The littlest things about being back in the United States have made me miss Chile the most: the way that we use balsamic vinaigrette instead of just lemon juice and olive oil as salad dressing or how we don’t greet each other with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. I’ve now been back home for almost three weeks, and although they say that re-entry is one of the hardest parts of study abroad, I guess I didn’t think it would feel like this.
I left for study abroad in a pivotal time in my college career, I had had a less than perfect sophomore year and my lifelong lust for travel had finally reached its boiling point. When I think about taking off in August I remember being terrified of the unknown but excited to temporarily leave all of my trivial issues behind.
Everyone back home asks about my experience out of courtesy but I almost don’t even know how to respond. No one here can ever know what I went through, what I learned or how I’ve grown. And that is both lonely and lovely. I now have this one precious thing that’s mine and mine only, but I can’t help but feel like I wish I had someone who could relate to my experience to be with me here at home right now.
I’m going to miss Florencia, Claudia, Diego, Gabriel, Ivan, Pablo, Cata, Javier, and Ro, the English students I tutored, and the intriguing people I met while traveling. I’m going to miss the fresh produce from the street markets, the bright green palm trees and the reggaeton music heard on practically every corner. I’m going to miss all of the new places I saw– from the arid north Chilean desert to the chic skyscrapers of Buenos Aires and the lush Peruvian jungle to the deep blue of the sea off Patagonia’s coastline.
But the thing perhaps I’ll miss more than any of that other stuff is the way I’ve changed. I’ve never been as confident in myself as I was when I was abroad, just figuring out how to communicate and travel and study in what seemed like virtually a different world completely on my own. I’ve now seen and lived through things that no one will understand but me, and although at some points in the past two and a half weeks it’s felt like I’m losing the part of myself I grew into in Chile, I know now that it’s something that will forever be a part of me. And that’s absolutely priceless.
A mi querido Chile, volveré por ti. Gracias por todo lo que me ha enseñado.
Eight hours, over 15 miles and one slip in the mud later and I had conquered a world class hike in one of the Earth’s most stunning and remote natural landscapes.
Patagonia’s rolling green hills, light blue lakes and random flocks of sheep, ostriches and horses attract over 100,000 tourists every year to this relatively unpopulated piece of land. The Chilean side includes iconic landmarks such as the Tierra del Fuego, the strait of Magellan and the famous Torres del Paine national park. We hiked to the base of the natural mountain towers and back down in just a day, while some others did longer five or ten day hiking and camping circuits in the park.
Although the scenery in the park was breathtakingly beautiful, the people I met on the trail and in the hostels really embellished my experience in Patagonia.
First we met Tom and Gina in the Puerto Natales hostel kitchen, recent university graduates traveling through South America to procrastinate starting their careers in England. She had blonde hair that fell mid way down her back and kind blue eyes, wore oversized “boyfriend” t-shirts with leggings, and offered to make us dinner after our hike to the towers. He stood tall and wore a backwards “Chilean Patagonia” ball cap atop his shoulder-length, flowy hair. He was both gregarious when speaking but also attentive when others were. They told us they were kind of “stuck” in Chile for longer than expected after getting their phones and passports stolen at the beach one day, but they were still laughing and taking advantage of their time in the Patagonia region.
Reading by the stove sat 18-year-old Thad, one of the keepers of the hostel. He only has three months until his high school graduation in Flagstaff, and since he’s already completed all his required credits he decided to travel in the meantime. At first he came to Patagonia to travel and then planned on going home soon after, but asked if he could stay at the hostel to work for a few more months and the owners let him. Both days we were there he wore his brown cargo shorts, beige wool sweater, black anklet and his wispy hair disheveled. He had an innocent and curious smile, and showed a lot of interest in everybody’s backgrounds and reasons for finding themselves here in Chile.
Then there was Gabriella, whose black hair matched her black eyeliner and hoop nose ring. She spent her first 21 years growing up in Mexico but has now been in Los Angeles for six. She was on a solo trip through South America with loose plans and an open mind toward new cultures. We met in the hostel and then ran into each other at the top of the Torres del Paine, where her slight figure seemed to almost blow away in the wind. We ate dinner together that night when we returned to our hostel, and I realized that with a group she spoke softly but when we got to talking our conversation topics were endless and her voice more firm.
Perhaps it was because I knew it was my last big adventure before going back home, but this time I seemed to notice the people almost more than the landscape. That’s also one thing I’ve learned about my time here and my travels: more than every new place I’ve been and every new sight I’ve seen, the people I’ve met have determined the outcome of my trips. And the people of Patagonia were a different kind of precious.
After my journey to Japan concluded and second semester kicked off, Chinese New Year was just around the corner. Seeing as I’m staying with a host family, the timing couldn’t be more perfect. About a week or two before the holiday, my host Mom informed me we’d be going to their house in the suburbs of Tianjin for the festival, to celebrate with relatives. A few days before we took off, my host Mom’s older sister and husband came, and soon enough Grandma, my host Mom, and my host Aunt and Uncle all took off to the suburbs as Beijing quickly became a ghost town, with most of its residents heading back to their hometowns to be with family. The drive was short and was mostly fine aside from Grandma getting a tad car sick. At one point, we even had to stop by a nearby elementary school to let her use the restroom, the poor dear. However sick she may have felt, she kept a calm demeanor to her, insisting we need not help her, modest as she is.
The house was very nice and the neighborhood seemed very new as well, although people were scarce, likely because the homes all seemed to be used as getaway spots for people working big-time jobs in either Beijing or Tianjin. There was enough space for me to have my own room, so I settled in nicely. During the first few days, I was able to spend a lot of quality time with both my host Grandma and host Mom, and well as my host Aunt (who’d come all the way from Jiangxi Province in the South to spend the holiday with us all). My host Mom is a lawyer, so she’s incredibly busy, working most weekends and going away for work almost weekly for days at a time. It was the first time we really got to do stuff together. She had a nice coffee machine there, so I took the liberty to make everyone coffee, which turned into a daily ritual as I put a twist on it, adding a small chunk of chocolate to each cup I gave out. We also baked some bread together, and on New Years Eve–as is tradition–we rolled dumplings and at them as the clock hit midnight as the New Years Extravaganza rolled on the TV, the nation’s biggest TV event of the year.
Each day during the afternoon, my host Mom, Aunt, Uncle and I would all go to the nearby gym and play badminton together, something I hadn’t done in a while but still really enjoyed. We also would go to the nearby markets to buy food and snacks, often blabbing back and forth about what to buy and how much. Each night, Grandma only wanted to do one thing–play Majiang. Being the first time to play Majiang, I was a very intimidated. While I could read the bricks with Chinese characters, many of them have separate symbols, which are different suits, much like cards. It took me a few days of watching and reading online before I had the courage to sit down and play, but it was really fun when I did. The game is fast-paced and always moving; you really have to be on your feet the whole time.
Despite her age, Grandma schooled us all most of the time. The whole experience was awfully immersive, and it was just so fascinating to see how the holiday works; the traditions, customs, food, games etc. all play a big role in the liveliest time of the Chinese year.
Simple, rich and natural are three words I’d use to describe Chilean culture, but even more specifically, the food they eat.
When people ask me about Chilean culture, one of the things I think of first is the cuisine. And it’s because, perhaps unlike the capitalistic and fast-paced mindset that most North Americans are born with, Chileans express their love through food and drink. Some of the most raw and pure things I’ve learned about Chileans and their culture I’ve learned when when I was sitting around a table at an asado (barbecue), eating the famous longaniza sausage from the central valley and sipping smooth Chilean red wine.
Since I started college almost three years ago, my relationship with food has become a little estranged. That, in part, has been the drastic change in diet from the home-cooked meals I grew up on to the mass-manufactured food I’ve had to eat my first two years at school. Putting on weight, becoming self-conscious, then working out regularly and eating flavorless salad for dinner was my cycle for the past two years. Until now.
At first I was shocked by the differences in culinary practices between the United States and Chile: here we eat a modest breakfast of yogurt or cheese and bread before school or work, gather for a grand and home-cooked lunch between one and three in the afternoon, eat a snack or small dish called “once” in the late afternoon, and then eat a combination of leftovers for dinner between seven and even 10 at night.
Eating later was the first thing that took awhile to get used to, and the whole city putting itself on pause for lunch time was another. Parents, kids, grandparents, friends, aunts, uncles– virtually everybody– leave school or work to come home and share a hearty lunch. This was another thing that started out foreign to me, because at school or at home I rarely even eat lunch at all, but here it represents Chileans’ commitment to gather with their loved ones around something homemade almost every day. In the end, it demonstrates their commitment to conserving their culture.
Another thing that caught me off guard at first is that Chilean food, by American standards, would be considered under-seasoned. Think about your favorite dishes in the US. Some of mine include sweet barbeque ribs, pasta carbonara and chicken enchiladas. All of these plates contain thick sauces and a lot of ingredients but in Chile, and although I’ve indulged in some elaborate dishes since being here, some of my favorite foods are made with only a few components.
Choripan: longaniza sausage in a toasted ciabatta bun
Empanadas vegetarianas: cheese, tomato and basil baked in a bread pocket
Tortilla: carrots, green beans or tuna sauteed and then pan seared with eggs to turn it into a frittata
Sandia con harina tostada: Watermelon under a toasted flour sprinkle
Humitas: Fresh corn mixed with onion and basil, wrapped in a corn husk and cooked in boiled water
Chileans eat simply, and they eat well, and part of that is because they buy the majority of their food at traditional open-air markets. When I think of Farmers’ Markets in the U.S., I think of them as a rarity or a mirage that we see once or twice a week before we consume our GMO-laced food from a corporate grocery store. But here, people sell their all-natural home-grown fruits and vegetables on the street, and they are simply delicious. The phenomenon of the South American mercado complex is yet another reflection of Chilean culture in the sense that most don’t worry about trivial formalities like permits to sell products, obsessive sterilization or digital record-keeping. They grow (or butcher) their products and sell them after a few minutes of haggling with customers, and that’s it. There’s only really one step in between the countryside and the consumer, and that is something so unique and unfamiliar from most people’s experiences in North America.
I’m going to miss the food at Chilean asados: the array of fresh and fermented cheese appetizers and the cuts of steak so rich with flavor that they only need a pinch of salt before touching the grill, the fluffy eggs cooked in hollowed out peppers and the sliced tomatoes seasoned only with salt and olive oil. But more than all my favorite Chilean foods, I’m going to miss watching my host parents prepare it mindlessly, my host brothers making fun of the way I cut vegetables, and all the laughs we’ve shared around the table.
As first semester came to a close, a new journey would begin for me. A mere days after the semester wrapped up, Jesse–my roommate from last year, a previous exchange student from The Netherlands to Linfield–came to Beijing. I couldn’t wait to begin our travels together! I took him everywhere I knew around the Capital, all the best spots–The Forbidden City, Tiananmen, the Great Wall, etc. Having some more local knowledge, I also brought him to more obscure places, hoping to give him a more authentic feel of Beijing. We didn’t come across any major issues until one night. In order to save some money, we decided to stay at a hostel. The hostel was fine, especially since we were out and about nearly all the day anyways. One night however, we had a bit of an experience. We had just laid down to go to sleep, it was probably about 11:30 pm or so, and it was just us two and one other patron. Minuets away from falling a sleep, a noisy, middle aged man barged into the room–and not only once. For whatever reason, he went in and out of the room for around a half an hour, terribly noisily. Finally, he laid down to go to sleep. Thank God we all must have thought as he finally drifted off. But just as we thought it was over, the nightmare began. Within 10 minuets of the man passing out, a snore began to emit from his mouth–a snore that only grew louder and louder. After about 30 minuets, the three of us just got out of bed. I spoke with our fellow patron and asked what we should do about it. We decided to talk with the desk lady–she merely told me to whack him and tell him to can it. I figured this wouldn’t do any good, because it would just continue when he went back to sleep. Therefore, we simply decided to go out in order to avoid the loud drawl. After hanging around a McDonalds (the only place open at the time) for what seemed like an eternity, we finally returned to the hostel in wee hours of the morning in the hopes that our newest roommate would already be gone. After a few seconds of silence, our hopes we dashed when it was broke by a loud snore. We groaned, went to bed, plugged our ears, and eventually fell asleep. The next day, I asked the lady behind the counter about it and she said, thankfully, he had left.
Other than that experience, things went well with Jesse in Beijing and Xi’an! I took him to all the places I know in the Capital, including many areas already featured on this blog. After 2 weeks of traveling China together, Jessie and I boarded the plane bound for Tokyo, Japan. Upon arriving, we immediately began hanging out with some of our closest friends we have been so lucky to meet, entirely thanks to Linfield. Our friend and fellow Linfield student Yuria Osawa picked us up at Haneda, and thank god she did; it’s unlikely either of us could have navigated the complex Tokyo train system without her to our hotel. The next day, Yuria took us to visit nearby Yokohama, where we saw the pier, the famous ferris wheel in Yokohama, the Yokohama Chinatown, and the Cup Noodle Museum. Chinatown, for obvious reasons, intrigued me a lot. What would a Chinatown in Japan be like? Why was there such a concentration of Chinese there? I had a lot of questions! It certainly didn’t disappoint me; I got to speak with some of the locals, who directed me to a Hunan restaurant where we got lunch and I got to talk with the waiters a bit. I learned that they mostly moved to Japan to earn some extra money, but just ended up staying after enjoying life there. The waiters I spoke with were from Fuzhou (福州), capital of the southern Fujian Province (福建省). They all also spoke excellent Japanese! We then met up with some of our other incredible friends (Asahi, Rei, Yuria, Edna) at Shibuya for some food later that night, reconnecting and catching up after half a year of being apart.
A day later we met up with our good friend Nono, who took us to see the Tokyo tower, which was incredible! I noticed the colour got more and more yellow and less and less red the closer you got to it for whatever reason. Regardless, the tower is truly and icon of Tokyo, and the view from up top is absolutely stunning. The three of us then met with Kiki and Zeno, two other previous Linfield study abroad students. We all got some dinner and caught up. A day later, me and Jesse planned to go to a Comicon in Tokyo and meet Yuria there, however we ran into some trouble on the way there; we got horribly lost on the Tokyo trains. See, in Beijing, the subway system is run by a single state-run company, keeping a single, integrated system extremely convenient and easy to understand where to go. The Tokyo system, while very fast, efficient, and clean, is instead ran by multiple competing companies such as Japan Rail and others. This means if you get a ticket to ride on one line, that ticket is only good for that company. Additionally, there are dozens of different maps, each only showcasing the lines ran by the company of that line. Thinking the Tokyo system was integrated like Beijing, you could imagine the confusion when I tried to navigate the two of us across Tokyo. Lines that appeared to be transfer stations on my phone weren’t
displayed on maps, our tickets could only be bought so far, etc. Long story short, we spent so long trying to get to the convention we unfortunately missed it, arriving as it closed. Despite this, we didn’t give up on the day. We decided to go to the Skytree and see what it had to offer. We took a cab and went into the line. An American lady working for the tourist group running the Skytree tourism approached us to sell us our tickets; I noticed on her name tag she could speak Chinese! I spoke with her using Chinese, and interaction that granted many stares from onlookers. We discussed Japan and China’s differences, and then talked price. After learning going up the Skytree was nearly $40, me and Jesse decided to look at the aquarium instead. While our first two attempts to do anything had failed, the aquarium was well worth it. The main tank showcased a large shark, three massive rays, and a smattering of other sea creatures. The penguin enclosure was awfully cute!
Pretty soon, the New Years holiday was upon us. As planned, we went and stayed with our amazing friend Emi and her incredibly kind and welcoming family. The moment we walked into that house, we could feel the love and kindness from her siblings and parents, who were excited to return the favor many American families had given Emi while she was at Linfield by hosting us for a few days during the New Year. After meeting with her family, settling into our rooms, etc, we had some incredible home-cooked Japanese curry, which was to die for. Emi’s mother really knows how to cook! On New Years Eve, we all ate traditional Japanese New Years Eve food, watched the New Years program, and Emi’s family was even gracious enough to include me and Jesse in the tradition of the parents and elders giving their kids packages with money inside, a tradition carried out in many East Asian cultures and known as Hongbao (紅包) or red packet in Chinese. After the clock struck midnight, Emi took us with a few of her friends and her friend to a nearby shire where we participated in Japanese New Years activities, such as paying a small penance then praying, ringing a large bell, and others. After New Years, Jesse and I went to some other nearby shrines and interesting places where we got some food and just did other touristy things. A day or so later, Emi took us, Zeno and her sister to Mt Fuji and its surrounding areas! We visited the infamous suicide forest, which was far less creepy than the movies make it out to be, a nearby village with a gorgeous view, and of course the famous hot springs later that night. That day was one of the best we had during our time, and I can’t thank Emi enough for giving us the opportunity. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay at Emi’s house forever, despite not wanting to leave the kindness of her and her family. We went back into Tokyo to the hotel a few days later for the later half of the trip.
We then met up with a few other of our friends in Japan, including Hitomi, Marina, and others we had seen previously. Marina took us to the Tokyo zoo one day, which was really fun. We got to see a lot of really gorgeous and fierce animals, and we tried Takoyaki–a snack involving fried octopus–for the first time! On the last few days, Jesse and I made it a point to hangout with all of our friends and say goodbye. I bid farewell to Jesse after a month of travelling together as he took off to catch an earlier flight–a flight he ended up missing due to confusion on the trains, although he later got a different one. I met up with my friends that morning before I left for Narita, and was soon welcomed back to Beijing with it’s bitter wind. I was glad to be back home, so to speak, although I missed Japan. I was, however, extremely grateful for the amazing experience I was given by going there. I’m so thankful of my friends there and to Linfield for bringing us all together in the first place.
I’ve been back in Chile for about a month now, and to my pleasant surprise, it has been mostly like nothing’s changed. I moved houses, which has been a little bit of an adjustment; I’ve traded the wild energy of having three teen and 20-something brothers in the house everyday for a more tranquil environment with a couple and my French friend/roommate Augustin, but other than that it has been like I haven’t skipped a beat. The two families still gather to dine, and my brothers very kindly ask me to hang out with them and their friends pretty regularly.
One of the best changes about this semester so far was that I got to spend time with the Linfield group that came through Chillán for a couple weeks, and now the students from Oregon State who are studying abroad here until the middle of March. It’s been one of the greatest things to have both of my lives collide like that, because I’m always telling my friends and family back home how much I’m in love with Chile and its people, but for my friends at Linfield and now my friends at OSU to experience it first hand for themselves, for them to meet my host families and eat at my favorite restaurants and dance at my favorite clubs, has been almost like a personal validation that this all isn’t just a dream.
One weekend I went to the “woods” outside the city called las Trancas. We found a waterfall and didn’t hesitate to jump into the icy water after a climbing down withered stairs and through plush bushes. Another weekend I went to the surfing capital of the world, Pichilemu, and swam in the salt water before eating some of the best, freshest sea bass I’ve ever had.
After about six months here in Chile, I have been to a few more places, have gotten close to a few more people, and have fully established this as my second home.
In early November my advisor and our program coordinator Florencia Casanova were sharing some bread and queso fresco at her house when she lightly squeezed my arm and said “I think you should stay in Chile.” We both laughed, but when I went home that night I couldn’t sleep. Credits and classes and major requirements were running through my head. My heart wanted to stay, and I wondered if picking up Spanish as a second major and staying in Chile was even feasible for me.
On November 7th I emailed my Spanish and Journalism advisors and asked them if there was even a possibility of making this a reality, and on December 5th IPO bought me a return round trip flight to Chile. So now I write to you not as a Spanish minor who is leaving Chile indefinitely in two days, but a Spanish major who gets to come back here to study for the spring semester.
Thank you Florencia for encouraging me to do this and for taking me in as your own “niña preciosa,” and thank you mom and dad and Anna for handling the slight shock of my decision with nothing but grace. Thank you professors Sivek, Terra and Ticas for working out my classes and credit load details, and thank you Marie, Michele and the IPO staff for not hesitating to book me a return trip. Thank you Courtney for supporting me even though we were supposed to live together next spring, and thank you Angel, Jordan, Carson, Aengy, Joel, Naomi, Grace and all of my friends for understanding that this is something I need to do. And most of all, thank you Chile and the people I’ve met here for truly making this the best time in my whole life. I have nothing but love in my heart.
And now, an open letter to the family I’ll be leaving and the friends who will be leaving me // Y ahora, una carta abierta a la familia a la que dejaré y a los amigos los que me dejarán:
Yo sé que no he dicho tanto en los últimos cuatro meses, entonces ahora estoy aprovechando la oportunidad para hacer algo lo que me siento más cómoda: les voy a escribir.
En esta época el año pasado, yo estaba en un lugar un poco oscuro, sintiéndome perdida e insegura sobre lo que quería hacer con esta vida. Necesité un cambio drástico para dejar todas mis preocupaciones atrás– necesité encontrar nueva gente y, también en realidad, a sí misma.
Hasta Mayo, yo iba a estudiar en Ecuador. Cuando mi profesora me invitó a participar en nuestro primer programa acá en Chile, yo dije que sí porque me sentí halagada porque ella pensó en mí nomás, y todos los días digo gracias a Dios por mi respuesta. No podía imaginar si yo hubiera ido a otro lugar.
A mi familia, quiero decir gracias por no solo estar compartiendo su casa, sino además sus vidas conmigo. Voy a extrañar tanto estar viviendo acá con ustedes. Claudia, usted ha sido mi recurso a todo, desde transportación pública hasta consejos sobre mi futuro, y siempre se está sacrificando por su familia, lo que me inspira. Y Pablo, gracias por siempre ser aire fresco y por mostrarme cómo trabajar diligentemente y al mismo tiempo divertirse sin arrepentimiento.
A mis hermanos– Diego, mi mellizo, eras mi primera impresión de Chile. Gracias por tu amabilidad mis primeros días en la casa cuando no caché nada, y por sentir empatía por mi como una estudiante de intercambio. Contigo siempre me he sentido cómoda porque yo sé que entiendes esta experiencia. Pedro, será raro no tenerte afuera de mi pieza gritando a la computadora, y de una manera rara creo que voy a extrañarlo. Y a mi hermano mayor, Gabriel, te agradezco por siempre invitar a tu hermana chica para pasar un rato contigo y tus amigos, incluso cuando probablemente no querías– me has hecho sentir acogida en tu grupo, lo cual es algo que nunca pensé que sucedería. Voy a extrañar el sonido ligero cuando tocas la guitarra en la terraza y el sonido alto de tu risa contagiosa cuando veas un meme tonto.
Yo sé que los veré cuando vuelvo, pero no será lo mismo. Todos ustedes me han hecho un hogar en Chile, y por eso no tienen idea como agradezco yo estoy.
A Iñake, Leire, Maddi, Maider, Oihane, y Victor: con ustedes siempre lo paso bien, pese a la barrera del idioma y nuestros orígenes diferentes, y ojalá que sepan que siempre serán bienvenidos a cualquier lado donde me encuentre en los Estados Unidos; y les mando la misma invitación a los grupos de México, Colombia y Francia, y sus tutores, de la UBB Concepción. Nunca imaginé que habría tenido tanta suerte para conocer tan buena gente.
As finals week slammed us CSI students in the heart of fall, our pressure ramped up significantly. Countless days spent at the nearby student hub Wudaokou coffee shops preparing for our finals rendered us tired beyond belief. But before we knew it, the 50 or so students in the programe were split into our two chosen lines–the Purple line bound for Tibet, with me and 14 others taking the Green bound for South China–and were off on a new adventure.
First stop for the Green Line: Xi’an, Shanxi Province. Once known as Chang’an in ancient times and bearing the nickname “City of Capitals”, Xi’an is the ancient centre of China and served as the seat of government for the Han, Tang, and countless other significant dynasties throughout China’s long history. Today, Xi’an contains loads of historically significant landmarks, such as its famous Bell and Drum Towers and the world-famous Tomb of Qinshihuangdi guarded by the Terracotta Soldiers.
My second time to Xi’an, I was just as captured by the awe-inspiring traditional architecture, local food, and vibrant culture Xi’an has to offer. Haggling with locals is always fun, but it’s especially interesting in places such as Xi’an, which Mandarin-speaking foreigners are a rarity. Next to the Drum Tower sits what’s known as the Hui Fang, which is essentially a neighborhood of a local Muslim ethnic minority who have lived there in Xi’an since the original Silk Road connected China with the Middle East nearly 2,000 years ago. The Hui Fang contains a large a famous street packed with nearly as many food carts and restaurants as people. Side streets veering off of the main drag have loads of shops selling various items from chopsticks to silk scarfs, a perfect place for bartering. The Xi’an city wall was especially beautiful to revisit. Surrounding all of the Old Chang’an City, the Xi’an city wall is the most well-preserved ancient military fortification in the world. The wall is absolutely stunning, and walking along it you’ll notice
both the ancient parts of Xi’an on one side of you while the modern side of the city is erected to the other. But of course, the Terracotta Soldiers were truly amazing to see again. Since I had last visited, so many more had been uncovered at the site, and it’s hard to believe they have barely scratched the surface of what was hidden under the earth over 2,000 years ago. Our last major stop in Xi’an consisted of a lecture learning about the local Hui Muslim population and visiting the Great Mosque of Xi’an, which is still used to this day by locals to pray. The site is constructed completely with Chinese architecture in mind, making it very unique for a mosque.
Next stop on the Green Line was Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province and home to China’s Giant Pandas. After visiting some of the older parts of Chengdu known as the Kuanzhai Xiang, or wide and narrow alley, the day came to head towards the panda research centre and get my first glimpse of the Giant Panda. The animals were absolutely gorgeous, and so graceful. They looked as if you could just give them a big hug and take a nap with them. After that, I got the opportunity to meet a long-time pen pal of mine who happened to be studying abroad at a school in Chengdu from Portland State University.
We hung out two times during my stay in the Sichuan province, and it felt like we should have been friends all these years. Our mutual interests in China and Chinese culture is sure to keep us connected into the future. Our last stop in Chengdu was an ancient dam system built nearly 3,000 years ago and still in use today, helping irrigate Sichuan Province, especially Chengdu. The complex was absolutely astounding, with high mountains and blue water rushing between them.
After Chengdu, we finally entered the Southwestern Yunnan Province, an absolutely gorgeous place bordering several Southeast Asian nations and filled to the brim with varying minority groups. Lijiang was our first stop. An ancient city with a huge, gorgeous, and well-preserved old-town, Lijiang is easily the most beautiful place I have ever seen before in my life. The old town really is ancient, many with winding canals of fresh mountain water rushing through and small, narrow streets made only for pedestrian traffic. The weather was a comfortable 70 or so degrees all day with not a spec of air pollution to be seen. Towering over Lijiang is the stunning Snow Mountain, the farthest-south snow capped mountain in the northern hemisphere. Whilst climbing the mountains near the 18,000-foot peak for a better view, we came across a small Buddhist temple home to a Lama, or Buddhist Priest.
After conversing with the Lama for a while and helping him translate with a few Russian tourists, he invited me to sit with him for a bit and was kind enough to give me one of his necklaces he wore free of charge. After many thanks, I took my leave. A similar interaction back in town between me and a lady from Sichuan province equally intrigued me. Wandering to one of my favorite areas in Lijiang (a small tea shop with
some cute dogs, fish, and two peacocks) one night, I ran into two ladies coming to have tea with their old friend–the shop’s owner. After being invited to sit and have tea with them, the four of us chatted for hours and ended up making a few new friends. In the centre of the old town lies what was once the headquarters of the local Lijiang government in ancient times–the Mu Palace. The Palace rests on a hillside, and the complex has a stunning view. While exploring the palace, we came across a group of elderly women of the local Naxi people putting on quite an adorable show, dancing together for a group of people in traditional clothing. Lijiang left an incredible impression on me, solidifying itself as one of the most beautiful cities in my memory.
After Lijiang, we made our way to Dali, another Yunnan city a few hours’ drive from Lijiang. While Dali’s old town was not quite up to the level of Lijiang’s, it still was incredibly beautiful. It sit next to a massive lake, on which we took a tour cruise to small islands with various Buddhist temples. Perusing the nearby shops, it is easy to see that Dali has a lot to offer in terms of items to buy. From great snacks, gifts, and the best wine I’d ever tasted, Dali certainly has a lot to offer.
Finally, we arrived at our final destination: Kunming, the Capital of Yunnan Province. Kunming is extremely clean and beautiful, and rests next to the large Dian Lake. While visiting, we went to an ethnic minority park, which includes loads of representative villages of each minority group in Yunnan province. While the stay in Kunming was short, it certainly inspired me to go back sometime soon.
The study trip ended faster than it started, and we were greeted by Beijing’s pre-winter cold as soon as we walked out of the airport. Now, I await my Dutch friend (my roommate from last year at Linfield, a former exchange student) to come to Beijing in order for me to show him the wonders China has to offer. It will be a nice weekend to sit back and relax after all the chaos of travel.
We’ve been here in Chile for nearly four months now and I know everyone says this, but this last semester has passed more quickly than I imagined it could. To be honest, in the couple weeks leading up to my departure to Chile when I was nervous about going, I would tell myself it’s only four and a half months. I could do four and a half months, and I would be home before I knew it. And now that my time is here and that we only have two weeks left in Chile I wish I could go back to the beginning.
My friends here always ask me what I’ve liked most about Chile, and they always expect me to tell them a type of food or a trip I’ve taken but every time I say it’s been the people. The people I’ve met here in Chillán- my tutors, my classmates, my teachers, my host family(ies)- have given me a second home. I never thought it was possible to feel so at home so far away from everything I know.
The little things I’ve experienced here have been my favorites. Today after class a couple of us sat on old bleachers under the trees and just talked for two hours. My cheeks quite literally hurt from smiling and laughing so much, which I didn’t think was actually possible.
My parents and sister flew out to visit me for Thanksgiving week to bring a little U.S. tradition to my host family and a lot of joy to me. We traveled, feasted, spend some unanticipated time in the hospital, drank Chilean wine and spoke as much Spanish as we could.
Having my family and my new family around the same table for Thanksgiving dinner was a feeling I’ll never forget. I heard what everyone was grateful for in English, Spanish or a mix of the two, watched my sister Anna joke around with my host brother Gabriel, saw my Mom sitting next to Florencia and Claudia, and laughed at my dad trying to teach my host dad Pablo how to “bro hug.”
These little moments are some of the most profound and unique I have experienced in my life and I know they’ll always reside close to my heart. This Thanksgiving I’m thankful for my ever-growing family and everything they have done for me.
So here I still am, with a heart more full than I ever imagined. I’m about to start saying a lot of goodbyes, but I have no doubt in my mind they’ll be temporary. I’ll be back to Chile, and I’ll visit my international friends in Basque Country, Spain and France. My last two weeks of the semester aren’t going to be spent traveling to see a new part of Chile. I’m going to spend them laughing with my family and friends as much as I can because in the end, that’s what’s brought me the most bliss this semester.
As the last warm breaths of the Chinese Summer ceased, the landscape here at Peking University (also called “Beida” (北大) for short) began to change with the seasons. The trees around Beida’s famous Weiming Lake transformed from a vibrant green to a glowing yellow as the century-old koi fish began revealing themselves near the edges of the popular body of water. After seeing Shanghai for the first time, my good friend Ivy, a bright student from American University, and I decided to explore more local and authentic locations in Beijing.
We began our adventures by traveling to some of Beijing’s most famous hutong (胡同) neighbourhoods. Hutong neighbourhoods, which are essentially small alleyways made up of homes and shops (hutong roughly translates to alley in English), once made up the majority of Beijing’s total area. However, many hutongs have been lost to the construction of things like subway lines, roads, and new apartment buildings. Despite this, many hutongs remain, such as the Nanluoguxiang hutong near the Beijing Bell and Drum towers. Nanluoguxiang was built during the Yuan Dynasty and has endured the last 1,000 or so years. Nanluoguxiang was filled with people, primarily tourists, as well as the smells of truly incredible food. I noticed the famous Beijing Jianbing (a pancake-like dish with eggs) being sold all over the hutong, as well as a disproportionate amount of people speaking the local Beijing dialect of Chinese.
After we explored the hutong, Ivy and I climbed the tall steps to the top of the Beijing Gulou (北京鼓樓), or Beijing Drum Tower. In ancient times, bell towers were used in Chinese cities to signal time, much like clock towers in the West, while drum towers were primarily used to signal different events occuring in the city, usually involving the Emperor or other government or public events. Many Chinese cities still have their drum and bell towers, and of course Beijing is no exception. The bright red tower is truly stunning, and it manages to work itself nicely into the local landscape. The towers stairs have to been the steepest stairs in the world; one tumble down those and I think anyone would be a goner, so climb carefully! After reaching the top, the proceeding view of Beijing is truly stunning. While it was rather polluted the day we went, it was still worth the hike up to the top.
The two of us also returned to Yuanming Yuan (圓明園) which we had explored together in the end of Summer. Yuanming Yuan, or the Old Summer Palace, is right next to Peking University, making it easy to visit. While the Palace was gorgeous in the Summer, I almost like it better during the Fall. The yellow colours and dead grass go hand-in-hand with the ruins there.
Other than exploring Beijing, I have had great opportunities to get to know my teachers more and more as well as make more friends. After a language exercise at my comprehensive class teacher’
s university, we all had lunch with her and managed to talk and get to know her a bit more. It’s truly an amazing experience to make new friends and get to know people in your second language! Our teachers and us students have really gotten close over the semester, with inside jokes and being made daily. Hardly a day goes by without the class busting out laughing at least once.
So far, Beijing has yet to disappoint. I just hope I can see all there is to see in the time I have, which is already going so fast. The more time I spend here, the more my behavours and mindset begin to shift towards the Chinese perspective. It makes me wonder what it will be like to return to Linfield in May!