CIEE Alumni Post

I was recently featured on the CIEE Alumni website regarding my post-study abroad experiences. Check it out here!

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Chorrillana Tour: St. Patrick’s Day Restobar

I want to find the best chorrillanas in Santiago. Yes, I know. This quest may be overambitious, impossible, and very unhealthy. But during our trip to Pichilemu for New Year’s, I mentioned to two of my friends (who are from Santiago) about how chorrillana is my favorite Chilean dish. We got to talking and the idea of a “chorrillana tour” of Santiago got started. Now, you may ask yourself: what exactly is a chorrillana? It is essentially a plate of french fries piled high with slices of beef, fried eggs, and fried onions. So bad for you, but so, so good.

I thought it would be fun to pretend to be a restaurant critic and rate certain elements of the restaurant and the chorillana itself. What is the ambience of the restaurant? Are the fries too soggy? Does my body hate itself after consuming this meal? And so on. My friend Enzo, my roommate Katie, and I came up with the following rubric, with scores from 1 to 7 (7 being the best, according to the Chilean grading scale):

Ambiente/Environment: Is the place empty? Does it seem fun? Would I go back?

Servicio/Service: Are the servers friendly? Do we have to wait a long time?

Precio/Price: Is it overpriced? Or is the price good considering the amount of food?

Carne/Meat: Is the meat a good quality? Or is it just hot dog? Note: I HATE hot dog meat on chorrillana.

Papas fritas/french fries: Too soggy or cold? Or are they crunchy and soft and perfect?

Huevo/Eggs: I prefer fried eggs, but it is a personal preference.

Proporción de agregados y papas/Ratio of toppings to fries: Not enough? Just right?

Creatividad/Creativity: I consider this more of an ‘extra points’ category, but I feel like a unique spin on chorrillana deserves recognition.

The first restaurant that we decided to check out on a Friday in January was “St. Patrick’s Day Restobar,” a pub in Barrio Brasil that is known for its creative chorrillana selection.
IMG_8067It was packed when we arrived, and it was difficult to find a table. We thought we had it made when we found a table upstairs, but we found we could only order a certain beer because we were sitting under a tent sponsored by another brand of beer…cool. We ended up finding a table inside, ordered some beers (we had to order another one since they were out of Kross) , and a plate of their classic chorrillana.

IMG_8058Our scores are below.
Ambiente: We all gave the place a 6. It seemed like a fun place to come after work or class for meet up with your friends, but it was a little annoying about having to move around so much.

Servicio: We all gave the service a 5. The waitress was friendly, but was also like a mystical unicorn whom we saw maybe two times. The food also took a while to arrive, but it was also a very busy afternoon.

Precio: Three 7’s. The plate was $7400 CLP (about $12 USD), but it was plenty to split with three people.

Carne: Enzo gave it a 6, while Katie and I both gave 5’s. I thought the meat was a bit chewy, but flavorful.
IMG_8073Papas fritas: Three 7’s with exclamation marks! They were perfect.

Huevo: Enzo and I gave the egg a 4, while Katie gave a 6. I didn’t like that the eggs weren’t fried and that there wasn’t very much of them.

Proporción de agregados y papas: Three 6’s.

Creatividad: Three 7’s. While the classic chorrillana that we ordered was fairly typical, I was impressed by the other options they had available (ex. one with seafood, one with chili, etc.).

Since it’s a very popular restaurant, Enzo advised that for those who want to check out this place in the future, you need to either get there early or reserve in advance. He also commented that this place “es el mejor lugar que tiene relación precio-calidad y variedad,” which essentially means that it is the best place for an interesting, quality meal at a great price.

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About a month ago, I completed the W Circuit in the Torres del Paine National Park with two of my roommates and one of their friends from Peru. It was very challenging at times, but I am so glad that I did it. I have never been in a place where I felt completely awestruck by the natural beauty around me. Sometimes, I would even doubt if it was real – the water was too blue, the mountains were too majestic, the overpriced beer at the refugios was too cold (just kidding). When I would have those moments of exhaustion or being overwhelmed, I would just look around and be grateful for the beauty around me.

This image shows the W Trek. Our experience was slightly different in that we stayed in Paine Grande on the night of the second day instead of Campamento Italiano, but you can still see the general path!

This image shows the W Trek. Our experience was slightly different in that we stayed in Paine Grande on the night of the second day instead of Campamento Italiano, but you can still see the general path!



Friday, January 30th: We flew from Santiago to Punta Arenas, then took a bus to Puerto Natales. We spent the rest of the day walking around, buying last-minute items, and eating an entire pizza (each person ate their own…oops) at a delicious pizza restaurant in town.

Saturday, January 31st: Day 1 of hike. We took a bus to the entrance of Torres del Paine, then a catamaran to Paine Grande. We hiked a few hours to Refugio Grey, and spent the night in the refugio.

The wind was so strong!

The wind was so strong!

Sunday, February 1st: Day 2 of hike. We hiked back to Paine Grande in the morning, relaxed the rest of the afternoon, and spent the night in the refugio. Paine Grande was probably the most ‘luxurious’ refugio.

Our group!

Our group!

Monday, February 2nd: Day 3 of hike. This day was easily the most difficult day for me. We hiked from Paine Grande to Campamento Italiano, where we left our backpacks and hiked up the Valle Francés. I had a really rough time, and was being pretty dramatic about it. However, the views at the top at the Mirador Británico were incredible!

At the Mirador Británico.

At the Mirador Británico.

After making it to the top, we hiked back down and continued to Refugio Los Cuernos, where we enjoyed a nice dinner at the refugio and camped in rented tents that night. This was also the same day that I paid an absurd amount of money for a beer at the refugio (it was truly the only thing keeping me going when I wanted to pout and cry in the middle of the Valle Francés) and when I threw out the rest of my sandwiches and paid for a boxed lunch from the refugio for the fourth day of the hike. Note to self: will avoid relying on stale sandwiches for sustenance for any future treks.

Tuesday, February 3rd: Day 4 of hike. I felt like I could do anything after the previous day’s ascent, but this day also had its challenges. We hiked from Refugio Los Cuernos to Refugio El Chileno (with a magical shortcut in between). We also had a nice dinner here – we had decided that we would spend a bit more on the days when we were camping and have a hearty dinner.

Not a bad place for a lunch break.

Not a bad place for a lunch break.

Wednesday, February 4th: Day 5 of hike. We woke up at an absurdly early hour, and started hiking in the dark to make it to “Las Torres” by sunrise. This was the morning when I dearly wished I owned a headlamp, since maneuvering both my hiking poles and my handy travel flashlight (thanks, Daddy!) was a bit of a challenge. I managed not to fall off of any mountains while trekking in the dark, though there was one terrifying moment when we were all essentially climbing a mountain when the path was actually at the base. I remember thinking at one point that I might actually fall off, and feeling like a complete idiot when we realized our mistake. Oh, well. Getting there for sunrise was an incredible sight. It was amazing to see how the colors, the reflection in the water, and the shadows would change in the span of just a few minutes. I felt like I could look at the scenery forever.



After we hung out at the top, we started the trek back to the campsite, where we packed up our stuff and hiked to Hotel Las Torres, where we waited for a bus to take us to the entrance to the park. Once we arrived, we waited around a bit and took ANOTHER bus back to Puerto Natales. We had bus tickets for a later bus back to Punta Arenas, but we arrived a bit early to Puerto Natales so I was able to race back to our first hostel, drop off my hiking poles that I had rented, and rush back to the bus terminal to make it on an earlier bus. Huzzah! We arrived to our hostel in Punta Arenas around 8:30pm. We went to a recommended restaurant that was very fancy (and we felt ridiculous in our dirty clothes), but we had a delicious meal.

Thursday, February 5th: After eating breakfast at the hostel, we ended up going on this weird excursion to see penguins with a girl we had met at our hostel. She had mistakenly told me it was Isla Magdalena, but we realized quickly that it was not. It felt like a bit of a tourist trap, but oh well! We spent the rest of the day walking around Punta Arenas and window shopping before heading to the airport for a 11pm flight back to Santiago.

All in all, it was a wonderful experience 🙂

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New year, new perspective

Happy New Year! I know, I know, I’m a bit delayed. Sometimes I forget that two years (almost three!) have passed between my semester abroad and my current stint in Chile. As of the beginning of February, I have been in Chile just as long as I had been during my semester abroad. I occasionally find myself zoning out on the metro and getting confused as to what year it is, since I sometimes feel like I never left. I saw my host family for the first time a few weeks ago, and it was surreal being back in my old neighborhood and in the house I lived in for five months. Sitting in my spot at the table and chatting with my host mom felt so normal.

But at the same time, so much has changed. I prefer to take micros instead of the metro, when I used to be too scared of getting lost. I know the comunas and understand the geography of the city and the surrounding areas. I feel like a resident, rather than just a visitor. These past five months have truly flown by. Although I thought my semester abroad flew by (and it did), the time here has felt a lot more normal. All in all, I am very happy to be here. At the beginning of December, I decided to extend my time in Chile to December 2015. Once January rolled around, however, I realized just how long the next year would be.

Something I have struggled with while writing this blog is how to accurately represent my experiences. I have had friends and acquaintances tell me how jealous they are of my “glamorous” life living and traveling abroad, and to a certain extent, they’re right. I am incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to live abroad and have these experiences. However, in today’s world of Instagram hashtags and Facebook profile pictures, I feel like we never talk about those moments when we are scared, vulnerable, upset, or lonely. We only highlight the things that make us more important or cool.

A phrase that has always stuck with me is: “Stop comparing your behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” My time here may seem like a happy-go-lucky adventure if you just take a glance at social media, and for the most part I have had a very positive experience and have made wonderful friends. But at the same time, I would never think to talk about how I cried like a baby all day on Thanksgiving because my family was together without me, or how I miss my dogs and just want to hug them. I don´t generally mention how the street harassment and whistles make me just want to curl up into a ball when I walk past men on my way to work, or discuss the joke someone made about needing “subtitles” to understand the American volunteers while we were helping with an activity. Someone also made the comment about how the reason why Americans are so cold is because the U.S. doesn´t give enough maternity leave, so mothers don´t spend enough time with their children when they are born. Oh, okay. For the most part, people at work have been incredibly friendly, and I do enjoy having discussions about cultural differences and exchange, but the comments and the jokes can become exhausting. Sometimes, I just want to go somewhere where I am not immediately marked and defined by my “otherness.” It is odd, since I haven´t been so defined by my passport country since I lived in Mexico. For the past five years I was always known as the girl who lived in Mexico and whose family attended her prom (lol).

I have felt frustrated since my project has changed so much and I do not feel like I am doing meaningful work. I feel like I have been on an extended guilt trip from not meeting América Solidaria´s expectations of their perfect volunteers having transformative experiences and changing the world. I truly want the project to be more about others, and I don´t want to merely focus on how I will benefit from the experience. But, it is difficult to feel like we are making a difference when our project was not well-designed from the beginning. Katie and I mainly sit alone in an office all day, do research, and write reports on which we get little feedback. Katie and I have tried to be as creative as possible with our project and making our volunteer experience as productive as we can under the circumstances, but being a part of an indirect intervention makes it challenging. I also recognize that I am writing this post in February when things are super slow and most people are on vacation, so I might be exaggerating a bit.

House-wise, my roommates and I are crammed in a tiny apartment (in a comuna where we do not work) with a sleazy administration that claimed América Solidaria had not paid the “gastos communes” (untrue) and that has not fixed a leak in the roof or a problem with the building’s hot water heater. I try not to compare our housing situation with the other volunteer house in Santiago, but they all have their own room and lots of other amenities and space that we do not, while also living in a much better location. I understand that I am so, so lucky to even have a place to live when so many barely make enough money to survive, but I am also human. Humans are selfish and complain and get frustrated.

I guess I am being a bit hypocritical by posting pictures on Facebook of me by a glacier in Patagonia, yet berating others for making themselves appear like cool, fun people on social media. There is obviously nothing wrong with making your online presence the best it can be – I certainly would not advocate posting photos of oneself online after three too many drinks on a Friday night because the photos represent their “true self.” Nobody wants to see that, haha. But in the future, I do want to make a point of talking about the more negative parts of my time here in this blog. I think it is important to be realistic and truthful and not paint everything here to be a lovely paradise, because it certainly is not. But at the same time, I want to make sure I talk about the wonderful blessings in my life, how lucky I am to be in this city again, and emphasize the invaluable (and often intangible) things that I have gained and the ways I have grown over the past five months.

  • Stipend living: I have become much more innovative and frugal from living on a stipend. I keep careful track of my spending, and lament all of the money I spent in college on fancy face wash and iced coffee when I consider them such treats now. I reuse things whenever possible, and I try to check out free or inexpensive events/workshops/museums around the city. I also find myself appreciating the little things, whether that is a running path near my house, a $2 yoga class, or splitting a plate of chorillana and pitcher of beer with friends.
  • Cultural exchange and adaptability: Working within another culture has been incredibly valuable. It has made me reflect on my own academic and professional formation and understanding of what is the “right” thing to do, and made me more sensitive to other perspectives. I have always been used to change, but I feel like I have become very adaptable while living here. I recognize that there are so many things outside of my control, and things that appear certain can change in an instant, so I try to roll with the punches and keep on keeping on. In other news, my Spanish has improved immensely and I can do accents on the computer. WINNING!
  • Friendships: The friends I have made here have truly made the difference. Katie gets a special shout-out for dealing with me nearly 24/7 at home and at work and for not throwing me off a mountain when I get grouchy or annoying. Katie, Karina (one of my other roommates) and Alexa Paula (one of the other AS volunteers) are incredible women who inspire me every day. I am also grateful for the other volunteers, friends from study abroad, the Tessa family, and the friendships with other Chileans that I have made while being here. It is a much more diverse group than from when I was studying abroad, and everyone has made a difference in widening my perspective about Santiago and Chile. I also feel like my connections with my friends and family who are scattered all over the world are even stronger.
  • Travel: I have been very lucky to get to travel more within Chile. I came back last Friday from an INCREDIBLE trip in Patagonia, where we hiked the W trail – updates coming soon! I went to Pichilemu with some friends for New Years, and I am going to Valdivia with Kari in a week. I have gotten to go to Valparaiso and Viña del Mar a few times, and I am planning a trip to Peru with my friend Brad in July. I also get to go back to the States at the end of June/beginning of July for two weeks 🙂 Bring on the Sausage & Egg McGriddles, TJ Maxx, and country music.
  • New opportunities: I recently joined the team at Revolver Magazine, which is an online English-language magazine for the arts and entertainment scene in Santiago. One of my New Year´s resolutions is to write more, so hopefully writing for the magazine will help J I really like everyone I have met so far, and I am excited to see how things go. I am also planning on running the half-marathon here in April!
  • My project: I know it may seem a bit odd to talk about my project as something positive after my Debbie Downer soliloquy above, but I feel optimistic and hopeful that my contributions to the organization will be more significant. Katie and I have had a few meetings with our socio territorial and encargada de Proyecto to define our roles and our project, and I see things improving once the school year starts again in March.

This entry was A LOT longer than I intended it to be, and I applaud you if you made it to the end. I really am happy here, and I am excited to see where the next few months take me. Thanks for reading 🙂

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Santiago Life: November/December 2014

Besides work, I have been keeping busy! On November 12th, I got to meet up with Piper, one of my friends from my study abroad program. She is currently traveling through South America with her boyfriend, and I am so glad I got to catch her while she was in town. Check out her blog here!
10626323_1238983869889_3908471659447853812_o1483361_10152862337744948_648042825985311996_nWe had a dinner with América Solidaria staff and volunteers on the 13th, and a beach trip with one of Súmate’s programs on the 14th. I saw a play at the Centro Cultural GAM called “Prometeo,” an interpretation of the Greek myth. I giggled through most of it since I thought parts were absolutely ridiculous (la dee da supposedly an adult.) On the 17th, Katie, Alexa and I went to a salsa dance class near La Moneda. We accidentally walked into the bachata one at first…oops. We got beer and empanadas afterward, which helped with the embarrassment ☺

I recently discovered this lovely little café in Lastarria called Wonderful Café. It is adorable and they have REAL COLD-BREWED ICED COFFEE. Please note my expression of pure joy above. Two weeks ago, I went with Katie for Sunday service at Santiago Community Church, an interdenominational, English-speaking church. Everyone was very nice, and I am glad to know that it is there! We went to Jumbo afterwards since we were in the “fancy” area of town, and basically drooled over all of the imported products we found there. Barbecue sauce! Marshmallows! Bagels!

10662001_1238983549881_6101759079590338323_ochurch IMG_7149Last weekend, I spent Saturday with the Tessa’s watching the Teletón, and then went to a friend’s birthday party. Unfortunately, I was unable to watch the Iron Bowl, but I was rooting for both teams in spirit! I spent Sunday morning at La Vega. I had not been in a while, and it was really nice to go alone and just wander around a bit. I bought some excellent coffee from Café Altura (trust me, good coffee can be hard to find here) and damascos (just learned that these are apricots) from a nice lady who let me eat one first before I bought some.

I really cannot believe that it is December, and that I have already been here three whole months. I accidentally spoke to my mom and my grandpa in Spanish last week, so there’s that. This past Thursday and Friday we had an Encuentro for América Solidaria with the volunteers in Chile, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Saturday I had this super cool “We Run Santiago” 10K with some of the girls from my study abroad program, and I headed to Valparaiso on Sunday and Monday to enjoy the beach for the puente.

Sumate Pres10265617_10205327996179079_6398422084839831939_o10410123_10203103229453972_2325343175121831532_nMy birthday is also coming up! I am planning on organizing a picnic/potluck this upcoming weekend, and then having a dinner with my roommates on my actual birthday. It should be fun! 🙂 As of now, I plan on spending Christmas and New Years in Santiago with the other volunteers who can’t afford to fly home for Christmas. Katie and I have a running joke about “our Christmas” since we spend so much time together 🙂 We have talked about going to P.F. Changs for dinner on Christmas Eve, hahaha.

In other news, I recently booked flights to Patagonia! I will be hiking the W with Katie and one of our other roommates, Kari, at the beginning of February. Any tips would be appreciated! We have started to make reservations for hostels/refugios/campsites, and lists of all the food we want to buy.

Sending lots of love to my friends and family all over the world! Besos y abrazos, Alexa

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Seminars & Súmate

During the past month, I have attended two different seminars at the Universidad de Chile and the Universidad Católica for work. One focused on the rights of children and the other had a guest speaker from the U.S., Parag Pathak, who discussed his research on the U.S. education system and how his results could apply to Chile. He talked a bit about NOLA (mainly about the charter school system), which made me yearn for po’boys, Audubon Park, and second lines. After my experiences with Súmate and alternative models of education and intervention, I think I would really enjoy returning to NOLA to work with an educational nonprofit or a school. It is embarrassing how little I know about the New Orleans education system after living there for five years, so I have started to read Hope Against Hope: Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America’s Children.

During the past month, Katie and I have been visiting the different Súmate program offices and interviewing the team members about the materials they use in their workshops. Súmate presented their new model of intervention on November 6th, and one of the things they want to change is to have more standardization with the different programs and establish a set of materials for each office. The Súmate administration refers to it as a “suitcase” of materials (I am still unsure if my supervisor is talking about a figurative suitcase or an actual suitcase). Beyond improving my professional Spanish, I feel like I have continued to develop my skills in research, analysis, being able to work autonomously, and adaptability.

However, being able to work within a different culture has been one of my biggest learning experiences. Something I have noticed (through that anthropology major lens) during my time at Súmate is that Chileans do not appear to be comfortable giving and receiving feedback regarding their work performance. For instance, Katie and I presented the results of our investigation on Monday and Tuesday. After we presented our analysis of the strengths/weaknesses of each team and discussed some alarming situations that we had observed, the director congratulated us on being “brave” for giving our honest feedback. As she stated, “we usually don’t feel comfortable doing that.” I asked some of the Chilean América Solidaria team members about those comments, and they wholeheartedly agreed with me. Based on what I have seen, I think a lot of the problems we’ve noticed stem from this unwillingness to give feedback. Hopefully, the work Katie and I are doing to examine the program with a new perspective will help solve these problems and strengthen Súmate’s interventions in the different schools. The next couple weeks are going to be filled with Súmate closing ceremonies, various field trips with the kids, and meetings between the members of each team to discuss materials and the format of their lesson plans. Busy busy!

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Give thanks, dar gracias

I hadn’t really thought too much about celebrating Thanksgiving in Santiago, but after a lot of “peer pressure” from some of the América Solidaria staff and volunteers, Katie and I decided to organize a potluck dinner. We held the dinner at the house of one of the staff members. We had turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn, sweet potatoes, and gravy! I found a fantastic blog post with info about how to prepare for Thanksgiving in Santiago, and I used this recipe for stuffing, which was a big hit. I also adapted my mom’s sweet potato recipe (lol at the idea of finding buttermilk) and bought mini marshmallows for the topping. There are a couple of great expat Facebook groups, like “Food Finds in Chile,” where people ask about obscure items or post when they find sought-after items like canned corn or coconut oil. Check it out!

Spending Thanksgiving away from home was particularly difficult this year, but the dinner was a great reminder about the strong support network that I have in Santiago. I sometimes find myself complaining about certain things related to América Solidaria or Chile, but I am truly grateful for the friends I have here and the support of the main program office. For many of the guests, it was their first time experiencing Thankgiving, so it was a great opportunity to promote cultural exchange and understanding 🙂

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