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Gap Year Abroad

4 posts from September 2015


I can't stop thinking, "I'm so lucky."

The fact that I haven’t blogged in about 2 weeks fully describes my past 2 weeks.  I have been going and going and feel like I still haven’t had a second to breathe.  But, I can honestly say it was, by far, the best time I have had in Chile so far, and I learned things and made memories that are impossible to forget.  So, this post will be more of a catch-up, what I’ve been up to, because I know I have been bad at telling even my family at home what’s been going on.

So, September 18, is Independence Day in Chile, and that means having 10 days free for vacation.  Yes.  This is why I love Chile.  So, I celebrated my sister’s 13th birthday on the tenth… (with selfies and family and yummy food).


IMG_7397And, then on the morning of the 11th, Chloe and I took off for San Pedro in the Atacama Desert.  We had an amazing time in the Cejar Lagoons, Los Geiseres, Valle del Muerte, Valle de La Luna.  It was all so gorgeous and breathtaking; pictures don’t do it any justice.


Valle de La Luna


best sunset I’ve witnessed




The four days we had planned in San Pedro were pretty awesome.  Full of friends and new friends and stars and breathtaking landscapes and many inside jokes.  I felt content, and I felt ready to come home to Valparaiso and celebrate the 18th with my family.  But, things took a quick turn when we found out there was a “strike” on the 15th because workers in the airports were not satisfied with the retirement situation.  So, on the 15th my flight in the morning was completely canceled.  My friend, Luz, came running into the hostel saying the only flight she could reschedule to was on the night of the 17th, meaning we would barely even make it for the 18th, if everything worked out.  I felt like I was going to cry.  I called my family in tears, and my mom and sister were reassuring me that it would be OK, we would have a great time on the 18th.  But, I wanted to be home when I had it planned.  I wanted to hang out with my sister all day on the 15th, go with my friends to the fondas on the 16th like I had planned, go to an “asado” with them on the 17th.  It was going to be so much fun.  I felt crushed, I felt like it was all completely out of my control.

Woah.  Talk about a change of plans.  Talk about trusting in His timing.  Talk about talking the talk but not following through with my words.  I took a deep breath, calmed down, laughed a little bit with my friends, and tried really hard to realize that there was absolutely nothing I could do.  There have definitely been worse things.

So, there we were.  Luz, Chloe, and I in a new hostel, in San Pedro, for a little longer than expected.  We relaxed and slept and read and walked around and talked about anything and everything.  I learned a lot about the patience I’m developing and still need to develop.  Then, we got a call on the night of the 15th that maybe, just maybe, we could get a 9am flight the next morning.  We talked to the people on the phone, and they told us that we were in fact confirmed for the flight the next morning.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t ecstatic.

We got to the airpot at 6:30am the next day, they proceeded to tell us we weren’t on the 9am flight, but they would put us on the 2pm flight.  I could deal with that.  We waited upstairs until about 1:30pm and thought it was a little strange that no one was up there.  Until we looked downstairs at a mob of people yelling at the ticket counter, because the 2pm flight happened to just be completely cancelled.  That’s when they told us no flights were actually confirmed until the 21st. The 21st.  Now, I’m a somewhat flexible person, but this flat out scared me.  I don’t think I could do 6 nights, 6 days in an airport.  It was a struggle, but we got boarding passes for the 10:55 flight that night.  It was a long day.  Oh, and don’t forget about the earthquake that also happened that night.  It was getting to the point where it was extremely comical how many more things could happen.  I have honestly never laughed so hard when we found out there was an earthquake on the news around the world (of course after we made sure our families and friends were all completely fine).

The biggest thing I learned from my airport extravaganza was definitely how humor changes situations like this.  It’s normal to be upset, frustrated, scared, and everything in between.  But in the end, it’s up to you to decide what emotions you display.  And, just sitting there laughing with my friends on hour 16 in the airport, partly delirious and extremely tired, was joyful and happy, in a lot of ways.

When I finally saw my family on the morning of the 17th, I started bawling when I saw my sister.  That’s not something I usually do, but I think it was all the emotions and tears I wanted to cry the past three days coming out.  It’s so true that you don’t realize how good you have it until you don’t have it.  And, when I wasn’t with my sweet family in Valpo for those six days, I missed them so much, and I was so happy and blessed to be back home.  I have built myself a life here, a home, and this is the first time I truly appreciated it as much as I should always.

The next few days were full of birthday parties, lots of family time, fairs (fondas), barbeques (asados), Chilean pride, dancing, 18th love, so many new words and new friends.  Topped off with spending the night at a farm house in Quillota with all of my Chilean friends. This resulted into a very content and tired Smith on Monday morning.

So, it was a good 10 days, definitely some of the happiest I’ve had.  I’m a lucky girl to call some pretty awesome people here friends and family.  I have been showered with more blessings than I deserve.  For now, I’m back to “normal” life, which includes classes and volunteering. But, every day is here is still new and full of adventure.  I just have this feeling in my stomach that I can’t describe, of pure happiness, when I think about the past ten days and the time I had with people I love.  And about all that will happen in the future.  And, for that, I can’t stop thinking, “I’m so lucky.”


mi familia

 Welcome to my blog, and I can't wait to share my adventures with all of you.  I have been in Chile for almost a month now and have already written some things down, so here's what I've been up to.  Thanks for stopping by, nos vemos! 


August 3, 2015


On Saturday morning at 10:30 am, I met the four people that I was told would be my “family” for the next five months of my life.  Little did I know how quickly that word “family” would become so real.  The past two days have been filled with shopping, amor, markets, malls, fiestas, movies, abuelos, primos, friends, tacos, cookies, bread, and lots and lots of spanish.  And, I’ve honestly loved every second.  The Ramirez Cabrera family has immediately made me one of their own.  I sort of expected to be treated as an outsider, having questions pounded at me constantly.  But as a total 360, these four people haven’t changed anything about their lives for me but simply have opened up their hearts and their daily life to include me in it.  It’s not a vacation, I’m living the daily life as any other Chilean would.  From the moment they picked me up in their car, we went straight to the supermarket to pick up some things, drove to a gas station, went to the grocery store, went to a salon to get haircuts, ate some lunch, went out to run some more errands, and then got ready for Andres’ (my host brother) 19th birthday party.  At lunch, the nine people sitting around me (there were family friends too) were having full conversations about their past vacations, talking about “The Voice Chile,” like they would any other day.  I could sit there, take it in, participate in conversation when I wanted, and I was perfectly content.  I didn’t want it to be “The Smith Show.” I wanted it to be a normal family lunch, and that’s exactly what it was.  They are proceeding with their day to day life, and I am lucky enough to get to hop on for the ride.

Ximena or “Xime.” She is an incredible mother.  From the way she talks about her kids, you can tell she loves them with every bit of her heart.  She is very talkative, genuinely kind, and giving.  From the second I got here, she has called me her “hija” “niña” and “amor,” making this transition easier for me in every way.  It’s nice to have someone here that I can always turn to if I need it.


Claudio.  He’s a proud dad.  He’s definitely quiet, but you can tell with every word he says he cares so so much.  He always makes sure I have all the food I want (which has been more than enough).  When talking about his son, his words were genuine and his face was glowing.  Oh, and he walks really really fast.  We already have an inside joke about it.

Andrés.  This 19-year-old (as of yesterday) reminds me a lot of my brothers back at home.  He plays rugby and has lots and lots of friends.  He talks really fast.  And, he has also made me feel extremely comfortable here, walking the 30 minutes to the university and back with me, showing me how to use the micro, teaching me some engineering stuff, and asking me a lot of questions.  He’s an extremely genuine and kind person.

Constanza (but everyone calls her Coty).  She’s the little sister I never had, and I love her dearly.  On the first night, she slept in my room with me just because we wanted to.  We have gone to the mall, watched four movies back to back, and have spent every minute we can together.  Just talking to her constantly has improved my Spanish so much, and her hugs make me feel right at home.


Don’t worry Mom, Dad, Whid, and Joe.  No one will replace y’all.  I miss you all dearly!  There really is no place like home, but I think you have to live somewhere else for awhile to realize that.  For now, I’m loving trying something new, forcing myself to adapt to a situation that is unfamiliar.  And, I’m so so lucky that these are the people I get to surround myself with everyday and make Chile feel like home.

Bye for now,




a different type

Sometimes I have a small surge of guilt go through my mind. When I am in my bedroom reading a good book, hanging out with my family, or taking a nap, sometimes I feel like I am not doing everything I could be doing. When I wake up from that nap I automatically think ‘oh my god I’m in a different country why am I sleeping through the day?’. After all, I am traveling, but this is such a different concept of traveling I have ever done before. 

Traveling to a country for a week and traveling for five months is a different definition. My ‘traveling’ right now is having keys to a house, not to a hotel room. Having a room I can call my own, with all of my belongings from my old room, plus new ones from the month I’ve been here. I have parents that have rules. I am not traveling; I am living.

So as today, where I sat in bed with my host mom watching Chilean TV, talking, knitting (yes that did happen) in our PJs is that really bad? Should I be going to every museum and running around Valparaíso every day checking the sites off the list? 

This type of travel is new and unfamiliar, but it’s beyond interesting. Every little activity I do with my family, no matter how small is showing an interesting part of their culture- and I am living it. Living this culture is the traveling, and the touristy activities are strung along through my time here, wrapping it up as the best traveling experience I could have ever dreamed of.


A little recap of what I’ve been up to in pictures: 


Had tea with Smith in Plaza Sotomayer in Valparaiso after volunteering:



Went to the ceremony of my host sister’s new uniform for her nutrition school!: 


Went skiing at Portillo in Los Andes (one of the most amazing experiences of my life): 




And this is just a picture of beautiful Valparaiso right next to my house (Smith featured)!

The orange house, Brighton Hotel, in the far left was where we spent our first night in Valparaiso



harina & arena

I make a lot of mistakes, usually a bunch of little things that add up to an unreal amount.  This weekend may have been my record.  But in spite of it all, I can say it brought a lot of laughter: to my Chilean family and to you Chloe (why do you put up with me).  This simple theme of learning to "laugh it off" is simple, maybe even seen as unsophisticated, but it's important.  Important enough to carry me through many situations where I could become aggravated, upset, frustrated, the list goes on.  And usually I experience those feelings.  But, it's hard to be upset when you have a bunch of laughing and loving people surrounding you, lifting you up patiently.  I seriously commend them for their patience. 

I will never ever forget the difference between these two words: harina and arena.  On Saturday night, my host mom called me downstairs to go and get her two bags of "harina" from my grandpa next door.  No problem.  I don't really know what harina is, but I have a feeling it has something to do with cooking empanadas.  So, I go over to my adorable 95-year-old abuelito's house and ask for some "harina."  Obviously, my pronunciation wasn't perfect because as soon as I know it I get taken into an outdoor garage next door that contains a huge bag of brown sand.  I was confused, but he insisted that I get a bag of it to take back home.  So, there I was, with my hands in the sand transferring it to a small grocery bag, wondering what these empanadas were going to taste like.  And, then my sister comes out laughing her head off, saying "Grandpa! We need flour!"  Harina is flour.  Arena is sand.  I could have felt really stupid.  And, well, I definitely did.  But, I have never seen my abuelo laugh that hard.  We all just sat there for five minutes, laughing so so hard.  And, then we went inside and told my mom, and it happened all over again.  There was so much joy and absolutely no room to feel stupid.  These are the moments when you laugh it off, because what else is there to do?  

Or when you accidentally drink the water everyone was putting their hands in to make empanadas, and your whole family laughs even harder.  Or when Chloe and I attempt to ski a run that says "experts only," and the only reason we make it down alive is because of a really nice Chilean named Juan.  Or when I almost had to pay 60,000 pesos for a stolen helmet.  I could go on....

All of these moments make my days full and lively and definitely interesting.  But as annoying or scary in the moment, I'm beyond grateful for the times I choose to laugh it off.  Because those are the ones I remember, what bring joy out of "bad" situations, and what makes you appreciate the people around you.  

And, they also make sure you never forget the meaning of harina and arena.  

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