Saturday, January 28, 2012

Counting down the days

In 9 days I'll be back home.

It's a strange feeling.  I know that it's coming up, but it doesn't quite seem real.  Realizing that it is coming up coupled with having a lot of free time with classes winding down (but not enough free time to do much traveling since I still have morning classes) has left me feeling a bit anxious and not quite sure what to do with myself.  So in order to cope with that I've found myself doing everything I can to come home.

My preparations have included a variety of activities.  I took advantage of my health benefits here and got an eye exam done.  And once again I found out that the phrase "costo cero" (zero cost) does not mean zero cost.  My eye appointment that I scheduled was supposed to be free, but I ended up having to pay about 12.000 pesos (about 24 dollars).  This wouldn't have bothered me too much, but I didn't have the money on me at the time and so I had to reschedule the appointment.  When I went back it was like a typical appointment in the States: The eye doctor's assistant trying to unsuccessfully shoot a puff of air into my eye due to my excessive blinking and sensitivity to light and touch, reading letters off of a chart with one eye covered at a time, and the doctor shining lights into my eyes to check them out.  An interesting difference was that in addition to reading letters off of the chart they also had objects at the end of each line, such as a shoe, a ball, a duck, etc. 

In the end I found out that my prescription hasn't changed at all.  I also found out that sadly I'm not eligible for laser eye surgery becuase my eyes are so bad to qualify.  I was pretty much expecting that response.  I would be lying if I didn't say I was disappointed, but there are much worse things that could happen in life.

I've also been cleaning through my apartment and am getting rid of old things I don't need.  I filled up 4 medium-sized bags with clothing that are a bit worn out or that I don't wear any more.  After a few unsuccessful attempts at getting a donation pick-up company to take the things away, a Chilean friend was over and was able to take the things to share with his family and friends.  I'm also getting rid of a bookcase that is too big for the apartment and will hopefully be getting a smaller one once I get back.

Perhaps the most exciting part of preparing to come home is contacting family and friends and making plans.  It's going to be so great to see everyone I know and be back home around what is familiar to me.  Another part of returning home is going to be shopping for clothing and things at cheap prices and one-stop shopping at places like Target as well as enjoying the food.  I'll also leave the Stone Age with my computer that is dying a slow and painful death (it's 6 years old) and enter modern society with a laptop that has an integrated webcam and microphone.  This will let me Skype with people and be able to see each other while we talk, and it will be awesome to be able to catch up with people.

I'm expecting (and hoping) that these next 9 days will go by quickly.  My bosses are having an office celebration for 3 of us that have February birthdays on Tuesday, and one of my friends and I are having a joint birthday party Saturday night.  A few of my friends aren't able to make it on Saturday, so they suggested going out for drinks on my actual birthday (which is Thursday).

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Visitor, Some Realizations, Finishing Classes, Live Music, and Italian Food

Last weekend I had a visitor for the weekend.  Stefani (who I met in Pichilemu) was finishing up some traveling around South America, and she was going to be in Santiago for the weekend without a place to stay before her flight back to Denmark.  Rather than staying at a hostel I told her we should hang out and she could crash on my couch.

The weekend included a trip to downtown for some shopping, a fruitless attempt at finding chocolate chips to bake cookies (the store I went to before was closed and Lider was sold out of chocolate chips since they were on sale), making M&M cookies instead, lunch at El Aji Seco (a Peruvian restaurant), watching youtube clips (we are both very amused and a bit scared by the honey boo boo child from Toddlers and Tiaras), tanning by the pool, video games, and of course Papa John's.  (Stefani had never had it before).   It was a lot of fun, and I hope to stay in contact and that I can one day visit her in Denmark.

I don't like to talk about negative things on here, but I've come to some realizations in the past few weeks.  I'm not really much for going out late, but it seems the Chileans I know really enjoy partying and going out to discos and bars.  When I first got here I enjoyed going out to get to know people and since it was new, but since then the novelty has worn off.  I've tried extending invitations of lunches, dinners, or coming over to my apartment for drinks, but unfortunately those invitations have gone unacknowledged or  declined over and over again.  I'm realizing that I don't really have too much in common with these people, and so I've decided to try and get to know people that enjoy things other than going out to party.  I've also realized that some people here have had the same friends since elementary school, and so entering a social circle like that isn't always easy.

With being here for almost two years now, I've gotten to meet a good amount of people.  Some people are staying long term like me, while others have come here to study for a semester or year.  Yet others come here traveling through South America or trying their hand at living in another culture while teaching English.  It has become pretty commonplace to meet someone, get to know them, and then find out that they're leaving Santiago.  My first thought is, "But he/she was only here for.....".  Then I realize that for some people a period of 3, 6, or 10 months away from your family and the comforts of home can feel like an eternity.  Some people also are turning the page to end one chapter of their life and are looking forward to starting a new one, whether it be returning to their home country to start a career, go to grad school, or travel to see another part of the world.

I've met some really cool people that have left Santiago, and I'm really enjoying keeping in contact with them.  Although some of them I may not ever see again, it was a cool experience getting to share this experience of living in Santiago.

I'm also realizing that unfortunate situations happen and people have falling outs.  It's a shame that misunderstandings between people sometimes can't be worked out.  I've realized I can't change people's minds and while they may not want to keep in contact, I feel grateful for the relationship we had before then and dediced to end things on a positive note.  It wasn't easy at first, but I realized I feel a lot better reacting in that way and in my opinion being the bigger person.

Talking about relationships ending, I am also finishing a good amount of my classes with my students at Grants English.  I have truly grown to look forward to classes, as we talk about our weekends, traveling around Chile, our families and friends, and our opinions about things happening in the world.  I've debated the student protests and compared private versus public schooling in Chile and the States in one class, and in another class a student told us about the challenges of buying a house and finally buying one and making the move.  I've helped students prepare for presentations in English and prepare for trips to the United States.  Traveling to these classes and chatting with the secretaries and having classes has become a part of my routine, and so not seeing these people is going to be an adjustment for me.  I'm truly thankful for having had such wonderful students, and I'm hoping to stay in contact with them and possibly have future courses with them next year.

On the other side of things, I've been able to reconnect with people after not having had contact for a long time.  With the distance between me and family and friends it's easy to put off staying in contact.  But one thing I've found with true friends and family is that no matter how much time goes by you can always pick up where you left off.

Those of you that know me well know I love classical music, and I was lucky enough to see an impromptu concert on Friday afternoon.  I fnished at class at 6:00 and didn't want to fight the traffic home, so I walked part of the way.  Near the Paris at metro Los Leones I came across a musical group with a handful of violins and violas, a few cellos, a few flutes, and a French horn.  They plaed a classical arrangement of some popular Chilean music, some music from the Nutcracker Suite, the March from Carmen, and the Can Can Dance song (I can't remember the exact title, I think it's Orpheous or something like that).  There was a large crowd surrounding them, and the music was so energizing that the crowd grew bigger and bigger.  A few of the violinists were dancing while they played.  It was a really cool thing to see and made the walk home enjoyable.  I recorded video of it but it wasn't uploading, so I'll try to upload it later.

On the weekend a few of my good friends that I haven't seen in a while came over to visit.  We relaxed by the pool and caught up, and afterwards we went to an Italian restaurant near where I live.  The portions were large, and the service was amazing for Chile.  During our meal a musical group comprised of a violinist, accordian player, and bassist came in and played a few pieces for us.  It was a really nice experience, but unfortunately I forgot my camera.  I'm considering going back there for my birthday next week for dinner.

The next two weeks will include tying up loose ends with paying bills and such while I'm back home, celebrating my 30th birthday, buying gifts to bring back with me, arranging my classes for when I return in March, and enjoying a bit of free time and the summer before returning home to the winter weather.

I'll be landing in New York at about this time in exactly 2 weeks.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A quote and the sunset from my apartment

Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to

you; not because they are nice, but because you are.


Karaoke in the Park, Online Bill Pay, and Counting Down the Days

While people back home are enjoying an usually mild winter, I am in the middle of summer in Santiago.  The summer weather has afforded opportunities for barbeques and parties in the sun, and I went to an event last weekend.

At first it was only for the Spanish/German language exchange, but then the other language groups got in on it too.  It was at a park near the Estacion Central area of Santiago, and I had a great time.  There was plenty of food and drinks, warm weather, plenty of shade sitting under the sun, good company, and karaoke.  I'm not known for having good singing skills, but I sang 99 Luftballoons in German and then Otherside by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  It was great chatting with new people and getting to speak a mix of Spanish, German, and English.

Since I'll be home in 23 days, I've started doing the little things to preapre for the trip.  One of those things is figuring out how I'll pay my bills while I'm gone.  Living on my own no one will be there to get my bills.  I considered leaving a statement with the doormen and finding a friend to pay the bills while I'm gone, but then I found out that I can pay bills online here!

While this certainly doesn't sound like a big deal to most of you, it's something really nice here.  Usually you have to do one of two things to pay your bills here:
1. take your bills to a grocery store, input the information into a computer that then gives you a ticket that verifies the account and amount, and then pay when you check out.
2. take your bills to a bill pay center (here most are called ServiPag) and wait in line from 5 to 25 minutes to pay your bills.

I've gotten used to doing one of the two things listed above, but after poking around on my bank account online I figured out how to pay online.  It's pretty similar to back in the States: create a new payee and indicate the company, account number, etc.  (but here you don't indicate the name on the account or address).  Then verify the amount and pay the bill.

There is one striking difference in regards to security.  In order to pay bills or transfer money out of your account, you need a clave de transferencia or a transfer key.  Here's what it looks like:

For each letter and number combination, there's a 2 digit number in each box.  I've covered up all but the top half for security reasons ;-)  In order to finalize any transfer of money out of your account, the website will ask you for 3 random codes, for example J1 C3 A5.  You then input the matching numbes and your transfer is complete!

From the looks of it, the only bill I can't pay online is my internet, but being able to pay 3 out of 4 isn't bad at all.

Now that it's 2012 and less than a month til I return home, I find that I'm counting down the days.  There's actually 22 days left until I land in the JFK airport in New York.  I just looked at my passport, and I arrived back in Santiago February 4th of last year.  This means that by the time I will arrive back home I will have been outside the United States for a year and 2 days.

That will have been (future perfect for those English teachers out there reading this!) the longest I will have been outside the States.  Prior to this it has been between 7 and 11 months at a time, but never an entire year. 

Each day I find myself looking forward to the visit home: relaxing with my dad watching TV, catching up with my brother and sister in law while their cats wander around and vie for affection, visiting my aunts and uncles, spending time with friends playing video games or Magic.  Then there's the things I miss from home: the one stop shopping and seemingly endless variety of products with cheap prices at Target, having a car to get around, good customer service, clean air, TV with clear reception, Panera Bread, In n Out Burger, Philly pretzels, pizza steaks, good clothing at affordable prices.  I'm sure there's more, but I think you get the idea.

On Wednesday I decided to treat myself since I was hungry and craving a hamburger and free refills.  There's a chain restaurant called Mamut that's very Americanized, with burgers, fries, and free refills.  I've eaten here a few times before. 

And here are a few random pictures I forgot to post earlier:
Christmas gifts from some of my students: Bailey's Irish Cream, chocolates from Valdivia, and tea

Metro Tobalaba.  The blue lights and modern appearance makes me feel like I'm in an episode of StarTrek.
 That's all for now.  I hope everyone's 2012 is off to a good start!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Student Protests Documentary

Well, the student protests are over.  For now. 

I came across this on a friend's Facebook page, and it gives insight and first-hand footage about the student protests.  It's intriguing, and so anyone interested in issues of education, politics, and social justice will enjoy it.  It's only about 24 minutes long, so if you have the time to spare I think you'll enjoy it.

And without futher adeiu, Chile Rising:

Permanent Residency Visa Approved and Pictures

My visa has been approved!!!!!

I got home from class around 9:30, and as I chatted with the doorman I noticed the notorious brown envelope sitting in my box.  I eyed it as he asked me about my New Year, and after a few minutes I got to ask him for it.

I ripped it open to find out that my visa has been approved and is being processed.  It's such a relief, as last year I got a phone call when I was at the airport on my way home that my visa last year was missing documents and I'd have to resubmit it once I was back.

So what does having a permanent residency visa do for me?  I'm not 100% sure about all of these, but here goes:

1. I don't have to renew my visa for 5 years.
2. I can vote in Chilean elections.
3. I can probably get a credit card here.  (I already have a bank account)

A friend came over, and we celebrated with some drinks, chips, and by playing Wii.

So after my text-heavy last some I wanted to put up some pictures.  So here they are:

Meeting up with Stefanie after our Pichilemu adventures

Some late arriving Christmas gifts

On the bus to Viña del Mar for New Years

Viña del Mar

This looks like a normal meal, but what´s missing?
The mayonaise of course!  They love their mayonaise here!

At the beach on New Years Eve

dinner cooking

preparing dinner

Aren´t you getting hungry?

Yes, that´s corn with mayonaise.

On the rooftop awaiting the fireworks

Some champagne to celebrate

shortly before the fireworks