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Gap Year Abroad

3 posts from October 2015


una vida tranquila

Something I’ve been hearing a lot about recently, and have been struggling with and thinking about, is the decision between staying with your roots, staying with your past, or going forward with your own dreams.  This past weekend in Chiloe (a beautiful island in the south of Chile), “Don Juan,” as we called him, made this so real.

All 50 of my lovely compañeros and I were invited to the small house of people we had never met, who would serve us the largest amount of food I’ve laid eyes on and open up their house to us for the entire afternoon.  Talk about hospitality.  But just chatting with this lovely couple quickly shifted my vision to see that they were happy to.  If it meant that they could share their life, their passion, their story with us.

Don Juan was a soft-spoken man.  But, once you got him in a small group he could talk and talk about everything he was so proud of.  His personal rock collection, his animals on his farm in the backyard, all the plants that he grows and grows year round.  Emily and I happened to get talking to him, and he had us follow him back farther in his “granja” (farm).  We were hopping over fences, learning new vegetable names, and you could just tell from the way he spoke and the look in his eyes that this was his life.  And, he was so proud of it.  We eventually got back to a little bench hidden next to a river where he invited us to sit down.  He told us that they come out here to eat “once” (dinner) every once in a while.  He then went on to tell us that his three sons are all spread around the country now.  Some up in Santiago, some in other parts, graduated from school, working on their “real” careers.  First, the indigenous language down in Chiloe has almost disappeared, because there was no reason for these generations to learn it.  Now, the young people have no interest in working on the farm, taking over the business.  Don Juan told us one thing that day that I won’t forget for a long time.

“The farm life is one where we work really hard, all day.  But, it’s a calm life.  We eat the food we grow.  We talk to each other.  There is culture here that is slipping away.  And, when I die, there won’t be anyone to take over the farm.  And I don’t know what will happen.”  

There is something so beautiful and tragic about this.  I, initially, felt the pain that Don Juan carries heavy, heavy in his heart…and I still do.  You think about the culture there and how much it matters and should always matter.  And, then you also think about his sons.  About how I’m sure they just want to pursue what they love, and it happens to not be the same as what their father loves.  You think about working on a farm for the rest of your life.  There’s a point where selfishness is not even a word that should enter your mind.  Because, I can’t say that I would make a different decision in any way.

The outcome is a struggle between maintaining culture and sticking with familyor pursuing your own dreams and doing what you think will impact the world for the better.  And, it got me thinking.

So, thanks Don for getting me thinking.  And, for opening up your house to us.  It’s not a day I’ll forget in a long time.


Below are a few more pictures from the awesome trip just for kicks.  Always thinking about Atlanta and home and friends and family.  Sending much love and many prayers from Chile every single day.




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The Unforgiving Desert

Just about a month ago I was lucky enough to travel with some friends from the program to a town called San Pedro de Atacama. Way up north near Bolivia, this small town has buildings made of clay, dusty roads, and skies that are forever blue. Filled with hippies and tourists the city is alive and in a location that is unlike anywhere else. Smith and I stayed in a super relaxed and fun hostal with some other people from our program and we packed our days with seeing the beautiful Atacama desert.

Though I spent probably way too much money, the four days I spent exploring by hiking, biking, and  4 am wake up calls to see geysers were worth every peso. Pictures and description do no good in feeling the fast landscape difference that makes you feel like a Martian. But anyway, here are some pictures of the adventures:





Probably the best part of this story though is probably the time when we tried to get back to Valparaíso. In short, we knew the night before our flight there was a strike (there is always a strike somewhere in Chile) in the airports. And we thought it’d be fine, we’d make it out. We then get a call that no flights are flying out tomorrow. The next posible flight was three days later, and there were no 24 hour buses going down for another 6 days. But the hostal where we were staying didn’t have space either. So walking around the town we found another hostal, paid for two more nights and starting buying food to cook the next few days. Annoyed and sad we wouldn’t be able to celebrate the independence day with our host families we tried to distract ourselves while spending the least amount of money. Luckily, Smith and I had our friend Luz from the program who is a native Spanish speaker that could argue way better than Smith and I combined. She got us a flight for the next morning, but when we got to the airport she didn’t exist in the computers. Many miscommunications later we didn’t get a flight until 10:45 that night. We were on about three planes that day, the first we opted not to leave Luz behind, the second didn’t show up (like at all), and the last was simply cancelled, but finally we got on the one at 10:45.

But there was a huge earthquake that hit central Chile (where we were flying into) really hard. So the airport announced that they didn’t know if we could fly into Santiago then because of the huge shaking of the earth that just happened! But we did. Luckily my family in Valparaíso was safe from the earthquake and high enough in the hills that we didn't need to worry about a tsunami.

That night we were on a plane after nearly 14 hours of sitting in the airport awaiting flight after flight. By this point I didn’t really mind, I just hoped everyone was safe from the earthquake. I read an entire book in the airport and lost my earphones. But what an experience right? I couldn’t help but laugh at absolutely everything that was miscommunicated and went wrong during those two days we were trying to get out of the desert.


conversion of the 'non-hugger'

I was known in my friend group as the "non-hugger."  I love my friends, but they grew to realize that I was not one to display my love through touch.  Ever since I was little, I was never a big hugger or cuddler or anyone that showed affection in that way.  Of course, there are times where I need a long hug from a best friend, but for the most part, I have always been like this.  And, I never really thought it was a problem, I just thought, it's the way I do things.

In Chile, personal space is different in a lot of ways.  The normal greeting for every single person you meet, no matter if you've never met them, is a hug and kiss on the cheek.  It is a normal occurrence for my whole family, all 5 of us, to get into my parents bed and watch a movie.  Touch and closeness is how I have found Chileans show love, connectedness, togetherness.  And even if some of these things are different than everything I know, it's how to display love.  And I love these people.

I was with some of my Chilean friends, and they were telling me their interactions with other "gringas" have been more cold and very much so non-touchy.  They were surprised that I would even give hugs, and I'm glad to change their perspective, even if just a little bit.  It's normal, and in fact healthy, to give a friend a long hug, to hold their hand when they're hurt, to cuddle and watch a movie.  And, I've grown accustomed to living in this more affectionate way, and in-fact, even enjoy it.  I know my parents won't believe it.

So, I've found myself hugging more, cuddling more, pushing myself more.  Not because I'm trying to change who I am, but for love.  Because they deserve to know, in their own way, how much they mean to me.

I've noticed that people here express emotion on the outside.  You tell someone if you've hurt them, if you're upset, if you're grateful.  Words are powerful.  And throughout the past two months, I have had to apologize in Spanish, explain myself in Spanish, express how grateful I am in Spanish, make people feel better in Spanish, and all in all, show emotion in Spanish.  I'm not using my second language to take a test or have a conversation with the automated lady on the AP exam.  I'm using it to make friends, to apologize for being a bad sister, to stop the tears of a little girl at volunteer, to express my love.  And, this is a tool.  A tool that makes expressing emotion in English seem almost easy. Because if I can do all of that in Spanish, I can certainly explain myself to my grandparents, tell my parents how much I love them, and apologize to my friends for not always being there in my first language.  And, relationships really do grow when you start talking (and I mean really talking).  About how you feel, about how sorry you are, about how much you love the other person.

I've still got a long way to go.  Whether it's through words or touch, I will keep making mistakes.  And not show enough affection, and hurt people and not have the words to apologize.  But, I know that it gets better. I know that a lot of people have given me second chances.  And for that, I'll go give a few more hugs and say a few more 'Thank you's."

Gap Bloggers

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  • 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