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Gap Year Abroad

5 posts from August 2015


why does it matter?

"What are we doing?" "Where are we going?" "Weren't we supposed to leave three hours ago?"

These are questions that I constantly think but have just learned to not ask anymore.  On Saturday, we got in the car at 12:30 (I was told we were leaving at 9:30) to go to Jenny's house for lunch, or at least I thought.  We all hopped in, drove passed where their house is, and I turned to my sister and just asked, "What are we doing?"  She just shrugged her shoulders, but gave me a look like, "Smith, why does it matter?"  And, this was all I needed.

Because it really doesn't matter.  Coming from a monochronic society like the US, it is engrained in me to need a schedule, need the details, the plans for the day, and to be on time.  Time is singular; there isn't much wiggle room for change or delays.  You leave when you say you're going to leave.  You go eat lunch when you say you're going to eat lunch.  You want to fill your day with "things." In Chile, in this polychronic society, time has multiple layers.  In fact, time does not control the people here, but they more or less control the time.  It's not so much about productivity, but just living.  It's not so much about getting to lunch by 1 o'clock, but stopping at the beach for an hour before, and getting there when you get there.  If you're having a really good conversation with someone, you don't leave even if you have somewhere to be.  Whatever it is can wait.  Time is not constricting.

If you ask a lot of people here what they're doing today, it's not uncommon for them to say "I don't know, probably this, probably that..."  Because in their minds, a "good" day is not one that has a schedule with times and places to be.  If you think about it, having your mind open to spontaneity or a change in plans can be a good thing.   We lose a little bit of that control that we don't always need.  And time stops controlling is.

Now, let me get one thing straight.  Neither one of these societies is better; there is no good and bad.  They are solely different ways of functioning.  And, I still have my struggles living in this polychronic world.  Sometimes, I just want people to show up when they say they will.  I want a schedule.  I want to get started.  I just want to know what's going on.  But learning to function in a different society, learning to be OK with getting in a car and not knowing where we're going and when we'll get back, is a gift.  And I've found myself letting go and learning to be OK with, in fact even enjoy, not being in control.

In the US, I would have thought a Saturday that got started at 12:30 pm where we stopped at the beach, went to the grocery store, were late to lunch, and hung out all day at our friends' house would have been an all-in-all unproductive day.  But in fact, it was a day full of new adventures, good food, conversation, music, and love.  And that right there, is perspective.  And, it's life.  So why does it matter that I don't know how the day's going to unfold?

A new perspective

The Market was compact, bright and intensely overwhelming. As I walked through the two foot wide, dirty path dodging runaway apples and oranges, vendors bellowed their prices at me. Dusty hands flew around the fruits and vegetables placing the products in reused bags, receiving coins from the customer, and wiping the stray juices of squished merchandise onto the closest cloth. My feet sidestepped homeless dogs and cats sniffing the scene for a bit of food. My parents looked back and motioned with their hands the universal sign of ‘keep up’. The scenery intensified as I walked farther into the center of the market, and I focused on the back of my sister as my parents ran in opposite directions to buy the food for the week. 

Slightly later, I caught up to my mom who was buying pears at a slightly less congested area of the market. I smiled at the vendor, and he smiled back. The man offered me a pear keeping the smile across his face. I immediately noticed that the pear had a small chunk missing from it, and a thin coat of dirt. I was hesitant to accept this offer because I knew that my States mom would have scolded me for taking an unwashed fruit. But, with eyes filled of anticipation and a small, proud smile on the vendor’s face I took the pear from him and took a bite of the fruit. My hands, his hands, the pear, were all unwashed and I had not a single clue where two of them had been, but it didn’t matter.

Below what I deemed an unclean pear was a juicy masterpiece. It was unbelievably fresh and delicious. My mind was racing with the concepts I had learned as a child: I will become sick from the unwashed fruit. But that was only my perception of the fruit. To the vendor, it didn’t need to be washed in order to be enjoyed. It is a simple difference between our cultures- and neither is wrong or right. 

In order to be in this culture I needed to slightly let go of my United States conception of clean, and allow myself to see the pear in a different way. I mean, in the end, the pear was delicious and I didn’t get sick from a little dirt. I had walked away from my concepts and welcomed a new world, and I don’t regret it.  

This small experience in my Chilean life marks a time that I know I will remember. The accumulation of all these small activities outside of the comfort of my culture norms formulates the experience of a new culture. It is not the grand moments, however fun those are, but the everyday movements of life. And that is where all the interesting moments lie.

the beginning

Ingrained in stone on my fireplace are the words: The only constant is change. The words spiraled through my life unnoticed and slightly ominous, but I remember my father repeating to me that I should never forget them. As a young girl in my family I began to learn to accept change and even look for it when needed. And now that I am seventeen and 5,352 miles away from the place with those five words I feel the true impact of change.

As I stood at the kiosk at the Portland Jetport with my family, almost everything I own, and my ticket to Valparaiso, I began to realize what I was doing. Though I was excited, nervous, interested, and a little scared before, it was not until I hugged my dad goodbye that I actualized the fact that I was leaving everything I had ever known behind me. My mind was a breathtaking mix of emotions. I had simply the address of my new home, the names of my family members, and a few other important documents. Never had I been to South America, lived without my family, lived anywhere except Maine, and been anywhere outside of the USA for more than three weeks. Not to mention that I would need to learn conversational Spanish in order to express myself and survive socially. So, basically, I was completely and utterly out of my comfort zone. 

When I arrived in Valparaiso, my world was a whirlwind. From the first person I met my mind was flooded with Spanish while simultaneously basking in the new scenery I now called home. I was overpowered by the unfamiliarity of everything around me. The next two days I explored the city, ate great food, slept my first night in a small hotel, met my new family the next morning, and moved into my new house. 

That was one week ago today. Every single custom in my life is different now. Rules, spoken and unspoken, are unfamiliar. Food and the tradition of food is new to me. The language has made me feel isolated and frustrated with myself, but I am slowly learning. 

Over this past week when I felt overwhelmed, I took a deep breath and remembered to accept the change. In that moment after I exhaled, I felt more confident, and slightly successful from that little piece I had just overcome.

Sometimes change is inevitable, and sometimes we put it upon ourselves. Either way, change is a necessity in being a human. I know little of what is ahead of me in the next four months living in Valparaiso, Chile. But I do know that I will be learning every day. 

As the saying goes, I will always be facing change. Instead of fearing the panic that comes with change, over my Gap Year I am learning to accept change fully. I let it overflow me with worry, but most importantly, welcome that uncertainty with the peacefulness that I am creating myself through this foreign life. Every night I go to bed with a smile knowing that my experiences of the day, no matter how small, are life changing.



August 15, 2015

This past weekend was not what I thought it was going to be like.  Chloe, my family, the Yévenes’, and I had been overly excited to take on “the Nieve” this past Saturday.  We went and bought used ski clothes, couldn’t sleep on Friday because it felt like Christmas, woke up at 5 am on Saturday, packed the cars, and drove two hours to Portillo.  As we were driving through, we got stopped and simply were told that we couldn’t pass through (something with Argentina and hotel reservations…who knows).  Surprised with myself, I wasn’t even upset.  Yes, I wanted to go skiing.  But we all got out of the car, laughed it off, and moved on with our day. My host mom’s cousin happens to live about thirty minutes away in the Andes, so we loaded up on meat, salad, cookies, and drinks, went to her house, and spent all day there.  How could I possibly be upset? That is happiness.

Now, I’m not going to tell you I know the perfect definition of happiness, because I definitely don’t.  But, I do know that this weekend was happiness.  Happiness is being smushed in the middle seat of a car with your Chilean family.  It’s having your host dad sarcastically ask how the snow was and creating stories about everything we were going to tell people about our crazy mountain day.  It’s playing card games with 10 kids, laughing our heads off calling each other cheaters.  It’s playing solitaire and bonding over all the Disney movies we love, even if we watch them in different languages.  It’s eating lunch with thirty people, half of which I had never met and probably will never see again in my life, but feeling at home.  It’s teaching Rebe and Coty the whip, and having them laugh at me when I do it.  It’s witnessing cousins getting together again and the strong bond of families.  It’s learning a bunch of new words for “dating” and “boyfriend” and everything else a teenage girl would ever need to say.  It’s staying up until 12:30 am watching the Hannah Montana movie and five girls falling asleep in the same bed.

Happiness is a ski day gone wrong.  It’s a change of plans that turns out to be exactly what you need.  It’s flexibility.  It’s family.  It’s love.  It’s God at work.


This right here, a group of people that was so unfamiliar two weeks ago, but now feels like family….that’s happiness.

lluvia...and a little more lluvia

August 11, 2015


So, I feel a little bad about making fun of my university for canceling classes last Thursday because of the rain.  Below are a few reasons why.


Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 2.14.13 PM



Last Thursday, I was sitting laughing at all of Chile for freaking out about a little uncommon rain and canceling every school for the next day.  And then, I woke up on Friday, looked out at the ocean, and saw nothing but white flooding into the roads very far below and the darkest clouds I have ever laid eyes on.  At that point, I looked a little stupid.

So, the next few days consisted of watching many a movie with the family, making sopapillas with sugar on top (a tradition when it’s raining), holding on to my sister at night when the wind sounded like it could literally knock out every house in our neighborhood, learning a lot of new vocabulary about weather, buying probably too many sweets from our next door neighbors, playing Fifa, sitting on roofs, reading, sleeping, and talking.

I can’t say this weekend was the most adventurous to be had in South America, but I’ll have plenty of those in the future.  Being abandoned in a house in Chile for four days has its benefits.  You learn a lot about the people with you, you talk a lot of Spanish, you eat good food, and you find yourself becoming comfortable.

For now, I’m thankful I live on a very tall hill.  I’m thankful that I had class today.  I’m thankful I can leave the house.  I’m thankful that I can see the sun.  I’m thankful that there will be other stuff on the TV besides rain.  But, I’m also thankful for this past weekend for giving me an opportunity to become closer to my most generous family.

And, I’m really thankful for the nice man that just let me pass him in line for the collectivo, because I really wanted to get home to some lunch.

Talk to you all soon,


Gap Bloggers

  • Eva - Gap Year Abroad in Japan
  • Eamon - Gap Year Abroad in Spain
  • Sage - Gap Year Abroad in China
  • Kira - Gap Year Abroad in France
  • Smith - Gap Year Abroad in Chile
  • Maddy - Gap Year Abroad in Japan
  • Hannah - Gap Year Abroad in Italy
  • Chloe - Gap Year Abroad in Chile