.  I actually know what’s going on now, like what the processes and expectations are.  And I’m getting pretty good grades!  I still don’t know exactly how to equate to an A, B, C system, because here everything is on a 1-7 grading scale.  But I know I’m passing, so that’s all that matters!  For one of my classes, Women in Chilean Society, we began our Literature section last week, and I really love the new professor.  Hard to believe we have a month left (plus finals) of classes!  Time flies.  I think it has flown because my life here is much less chaotic than in the US. I’m not hyperly involved in student activities, I’m not working, and as an exchange student, I have the ability to take classes less seriously.  It has taught me the value of CHILLING.  I think my blood pressure is significantly lower.

    Parapente en Mendoza, Argentina en abril


    I almost don’t want to leave at the end of July.  Class ends in June, and I have a friend from Texas coming to South America to travel with me for a month.  But I have gotten more of a routine here, and it feels like as soon as I have gotten comfortable, I have to uproot and leave.  Story of my life.  I feel a constant need to travel and be unsettled while I’m young and uncommitted, but I find myself wanting more and more to have a home with my own furniture and stay in the same place for more than 6 months.  I guess that’s what graduation and adulthood are for!

    Cerro San Cristobal, Santiago en abril


    It also hurts my heart a little bit to know I will not get to see my Chilean and international friends everyday, maybe never again.  It’s so strange to just come in and out of each other’s lives briefly.  But it’s awesome to know that if I want to go to Germany, Boliva, Australia, Mexico, Singapore, etc. I’d have friends there waiting for me!  And I also get excited when I think about reuniting with my friends in Texas.  While it will be a different life when I return, because many people my age just graduated, I really do miss funky little Austin and all the good people in my life there.


    Manifestación estudiantil sobre la educación en Santiago, mayo


    Another good thing is that I feel like I’m actually able to understand Spanish, and find myself taking less time to respond.  The words are coming more naturally to me now.  I don’t want to leave and give that up!  I am seriously considering teaching abroad after graduation, and Chile has a high demand for native English speakers.  Even if I don’t come back to Chile with all its modismos, I would love to come back to South America and explore more all this continent has to offer.  In Texas, I need to take more advantage of Spanish-speaking opportunites, because I know they exist.  But before I avoided them!

    La playa, La Serena, mayo


    In July, I plan to travel with my friend in the north, because it will be too damn cold in the south!  My tenative plan is Atacama Desert (Chile), Machu Pichu (Peru), La Paz (Boliva), Iguazu Falls (border of Argentina and Brazil), and Buenos Aires (Argentina).  I may throw in Colombia and/or Brazil if I can work it out, because I have random connections from people I met in Texas in those countries.  And it’s always better to know people!

    En catamarán, La Serena, mayo


    I’m really excited for what the next 2 months bring for me in South America, and am really going to try to “aprovechar”, or take advantage of and appreciate every opportunity.  ¿Cachaí?

     
  4. Estamos en cerro Santa Lucia - donde se fundó Santiago!

     

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  6. La playa en Viña del Mar

     

  7. Tiempos duros

    This week has been hard for me.  The exciting new shine of being in Chile has worn off, and I’m realizing that this is the life I will be leading for the next 4 months.  I have ups and downs every day - there are times when I’m loving it and can really appreciate being immersed in another culture.  But there are also times when I feel like my Spanish is horrible and I feel sad for giving up my very comfortable life in the United States.  I miss my family and friends, and it’s even worse because a lot of my closest friends are graduating this semester, so they will not be in Austin when I return.  So I gave up my last opportunity to be with them in the capacity of UT and all living in the same city, to be in Chile.  Sometimes I don’t feel like it was the right decision.  Here, it is very hard to meet up with friends.  It is such a huge city, and takes a long time to get anywhere.  Plus, I live in an entirely different section than most people, so I feel very isolated.  In my host house, I live with the mother and one daughter (out of 4 children), but the past two weeks, the daughters have been on vacation in Colombia, so it has been very quiet here.  More lonely.  There are no coffee shops/internet cafes in this part of town - it is very residential.  So I feel like my only options are to go to school or stay in the house.  I know there are more things to do in other parts of town,  so I need to make more of an effort to explore.  It’s just that at the end of each day, I feel so tired!  I often retreat to my room and watch a TV show in English, because that is what is familiar.  

    The education system in Chile is very frustrating.  It makes me feel grateful for how organized that system is in comparision in the US.  There are protests every week in various parts of the city, because students want free university education here.  In my opinion, that is implausible.  Right now, there have not been any school closures, but I know it is possible in the future.  It is a very sensitive topic with people.  Honestly, I hate how they do things here, within the classroom.  No one buys books - everyone buys photocopies.  But usually the photocopies you need are not at the location they tell you to go to.  The assignments and readings are very ambiguous, so often I go to class unprepared.  There is an online system similar to BlackBoard, but again, it is kind of disorganized.  And I feel like I can’t ask questions, because I am intimidated to talk to the professors and unable to accurate ask my questions in Spanish.

    Next week, I am going on a hiking/camping trip to Torres del Paine, which is in Chilean Patagonia.  It’s from Thursday to Tuesday, so I will miss school.  Whatever, because it’s not like I really understand what is going on anyways!  I felt like Torres was an opportunity that I couldn’t miss.  I’m really looking forward to marveling at the natural splendor that is Torres del Paine.  

    I’m just trying to take it one day at a time.  

     
  8. La casa de Pablo Neruda

     
  9. Out for a drink at an Irish pub, of all places!

     

  10. First Week - Check!

    Hello there!
    This week was definitely busy!  Classes started on Monday, and all of the exchange students clearly were disoriented.  But every day it has gotten better, and I’ve learned more and more about how they do things here.  It takes me about 20 minutes to get from my house to campus, and I walk to the bus and then change buses/take a metro.  I live much closer to our campus than most students, so that’s awesome, but means that I am far away from a lot of my new friends.  I seem to live in a middle-income area, while a lot of the home-stays set up by the university seem to be closer to the mountains (therefore wealthier families).  
    Figuring out classes has been hard.  All registration for exchange students is in person only, and the class schedule is really hard to understand.  For example, it doesn’t say MWF from 1-2PM.  It says Lunes Miercoles Viernes at Modulo 1.  So then you have to look up another table with all the modulos and what time of day they represent.  Plus, the classrooms in the first week seem to be very inconcrete, and the location of a class will move with no notice.  So a lot of time this week exchange students were just wandering around trying to find the new location of a class!  It’s kind  of frustrating, but I’ve accepted that I’m not going to know what’s going on until I do it wrong and then learn, so I’m trying to just go with the flow!  
    I’m taking 5 classes - 2 seminars for exchange students only and then 3 classes with Chileans.  All are taught in Spanish, and will count for my Spanish degree at UT.  I’m not officially in them, because exchange students is tomorrow at 10am.  So hopefully that will work out.  Check out this website about orientation for exchange students - I’m in the picture but am kinda blurry!
    I’ve adapted to the time change, and usually go to bed around midnight and get up around 8.  My earliest class is at 10am.  I thought we had to change our clocks here today, but apparently this year (because it’s a leap year I’m guessing) we don’t change them until April 28!  So now I’m all confused about the time.  I think it’s 4:30 here.  I think.
    My eating schedule has gotten a little more regular - I make breakfast (usually eggs or cereal) before I leave for class, and pack a bunch of snacks like nuts.  Sometimes I pack a lunch too, but I need to buy more substancial lunch fixings.  I can’t find peanut butter anywhere!!  Never thought I would be saying that, did you?  After Texas 4000 I do now eat peanut butter.  I’m not sure what it’s called here, so I haven’t been able to ask for it!  On campus, there are no classes from 1-2ish, and everyone has lunch.  So all the restaurants on campus are exploding with people.  Then my host family will have “once” or kind of a snack around like 8pm.  But that’s not every day, only when more of the kids come over.  So I just kind of eat whatever.  One day I made a pizza, and today I made some mac and cheese.  I’ll probably go to the grocery story like once a week to stock up.  I’m allowed to eat whatever is in the fridge too, and the maid that comes 2x a week (Maria) usually cooks food that lasts for a few days.
    I’ve adjusted to getting around - I do miss the freedom of having a car though!!  I basically walk, bus, and metro everywhere.  It costs about $3 per swipe of my card to ride the metro, and is cheaper on the bus.  It’s hot as hell everywhere you go - I have one class that has air conditioning!  But it rained a little bit last night, so this morning was actually a little chilly!  Winter is on its way! 
    I’ve met a lot of other exchange students in my classes, because we’re obvious to spot and therefore tend to clump together.  But this week once my classes are finalized, I’m going to make more of an effort to talk to the Chileans in my classes.  I also met some Chileans at a party but on by this welcome comittee on Friday - there were a lot of natives there.  I plan to go to more of their events, like a trip to Valparaíso (a beach town) this coming weekend.  I booked a trip through another activity group to Torres del Paine, which is very far in the south.  Like Antartica and glaciers!  So we’ll be camping for 3 days and staying in a hostel for 2.  It’s such a long way to go that a longer trip is necessary to make it worth it!

    Talk to you soon,

    Erin