YFU Switzerland

Vacaciones

Hello everyone?,

I hope you had a nice start to the new year and that everything’s going well.

These past three months I’ve been on summer vacation, which is quite strange, considering for me this normally means dark and cold days❄️. However, here in the South of Chile, we’ve been getting lots of hot and sunny days. It didn’t look like it in the first week of vacation, though. Everything cooled down on the last day of school. It was raining and on one day we even made a fire, it was so cold. But that was only the first week and as time went on it got warmer and warmer until you kind of wished it would cool down again.

So in the beginning I didn’t do much. I was at home relaxing and enjoying sleeping in again. I met up with the two other exchange girls, Rosa and Kristīne quite a few times. After all, these were the last few days of Kristīne’s stay in Chile. She signed up for 5 months.

Then came Christmas and the New Year. I spent it at home with my family. On Christmas Eve we had a delicious meal. Once it got late we all got ready to go to bed, when we heard bells ringing outside our house. Bárbara, my 7 year-old niece got super excited and we all ran out to see who was there ?. We didn’t see anyone, but there were three HUGE bags full of presents. That came as quite a surprise to me. In my family in Switzerland we never have that many

Feliz Navidad

Feliz Navidad

presents and since I got one present for each family member I was worried they’d think it’s too little or something. But my worries were totally unnecessary. We brought the presents inside and opened them all together. It really didn’t matter to anyone how many they got. It was about sharing the joy. So that’s how the night ended and I went to bed feeling very happy.

Over the New Year we got visitors from San Fernando and Santiago. My papá’s sister came with her husband and her daughter and two kids of my oldest brother. Once again, we ate a delicious meal and then waited for the clock to strike midnight. My family started preparing different foods that one should eat at midnight, to bring you luck and money in the new year. These foods included lentils and grapes. There’s also the custom of wearing yellow underwear (for luck ?) and walking around the block with a suitcase (for travels✈️). It’s kind of stressful because as soon as the new year begins you’re supposed to light some firecrackers, hug and kiss everyone, drink your champagne (grownups only of course ?), eat twelve grapes and three spoonfuls of lentils and run around the block with a suitcase. The poor neighbour’s dog was so afraid of the firecrackers, he ran into our house. My aunt and I didn’t run around the block with our suitcases (it’s quite a big block), but we walked down the street and back. I was quite surprised at the amount of people we saw, doing the same with their own suitcases. Then we watched the fireworks on TV and went to bed.

In January I went to La Serena and met with my friends. My oldest brother from Santiago came for a visit with his wife and his youngest daughter. After spending a week here he and his wife left. They were moving from Santiago to Puerto Montt and had to get everything ready and start working there. But the kids stayed with us for the rest of the holidays. They’re all great and I’ve come to be really fond of them. Paula is eight years old and loves sports, Patricio (Pato, as we like to call him) is six years old and loves watching videos of Angry Birds and Mario Bros and Carmen Gloria is three years old, very talkative and could sing „Libre Soy“ (Let It Go) for hours on end. So those kids kept everyone busy and there was always noise in the house, something which is missing now that they’ve gone.

In February my parents from Switzerland came over to visit with my little sister. It was quite an adventure getting to Santiago to pick them up. About 1.5 weeks before their arrival date, I went to buy my bus ticket. It was going to be the same one I took to get to La Serena, which meant I’d arrive at 6:30 or something. However, my parents were going to arrive around 10:30 and since I don’t know Santiago so well, I didn’t think it to be a good idea having to wait for so long. So, the next day I went to change my ticket to a later bus. On this ticket it said that the bus would leave at 23:45, but the lady at the counter told me I should be there half an hour earlier and wrote down 23:15. In my head I was like „yeah right, like the bus will come early“, knowing how things usually are with punctuality in this country. Big. Mistake.

On the night of the journey, -I had everything ready- my brother offered to drive me to the bus stop. Gladly I agreed and we left the house at 23:30 and arrived a minute later (it’s really close). Just before we got there I saw a bus leave, but to this day I don’t know if it was mine.

When we got to the bus stop, everything was dark and there was not a single person there. I thought that was a little strange, but maybe I was the only one leaving from Pitrufquén at that hour (so much wishful thinking ?). We waited at that bus stop for more than an hour until we finally gave in to the possibility that maybe I might have missed my bus. So we went to the house of the lady who sells the tickets and she said that the bus passed long ago, at 23:20. I don’t remember what I thought in hat moment but I doubt it was a happy thought. While waiting for the bus which never came, my brother and I discussed what I’d do if the bus didn’t come. The only option that I had, if I wanted to arrive in Santiago on time, was to catch the first flight out of Freire the next morning.

Rodrigo (my borther) and I drove home and immediately checked online for the earliest and cheapest flight out of Freire to Santiago. Luckily there were still seats left (they cost an arm and a leg for my exchange student budget). At around three in the morning we were done with everything, I went and repacked my suitcase (I had to take out all liquids from my backpack), set my alarm clock for 6AM and went to sleep.

When my alarm sounded, I promise, I only slept five minutes longer. However my five minutes lasted longer than an hour in real time and I got woken up by my papá asking me when I should be at the airport. In a panic I looked at my phone and saw that it was already 7:15! I jumped out of bed, dressed, woke up my brother pretending everything was under control and that I didn’t oversleep, brushed my teeth and we rushed to the airport. We arrived at 8 on the dot which was quite satisfying. I gave up my luggage and then, after waiting for about an hour (the rush was totally unnecessary), they opened security, I got through without a problem and got on the plane.

The plane ride from Freire to Santiago is an hour and some minutes short. The view is quite nice (I scored the window seat) and time passed really fast (just like when I only slept „five more minutes“ that morning). Once I arrived in Santiago I was anxious to get my luggage quickly and get out, so that I could meet my family. I was hoping they’d be held up and arrive later than me. No such luck. Before getting on the plane I sent them a very short, very vague message saying that they shouldn’t worry if I arrive a bit later, that I’m okay but that they won’t be able to reach me. I told them to wait for me in the restaurant at the airport.

It might have been better to tell them everything, because apparently my text just led to confusion. I just didn’t want them to worry. Luckily I also gave them my brother’s number (he speaks English), so my dad could call him.

Once I finally got my suitcase, I rushed outside and there was my family waiting for me. It was so strange seeing them in person again after so many months. My sister came rushing to me and I hugged everyone about three hundred times. It was also really strange talking to them again and my brain had a hard time switching from Spanish to English and German.

After hugging everyone to death and shedding a few tears of joy ?, we drove to our hotel. We freshened up and then immediately went on a little tour with our tour guide. We visited a museum of Chilean culture and walked around Santiago. It was extremely hot but there were people selling cups with fresh cold fruit, which was a nice refreshment. Later in the afternoon we went to the Cierro de San Cristóbal, the same place I went to with YFU. My parents and my sister ate their first empanadas there and they loved them ?.

In the evening my sister and I went exploring Santiago on our own after dinner. We found the mall (!) and looked around. Contrary to what I thought, based on what people have told me about the city, I felt quite safe. There were a lot of people out and we returned to the hotel before it got too dark.

The next day we had an absolutely delicious breakfast (fruits and other heavenly foods) and then went on to drive to Valparaíso. The ride there was longer than I expected and after the crazy adventure of getting to Santiago and all the excitement of  seeing my family again, I was so exhausted I mainly slept.

Once we arrived there we went to look at the house of Pablo Neruda. Sadly there was a very long queue so we never entered. Valparaíso is an absolutely beautiful city and I won’t let anyone or anything get in the way of me going back there ?. There’s a very artsy vibe to it, every street is very beautiful and colourful and they sell amazing food. We saw some beautiful graffiti and there’s something awesome to explore in every street, be it a little shop selling homemade sweets, a bakery with the most amazing cake pops or a shop full of arts and crafts. There are a lot of old houses, restaurants and churches. Since Valpo (short for Valparaíso) was constructed on a hill, there are cable cars that bring people from the bottom of the hill, up to their houses. Going on one of those of course was a must for tourists like us. It’s a very steep but fun ride.

The beach may not be so nice because there’s a huge harbour but that doesn’t really matter. Viña del Mar is right next to Valparaíso and is full of beaches where you can lie down and enjoy the sun or go for a swim. That was our next stop. Turns out our tour guide had a surprise for us. I thought it was a ride on one of the many horse carriages which are a trademark for the city, but it was actually a Moai, a statue from the Easter Island ?. It was huge and awesome to see in real life.  

After that little surprise we made our way back to the capital. There we went to the mall (again) and bought some new clothes for me and then we drove to the bus terminal to catch our bus to Temuco.

We went to the bus terminal that receives all buses, since my parents weren’t able to buy tickets in TurBus from Switzerland. That terminal is exactly the opposite of the TurBus terminal which is the only one I knew up to that moment. So I was quite shocked when we got there. There were so many people and such little space that you really had to hold on to your suitcase and bags if you didn’t want to be a very easy target for thieves. It was very unorganised and we kept on worrying we’d miss our bus, since we didn’t know at what „gate“ it would arrive. With the help of our very devoted tourguide everything turned out fine though and the next morning we arrived in the little city called Temuco.

Once we arrived there it was really cold and dark. We took a taxi to our hotel and ate breakfast there. Since we arrived so early our rooms were still occupied. Sadly we didn’t book an early check in so we had to wait until the afternoon until we could finally settle down and refresh ourselves before going to visit my familia in Pitrufquén.

While we were waiting for our rooms, mom and dad went to pick up the car we rented. I also ran into a girl that I met in La Serena which was really funny. Once we were finally ready we drove to my familia (I’m going to use the Spanish terms for my Chilean family and English terms for my Swiss family). On the way we bought a cake to have for dessert. We got there and my mamá came to receive us. Slowly everyone else trickled in and my nieces and nephew even introduced themselves in English.

We ate lunch together and talked. I showed my family the house, my room, the huge garden and we went to my school. We spent the whole evening there and even ate dinner with my familia. Just as we were leaving, Fabiola my sister came home from work which was a shame. But we were to return soon enough again. I was very pleased with how the meeting had gone. To be honest I was a little nervous at first. Next to our hotel there was a kind of fair with a bunch of rides and my sister and I ended the night with a lot of screaming and giggling?.

Trying to look really smart while visiting my school ?

Trying to look really smart while visiting my school ?

The next morning we left for Conguillío, which is a beautiful National Park. There we had the pleasure of staying in an awesome laid-back hotel with no internet connection and very friendly staff. It was absolutely perfect to just zone out and be with my family again. We stayed there two days in which we explored a little, slept a lot and admired the beauty of Chilean nature.

On Valentine’s day we left for Pucón, to the hotel of German immigrants. It was so European, if the people hadn’t been speaking Spanish, I would’ve thought I was back in Switzerland. The next morning we went to one of the many lakes in the zone and spent the whole day there. The water was beautifully clear and since it was a very hot day, it was an awesome refreshment. They also had a really fun kind of bouncy castle on water on which my sister and I jumped, slipped and fell around on. It was really funny to watch each other and the other people struggle to stay on their feet ?.

In the evening we drove to a beautiful waterfall. Sadly you weren’t allowed to swim in it, but once I touched the water and felt how cold it was, I didn’t really feel like it anymore. I don’t know what it is with Chilean water bodies, but also this waterfall and the river that it forms are extremely clear. You could literally see to the bottom of the waterfall and the river. It looked exactly like in some tourism booklet selling trips to deserted islands or something.

That evening the hotel owner gave us a tour of the huge property that’s part of the hotel. They grow a lot of their vegetables and have an awesome view on three volcanoes! He also booked a horse ride for us, so the next morning, after packing and checking out, my dad, my sister and I went on a nice little ride. Sadly there was a lot of fog so we couldn’t see what must’ve been an awesome view on the valley.

We bid the horses who so graciously let us ride them goodbye and made our way to Huilo-Huilo. I fulfilled my dream of seeing Panguipulli and Licán Ray. It was quite a long ride and I slept a big part of it. Once we got there I was really impressed by the hotel we stayed in. My dad and I went jogging in the woods that evening and from outside the hotel looked like an alien mothership that landed on earth. Too bad we only stayed there one night. The next morning we packed our stuff again, checked out and then went to the hotel’s spa. After some nice and relaxing hours there we made our way back to Temuco.

We arrived in Temuco in the evening and following my wishes, went to eat sushi. The next afternoon we spent with my familia again in Pitrufquén

unspecified-4and exchanged our feelings and gratitude. We also took some pictures this time, because my sister Fabiola was there too. Then we went home and Serena and I went to the little amusement park next to our hotel one more time.

The next morning we woke up before the sun rose and drove to the airport. First we drove to the military airport which was a fail. But eventually we found the correct airport and met my papá there who was dropping off a cousin who was also flying to Santiago as well. We said goodbye and it was bitter-sweet. But I knew that I’d see them in four short months again. I went to meet my papá and together we waited for my cousin’s plane to take off (this was necessary because she was underage and with a special accompaniment).

The day my family returned to Switzerland turned out to be the day my papá turned 60! So the next day we had A LOT of visitors and a lot to do. This was awesome since it made me think in other things and not in my family. Some of the visitors stayed overnight, including an aunt of mine. She invited me to go to Chiloé with her and her family to which I gladly agreed.

On the way to Chiloé

On the way to Chiloé

To get to Chiloé, which contrary to my beliefs is a HUGE island, you had to take a boat. On the boat my cousin and I got out and took pictures. The wind was quite strong and cold. But it was so beautiful I stayed out until we got to the island. We saw some sea lions and jellyfish. The water there also was very clear which once again really surprised me.

The boat ride is only about 20 minutes long. Since I believed Chiloé to be a tiny little island, I thought we’d be on that boat for an hour or two, since I couldn’t see any small island form the mainland. Well shock on me when we steered directly towards the huge landmass only a few kilometres away ?! Once we docked, we drove for a good hour and a half until we arrived in Castro, the island’s capitol and the place we’d be staying in for the next week.

Chiloé is an absolutely beautiful island. It’s very natural and no matter where you are you most probably will see a sliver of the sea. We stayed at the house of my uncle’s sister. In Chiloé a lot of houses have one big room with the kitchen and the table and a fireplace. Around the fireplace a lot of times there’s benches and it’s the perfect spot to curl up and read a book. That’s what I mostly did that week when we weren’t outside visiting different places. I read „The 5th Wave“ and if anyone is looking for a good read, I highly suggest that one (if you’re into that dystopian fiction kinda thing?).

During our week there we ate a lot of delicious seafood and apple empanadas. We also drove to a lot of different places, churches and markets. I was quite sad when we had to leave. Chiloé has a very special vibe, I feel like it’s very relaxed and easygoing. There were a LOT of hitchhikers which might have contributed to the special vibes. The many different churches made mainly of wood, the colorful houses, the sea, even the clouds are something special.

On Sunday morning we made our way back to Pitrufquén. We stopped by Puerto Montt to pick up my sister and my niece. After eating lunch there we drove the last bit home.

The next three days were mainly preparation for school. I went to buy some things for my uniform and met up with my area rep from YFU.

On Wednesday, we brought Bárbara to her first day of second grade. After that my aunt and her family left for their home, I moved back into my room and the last preparations were made.

Thursday, 3rd of March, was my first day of school. I met my friends again and it was awesome.

Now I’m about to start my fourth week and I’m as happy as ever. Time is passing very fast, which everyone who’s been on exchange will most probably tell you. The second half is alway better and passes a lot faster. So I’m very enthusiastic about the rest of my stay here and full of energy?.

Misiones en La Serena

Hello everybody 🙂

I’ve just recently come back from an awesome two weeks in La Serena, wich is a city about 13 hours from Pitrufquén by bus. I had the great opportunity to go there with the youth group from the church I’m attending here. The main idea of those „misiones“ is going from house to house and listening and talking to the people who live there. It was a great experience and I’m very grateful that I could be a part of it.

We left on the 12th of January at 10PM to Santiago. We arrived there at around 6AM and took our bus to La Serena at 9AM. The ride wasn’t as comfortable as my first bus experience here, but I enjoyed it all the same. At night I could look out of the window and see the stars ,which are very visible here, and in the second part of the journey we could admire the desert and the sea from our seats.

Once we finally arrived at the bus terminal in the late afternoon, we were received by the kids from La Serena and brought to the school we would be spending the next 1.5 weeks in. The youth group I’m part of is from the Dominican Family, which is a worldwide community of the Roman Catholic Church. So in these „misiones“ there were a bunch of kids from other Dominican schools or churches. That was great since I could meet a lot of new people and make new friends. There were people from Santiago, Valparaíso, Chillán and other Chilean cities.

Selfies at the beach because we're cool ?

Selfies at the beach because we’re cool ?

After eating a very late lunch, us from Pitru went to the beach. This was the first time I’ve gone to the beach in Chile and it was great. We didn’t stay very long because we had to go back to eat dinner, but it was enough for me  to walk in too far and be splashed by a big wave ?.

Us girls from Pitru (short for Pitrufquén) shared a (class)room with the girls from Valpo (short for Valparaíso). We all slept on mattresses and the sleeping bags we brought with us. It was quite comfortable.

The program of the days we spent there was quite tight. In the morning at 8 there was mass where you could go voluntarily, then there was breakfast at 8:30. At 10 we’d have a „meeting“ did some energisers (singing and dancing), talked about what we’d be doing on that day and where we’d be going.  At 11 we left. There were 4 groups and three sectors to visit. One group stayed „at home“ and did housework. We’d rotate so that every group has visited every sector and done housework. At 1:30 PM was lunchtime. After lunch we’d have some free time until the afternoon activities started. There were four different activities: going from house to house again and activities with kids which were both from 3 to 5, and activities with adults and Zumba which were from 5 to 7. After these activities there was dinner at 9 and a last meeting at 10. After that we could do what we wanted. Most people just went to sleep because walking around all day in the hot sun is quite exhausting.

While walking around, not a lot of people opened the door. But that was to be expected. However in that way it was all the more rewarding when someone did. I had the privilege to talk to around 5 people and to be invited to enter into three homes. It was very interesting seeing the different realities of how people live and hearing their stories and thoughts. Every time I left a house I felt very grateful that those people took their time to tell us about themselves and sharing a tiny piece of their lives with us.

Since the afternoon activities required people to participate (duh!), in the mornings and afternoons we’d invite the people we talk to to join in on the fun. Sadly absolutely no adult showed up to the adult activities. We had more success with the kids, though. In the last few days quite a few showed up which made us very happy :). Usually the kids would stick around to participate in Zumba as well, which was great.

Dancing in front of the church

Dancing in front of the chapel

We also participated in the inauguration of a little chapel. It was really fun and we danced in front of the church and served delicious-looking food (we weren’t allowed to try any?).

On the last day of these „misiones“ we had a day of tourism. Early in the morning we left to see „El Cruz del Tercer Milenio“, which is an 83 metres tall, 40 metres wide, concrete cross located at the top of a hill in Coquimbo. On the bus going to La Serena you could see it and it reminded me of „Cristo Redentor“ in Río de Janeiro. Once we got there we split up into our hometowns and went exploring ?. What I found very surprising was that you could actually take a lift (the stairs were blocked) to the crossbars where you had a wonderful view over the sea, Coquimbo and, even though it was quite a cloudy day, as far as La Serena.

 

 

After taking enough pictures to last a lifetime we went to the city center of La Serena ate lunch at the zoo. We spent the rest of the afternoon at the beach. Since I didn’t pack my swimming suit I changed into shorts and a T-Shirt and went swimming like that. The water was the perfect temperature and we all had a great time. Chilean beaches are very lively; there’s people everywhere selling all the sweets you can dream of, umbrellas, shades, there even was a Captain Jack Sparrow impersonator ?.

After having spent such an amazing 1.5 weeks together, of course we were very sad to leave it all behind. Especially for me it was hard since the other people can return next year if they like, but I’ll be back in Switzerland next year ?. However the fun wasn’t over yet; us from Pitru spent three more days in La Serena/Coquimbo.

We stayed in the house of relatives of a guy in the community. After settling in, we went out to eat sushi which was AWESOME! I haven’t had it since I came here. Later, us teenagers made ourselves a nice evening with games and candy. The next morning one of the chaperones and a friend accompanied me to return to the school we stayed in because being the way I am, I obviously forgot my shorts and T-Shirt I had hung out to dry the day before after washing them ?. We then joined the rest of our group at the bus terminal to drive to Vicuña, a little town an hour outside of La Serena. The drive there was beautiful. There were vineyards everywhere, a river and a huge reservoir. Once we arrived, we went to the market where they sell the most delicious vegan brownies, homemade ice cream and fresh juice. After buying souvenirs and filling our bellies with pure deliciousness, we explored the town. I absolutely love Vicuña. There’s beautiful graffiti everywhere, cafés and markets, which give it a very artsy vibe. There’s a beautiful church, an observatory, which sadly we couldn’t visit and huge „fruterías“. We ate lunch and then went to the Gabriela Mistral museum. Since it was very hot we left quite soon, returned to La Serena and spent the rest of our last day tat the beach.

The last evening was very nice. We ate dinner in the house and just enjoyed each other’s company. We were all very exhausted so one by one everyone drifted off to their rooms. For some reason I couldn’t sleep so I stayed up and watched the stars and the moon. The great thing was that it was warm enough to do so in my PJs ?.

The next morning we went to „La Recova“ which is quite a famous market where you can buy all sorts of souvenirs and goodies. La Serena and it’s surroundings being famous for them, I bought some fresh papayas and some papaya products (sweets and stuff). We then took the bus back to Santiago and from Santiago to Freire, where we were picked up by the parents of some of the kids. Once I got back home I was very happy to see my family again. My dog (it’s actually my niece’s dog), Principe Azul was very excited to see me, too, which was really cute. After talking a little with my mom and my sister I went to sleep.

These „misiones“ were a once in a lifetime experience and I am so grateful and happy that I could take part in them. The amazing thing is that for these two weeks we spent in La Serena, us from Pitru didn’t have to pay anything because over the year we collected enough money by selling empanadas, helping out at events and the charity of people at our church, to pay everything from the bus tickets to the rent of the house and food.

A huge thank you to everyone who made this experience possible and so amazing. This is definitely something I’ll never forget ??.

My amazing community ?

My amazing community ?

Dieciocho

If you’ve ever been to Chile you might have observed that people here are very proud of their country. Be it the many flags, the documentaries you can watch on TV around any time of the day or just talking to people, you can’t help but get (at least a little) hyped about it as well.

I really started to notice this on the 1st of September. The weekend before, my class and I decorated our home room with flags and banners of Chile as well as other things.

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On the streets 20150901_163848 copy there were people selling car stickers, dancing Cueca and no matter where you were, in the background you could be sure to hear some type of Cueca music playing.

On Tuesday, which turned out to be the 1st of September, my school had this fare where different classes presented typical Chilean foods, games, tourist attractions and many more. It was very impressive and I started to look very much forward to celebrating Chilean Independence Day.

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Two classmates and I in traditional dresses

Shortly before our vacation (yes, we got a whole week of vacation in honor of Independence Day) we had a day completely dedicated to celebrating Dieciocho. There were different alliances who were competing against each other in different challenges and games such as dancing, the amount of people who dressed up and tug of war. For refreshments we could buy food and drinks from one of the many stands in our gymnasium. It was really nice to see how everyone came together and worked so hard to organise this event.

With September also came the time of digüeñes. For the people who don’t know what those are, digüeñes are orange-white coloured and mushroom-like edible things (for lack of better word) that grow on trees. From what I’ve been told, the only place you’ll be fortunate enough to find them is here, in south-central Chile. The first time I had the pleasure to try them was when my brother’s girlfriend brought some with her from the countryside. Here in Chile you usually eat them fresh in salads or fried with eggs and bread. Their texture is chewy and they slightly remind you of mushrooms and I’m completely in love with them :).

One day in I had the opportunity to go harvest them in the countryside. It was a very fun experience :P. Since they grow in trees you need to go to the woods and look for them high up in their branches. Once you’ve spotted a bunch/cluster you need to find a stick, aim and try to hit them in order for them to fall off. If you’re good at aiming and have a strong arm, you can then proceed to look for them on the ground and gather them up in whatever you brought with you.

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Freshly picked Digüeñes

At first I had a really hard time spotting any and wondered if we’d even be able to fill 1/4 of the basket we brought with us. But luckily I was accompanied by some experts (aka my brother, his girlfriend, her mom and her dog) and before I knew it, the basket was overflowing with deliciousness :P. So that was an experience I’ll never forget. Especially frying and eating the digüeñes afterwards was awesome :).

Once the 18th September rolled in I’ve had countless conversations about Chilean foods and traditions for that very special date. However, I was still overwhelmed by the quantity of food! The Golden Rule for „Dieciocho“ is that, whatever diet you might be on, on this day you can throw it all out the window, forget all the promises you’ve made yourself and just eat your heart out. No one’s going to judge you and you can just ENJOY!

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Alfajores on the left, pajaritos on the right

My family and I made alfajores (biscuits with manjar, a caramel-like spread made from condensed milk) and pajaritos (bread balls with merengue icing) to bring to the family party. We spent the whole day eating and talking. There was some dancing and we played ping-pong. Over all it was a really nice experience and I also got to meet a little more of my extended family :).
Me being a vegetarian, everyone was very concerned about what I’d be eating on Independence Day, but it really wasn’t a big deal. Yes, there was a lot of meat served but there was also salad, vegetarian empanadas and pajaritos among others. So if you’re vegetarian and coming to Chile, don’t worry. At first people may give you weird looks, but that’s just because eating, especially meat, is such a big part of their culture, it may be hard to imagine a different diet. But if you explain your reasons to them (with a smile and patience, mind you :P), you’ll be perfectly fine. And remember, they’re probably just genuinely concerned about you getting enough food :P.

All I can say is that nothing prepares you for Independence Day in Chile and this is definitely something I’ll remember for a long time :P.

 

 

 

 

First Impressions of School and a New Family

At home, after sitting around for a bit, we all went to sleep as it was quite early on a Sunday morning. In the afternoon after eating I gave my family their presents and we just got to know each other a bit.

For the next three days we were busy getting ready for school, getting my papers and finding our rhythm as a family of five. Since my sister just recently got back from half a year in Mexico, she also needed some things for school and she showed me everything. As you might know, most Chilean school require you to wear a uniform. We bought mine in Pitrufquén where I would be going to school. The black shoes, my sister and I bought in Temuco, the closest city, which is about 45 minutes from Freire by bus.

On Thursday was the first day of school for my sister and I. Our parents drove us there and brought us to the Director’s Office. We were then introduced to all the teachers and then it was finally time to go to class. I remember my first class in Chile being Philosophy. The kids around me, especially the friends of my sister, who was in my class, wanted to talk to me. Me being from Switzerland, was used to paying attention in class and I really wanted to keep on doing that, as I do not want my grades to drop too much. But soon I realized that barely anyone was really paying attention, so I just did the same and tried , as best as I could, to socialize in Spanish.

Having only spent a week in Chile, with no previous lessons in it’s national language, my Spanish was nowhere near to being enough to hold a conversation. But the few words that I knew were, to reply to the most frequently asked questions. And it’s not like I was having deep conversations on my first day of school. I was just trying to get to know everybody and people were also trying to get to know me.

School in Chile is very different from what I’m used to in Switzerland. It’s very laid-back and the student-teacher relationship is very close. Also the feeling of community in the class is very nice. We might not all be best friends but we all get along, which, in my view is quite an accomplishment, as we are around 30 people in my class. There also isn’t this huge division between boys and girls.

Since my school is Catholic, we start almost every morning with a prayer where everyone can give thanks and ask and pray for something that is important to them. I feel like those prayers also bring us all closer together. After that we have 2 hours of classes and then we have a 15-20 minute break where we eat breakfast. After breakfast we have another 2 hours, a break and 2 hours more until lunchtime which is around 1:30 PM. After lunch we have 3 more hours of school until 4:30PM and then we’re set free =). On Fridays we only have school until 2:05PM.

At first the late lunches were something to get used to and also not having a short 5-minute break after each lesson, but now it’s normal for me (even though a 5-minute break would come in handy once in a while). My school also offers after-school programs including basketball, volleyball and music.

At first I joined volleyball, which was super fun. But because music is my priority I joined music, which inconveniently is on the same days and at the same time as volleyball. However, whenever I don’t have music I go for volleyball.

Getting involved outside of classes has been really good for me to integrate myself, meet new people and just express myself. It made me feel more like I was part of the school and not a stranger and with my music group we’ve already had quite a few performances.

After about 4 weeks in Chile I changed my family for reasons I will keep private. I moved to Pitrufquén. My new host family immediately took me in and I feel very at home. They’ve previously had two other exchange students in their home, so it’s very easy to be with them because they already have experience. Since my new parents and my brother work in my school they always drove me there. But now, since it’s not so cold in the mornings anymore, I walk. My house is about 20 minutes away from my school and really close to the main street of Pitru, which allows me to move around very independently and also gave me the possibility to start after-school programs.

If you do go on an exchange year, I highly suggest to really get involved. You’ll feel a lot more at home and meet awesome new people with similar interests as you =)

From Switzerland to Chile – My Journey to My New Home

Hello Everyone!

My name is Imani. I am 15 years old and have decided to spend one year in the longest country in the world, Chile. In this blog I’m going to tell you about my journey from my home in Switzerland to my home in Freire, the South of Chile.

On the 21st of July my family and I made our way to the airport in Zurich, where we met my godmother and her husband. After checking in, dropping off my luggage and receiving the good news that I’d be in the window seat, I had my last Swiss lunch and bought some last-minute gifts for my host family (Toblerone chocolates 🙂 ). Then it was time to say goodbye.

Once I got through security I went to my gate and boarded the plane, which was going to take me to Madrid. I kept on getting weird looks because I was dressed very warmly with my winter shoes and long pants, while everyone else was dressed for the heat of Madrid. If they only had known how cold it was going to get for me once I arrived in Santiago :P.

In Madrid I had around three hours of waiting to do. After finding out where my gate was, I ate dinner and made my way over there. The airport in Madrid is very big, so it took me around 20 minutes.

At 11 PM I got in queue to board a plane going to Santiago. Little did I know that I was trying to board the wrong one… So, one friendly flight attendant and half an hour of waiting later, I finally settled into my seat and the most dreaded part of my journey started (on the correct plane this time 😛 ) .

The flight was a lot better than I feared. It was overnight, so I mainly slept, but there was a great selection of movies as well. When we flew into Chile, we flew over the Andes. The view was breathtaking. The sun was just rising and I got the first glimpses of what is going to be my new home, bathed in a beautiful light. Once we landed at the airport, I was very relieved to move around again after about 13 and a half of hours of sitting. I was also very excited because, hey!, I was in Chile and I did it all on my own!

After going through immigration, security and picking up my luggage, I was met by the wonderful volunteers of YFU Chile. They brought me to a restaurant where other exchange students from all around the world were waiting. We had a delicious buffet breakfast, which was a relief, since the breakfast on the plane just wasn’t very tasty 😛 . Once all the exchange students arrived and ate, we divided into two big buses to drive to Olmué for our Arrival Orientation.

Olmué

Us exchange students and volunteers in Olmué (I’m the one holding the Swiss flag)

We stayed in Olmué for four days. It was really fun and informative. We learned about some of the do’s and don’ts as an exchange student in Chile, adaption and what might be expecting us. We also ate a lot of food, learned a little bit of „Cueca“, which is the national dance here, and hung out to exchange our thoughts.

I shared my room with three other girls. Two of them, Rosa and Kristine were going to go to the same school as me and live in my area. That was really nice, since we now knew that we would always have someone we can relate to and who can relate to us. Also, in that way we wouldn’t be the only newbies at school, which made everything seem a little less scary.

On Saturday we made our way back to Santiago. We drove to the YFU Headquarters where all the kids who were going to live in and near Santiago were picked up by their new families. The rest of us then drove around, went to Cerro San Cristóbal, which is a park and has an incredible view over Santiago, and to the mall. Sadly we only had a few hours to do all this, so we couldn’t spend a lot of time in any of those places. But it was all very impressive and beautiful.

The remaining exchange students on Cerro San Cristóbal

We returned to the Headquarters in the evening, ate dinner and slowly made our way to the bus terminal where we would take the bus to our new homes. Two girls stayed in Santiago overnight because they were going to take the plane the next day, since their families lived too far away from Santiago for them to go with the bus.

We got to the bus terminal at around 8 PM and our bus was only leaving at around 12 PM, so, once again, there was a lot of waiting. It was really fun though, since we were all super-excited and pumped up, so it never really got boring. Us three girls going to Pitrufquén were one of the last ones to leave and we were really tired when we finally got on the bus.

Let me just take a minute here and tell you about the bus… We were all AWESTRUCK! It was sooo much more beautiful than we expected. There were fancy lights on the ceiling, our seats could be transformed into beds and it was just SUPER COMFY! After getting over our excitement of traveling in style, we went off to sleep and early in the morning we were (kinda roughly) awoken by the bus driver telling us we’d be arriving in Pitrufquén in 5 minutes.

As you might expect, 5 minutes are not a lot of time to get yourself together and ready to meet the people you’re going to spend the rest of your year with. So in a hurry, we just threw everything in our bags, kinda fixed our hair, and next thing you know, we hustled out of the warm bus into the rainy, cold and dark morning of Pitrufquén. Everything happened so fast I can’t even remember seeing my host family for the first time in person and saying hi to them. All our families and our area representative were there. After we got our luggage and took a few pictures, I got in the car with my new family and we drove the 15 minutes to Freire, which was going to be my home.

 

Thank you for reading about this first part of my year in Chile. In case you are considering going on an exchange year in Chile and you have any questions, feel free to ask me.

I will keep on writing about my experiences, so stay tuned 🙂

Much love from Chile,

Imani