An interview with Carter Woolf, a student at the University of Utah who studied abroad with ISA in Valparaiso, Chile.
I was born in Salt Lake City, UT where I have lived my whole life and I currently go to school at the University of Utah. I am a biology major with a Spanish minor and possibly a chemistry minor. I am an avid runner. I ran my first marathon when I was sixteen and have ran four total. I also enjoy biking, hiking, trail running, rock climbing, play soccer, and enjoy most things active. I like to be doing something all the time. Photography has become one of my more recent hobbies. I have always been interested in it, but recently started to do more with it.
I have been on two humanitarian trips to Cambodia with a local organization called Youthlinc. The first time I stayed for two weeks and the second time I served as the Assistant Team Leader, organizing a lot of things throughout the year and then was in Cambodia for a month. Those two trips have really shaped my outlook on life and have left me wanting to do service as much as I can. At home, I work at an afterschool program at a junior high in a very poor area where the majority of students are immigrants and refugees. Leaving my job, as weird as that sounds, was actually one of the hardest parts about studying abroad. I love making a difference in the lives of others.
To be completely honest, there was no specific reason as to why I chose Chile. My only real criteria in studying abroad was the language. I was initially looking at Peru, but the programs didn’t seem to fit my interests as well as I had hoped. The dates worked well for me and I was looking to find a longer program, which Chile offered. This made me start to look at Chile, and after reading some other students’ blogs and looking at photos, I decided it was worth a shot.
I didn’t want something that seemed easy, I wanted a challenge. I found one.
I had heard that Chilean Spanish was one of the hardest, if not the hardest, variations to understand. That is absolutely true. The amount of slang words combined with the distinct manner of speaking and the difficult accent have made learning the language more difficult, but also far more rewarding. This was another reason I chose Chile. My reasoning was that, if I was looking for a challenge, I might as well challenge myself all the way.
Chilean culture is something that cannot necessarily be explained, but one of those things that needs to be lived. However, I can give a few experiences I have had which pretty accurately sum up my impression of Chilean culture.
1. The family aspect is completely different than that of the United States. As far as my host family goes, there are family gatherings all the time. At 3:00 on a Tuesday there may be nobody in my house or ten people chatting away. There was one night specifically when there were twenty-seven people in my house, which is not big enough for that many people, eating “completes” (extreme hot dogs usually served with mayonnaise, ketchup, and avocado) at midnight. Moreover, this was not that actually that abnormal as I would soon find out.
2. I have so many relatives here that I simply cannot remember all of them. A few times a week walking around town I think I see a relative but I then proceed to ask myself if they were really a relative or not, because they seem to just blend into one. I know for a fact that, at one point or another, I have met over thirty family members.
The people here are generally kind and outgoing. They love to talk, to party, to watch Chilean soap operas, and to spend time with family. As with any other country, I cannot generalize the people as one. I have not met every Chilean and each person is different. However, in general, I do feel like the Chileans are fun people who like to talk.
3. The food, to be honest, is not anything extravagant or mind-blowing. Something that surprised me when I first arrived was the resemblance to food from the states. There is a lot of pasta, rice, potatoes, and other carbs. There are pizza restaurants and sushi places all over town which I found surprising. Despite the resemblances on the surface, there are many differences. Spices are just not that common here. Lemon and salt are the go to “seasonings” for food. Along with these dishes, there are specific Chilean dishes, of which Chorillana is my favorite (a bed of French fries topped with chicken, sausage, egg, avocado, and other things). The staple of Chile, however, is bread. Chileans consume a ridiculous amount of bread. Instead of dinner, most Chilean families have “once” which consists of bread and coffee or tea. Chile is the second most consumer of bread in the world, behind Germany.
4. My classes have been very interesting. I am in classes with foreign students and classes with locals. I have learned quite a bit about Chile and the language through my classes. They give me a chance to interact with other students and practice my Spanish. They are not that demanding, leaving me with plenty of time to do other things.
Did you have a Chile bucket list/must-see list?
I did not have a specific bucket list before I arrived, but I did shortly after arriving and talking with others who had more ideas. Before I came, I knew I wanted to see Patagonia, but that it. I didn’t really know about that many options. Having been here for three months, exploring the country, and seeing what others have done, I have a few places that I would recommend:
1. Patagonia. I did the “W” trek in Torres del Paine National Park and it was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. We spent about five days backpacking the trail. It should be done in summer if possible. We went in early fall and the weather was already pretty unpredictable. I was pleased with what I saw, but there was definitely more to see. Some people have spent months there and still not seen it all. Even a week is a fantastic opportunity and very much worth it.
2. Pucón. A small town nestled at the base of Volcano Villarica, where visitors can river raft, hike national parks, climb volcanoes, and zip-line, just to name a few things. Villarica had recently erupted when I went, but I had the opportunity to climb another volcano and hike in a national park. The town, lined with blue lakes and log cabins, has a relaxed, outdoor feel and was probably my favorite area in Chile.
3. The “cerros” of Valparaíso. Each cerro (hill) has its own name and is completely unique. From the street art to the people, I would recommend visiting at least a few of them. Cerro Alegre is the most famous and also my favorite.
4. The Atacama Desert. I am actually leaving to see this tomorrow. It is famous for being the driest desert in the world. It is also home to the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley), hot springs, and salt formations.
These are the things I wanted to see, which is sufficient for me seeing as my main goal was to spend time with my family and practice my Spanish. For those who like to travel every weekend, there are definitely more opportunities. Camping, museums, and other cultural activities are all just a bus ride away.
Photography has been a very important aspect of my time abroad, along with blogging. The hardest part about traveling is not being able to completely share what you feel and experience with others. While I can’t share everything that happens, photos are a great way to include others back home. I love nature photography and Chile, if you are willing to work to get places, can be great for that.
In Patagonia and Pucón, I spent a lot of time taking pictures, but I didn’t forget to take a break and marvel in the real life beauty that was surrounding me. If anything, photography has made me more aware of what’s happening around me. I am constantly on the lookout for a good picture and, as a result, tend to notice more things around me than I would otherwise.
Also, photography has simply given me something to do at times. An aspect of studying abroad that often goes undocumented is the unreal amount of free time. I don’t have a job here and my classes are significantly easier than what I am used to, leaving me with loads of time to read or explore. On the days when I don’t have anything to do, I like to just pick a location and take pictures. It helps me find things to do and also lets other people see more of the world.
My favorite moment so far was when I was sitting on top of a volcano after a seven hour hike, looking at an active volcano billowing smoke, and thinking about my experience so far. I spent quite a bit of time sitting there, admiring the beauty, feeling small, and also admiring myself for taking the challenge of studying abroad and not giving up even when it seemed impossible.
An honorable mention was laying under the stars during my last night in Patagonia, marveling at the sheer size of the universe and thinking about how incredibly fortunate I am to have had this opportunity.