Friday, July 26, 2013

Learning Humility

Here goes my first blog post from Chile! I have been here for just over a week, and it is starting to feel a little bit more real, like it could actually be home for the next five months or so. As many of you know, this is my first time ever leaving the United States. If cultural immersion were like swimming, I basically jumped right off the high dive without taking any time to test the water. 

So far I really like many things here, first and foremost the people. My host family is wonderful! My mamá is Maritza. She is very warm and pretty enthusiastic about everything! She works in a local cafe. She has been widowed for over ten years, but now she has a boyfriend named Jaime who comes over sometimes. I have two hermanas (sisters). Andrea just turned 22 this week and she is studying to become an English teacher. Camila turns 20 soon and she is studying to become an early childhood education teacher. They love the Disney Channel, music such as Daft Punk and Macklemore, and shopping, so we´re going to get along pretty well :) I also have one hermano (brother) named Victor. He is almost 17 and plays rugby- I can´t wait to watch his games! His favorite show is "El Precio de la Historia," which translates literally to The Cost of History, but is really the Spanish dubbed version of Pawn Stars. I think some of the significance of the name got lost in translation haha.

I also really like the area I´m living in. It´s a city on the coast with lots of palm trees and a beautiful running path right along the ocean. Photos to come at some point!

One of the first things I´ve had to adjust to is the weather and season changes. Right now it is winter, which means the weather is constantly at about 50 degrees during the day. The air is humid so it feels a lot colder than 50 degrees would in Colorado. Central heating is extremely rare here in Chile, so the temperature inside is not much different than the temperature outside. I am growing accustomed to feeling a little cold all the time. Hot water tanks are also extremely rare here. When you want to take a hot shower, you go and turn on the calefont, a device that uses gas to instantly heat water. Leaving the calefont on all the time is expensive, so it´s only on for showers. Anytime you go to wash your hands or face you use cold water. I never thought I would appreciate a hot shower so much! My new favorite thing is a guatero, or a hot water bottle. One of my friend´s host mom jokes that it is our "pololo," or boyfriend, while we are down here since it´s the only thing we can hold at night in our beds.

The biggest thing I´ve had to adjust to, as you might guess, is the language. I speak Spanish probably 90% to 95% of the time down here. The other students in my program and I try to use Spanish most of the time since we are here to learn and it´s impossible to learn without practicing. I have a really hard time understanding many native Chileans because they speak very quickly, slur most of their words together, and use a lot of slang that is unique to this country. For example, in every other country strawberry is "fresa" and avocado is "aguacate", but here they are "frutilla" and "palta." Some days I feel pretty good because I can understand most of what others say and can express what I´m thinking in a way that others can understand. Other days I feel like I am literally drowning in Spanish. For example, I went to the same pharmacy two days in a row. The first day I was talking to the security guard at the door, and he told me that I speak and understand Spanish very well. I was so happy I could have cried. The very next day, I couldn´t even explain to the clerk which type of energy drink I wanted. After two or three minutes of miscommunication, my friend Rachel came to my rescue and helped me. Side note- yes, they have energy drinks here! They´re pretty expensive, about twice as much as in the US, but sometimes I just gotta get my fix.

Anyway, back to the issue of language. It´s really hard to feel like such an idiot. I really want to be able to build relationships with the people I meet, but the language is a huge obstacle in this process. It´s really hard to communicate certain things with my host family. I have to ask for help over and over, and sometimes they don´t understand what I´m asking nor do I understand what their response is. Each incident would be manageable in isolation, but when they happen frequently the feeling of inadequacy adds up. I am such a prideful person, and often I am too ashamed to try to apologize or ask for help. It´s like I have a limited store of humility and patience, and it gets quickly used up when almost every interpersonal interaction requires me to spend more of this precious limited resource. I´ve been praying a lot that God would use my time here to make me a more humble and patient person, as well a person who listens intently and carefully consider what I am about to say. I also have so much more sympathy for people who are far from home or in a new and uncomfortable situation, because now I know exactly how they feel.. I hope that I will be more sympathetic to people from other countries visiting or living in the US when I return. With God´s blessing, my reserves of compassion are going to grow enormously while I´m here!

Don´t get me wrong - overall I am content, I just have some tough moments! At the end of the day, I am thankful for this opportunity to grow and learn in a new place. A metaphor that I frequently use for this process is learning to snowboard. I learned to ski when I was four, so I have had years to practice and improve. I feel like I can handle just about anything on the mountain on skis, similar to how I feel speaking English since it is my first language. I didn´t learn to snowboard until I was thirteen, just as I didn´t start learning Spanish until I was a teenager. When learning to snowboard it was so frustrating to return to the basics, especially when I already knew how to get down the mountain easily on skis. I went into it knowing that I was going to fall over and over, but that eventually I was going to get it. That´s my attitude with Spanish, and it´s working so far. Every time I fall, I just have to get up and try it again.

I´ll close with a quote that I love right now: "Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, I will try again tomorrow." 


  1. Dear Michaela,

    Your quote of the day is amazing! It tells the story you just wrote and speaks about what you are learning! Give yourself time to adjust and allow time to figure out this huge change. As you know, I love writing and learning and your blog is wonderful. It left me looking forward to hear about what lies ahead in your weeks and months to come. I know that you will leave a mark on others. I am thrilled to be a small part of your journey. Power drinks.. eneregy drinks... small indulgence... enjoy..

    1. Thank you so much! I am really looking forward to what is ahead as well :)

  2. So excited for you girl! I am definitely in the same boat that once I return back home I will have so much more sympathy for international students, getting used to the culture is so much more than I thought it'd be. I had a girl laugh in front of my face one day for doing something awkward because I didn't understand a process, and I automatically assumed she'd realize I deserved some slack because I was new... but I am no better! An eye-opening experience for sure. Can't wait to hear more.

    1. So good to know that I am not the only one! I hope you are adjusting to all the differences in South Africa and having the time of your life!

  3. If you learn to speak Spanish like you snowboard, you will communicate with excellence one day! Mom