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Emma Johnson – Chile


Name: Emma Johnson

Host Country: Chile

Host District:

Host Club:

Sponsor Club: Circleville Sunrise

School: Westfall High School

Hola, my name is Emma Lynne Johnson and thanks to the wonderful members of Circleville Sunrise Rotary, I will be taking a gap year to be a Rotary Youth Exchange Student in Maípu, Chile! The Rotary Club of San Bernardo in District 4340 will be hosting me in their beautiful country which will allow me to be immersed in the Chilean culture and gain fluency in Spanish. I graduated from Westfall High School in May of 2016 and over the past four years I have been active in varsity golf and track, marching band, musical, prom committee, school newspaper, FFA, 4-H, and church youth group. During my junior year of high school, I had the opportunity to travel with my school’s Spanish Club to Costa Rica. I had never been out of the country prior to this trip, and although short, every part of it amazed me, even when I caught a mystery jungle stomach bug! After attending District 6690’s Rotary Youth Leadership Award (RYLA) conference in the same summer, I learned of the opportunity to do a gap year through Rotary Youth Exchange. Circleville Sunrise Rotary awarded me the Rotary Youth Exchange Scholarship valued at over $24,000 and before I knew it, I was listening to Chilean radio and trying to decipher the difference between game shows, sports announcers, and morning talk shows. I am excited to see my knowledge and understanding of this new culture and language evolve over the next year and also to share my experiences with everyone! ¡Disfruten lo que escribo!

 

September 1

In the past week since arriving here in Maipú, Chile, I have experienced so many new and wonderful things.  I am so grateful for your support of my dream to spend a year as a Rotary Youth Exchange student.  My plane landed in Santiago, Chile on Saturday, August 20 and I was quickly met by an excited group of Rotarians.  Exchange students from Brazil, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, New Zealand, Switzerland, and the U.S.A. and myself were taken to an orientation at the base of the Andes mountains.  We spent one night there going over guidelines and the three trips we will take to Easter Island, Patagonia, and the Atacama Desert during our exchange.  On Sunday we were finally introduced to our host families and I excitedly ran off the bus to finally meet the Leal family.  In the days since first meeting my wonderful host family, my host mother has taken me into downtown Santiago to obtain documents that will allow me to stay in Chile as a student, I have learned some of the unique Chilean vocabulary, joined my host Rotary club of San Bernardo for lunch, and attended my first day of school at Colegio Castelgandolfo.  As I introduce myself as being from Ohio in the United States, I am continually amazed by the little facts that people know about Ohio.  For example, one of my classmates has a brother who is currently attending the University of Rio Grande.  When I trade pins with other exchange students and explain the pumpkin on my pins, they are always so interested to hear of our beloved Pumpkin Show.  I hope the summer heat of Ohio is starting to wind down, I am currently experiencing the exact opposite, Chilean winter! I cannot wait to experience everything else Chile has to offer and will be ready to share it with you!  If you would like to see pictures from my first few days in Chile, they can be found on my blog at aventurasdeemma.wordpress.com. ¡Ciao!

 

October 1 

It is truly amazing how time flies when you are an exchange student!  I have already been in Chile for over one month!  Much of the time since I last wrote has been spent celebrating Chile’s Independence Day, Fiestas Patrias, celebrated on September 18th. On that day in 1810, the proclamation of the First Governing Body occurred, which marked the beginning of the Chilean independence process. The community I live in, Ciudad Satelite, started the festivities off early with a show of traditional Chilean dances and a parade of local law enforcement and different community groups.   I even got to see horses for the first time since arriving!  I was most shocked by the women in the parade wearing impressively high heels, as is typical of most females in Chile.  Each of them walked gracefully in the procession, despite the cracks and potholes in the pavement.

 I have been attending Colegio Castelgandolfo, a high school, and even at school we have participated in the excitement of Fiestas Patrias.  My classmates and I hung multi-colored paper chains in intricately cut designs in our classroom and made red and green paper copihues, Chile’s national flower.  At 5’8, I am constantly reminded how tall I am in comparison to my classmates when I have to duck under the decorations and they walk under without incident.

In the beginning of September, my host parents, Patricio and Mireya, and I drove to the city of Viña del Mar to pick up my host sister from university.  This quick road trip gave me the chance to walk along the beautiful sandy beach, finally try empanadas, and meet my host sibling’s cousin who is a dual citizen of Chile and the United States.

In the week leading up to the Fiestas Patrias, the Rotary Club of San Bernardo had a wonderful celebration for Fiestas Patrias with prominent military personnel in attendance and enough traditional food that some Rotarians took doggy bags.  My school had a day long program of groups of students dancing some of the many different traditional dances from Chile’s diverse regions and culture.  The dances ranged from adorably dressed preschoolers doing their best to follow their teacher’s direction, but usually finding the large audience much more entertaining all the way to the oldest students dancing the cueca with their mother, father, or older sibling.  After the program was over, my classmates and I enjoyed homemade empanadas and cake that one of the class mothers provided.

Although Fiestas Patrias fell on a Sunday, my school let out early on Friday and did not have school for an entire week after the holiday.  Over the vacation, my host family took me to visit family out in the country, attended two different fondas (or festivals) one similar in size to the Deercreek Dam Days, and the other as large as the Ohio State Fair, and we enjoyed a large menu of meat and other dishes at asados (or barbecues).

After the holiday had concluded, I obtained my Chilean ID card, tried my hand at baking chocolate chip cookies (a very uncommon baked good here). We also toured downtown Santiago with my hosting Rotary district and fellow exchange students in a double decker bus. I am so glad I can share my experience with the wonderful group of Rotarians who have made it possible for me! If you would like to see pictures from my journey, I post many on my blog, aventurasdeemma.wordpress.com.  May you experience adventures as wonderful as mine!  Chao!

 

November 1

I hope this update of my experience in Chile finds you enjoying fall in Ohio and (hopefully) relaxing after the rush of activity for the Circleville Pumpkin Show.  I hope it was successful for you and as wonderful as ever!  The month of October flew by for me here in Chile (I am realizing that time seems to do that constantly on exchange)!  I love that after just leaving summer weather in August, it is heating up here again.  The spring scents of fresh cut grass and flowering trees are some of my favorite, but I must say, Halloween is very strange when the leaves are green!

At the beginning of the month, my school had a wonderful day long festival.  Parents of students from each of the grades set up tents within the school grounds to sell a large variety of typical Chilean foods and carnival style games to entertain the little ones.  All the proceeds from the event went back to each class’s treasury to support various activities throughout the school year.  My host Mom sold mote con huesillo, a typical Chilean beverage with peach juice, cooked wheat, and a large chunk of dried peach.  I enjoyed many different foods and a program of traditional dance performances and two different bands.

I discovered that an exchange student from Germany lives just three minutes from my house! She and I have wandered around our community together, trying out the outdoor exercise equipment that is so common in Chile, and figuring out the public transportation system in order to get to the local mall.  I also had the chance to spend time with another exchange student who is from Michigan (one of my first questions when I met her was if she is a Michigan fan, she isn’t!).  Her host family took the two of us to a local zoo on a day off from school and I was amazed by the size of the zoo!  We spent hours there wandering around and there is still more left to discover.  Our favorite part was by far the petting zoo with a large variety of highly docile livestock including a sleeping alpaca, piglets, and a menagerie of horses.  It was nice to see some animals that looked familiar for the first time in a few months! We also baked and iced Halloween cupcakes to try to get into the spirit of the season that we both miss so much (it is spring here right now and Halloween is not as widely celebrated as in the United States).

In school, my classmates and I spent weeks on a project on stress relief making mandalas with burlap and yarn.  The project was sort of like sewing and required a large amount of attention to detail, we would often sit in class and work on them while listening to a teacher give a lecture on a new topic.  As our teacher graded them, she noted that the students who had mandalas with incredibly tight stitching in places were stressed or preoccupied when they worked on it.  I appreciated the hands-on approach to learning about mindfulness and healthy ways of relieving stress.  From my four years as a high school student I

know very well how important it is to be able to find positive ways to forget about homework, college, and even extracurriculars sometimes.

I also acted as the cameraman for my classmates Language project to reenact a book they had been reading.  We all found it hard to hold back laughter because of the ridiculousness of the costumes and the acting.  Two of the three girls dressed as men, complete with terribly applied black inky eyebrows and facial hair.  Such a video was helpful to my language skills because it made the process entertaining and memorable.

Being an eighteen-year-old, I could vote in my first U.S. general election and submitted my absentee ballot earlier this month!  I recently checked the status and was very relieved to see that the Pickaway County Board of Elections has already received it!  I have found it very interesting that our election is more publicized in the news here than the Chilean election, which just occurred this past Sunday.  My host dad has done some research beyond the nightly news here and he asked me if I had any relation to the third-party candidate that I share a last name with.  Not that I know of, but the Johnson name in America is about as common as the Rodriguez name is in Chile.

I traveled north five and a half hours by bus to La Serena with my hosting Rotary district here and a few dozen other exchange students.  We spent four days there enjoying the contrasting beauty of the ocean and mountains, some covered with cacti and others with wild goats and donkeys!  One of the highlights of the trip for me was visiting an observatory, this area being considered one of the best places in the world to view stars and planets because of the lack of light pollution.  We were even able to view Saturn and its rings! My exchange friend, Jansen Stroh, also from Ohio’s Rotary District 6690, lives in La Serena and surprised me by joining us for most of the trip.  It was so nice to see a familiar face from home!

To wrap up the month of October, my school, Colegio Castelgandolfo, celebrated its 20

th anniversary.  It is common in Chile for every school to celebrate its anniversary with competitions between different teams.  My school was divided into two teams this year, the past and the future.  My team’s theme to go along with the “past” was the Flintstones.  The team of the future used Futurama, The Hunger Games, and other futuristiccinema or movie? themes.  The week was full of choreographed dances by both students and teachers, sport competitions, and decorations everywhere we looked.  I enjoyed every part of the week but my favorite is a tradition that the “seniors” or students in the grade Cuarto Medio carry on each year.  They create a performance including dancing, acting, singing, and lip-syncing to show what their time at the school has been like.  My favorite performance was a timeline of sorts, starting with the students sitting in tiny chairs at tiny desks with their preschool teacher.  By the end of the skit, everyone was crying, including the class’s homeroom teacher that they have had for the past several years.  I told one of my classmates that they must send me a video of their class’s skit next October since I cannot wait to see what they come up with.

I hope you have enjoyed this update of my time in Chile! I will soon be updating my blog at aventuresdeemma.wordpress.com with more on my adventures and plenty of pictures. Until next time: Chao!

December 1

I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving back in Ohio! November has been a crazy month here and I should have foreseen this when it started out with experiencing my first seismic tremor!  At the epicenter, it was 6.4 magnitude and luckily no injuries or damage were reported.  I had just told one of my classmates that I wanted to feel a little earthquake before leaving Chile because they often occur overnight and most people do not wake up.  I was heating up food in the microwave when I noticed that the plates and glasses in the cabinet were shaking.  I quickly turned off the microwave because I thought something was wrong with it, but when I looked out the window, I saw that the flowers were vibrating as well.  My classmates and teachers wanted to make sure I wasn’t scared during the tremor and gave me a detailed explanation of what to do if a stronger earthquake occurs.

School is wrapping up for the year here in Chile and my summer vacation will start in December.  Because of this, there have been many different events going on at school.  The “seniors” (called Cuarto Medio) finished school earlier in November to prepare for national testing (somewhat similar to the ACT and SAT).  It is traditional for the class that is below them to make a sort of going away present and plan a party for their last day called a Despedida (farewell in English).  My class handmade dolls for all the students and I helped with stuffing, sewing, and gluing on the yarn for hair.  I was really impressed with the amount of time, effort, and money that my classmates dedicated to giving the students of Cuarto Medio a good send off.

This week in my school is Semana de Historia (History Week) and the younger students have a new event planned for each day. Many of the students wore traditional historical costumes of a country on their continent which made it even more interesting.  I really enjoyed walking around to their displays about each of the world continents and I even learned some new facts!

My host club, San Bernardo Rotary hosted a Bingo night to raise money for the work they do in the community.  The grand prize was an all-expense paid trip to Argentina which drew quite a crowd.  I played with my host family and realized that it was a great way to practice larger numbers in Spanish.  Although we did not win the trip, we did win some plants for my host mother’s garden!  I helped another Rotary Club, the Rotary Club of Peñalolén, with horse therapy at a local farm.  I was so happy to help people while also working with the gentle giants.  I realized while walking next to the horses and helping the therapists with patients of all ages, that animals really have a calming effect on most everyone.  I attended Rotary District 4340’s Rotaract conference with Rotaract members of my host club.  I was so glad I attended because I had a lot of practice comprehending different Spanish speakers and I also met some really interesting people.  One of the most memorable is a woman born in Germany, residing in Switzerland, and now staying with family members who arrived in Chile many generations ago. She is now here on a work assignment for several months and I enjoyed getting to know her immensely!

November has been a month full of new culinary experiences for me!  One of my friends from school here, Francisca, took me to the largest chain supermarket in another city.  She had told me that they were likely to have some foods that I missed from home and we also wanted to make a recipe to eat.  I was so amazed by the size and selection that they had, I had imagined it to be like Walmart, but it must have been two or three times the size.  I finally found peanut butter and cheddar cheese, two foods that I have missed.  We decided on a simple Chilean recipe for a dessert called Cocadas.  They were incredibly easy and delicious! They are made of crushed sweet crackers, rolled in manjar (dulce de leche, made with a base of milk as opposed to a base of water for caramel), and then covered in coconut flakes.  I will definitely have to make these when I return to the U.S.  On Thanksgiving I wanted a little taste of home, but with limited supply of typical Thanksgiving food, I had to get creative.  I found a simple recipe for microwave apple crisp and I was a little weary of something that could be cooked entirely in the microwave but I went for it.  The result smelled and tasted amazing and my host family finished the entire dish so I think they liked it!  We celebrated my host mother’s birthday this past weekend and I surprised myself by trying two different kinds of shrimp (and enjoying them!) without anyone talking me into it.  When I told my host family that I never ate shrimp in the U.S., they almost dropped their utensils.  I now eat seafood at most every opportunity because with a country as narrow as Chile, the fish is always fresh and delicious.

I hope all of you enjoy the month of December and have a Merry Christmas! I will be experiencing my first December in 80° temperatures, that is about 27° Celsius!

January 1

I am hoping it has been a wonderful Christmas season for you and your loved ones!  I have had my busiest month yet here in Chile!  School ended here in the beginning of the month and I packed a bag to fly all the way to Easter Island with Rotarians and other exchange students! Visiting such a unique place was surreal for me, starting with landing on the tarmac just a couple hundred feet from the ocean and walking outside before entering the smallest, most adorable airport I have ever seen.  Our time on the island was spent touring different locations of Moais (the large, hand carved stone heads that (surprise!) also have bodies), hiking along the ocean and vast farmland, caving in several locations, including one with a window out to the ocean, swimming at a pristine white sand beach, exploring the quaint island town, and enjoying two Rapa Nui dance shows.  Even though I was so far from home, I really enjoyed the hundreds of horses and cattle that were allowed to roam almost everywhere!  Through listening to different local tour guides, eating locally grown and prepared food, and watching traditional dance, I really got a feel for the unique history and culture of the people of Isla de Pascua (Easter Island).

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After returning from Easter Island at 5:00am, I had just one day to repack my bag before leaving again for a school class trip, called a “gira”.  My classmates, homeroom teacher, two parent chaperones, and I flew to the town of Puerto Montt before taking a bus over the border of Argentina.  Before crossing the border, I finally understood why all the milk cartons here say that the product originates from family farms in the south of Chile.  There were small dairy cattle farms everywhere, along with beef cattle, sheep, and horse farms too.  We stayed in the lakeside, skiing town of Bariloche and over our four day stay, we took a catamaran to the nearby island of Victoria and walked amongst many types of vegetation, some even introduced from the United States, toured a chocolate factory (a product for which the town is famous), rode down an enormous mountainside slide, participated in unique outdoor group activities (and I have the bruises and scrapes to prove it!), visited a very lonely ski town (no snow= no people), went to the discotheque each night, enjoyed thermal springs right next to the river, and enjoyed another ride on a catamaran for one last night of dinner and dancing.  I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to go on this trip with my Chilean classmates and to have visited another beautiful country, Argentina!

I returned a few days before Christmas and had just enough time to wrap up presents for my host family and prepare for Viejito Pascuero (Chile’s name for Santa Claus) on Christmas Eve.  It is traditional in Chile for the local firefighters to drive around towns with Viejito Pascuero as a passenger and while the kids run outside to see, the parents quickly place the presents under the tree.  During dinner on Christmas Eve, I asked my host family if they had ever seen Elf, my favorite Christmas movie.  When they all shook their heads no, I told them the basic plot line and my host mom announced that she wanted to see it right away!  We watched the movie until it was time to open presents and I think they thoroughly enjoyed it.  It was a joy for me to watch my host family open the gifts I purchased for them while I was on Easter Island and in Argentina and they were sweet enough to get me Christmas presents as well.  After staying up so late the night before, Christmas Day was spent relaxing, eating together, and cleaning up the house.  I have never slept in on Christmas before, and it was a nice change!

I like to think that part of my Christmas this year was the ability to go on such wonderful trips and if it were not for all of you and your generosity, I would not be here in Chile to have these experiences.  Thank you so much for helping me get here and I hope you enjoy reading about my adventures as much as I enjoy sharing them! Wishing all of you a healthy, prosperous, and blessed New Year in 2017!

February 1

I hope January has been a wonderful start to 2017 for all of you! I have spent the majority of January trying to stay as cool as possible with temperatures during the day hovering in the low to upper 90s!  My host family and I rang in the New Year in the most Chilean way possible! We ate a late dinner and then packed up champagne, glasses, confetti rockets, and party hats and made our way into the streets downtown that had been closed off.  We watched as fireworks were set off from a skyscraper at the stroke of midnight and the air around us was filled with confetti and silly string, some of it resembling miniature American one hundred dollar bills! We spent New Year’s Day together relaxing and enjoying lunch together.

I have been lucky enough to live just a three-minute walk away from another exchange student from Germany, named Bettina. She switched families earlier this month and we enjoyed one last meal at our favorite café nearby.  As sad as it was to say goodbye to her, just a few days later, a new student moved into the same house! Dana is from Pennsylvania and is also on a gap year.  I have been going to the gym with my host mom since November but since Dana has moved in, I have picked up Pilates and Zumba.  We are having a blast in both classes, even if we feel completely exhausted afterwards! Dana and I have also explored more of downtown Santiago together and discovered some delicious little hidden places to eat.  On an especially hot afternoon, we pooled our supplies and put together an “American” snack of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fresh homemade lemonade.  If someone had told me that I would miss such simple food a year ago, I never would have believed them.

For quite a few years, my mom, sister, and I have made toffee grahams at Christmas time as gifts for family and friends.  It is difficult to find similar ingredients here, but I realized that the supermarket in front of my house had everything I needed to make the delicious cookies drizzled in chocolate and sprinkled with nuts.  I made two batches this month for my host family and some of their friends and they were a hit! They always disappeared less than a day after I made them and my host mom jokes that my desserts are setting back her work in Pilates class.

I was able to continue volunteering at horse therapy this month and I was so happy to help children and adults with a variety of disabilities while also working with horses.  I plan to continue until I leave in June and I know it is something I will miss.   I hope that when I return to Ohio I can find a similar program because it has become a highlight of my week, just as it has for many of the patients.

This month marked the end of exchange for students in my district from New Zealand.  Because of their school year lining up perfectly with Chile’s, they arrived here in January of 2016 and were able to complete an entire year.  Several of the Kiwis were like exchange role models for me and offered great advice on everything from the must visit places to language acquisition.  Going to the airport to see them off was sad, but it was so sweet to see how much they had affected their host families, school friends, and other exchange students during their year here. I only hope that I will have done the same by the time I leave Chile in June.

Since I found out I was coming to Chile on exchange, my mom has been reading everything that the local library offers about this little-known country and she often sends the information my way.  She read about a nearby town that is famous for its enormous empanadas and I jokingly told my host mom about it.  My host mom knew exactly which place I was talking about and on a Sunday, my host family and I look a little trip to the town of Pomaire.  Not only is it famous for half kilo empanadas, but also for piggy banks and all sorts of other handmade clay items.  My host mom and I shared one empanada, but it was so much food we barely made it through half!

You may have heard on the news about the wild fires that are raging here in Chile.  Before I even heard what was going on, I knew something terrible had happened because of the thick smoke hanging over my suburb.  These are Chile’s worst wildfires in its history and less than half of over 100 hundred fires are currently considered to be under control.  As of today, eleven people have died, a countless number of livestock have been lost, entire villages have been burned, and thousands are without a home.  I had heard the amount of land that the fires covered but I could not imagine it until I heard a newscaster compare the size of the fires (1,494 square miles) to that of 23 Easter Islands, which I visited last month. Myself and other exchange students here are all out of harm’s way, but the smoke overhead is a constant reminder of the ongoing tragedy.  The commercials on TV here are calling for volunteers and donations to begin rebuilding the thousands of homes that are already lost under the motto “Chile helping Chile”.  It is my hope that they will be able to gain control of the fires soon and begin to rebuild.  Please keep Chile in your prayers, especially the volunteer fire service and those who have lost loved ones and their homes.

Have a wonderful February and stay warm! I will be doing my best to stay cool and enjoy my last month of summer vacation here.  Hopefully by the time school begins in March, the temperatures will have cooled down here!

March 1

I hope this report finds all of you well and enjoying the warmer part of Ohio’s crazy weather! Each time I talk to my family, they comment on how it has been changing even more quickly than normal.  I spent this past month doing my best to enjoy my last month of summer vacation and I think I was successful.

My host family and I kicked off the month by taking a day trip to Valparaiso, a port city that is known for its steep hills (forty-five in total!) and beautiful street art covering almost every surface, including the many stair ways.  After eating a delicious seafood lunch right on the water, with sea lions close by, we took one of the many funiculars (a mountainside railway) up to the top.  By late afternoon, we had found some of the more well-known art and encountered many other beautiful murals along the way.  After a long day climbing up and down the steep streets, we went to Viña del Mar, right next to Valparaiso.  I am still amazed at the difference between the two cities, Valparaiso being more European and artsy, and Viña del Mar being a beach town with a very modern feel.  The next weekend, we took day trip to a coastal town, named Santo Domingo.  We ate seaside and relaxed on shaded cusions on the sand before visiting one of the new exchange students from New Zealand that just arrived in Chile.  I am so excited to meet the other two exchange students that also just began their year!

As is traditional here during the summer, many of my friends, both Chilean and exchange students, left Ciudad Satelite for extended vacations in other places throughout Chile and South America.  I took the opportunity to spend much of this time with my host mom and we did lots together, everything from shopping to tearing out decades old lavender bushes.  She is a realtor and I got the chance to job shadow her for a day as she closed a sale with her clients in front of a notary.  Afterwards, we visited a very large Catholic church in the nearby town of Maipu, the Templo Votivo.  The temple has a very long and interesting history, starting in 1818 when the Army of the Andes asked the patron saint of Chile, the Virgen del Carmen to assist them in their battle against the Spanish Army.  The men promised that if she helped them, they would erect a sanctuary in the place of their victory.  The first stones were laid the same year, but it was not finished until 1892.  An earthquake in 1927 left only two walls standing and the current cathedral was built over the course of thirty years and finished in 1974.  You can still see the original chapel walls to this day, in front of the current church.

Just as I was beginning to feel like the only young person in my town, with my host sister on a fifteen-day adventure in Ecuador and my friends on vacation, they all began to return in the middle of the month.  While they were gone, I had made a list of points of interest near Santiago that I had yet to see.  As soon as they returned, we were able to knock some of these places off my list! There is a Picasso exhibit from Paris temporarily housed in the Presidential Palace’s Cultural Center (located underground in front of the palace).  I visited the exhibit with my friend Bettina from Germany, and in celebration of our both having been in Chile for six months, we shared two delicious pizzas, one bruschetta and another with cheese and salami.  I also went on a four-hour walking tour with other students from around the U.S. and Switzerland.  Although the tour hit many places we had already been, we learned so much more about Santiago’s history and even added a few places to our exchange bucket lists.  I spent three days with my friend Libby from Michigan over Valentine’s Day.  Although the holiday is much less celebrated here, we took the opportunity to make heart shaped grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup while her host parents went out for dinner.  Sometimes it is so nice to have something that tastes a little like home.  Francisca, soon to be exchange student in Japan, knew that I was her person when it came to getting ice cream, making homemade pizza, and visiting a tea salon, all spread out over two days of course! We also saw the movie La La Land and made Picasso themed collages in an exhibition set up just for the art visiting from Paris.

Not all my days are this adventure filled, in my down time I have been working on college scholarships, reading a variety of books, and improving my technical skills in Spanish with a tutor. I will be leaving soon for a trip to Chilean Patagonia with my Rotary district and other exchange students.  Shortly after returning, I begin school for the second time since last August at Colegio Castelgandolfo, where I will be in Cuarto Medio (12th grade) for the next three months before I fly home on June 1st.  Time up to this point has flown, I am sure the next three months will go even faster and I am going to enjoy it for all it’s worth!  Have a wonderful March and enjoy those early blooming daffodils for me!

April 1

It has been another busy month here in Chile for me and it is finally cooling down! When Ohio experienced its first day of spring, we had our first day of fall here in the Southern Hemisphere.  The mornings are quite chilly but for the first time in months, the sun feels good when it shines down!

I started off the month by visiting the United States Embassy in Santiago and it was a great experience!  They hosted a Town Hall Meeting for all U.S. citizens to talk about natural disaster preparedness and meet the new ambassador to Chile.  Ambassador Carol Z. Perez was appointed in July 2016 and started her position in October. I enjoyed hearing her speak about her lifelong career in the Foreign Service and about current relations between the U.S. and Chile.  I was most proud of my nationality when she spoke about the donations of forestry experts, supplies, and money that the U.S. provided in the midst of the rampant wildfires in Chile this summer.

On March 3rd, I flew down to Punta Arenas to spend five days in Chilean Patagonia with 50 other exchange students and four Rotarians. On our first day, we toured the port city of Punta Arenas including a museum of area flora and fauna and history of local native people and a local cemetery famous for the ornate mausoleums containing immigrant families from around the world. The next morning, we got up early to take a boat to Magdalena Island to visit penguins! Along the way, we stopped near a colony of sea lions and cormorants (a native flying bird that looks like a tiny penguin from afar) and we even saw dolphins! I loved their small size (close to a small dog) and distinct designs in black and white. They were so curious about the boat and raced along next to us, occasionally jumping out of the water! We drove north to the city of Puerto Natales, gateway to Torres del Paine National Park. We spent the next day on a passenger boat with stops for three different glaciers, many waterfalls, and a traditional Patagonia ranch for lunch. We even drank water with ice that had broken off from the glaciers! We spent the next two days driving and hiking through the national park enjoying stunning views of the Torres del Paine (Towers of Paine) and surrounding mountain range, another boat tour to visit the gigantic Grey Glacier ice field, and a hilarious student talent show. On the final day of our trip, we visited the Zona Franca (Duty-Free Outlet Mall) and being the tight wad exchange students that we are, we paid less than $5 to ice skate for 30 minutes. A few of us had never ice skated before and a handful of other exchange students did their best to help. I never quite got the hang of it, but I only fell once! I am so grateful for the opportunity to visit Chilean Patagonia twice and would recommend that it be on any travel bucket list.

Shortly after my trip, I started school again at Colegio Castelgandolfo. Now that it is fall here, we are starting a new school year and I am in Cuarto Medio (senior year) with my classmates. It was so nice to be reunited after spending the summer apart and to hear that my Spanish has improved since our class trip last December. Classes in Cuarto Medio are very similar to the classes I had last year in Tercero Medio, but everyone is more focused on preparing for the PSU, Chile’s government mandated college entrance exams. My classmates will finish their final year in November and take the PSU before applying to college and attending in March 2018.

On March 20th, I traveled to the nearby airport (I’ve lost count how many times I have been to travel myself, pick someone up, or send someone off) to say farewell as my best Chilean friend, Francisca, left to begin her exchange year through AFS in Hiroshima, Japan. I am so excited for her, as she has loved Japanese culture and language from a very young age. I miss her already, but am so thankful for the seven months that she was a part of my exchange. She taught me so much about Spanish, Chile, it’s culture, and even Japan. By the end of her eleven months in Japan, she will be trilingual; Spanish, English, and Japanese! I know that someday we will meet again.

With a little over two months left here in Chile, I am even more amazed at the feeling of my exchange passing at warp speed. I will be attending school until I leave on June 1 and enjoying the time I have left with my classmates, friends, and host family.  Enjoy the beautiful and unpredictable Ohio spring for me. I certainly miss the beautiful daffodils and new born calves on the farm!

May 1

I hope this letter finds you all enjoying the May flowers!  It is autumn here and I am enjoying the falling leaves and cool air.  I am just about one month away from returning home!  June 2nd still feels so far away but I know it will be here before I know it.

The month of April started off in the grandest way possible, I went to Lollapalooza for two days!  Lollapalooza is an outdoor music festival that started in Chicago and now happens annually in Brazil, Chile, France, Germany, and the United States.  My friends and I saw over twenty different acts on four different stages over the two days and had an amazing time.  Some of the highlights for me were seeing The XX, The Weeknd, Metallica, and a variety of other Chilean, American, and international groups.

On April 8th, I attended the Rotary District 4340 Conference in Santiago with about sixty other exchange students.  We were invited to sing “Si Vas Para Chile” for the attending Rotarians.  We made a processional by country, with the first exchange student holding their respective flags, and sang a passionate rendition of the song.  After so many months spent with these exchange students, it is hard to believe that was our last time all together in one place.  I am so thankful for the chance to have known so many unique individuals and hope that we will meet again.

This month in school at Colegio Castelgandolfo has been full of all different types of events.  I helped prepare for a dual baby shower for two teachers.  While putting up the pink and blue decorations and banners, I found it so interesting that it is traditional in Chile for parents to tell the public the name of their baby before he or she is born.  For Easter, a group of younger students dressed up and performed a play about the Resurrection.  Afterwards, each class, from preschool age to the oldest students, presented posters with pictures of them and their families.  Easter is incredibly family centered in Chile, and even families who are not religious will celebrate by getting together with family.  Book Day took place on Friday, April 28th and the school celebrated with a used book market, students brought books  they desired to sell or trade, and there was a short play by students.

A huge change occurred in my exchange in the middle of the month!  After almost eight months with the Leal-Rodriguez family, I am now living with the family of my dear friend, Fran.  My host parents are Juan Pablo Lepe Roa and Yasna Maldonado Vasquez and my host siblings are;
Pablo, 23 years old, studying tourism, loves the outdoors, spent a year in Portland, Oregon
Paula, 22 years old, studying journalism, works for CNN, went on exchange to Czech Republic
Francisca, 17 years old, currently on exchange in Japan, previously my classmate
Cristobal, 15 years old, freshman, loves music, makes delicious lemon merengue pie
Diego, 10 years old, elementary schooler, loves video games, wants to design them someday
To many, this house may sound like it is bursting at the seams but I love the liveliness of it.  Between my host parents, siblings, and their many extended family members and friends, I always have someone to talk to!  Since moving in with them, I have spent most of my time getting to know everyone better, eating delicious food (both Yasna and Juan Pablo love to cook and bake), and visiting museums and the cinema with them.  To wrap up this month, we hosted a family reunion of sorts for the cousins of my host mom.  With five aunts and uncles, there are many cousins and some brought their kids too.  It has been so fun to meet more of my host parent’s large family and entertaining to hear the group use the bits of English that they remember from school with me.

During my final month of exchange, I am going to visit the coastal city of Valparaiso one last time, celebrate one of my closest exchange friend’s birthdays, travel to the Atacama Desert with Rotary, and make the most of the time I have with my host family, classmates, and friends.  Have a wonderful month, I will be seeing all of you very soon!

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