Thursday, August 4, 2011

West Coast Party!

Santiago is fantastic. And has included more life experiences than should be had in just a month. The journey across Argentina and the Andes was sweet, although mostly by night. Despite the concerns of my mother and grandmother, it was not an overcrowded bus covered in fruit vendors and chickens; it was a cozy coach bus with ample room, Hollywood movies, and dinner and breakfast served. We woke up in the morning at the border, about 12,000 feet up in the mountains, to go through customs. This gave us a chance for the Mexican interns in our group to make their first snowballs, always a treat in the middle of July. We arrived in Santiago with lower expectations than the excellent time we had in Buenos Aires. This was justified when no one showed up to lead us to the house for a half hour…but then they did…and the adventure began.

At the top of the world. (Border between Argentina and Chile, in the background)

To compare Buenos Aires to Santiago is literally like comparing Rome to Los Angeles. They might be a two hour flight apart but culturally are so distinct. The accent, the way people look, the transportation system, the food, the architecture, the geography, everything is different. Diego and I were fortunate enough to make a fantastic friend named Pati at an AIESEC conference in March in Puerto Rico, who happens to be in a leadership position in the local committee of AIESEC in Santiago. Instead of living in the international ‘frat house’ like in Buenos Aires, we have the opportunity to live in a more traditional Santiago neighborhood with Chileans. This gives us a chance to really see what Chilean life is like (which is absolutely amazing).

Chileans watching the Copa America game against Peru.

The job experience here is also very different. In Buenos Aires, I was able to work with a team of interns lead by an Argentinian to organize a soccer tournament; here we get to teach English in middle- and high schools. The first day we arrived we were given the news that student protests have moved the students’ winter break to the first two weeks of our Chile adventure. Being typical AIESECers, our group ran off and explored South America. Some went to the snowy south; some went to the coast, to the cities of ViƱa del Mar and Valparaiso; some up north to the desert; and some spent a week to visit Machu Picchu, in Peru. Diego and I are cheap, so we stuck around to explore the city and its surroundings.

Our friend Pati also had another AIESEC friend staying with her, a Parisian guy who has spent the last ten months travelling throughout Latin America to learn Portuguese and Spanish. For our first week or so, the four of us climbed mountains, went out on the town, and saw all the touristy stuff. Then we began to get antsy for work. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect, especially since our job descriptions for Buenos Aires were so vastly different than what we actually did. But we knew it was supposed to be teaching English or creating workshops for students.

Me, Christopher, Pati, and Diego at the statue of la Virgen de Santiago at the summit of Cerro San Cristobal.

Day one was one of the greatest days I have had in the college period of my life. The nine of us who work at Colegio Valle Hermoso discovered the transit route the night before, and met up in two groups the next morning to go up to the school. The bus took us farther and farther from the city center, and closer to the mountains. We finally got to the end of the route as we arrived to the snow line at the base of the mountain, and were welcomed by all the teachers and students immediately. Although most of the students were not around because they were staying downtown to protest the Ministry of Education, it was great to begin teaching English to kids who were more than eager to learn.

The past few weeks have been a blast, meeting some of the coolest kids I’ve ever met and learning that teaching could be a hat in my future. My experiences down here, although far too short, will be a life changer. I’m excited to see where this goes and even more so to see how I’ve changed once I arrive back home. Diego is making a documentary about the student strikes so tomorrow we’ll be going down to Plaza Italia to film. Tell you how it goes ;)


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Argentina in a nutshell..(for Diego)

I apologize to all for not updating in a while but here it goes...
Today, Nic and I have officially been in Buenos Aires for 6 weeks and this has been enough to learn a few things about Argentina and its culture. It has been an interesting experience to learn more about the culture because I find myself comparing things to Colombia often. I become confused or thrown off when things are not the same. However, I've compiled a list of things that stand out to me about Argentina and Buenos Aires to be more exact which I find different and/or amusing:

  • Restaurants are always tricky here. If you're not a patient person, don't ever go to a restaurant in Buenos Aires. You walk in and you have to find your own table (no hosts), then you sit there for about 10 to 15 minutes before anyone from the restaurant acknowledges your existence. Most restaurants sell the same exact things: Ravioli, gnocchi, milanesas [breaded meat or chicken], pizza, empanadas [often baked... Colombian ones are fried], medialunas [croissants], wine, Quilmes 1lt. beer, and Coke products. Therefore, bringing la carta (menu) to a table isn't always done so you might have to ask for it. Either way you only get the menu just to look at prices and their promos. Here is a picture of a typical combo:

This a meal bought at the nearest dive bar from our house. It's a Muzza grande con una de Quilmes (Large cheese pizza with a liter of Quilmes) Fun fact: ALL pizzas here are served a green olive on every slice.
  • During your meal the waiter/server completely forgets about your existence again. By the way, most restaurant servers here are middle aged men. They would never ask how your meal is or if they can get you anything else, unlike the States. Finally when it comes to paying you ask how much you owe. Sometimes the waiter will say it to you right away, bring you a printed receipt, or a handwritten piece of paper with random numbers for the cost of all the items on it and a total. When it comes to tipping, Nic and I have not figured it out. It's not very common and if you do end up tipping it's usually 2 pesos (US$0.50).
  • The concept of customer service, as we know it does not exist here. Whenever you deal with a restaurant waiter, money exchange house clerk, or even immigration clerk, you get this feeling that they're always pissed off. If you make their job more complicated that it has to be, they will make their annoyance known to you. They don't have the mentality that the "customer is always right" as we do at home.
  • Graffiti and tagging is EVERYWHERE in Buenos Aires! But it's not always cool, sometimes it's just boring incomprehensible letters that just clutter up wall space. Anyway I'm serious when I say everywhere. Even in very public areas where you'd think you could easily get caught doing so like a Subte station.
  • Argentinians pronounce their ll and y's like sh's and they drop their s's.
  • The concept of time is weird here. When someone says meet at noon, it could mean noon on the dot or it could mean 2pm and it's acceptable to do so depending on the context.
  • There is dog poop on the sidewalks almost everywhere. So watch out when you walk... Nic :P.
  • Soft drinks like Coke or Sprite almost never come with ice (like it's not an option). And if it's a sitdown restaurant you always get a 600ml glass bottle and a glass to pour it in. This also means no free refills...ever. And water costs money everywhere, it's not free because it's never tap water you get.
  • Alfajores are the best thing ever! They are like little cake pastries that are often covered in chocolate and filled with dulce de leche. I will be bringing some home with me for sure.
Anyway this is all I have to say about lovely Buenos Aires. Despite all of the differences, I really enjoy this city and it's culture. It's helped me put a lot of things in perspective and it allows me to appreciate home.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

8 days to go...

Hey everyone!

Only about a week left to go - if you count a day of travelling. I am very excited to come home, but also very sad to leave. The fruits, the juices, the atmosphere, the weather, the food, the dancing, easy public transport (although not exactly the most environmentally friendly)...
On the other hand I can't wait to have my own room again, easy access to a washing machine, seeing family, friends, and pets again...

Which brings me to a very blonde moment here. Not blonde in the sense you might be thinking, but being blonde in Colombia, especially Manizales, which is not a very touristy city, is quite the experience. Walking on the street, I feel almost like a movie star (that's at least how a friend told me to think of it). Everyone is staring. Walking alone on the street means at least 25 men (usually on the older side) will say something to you in passing. "Hola preciosa, como estas?" "Buenos dias, hermosa." ... and any other number of ways of saying "Hello beautiful, how are you?" that you can think of. Others just stare. Even if you react in some way to the fact that they are very obviously staring, they don't really care and will happily continue. Lesson learned: looking different than the rest of the population will make you feel like a circus freak. I am still not quite used to it, and I'm not sure I would ever get used to it either. There are also the occasional looks from women, some of which are even kind of mean.

My living arrangements have stayed the same thanks to my great host - despite the fact that he is now gone for an English camp for the week. On Saturday I will be off to NatCo Colombia!!! Time flies when you are having fun :) I must say though, today has been one of the GREATEST days so far. It has a very simple reason. CHOCOLATE. But not just any kind of chocolate, oh no. Kinder Schokolade. And not just that, but, an UEBERRASCHUNGSEI. I have not had one for 3 years! German chocolate... in Colombia.. the USA can learn a lot. The reason I have not had the chance to try this delicious chocolate for 3 years, is because it is not sold in the summer due to it's thin layer of chocolate, which is prone to melting very quickly in even just a bit of heat. Of course, summertime has been the time I spent in Germany...
Either way, this has made me the happiest person alive!!! (and people say I'm not easy to please... ;)

un abrazo desde Colombia

Saturday, July 2, 2011

12 Days and counting..

Hey everyone!!

I have been very lacking with the updates here, I'm sorry... Currently I am spending two nights with a friend and will move to an AIESEC family's house on Sunday because we had to vacate the apartment yesterday. I also tried cow udder yesterday... didn't taste too bad. But I couldn't get myself to try cow tongue.

An internship update: My time with the school is over, but I am now coordinating a summer camp for public school children at the Centro Colombo. I have one week left, and so far it has been a lot of fun. It is a summer camp that includes both English and Spanish - so I get to practice Spanish, and the kids get to learn English in a much more fun way than in the classroom :) And, by the by, I practiced my origami skills.. and expanded on them.

NatCo Colombia: I am going to the AIESEC Colombia National Conference next week!! It is from July 8. - 13. I am very excited about seeing how NatCo works in another country. This will also help improve my Spanish more. So if anyone has any questions, things I should bring up while I'm there, or just wants to know more about it - email me and I will do my best to satisfy your curiosity :)

Only 12 more days until I leave, and I am already starting to realize what I will miss.. This experience has definitely taught me a lot, and has prepared me for a new trip! Maybe South America again? Maybe somewhere else.. but I definitely want to go :)

Un abrazo desde Colombia,

Do you love juice? Here, you get a fresh glass of juice with every meal!
Do you like crazy drivers? Better run across the street and make sure you are very visible, because drivers here are insane. On the bright side, buses stop anywhere on the street to pick you up and drop you off. And, taxis are very cheap!
And, now that I finished this blog entry, I wonder what kept me from doing it before... this last week I'll keep a better update and catch up on some storytelling! Oh, but no pics... unless I can connect with my laptop at my new destination :)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Photo Essay

Diego in front of the hostel. Including the garage/basement, it has four floors and has had up to 27 interns living in it at once. It includes a full kitchen, a large living/work room, and (in theory) five bathrooms. We sleep in bunk beds and the huge house also includes a back terrace, and patio with a large grill for traditional asados (barbeques).

Mika (Croatia) hanging laundry on the back terrace. This only works so well since during an Argentinian winter there tends to be a ton of rain. So of course, the railings on the stairs and throughout the house are always covered in drying towels and clothes.

Nearby is the large Avenida Rivadavia where we can find grocery stores, malls, restaurants, convenience stores, and everything. Fun fact: it's one of the longest avenues in the world. Buenos Aires also has Avenida 9 de Julio which is the widest in the world with at least a dozen lanes at some points.

Living with so many others can be stressful, like your first experience living in dorms as a freshman. At the same time, living and working with a group of people 24/7 creates a strong sense of community and the group put on a surprise birthday party for me, led by the always wonderful Diego. Somehow he found an ice cream cake in this city, which is always a tradition in my family since my birthday normally passes in the middle of summer. Meli (Austria) brings me my cake. Of course the candles were trick candles.

Exploring the city is a huge part of traveling! Exploring with friends is that much better. Here are Orson (Arizona) and Rosario (Buenos Aires) trying to get us lost.

Getting around the city has been made easy by the extensive bus, train, and subway network crisscrossing it. I can't imagine traveling around this easily or cheaply (about 30 cents per ride) in Milwaukee, especially not without a car.

Our first night in Buenos Aires was 25 de Mayo, which is a huge national holiday in Argentina. The local AIESECers brought those of us interns who had arrived to Plaza de Mayo in front of the Casa Rosada, to see a rock concert. It was a ton of fun. As you can see, the whole palace was lit up by LED lights and we were surrounded by street vendors selling every imaginable type of empanada and drinks.

Buenos Aires is a huge cosmopolitan city with many opportunities to see new things from around the world. Ironically I saw my first American electric car in South America.

Burger King has a pronunciation guide. Also, notice the prices: a medium size combo meal with sandwich, fries, and a drink costs 31 pesos, or about US$7.50. On the other hand, it's easy to find local restaurants or street vendors selling jumbo hotdogs for 5 pesos (US$1.20) or the local choripan, about the size of this "steikjaus" burger for 8 pesos (US$2).

Street market in the San Telmo neighborhood. You can buy just about anything you want here and it is a very lively area full of music and art. But beware: this is not a very legit Argentinian place, for you will hear about as much English as you will Spanish.

There is a very touristy town called Tigre about an hour by train north of the city, which has an amusement park, touristy markets, and a ton of green space. After going crazy not seeing almost any green in the city for weeks, it was refreshing to see green grass and new places via boat down el Rio Tigre. There are large homes on islands in the river's delta which can only be reached by boat. They even have trash pick-up boats and ice cream selling boats.
I suppose it's also important to show the internship work itself, although it's difficult because we aren't always allowed to photograph the people we work with (kids, elderly). Here is a group of us at an orphanage where we just unloaded the full truck behind us of clothing and food donations for the kids. The orphanage is great, with a full sized soccer field on the girls' side and a similarly sized yard for the boys. When we showed up at the boys side, a little guy also named Nico threw me a frisbee and wanted to play. The kids are great!
The main project my group has been working on for the last few weeks has been a soccer tournament as a fundraiser. Finally, on my birthday the day arrived, and we had five teams (including two made up of some of us AIESEC interns) playing all day, with music and an asado to grill chorizo. It was a ton of fun, and hopefully raised some money for all the people we've been serving. Here Ana Maria (Peru) and Jose (Ecuador) watch the one of the house teams get beat by Argentinians.

Pictures are supposed to speak a thousand words, so to condense this post from the last one I wrote it is based on images rather than text. Hope it bring our experiences to life!


Monday, June 13, 2011

Uhhh whaaa? When did this happen?

Hey kids,

So, I leave today, and I am scared. I'm just scared of all the transportation I have to take in getting to Lviv and the fact that I speak basically no Ukrainian. I know it's going to be tough!

However, life is for living, and I'm going to have a phenomenal time. After all, God is guiding my way to Ukraine, and I can only take any obstacles I encounter as a learning, positive experience.

I'll keep you updated as my trip goes on! I arrive in Lviv on June 15th and will be there until August 14th!!! I'll miss you all and will keep in mind your own summer adventures!

:) Michelley!

Friday, June 10, 2011

TN and living Colombia

It's been a while, and a lot of things have happened since I last wrote. There are some realizations that have struck me.

1. Manizales runs on the sale of umbrellas. At least in the winter.
2. The rest of the world is missing out on the number of fruits that are available.
3. Walking in the mountains takes a lot of energy.
4. Cheap buses are awesome ($0.70), but cheap taxis are even better ($2 for a 5 km radius).
5. I AM in the tropics.. first sunburn of the season - apparently the rainy season is over and sunshine awaits!
6. Coffee is not better here if you still can't get yourself to like it...

My Spanish is rapidly improving, although French is trying to intrude on that. It does help when communicating with the teachers. Unfortunately, the communication is an issue. There are random teacher meetings during class - which I find out about when I walk into a classroom without a teacher present. Other than that teaching at the school is fun. Many of the kids are really enthusiastic about learning English, whilst others are not - not surprising. The internship ends next week, and then there will be a summer camp at the Centro Colombo Americano which 3 other volunteers and I will be organizing.
Planning lessons and planning the summer camp have really reminded me of how important communication is - without it, many things simply never happen.

Aside from work my roommates and I have been having a great time! We've visited Hacienda Venecia (a coffee farm), Salento (a historical town in an amazingly beautiful valley), Chipre (the highest part of Manizales), and of course had numerous experiences with the local life (both night and day).

Un abrazo,