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Gap Year Abroad

6 posts categorized "Chloe Williams"


it's called living


Today was the first day I saw my host sister cry. We were all having our normal Sunday lunch with the whole family, and I noticed immediately how upset she was. Her normal buoyancy and lighthearted comments weren’t there. When my host dad asked what was wrong she starting talking very fast and very quietly until her words were masked by her tears. I couldn’t understand her muffled Spanish completely, and was stuck between asking more questions to find out what was wrong and giving her space. I realized the struggle of the place I have in a host family. It’s unbelievably complicated. You’re a friend to your host sister, but also a sister, but also an outsider that never knows when it’s your place. I felt a little on the outside during the rest of almuerzo not knowing my place in this complicated situation. 

Later, my host sister came into my room and we began talking as we always do. I trotted carefully in our conversation, not wanting to ask what was wrong. But then she told me. She spilled all about her problems, both boyfriend, family, and school. I felt so touched afterward, nearly on the point of tears. My previous thoughts of being separated from the family were completely washed away. I felt closer than ever to my host family, and I know more than ever that I am an accepted part in their family.

Being part of a host family is complicated and strange. You’re partially adopted, partially a visitor for just a long amount of time. I have seen my parents bicker, my siblings scream at each other, my brother bring home different girlfriends (much to my parents annoyance), spent time with my sister’s boyfriend, met cousins after cousins, talked with family friends, spent whole cold days with my host mom in her bed, painting with my dad late into the night. Over long conversations you become friends. You learn about each other’s past, what they hate, what they love. You learn who they are and who they are becoming. Over 6 months of being together, you become part of their family. When these things happen in my life here I escape the word “traveling”. I live here. Yet we all know it is going to end. It’s a weird concept and how to go about living for only 5 to 6 months in a different place is challenging. To immerse yourself completely or to stand off guard knowing it will end in a few months? Though the question is hard, the answer is so simple. I want to have a life here, and although it will be painful when I return to the United States, I will know my experience in Chile was truly amazing.


Feliz Cumpleaños

Never before had I been sung Happy Birthday in three different languages from a table full of homemade cakes and completos. The orange-walled house was bubbling with warmth from all the family and friends that came to wish me a feliz cumpleaños. The table in our house kept cycling through new people who came to wish me a great birthday, give me a kiss on the cheek and drop off a small present. My host mom had decorated my birthday with love and Feliz Cumpleaños!!  signs around my room and around my house that only began to demonstrate how much she cared for me. 

From the moment I woke up, as my host mom had told me the day before, we celebrated my birthday the Chilean way. That entails, as I soon learned, a yummy once (a small dinner, much like English tea time) with lots of tea, completos (the Chilean hot dog with avocado, tomato, and mayonnaise, or any combination of the three), and many many sweats hidden around the house. The people, at around 7 at night, arrive and sit and talk for many hours enjoying all the food my host mom kept cooking. The house was full of laughter, which is everything I ever wanted on my birthday. She cooked all day to celebrate with many people and share our house and my 18th birthday with so many people that matter to me and others that I did not even know but approached me with equal love. The amount of love I received on my birthday is inexplicable. It was truly beautiful, and I will be forever thankful for the unique experience I received on my 18th birthday. 

This is my Chilean family on my birthday:



I think it's amazing that I was fortunate enough to be able to celebrate my 18th in a country where 18 means so much! I will remember this day for the rest of my life:) 


Also my parents from the United States were able to join my Chilean family and friends!:


If you look you can see everyone has a cup ready for tea, my beautiful chocolate cake, small completos (they look like hotdogs) and so many small dulces (candies) that I still haven't finished eating! 

It was a beautiful day- thank you to everyone who made it what it was. 


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.


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



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.

Gap Bloggers

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  • 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