Thursday, September 13, 2012

Two Dark Days

     This week, both the United States and Chile observed September 11, a day with historic and tragic significance for both nations. In the U.S. we saw the 12th anniversary of an attack on our nation. Chile did as well, but their dark day was far less recent, happening over 40 years ago. On September 11, 1973, the Chilean government was overthrown in a violent military coup which resulten in the bombing of their capital building and the subsequent death of their president. After that day the country was put under the leadership of a militaristic dictator whose regime was responsible for the death and torture of thousands of Chileans and lasted nearly 20 years.
      From what I've seen, the day is remembered differently by our two cultures, but at the same time we share some similarities. For the United States, it is a day remembered, for the most part, quietly, even sadly. It is a day for a moment of silence and reflection on the pain and loss our country has suffered as well as respect for those who have helped to save and protect it. Recently, however, the idea of September 11 has been changing in the U.S. The day seems to be changing into one of action rather than mere reflection, encouraging voluntary service, and improvement of our communities and our nation.
     In Chile, September 11 is viewed both similarly but with some profound differences in the demonstration of these views. There are quite a few who look on the day with the same sort of quiet respect we see often in the United States. Many vigils are held, candles can be seen popping up in various locations, and people just a seem to carry themselves with a bit more reservation. However, just like in America, there is also a need to take action that can be seen by some. Protests. Riots. Expressions of a longing for change and progression, demanding compensation for the travesties of their past and the problems of the present. Anger at the suffering they endured. Since the death of the former dictator Augusto Pinochet a few years ago, these acts of political frustration have become less and less common, but they're still a part of the culture.
     Perhaps what is most...concerning about the Chilean reaction to this dark day in their history is that it's growing less and less. From my conversations with locals, with each year, there are fewer vigils, fewer protests and fewer people showing their remembrance. One of my professors was upset that the Chilean national soccer team had a match that day because it was a very clear manifestation that people were no longer viewing it as a day to remember, and are even celebrating other things.
      I mean, I can't say that it doesn't make sense. It was forty years ago, fewer and fewer people are around who it directly witnessed the day, though many suffered the effects long after. However, a country, just like a person, can't be asked to stay in mourning forever, and it makes me wonder how the United States will view 9/11 thirty years from now. Will we too begin to forget? Have we already? It also makes one question what is the right response to such events. Is it good/right to remember and act as we do forever and how does one move on from such atrocities as these? I guess we won't know until it's happened, but it's definitely a subject that deserves serious attention. All we can now is that now, we still feel the pain of loss and will for some time, and should continue to remember this day for as long as it feels right to us, not being hindered by the facts of the past, but not forgetting their importance and effects as we create our future.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Chilean Snacky Snacks (Vlog)

Again, the thingy isn't working, but the YouTube video of my latest vlog is now public! :D Yay. You can check it out here if you'd like.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Identity Crises

      So over the past few years, I have undergone a slight name change. For all of my primary and secondary school life I was known as Danny. I never DREAMED anyone would call me Dan, mostly because I only knew a few Dans and they were mostly old (or older) men. I had a hard time imagining the name for myself. However, when I went off to college, it just sort of...happened. I wasn’t sure how to introduce myself. Danny, suddenly felt really childish but I still sort of stuck to my preconceptions about Dans and Daniel felt altogether too stuffy. I didn’t know what to go with. In the end, I wasn’t the one who made the decision, it was the people around me. Some people started called me Danny, since that’s how I introduced myself for the first week or so. Others (probably the majority) naturally switched to Dan. Soon I found myself not thinking of Dan in a stuffy and old way, but began thinking of Dan as me. I don’t have a problem with Danny, I accept that there are some people who just know me as that, and it’s totally fine.
      However, in Chile, I’ve had yet another identity crisis. Dan is not a name her. It’s a verb. It means “they give.” Daniel IS a name here, but the way you pronounce it in Spanish is more or less “Danielle” (dah-nee-YELL or sometimes even dahn-JELL) which I have a hard time accepting as my name. I know that they use “Daniela” for Danielle, but still. It feels weird. There are also those who call me Danny which seems better, but I know that in their heads they probably spell it “Dani” since that makes most phonetic sense in Spanish, so again, the female version. It’s not a massive problem and it’s one that I’m quickly becoming accustomed to, but it’s difficult when meeting new people to have to introduce yourself with a name you don’t recognize. 
     I think it’s because names are very important to people. Without even thinking about it, we find ourselves assigning so much meaning to such small things as names. It helps us to define people and to make them easier to access. It’s such a common thing, we rarely take the time to think about what a name really is and what they really do for us. Without names we’d have a much harder time telling stories, relaying messages, even thinking about people because names help us distinguish people from one another in our own minds. It helps us to categorize and to recall information. So when the word you use to define yourself changes, it’s not a problem, it just takes some getting used to.
     So as I adjust to a new culture, I’m learning to adjust to a new name. It’s one of those little things that you didn’t think you’d have to deal with, but comes with the territory of being somewhere totally new. A territory that, with each passing day, seems to have another life lesson for me to learn. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Duped. (Vlog)

So, I posted a new video blog. If you have interest in it click THIS link. I'm not sure why it's not letting me post it in the video window like last time. But it's click it.

Friday, August 17, 2012


Okay. So it's been about three weeks? Four weeks? I'm losing track. But in the time that I've been here, I can already tell that I'm learning more and more Spanish every day. However, you know what they say: "You learn from your mistakes." If this saying is true, then I should be a master at Spanish by now, because with these three or four or however-many weeks, I've made quite a few fantastic fumbles. So today, I'd like to share with you five of the follies for which I've fallen in the past four fantastic but failure-filled weeks:

1: "Two by Two" or "Like a Polaroid Picture"
One of my biggest problems when speaking Spanish (and occasionally in English) is that I will confuse  two words that sound very similar. For example, one when I was describing a situation from my Traditional Dances of Chile class to one of my Chilean friends, I wanted to tell her that we all had to get into pairs for a dance we'd learned. However, the word "pareja" meaning "pair" has slipped my mind and had been replaced by "pájaro"...meaning bird. So I told her that we all got into birds and started the dance. When talking with the same friend, later in that conversation, I was trying to ask what the word "shimmy" was in Spanish. She didn't recognize the English word, so I tried to explain in Spanish that "It's when you shake a part of your body. Like when you shake your shoulders" However, "hombros," the Spanish word for shoulders, is quite similar to "hombres" the Spanish word for men. So I explained that "It's when you shake your body. Like if you shake your men." Of course she thought this was hilarious and asked if it was common in the U.S. to get into birds and shake men.

2: "Greener Please!"
The following is not a problem I have with Spanish, but with the Chilean accent in Spanish. The language is more or less the same as what is taught in America (though with a few different words here and there), but understanding Chileans is especially difficult because they speak very fast and very slurred. It's not uncommon in the Chilean accent to drop final syllables of words or to take an "s" in the middle of a word and exchange it for a short exhalation (which may or may not be audible). This is what I assumed happened when one day my host mother asked if I could pick up some bananas on the way back from class. I agreed I would and then she added what I thought was"Necesitas comprar bananas mas duro." Translation: You need to buy harder bananas. This made sense, I thought since if you didn't want to eat them for some time it would be better to get greener ones so that they don't spoil right away. On my way back from class, I stopped by the market near my metro stop and bought one thousand pesos (about $2 USD) worth of the greenest bananas they had. When I got home and presented the verdant fruits to my host mom she gave me a strange look. "No te dije que necesitas comprar bananas mas duro?" (Didn't I tell you to buy harder bananas?) "Sí," I responded, "Pero esos fueron todo que tendieron." (Yes, but these were all they had). "Ah ya. Pues, la próxima vez compras unos mas duro." (Ah yes. Well, next time buy harder ones.) I was confused at this point. These were pretty hard and pretty green as well. So I asked, a little astounded "¿¿Más verde??" Then I realized what she'd been saying when she repeated it again, "No. Maduro!" Maduro means mature or ripe. I can't say that mistake is totally my fault since their accent does set the precedent for such errors to be made. Still, it was a rather humbling moment.

3: "You trust them how much??"
Some of our idioms in the U.S. carry over to other countries. Some do not. Occasionally I'd been trying some out in Spanish to see what did and did not translate. I don't do that anymore. Not since I once said, "I trust him about as far as I can throw him" (though the translation was probably much rougher). But then I learned. You don't say that. You just don't. "To throw someone" apparently means something ENTIRELY different here in Chile. Entirely different. I've stopped testing our phrases against theirs in common conversation now.

4: "Do you happen to have an artichoke?"
Sometimes, even I've learned that I confuse some words, the words keep mixing themselves up in my mind. "Enchufe" and "alcachofa" are two that do this for me still. I know that enchufe means outlet or plug-in. I also know that alcachofa means artichoke. That still hasn't seemed to stop me from embarrassing myself when asking café workers if there's an artichoke I can use for my computer.

5: "All in the family..."
Okay. This is one of the first mistakes that I made while speaking with my host family. And it's a big one. We were sitting around the table and they were asking me basic questions. Where am I from. Where do I go to school. What am I studying. Then someone asked how big my family is.  I was trying to explain that there were five people, me, my parents, and one brother and one sister, so I said, "5 personas. Mi madre y padre, y una hija y un hijo"
"¿Hijos?" My host mother asked
"Sí" (Yes)
"¿De tú?" asked my host brother. (Yours?)
"Claro que sí. Son mis hijos" (Of course. They are mine.)
I was fairly confused at this point, but so were they. Until my host mom repeated, more emphatically:
Then it hit me. Hijos means children. Not siblings. Hermanos are siblings.
"NO!! No! Hermanos! Una hermana y un hermano!"
Everyone laghed. I did too, though more uncomfortably than the others.

Aaaand that was how I met my host family. Good first impression, I think. Just a 20 year old with two kids who he's willing to leave for 5 and a half months. Glad that one got cleared up.

Anyway, this has been a fairly common occurrence in my life in the past 3-4 weeks and I've been trying to keep track of the best (and worst) mistakes I can find from both myself and from others. It's reassuring when I talk with some of my other foreign friends and find out that they've been making similar mistakes. Like what I'm doing isn't so dumb, and is just a natural part of the process. However natural and normal it may be, I hope this phase doesn't last for too much longer since I'm starting to worry what might unwittingly come out of my mouth next.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Things I've Learned from Non-Americans

I did not come to Chile to speak English, however, not surprisingly, my native tongue has still been a major part of my communication since I've spent a good deal of time around Americans. We can understand each other. We can joke, have fun, explore, etc. But, more and more and more I've been spending time with people who aren't from the U.S. Many of these people are Chilean, obviously, but there are also quite a few students from other countries studying in Chile at the same University as I. Since they don't speak English and I don't speak their native language, all we have is Spanish. They say it is extremely important for us, as people trying to learn a language, to practice it in every day situations. They tell us that that is how we learn the most. Well, through my talks with some Non-Estadounidenses (Spanish for American), my Spanish has improved, but I've come to understand some very interesting things:

  1. I don't speak Spanish with an American accent. I'm not quite sure how this can be true, but on numerous occasions, Chileans and other non-U.S.-ers have commented that I don't sound like other people from the States. I sound more like someone from Germany. Something about my R's. As Americans our R sound is very flat (Rrround the rrrough and rrrugged rrrrocks, the rrragged rrrascal rrrrrudely rrrrran), but in Spanish, the R is pronounced as either a rolled R (imagine a cat purring if you don't know what this sounds like), or, the more common version of the R is a sort of soft "flipped R" which sounds more like a gentle D (if you're confused, welcome to my life). Apparently, it's very difficult for most Americans to make this distinction and to reproduce it in their speak, especially early on. However, I have been told that I have it down. However when you remove that aspect of the American accent, but keep many of the other features of it, it results in what can be confused as a German accent. I guess. I don't really understand it to be honest, but my host family, an older Chilean woman who shared a collectivo with me, a group of French students, an even a German student have commented that they thought I was German. So...yeah. Weird, right?
  2. Americans think that everyone else thinks more poorly of them than people actually do. I, for some time now, have been given the impression that all other countries look down on the United states. However, in my talks with non-Americans, I've found that, generally, that is not the case. Now, it IS true that we could use a little PR help in some aspects of our image. There is  a strong impression that Americans don't know geography, which, for many is probably at least sort of true. (Wanna prove me wrong? Point to Burundi on an unlabeled map. I dare you.) There's also a stereotype that we are too trusting in our government, also probably mostly true. Also, some Chileans are of the impression that Americans are (to put it lightly) "a tad easy". However, many of the things I thought they'd think about us, don't seem to be as prominent. For example, they recognize that there are SOME obese people in the states, but they don't think we're all fat and lazy. I was also afraid I'd run into the preconception that Americans are all loud, annoying, over-privileged, and brutish (because I was led to believe that that opinion exists) though two things seem to disprove this. First of all, some (not all) Chileans can be very loud themselves. Very loud. Very. The second and perhaps stronger proof against this that I've found is that the first way any non-American has described their idea of Americans is that we're generally friendly, quick to share our things, easy to smile and friendly, though perhaps a bit naive. When talking some new French friends of mine, they explained to me that the general consensus of the states has been improving, but even at it's worst it wasn't all that bad. We're seen, as one French student put it (in Spanish), the U.S. is like a "bastion of capitalism" that other countries look to and admire. I was first of all a little surprised to hear the word "bastión" in Spanish, but secondly surprised that the general consensus is so positive. I have to say, I'm okay with it, though I still want to prove the more negative stereotypes wrong.
  3. Swearing is the first part of learning a new language...I guess. I know when I started learning Spanish (back in Grade School) a few of the kids had learned some...saltier Spanish words. The secret words spread through the Fourth Grade class like a virus until everyone knew which words to avoid saying...or which ones were perfect for certain circumstances. In Chile, things seem no different in this regard. One of my host brothers only speaks minimal English. Most of his English lexicon consists of the swears. F's and S's and B's and even a few C's spew from his lips like a fountain of foul-mouthedness. When I first encountered the French students whom I've mentioned a few times in this post, one of them was swearing in perfect English. I assumed he was American but realized the truth when I started a conversation in my native tongue. I'm not sure I can give a definitive rationale for this phenomenon, but I can't help but be reminded of young children who accidentally stumble on the perfectly horrible combination of syllables. They don't REALLY know what they're saying, but they know it gets a reaction and that's funny or entertaining or something. It's not so much the intent of the words that they care about, it's the reaction. Except unlike babies, these people DO know what they're saying (more or less), and it's far less cute.
I'm sure that as my experiences delving into a new language continue, I'll come across more of these unexpected and rather surprising discoveries. I suppose it's not so surprising that I'm learning things, but the surprise is what I'm learning. Before going to Chile, I was prepped with all sorts of information. I felt like I knew all that I could about going and that when I got here I'd learn about Chile and Spanish and Latin America and stuff like that. Little did I know that I could learn about myself and where I came from in the process.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Learning Experiences Part 2: Failure

Monday, July 30, 2012. Viña del Mar, Chile. 8:17 AM
     I woke up with a start. I had that feeling, you might know the one, where you open your eyes and instantly know something is off. That feeling that its lighter than it should be when you're supposed to wake up. The one that lets you immediately know you've overslept. I looked at my small black alarm clock on the nightstand next to my bed. "8:17," it read. Two minutes after my first class in Chile had started. Wonderful. I changed. Made sure my hair wasn't a birds nest. Grabbed my things. Quickly explained in to my host mother that I was late and wouldn't have time for breakfast. I ran to the corner,  hoping the right collectivo would pass by soon. A minute or two later I hailed the right cab and hopped in, 500 pesos in-hand to pay the driver, and requested to be dropped of at the university.
     Finally having a moment to sit down in the collectivo, I realized that something else was wrong. My face felt weird. And my stomach. And my head. "Oh great," I thought to myself, "I'm sick aren't I?" Sure enough I was sniffling the whole way to the college, my throat felt like it'd been thoroughly scrubbed with sandpaper, and my head was pounding something horrible.
      When I finally arrived at the building. I had a very difficult time finding my room. My class was in G 4-1 meaning the Gimpert Building, Floor 4, room 1. However, the Gimpert building shares an atrium with another building (which I don't know the name of, but it's initials are RC). So it's very easy to accidentally go to RC 4-1 instead of G 4-1 and then realize you're in the wrong classroom, and have to excuse yourself sheepishly. Once I finally made it to the room I was about 20 minutes late. Though, as we found out in orientation, Chilean classes are a bit more chill about this since they, as with most of Latin America, don't care so much about punctuality. So despite what would be terrible tardiness in the U.S., I wasn't even the last student to arrive to class. In the end there were five of us in that class. I was the only Gringo. Because of the small class size, the professor expected us all to respond individually to his questions. This made me feel very stupid. Normally I can understand most people when they speak Spanish, or at least catch most of what they say. Not in that class. The students especially spoke with very, very mumbly, thick Chilean accents. I was struggling to keep up the whole time, and my illness wasn't helping me focus at all.
     When the class finally ended and I felt sufficiently miserable about myself I had about an hour between classes, but my second class (one which I wasn't very interested in and which I was fairly certain wouldn't transfer as useful credits to my home university) was all the way in Viña del Mar, a good 45 minute drive or so from the main building and offices of the university so I tried to get there in plenty of time. I went to the information desk and asked the men there how I could get to the building I needed. I showed them my documents and they confirmed that the classroom I needed was in the building I'd presumed. They instructed me to buy a ticket from the cafeteria for one of the University's busses that go between the two locations. They told me the bus came every ten minutes or so.
     I followed their instructions to the letter.  I bought a ticket (which cost me about twenty cents, American), I went to the place they told me to wait, and I watched for a white vehicle with the university's logo on it. And I watched for a white vehicle with the university's logo on it. And I watched for a white vehicle with the university's logo on it. For about 30 minutes. By that point I KNEW I was going to be late for class. I went to the International Studies office across the street and confirmed that I'd done everything correctly. They said I had and that a bus should be coming. So I went out into the semi-warm of Chilean winter and waited for the bus some more. When it didn't show up for another 15 minutes I walked to the nearest metro station (only 2 blocks away) and took the train home. I knew that I'd probably end up dropping this class anyway since it wasn't very useful for me. I'd only signed up because we were instructed to sign up for more classes than we could take, since in the Chilean university system, it is normal to take tons of courses then trop them. This was one of my backups in case another class didn't work out.
     The train ride was short and I trudged back to my house, getting a little lightheaded from a couple of the uphill stretches and quickly arrived back in my bed. I took a long nap, and felt significantly better afterward. It was one of those moments when I remembered a few of the things I'd been told.

First from orientation sessions: Interchange students often get sick when arriving to a new country, especially when switching between north and south hemispheres. The stress on one's body is often too much and it will force you to rest it. I saw it happening all around me, but assumed I'd be immune. I wasn't.

Second from previous students I'd talked to: The first three weeks are the worst. I don't know if they meant of the whole trip or of classes, but I'm hoping that was bottoming out there. Everyone I've talked to says the first few weeks are just confusing and stressful, but somewhere around the 3 week mark, everything really clicks and begins to make sense on a consistent basis.

Third from my dad (that fountain of wisdom): He emailed me the following quote from C. K. Chesterton this week (without knowing what was going on in my life at that moment): "An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered." It doesn't make the sickness go away, but it makes it more bearable. It's another piece of the adventure. I mean you can't have anything exciting without a little bump along the way now and again.

    It's been an oddly disappointing feeling, especially after I thought I was doing so well. Though it wasn't the fact that I was having a problem that bothered me quite as much, it was the particular issues I was having that got me down. I knew I'd have some difficulty with the language but I'd hoped I'd pick it up faster (though I have to keep reminding myself I've only been here barely two weeks). And as for getting sick, I thought that if I'd have a "bump in the road" while on an "adventure" in South America that I could at least manage to have a little more interesting difficulty than the common cold and being late for class. I mean, I'm not asking for any more misfortune (since as  my friends can attest, it seems to find me regardless), but I guess I'd imagined the problems being something a bit more adventurous, like having to face a criminal warlord while trying to decode the last clue to find the sunken ship my new friend's ancestors had lost (yes I recently saw "The Adventures of TinTin," why do you ask?).
     So I guess what I've learned from all this is that (A) no matter how good things seem, they can turn around in an instant (with one flip of an alarm's switch), and (B) adventures of all sizes should be embraced, be it a big or a small (though you might not want to share the small ones as much as the big ones, since to be honest, they don't make for very interesting reads. In fact, I'm surprised you've gotten so far in this blog post) So, here's to adventure. Here's to changing outlooks on life. And here's to whatever combination of the two might be just around the corner (waiting to smack you in the face with a baseball bat).

P.S. I realized how dumb I was sounding part way through there and had to quickmeme the situation #firstworldproblems