Sunday, August 4, 2013


So far my experience here in Chile has been one of incredible contrasts. For example, I had a spectacular weekend, followed by a week on house (ar)rest when I came down with the flu, followed by what has been another pretty spectacular weekend! 

Last week a few other students from my program and I went to volunteer with the organization "Juntos al Barrio (JAB)" which means Together with the Neighborhood. It´s a really cool non-profit that asks low-income neighborhoods what projects they would like to do to improve their community. Then, a group of volunteers and residents of the neighborhood work together to complete the project. Last Saturday we were in the neighborhood Playa Ancha painting the outside of an apartment building. We had to wear hard hats and harnesses because we were climbing scaffolding to paint several stories above the ground!
It was honestly one of the most incredible days I've had in a long time. I loved getting to know Chilean students from JAB as well as all the wonderful people who lived in the neighborhood. We now have several new friends to hang out with! The neighbors were so incredibly kind and grateful to have us there. The men helped us paint, the boys ran around making announcements on the megaphone, the young adults played club music at top volume from inside their homes while the elderly blasted love ballads, and the women prepared lunch and snacks for us inside the neighborhood church. 

We also had 15 minutes in the spotlight! A local news station created a video about us as exchange students volunteering and seeing a different part of the city. They even interviewed my friend Hannah! The largest newspaper in Chile also wrote an article and interviewed my friend Kyle.

The whole day of painting was full of juxtaposition. The neighborhood we were in is definitely poor, with lots of people living in close quarters. However, it was positioned on steep hills that drop straight down to the ocean. It was the most incredible experience to stand painting on the roof, only to turn around and see endless waves stretching as far as the eye can see. The sunset took my breath away. The ugliness of poverty, experienced in a breathtakingly beautiful place. As volunteers we gave our love to brighten the walls of the homes, and we received so much love in return.

To give you all an idea of the view I'm talking about, here is a video I took of the view from another part of Valpo. The video quality is pretty terrible, but you can get the gist of it!

I recorded this video yesterday when my program took us on a tour through all the different sections of Valparaíso. Yesterday was another really fun day! I loved getting to know the area better! (Just to be clear, I live in the neighboring community of Viña del Mar, which is a combination of a beach resort and a residential community, but I my university is in Valpo).

The entire city of Valpo is another example of juxtaposition. Architecture reflects the nationality of the person who built the building, so there are buildings inspired by many different European nations. There was no central planning effort in the construction of the city. People simply built their homes where they pleased. Because of this, it is not at all uncommon to find an elegant manor directly next to the humble home of a very poor family. Also, the streets make pretty much no sense since the houses are placed so randomly. They wind all over the place through the fiercely steep hills. Props to the drivers of Valpo, for I have no idea how they can coax their cars up to the top of a hill, stop suddenly to look around for oncoming vehicles at an intersection with terrible visibility, and proceed to descend without picking up too much speed or burning out their brakes. Did I mention that everyone here has manual transmissions, but that I have yet to see someone stall out?

Driving abilities is only one form of evidence of how the hills affect daily life in Valpo. For Porteños, or people from Valparaíso, their cerro is a central part of their identity. "Cerro" is the Spanish word for hill, but it also refers to neighborhood here because the neighborhoods are often divided by the geographical boundaries between hills. To get from their homes in the hills to their jobs downtown, people use machines. One type is "ascensores," which are elevators built reached at the base by long underground tunnels and exited at the top by footbridges:

There are also "funiculares" (although Chileans call these ascensores as well). They are kind of like a trolley car that moves up and down on tracks using a system of cables :

Also, tucked away in the most random places  are staircases if you prefer to walk. 

Our tour guide joked that all of Valpo is waiting to collapse. Looking at the, ahem, creative structure of some of the buildings, I can see his point. However, he is also quick to point out that these buildings have survived many significant earthquakes. Incredible! 

The street art in Valpo is another example of juxtaposition. You can find a intricate, whimsical mural right in the middle of the most ramshackle cluster of houses, or crass political complaints scrawled on the wall of an elegant row of boutiques and restaurants. There is an international street art festival here that has added a unique vibrancy to the city. I have an entire album of photos available on Facebook, but here are a few of my favorites:

We ended the day with a boat ride through the bay. We got all up in some marine wildlife's business:

I am constantly amazed that I actually live here, in Chile, next to the ocean. It is crazy to be so close to sea lions and pelicans when I grew up with deer and bears, but I'm loving it! And very, very frequently, I am simply overwhelmed by the beauty of my new home: 
I think Valparaíso is the perfect name for this city, seeing as it means "Paradise Valley."

Indeed, it is the opportunity of a lifetime to be here. That said, even my feelings are often a sharply contrasting juxtaposition. Key examples: 

1. One moment I feel like I belong, the next I feel incredibly lonely. This was especially true being home sick for the week. My host family did a wonderful job of taking care of me, and for that I am very thankful. However, as a newcomer to their home, I am still working on forming relationships with them. This is complicated by the language issue. I am reminding myself that I have only been here for two weeks, and that I have five more months to get to know them all better.

2. Embarrassment and bewilderment immediately trailing the flush of accomplishment. Again, all related to my understanding of culture and level of linguistic competency.

3. Elation followed by homesickness. I am learning that it does no good to miss people, places, or things. That is, I need to consciously be grateful for what is happening in my life at this very moment. I think as human beings we have the habit of looking fondly upon the past or anticipating what is to come while ignoring or dismissing the present. I am so guilty of this. However, I try to remember that for every thing I miss now about the US (family, friends, speaking English, Chipotle and all other delicious Mexican food, fresh baked cookies) there is something that I will miss about Chile when I return to the US (my new friends who live in other states, the Chileans I have met, pisco sours, being old enough to frequent bars and dance clubs).

At the end of the day, there is only one thing that does not change, and that is God. I am so grateful for His constant presence in my life. My friend Rachel and I went to church here this morning, and it is uncanny (and wonderful!) how similar the church services here are to those in the United State. My favorite part was singing worship songs, because they were literally all the same songs with lyrics translated into Spanish (Mighty to Save, Here I am to Worship, and Majesty, just to name a few). I loved standing beside my brothers and sisters in Christ glorifying the name of our Heavenly Father and savoring the presence of the Holy Spirit, at the same time that fellow Christians were doing the same all around the world. It was like a sneak peek of heaven!

Well, I'm signing off for now. Off to enjoy the land rich with juxtaposition!


  1. Juxtaposition~ what a great way to explain, define, and relate to your new home. Again, I am taken back by your ability to write from what you know~ As you know, I have been fortunate to have traveled many places. Your adventures and insites are thoughtful and I love the reflections you are making. I felt the same way attending mass in Paris, Italy, Spain... we share one God, no matter where you are. I find that humbling. Sounds like you are on the mend and hopefully will stay well.. climate, food, water, it's just juxtaposition. Take care... write often.. I sure enjoy it!

    1. Thank you so much Mrs. McClure! I think it´s really amazing that you have been able to travel to all these different places. Hopefully I will continue to travel throughout the rest of my life!

  2. Chipotle=Mexican food? Haha. It is what it is...