Preliminaries: Apologies for my extended absence! I was locked out of this site for a while (my fault). Also, scratch what I said about extranjeros not actually being interested in the US’ domestic politics; trying to explain the health care debate intelligibly in Spanish is incredibly difficult (probably because it’s also difficult to make sense of in English, but that’s (sort of) a different story).

I spent four days a few weeks ago in Pumanque, a tiny town located about three hours southwest of Santiago and three hours northeast of Constitución (the epicenter of the earthquake), where about 200 engineering students and another exchange student friend and I spent four days constructing mediaguas (emergency shelters) with the organisation Un Techo Para Chile (“A Roof for Chile,” more or less like Habitat for Humanity) for victims of the terremoto. Seventeen more charter buses of USACH students went to six other towns to do the same.

The experience was a lot of fun. I met a lot of new people. I ate a lot of good food (including Gala apples right from the tree! I’d never seen an apple tree before!). I made liberal use of words learned in my Pilates class (like estirar – to stretch, as in “Stretch the measuring tape,” and hundir – to sink, as in, “Oh no, the roof está hundido!” (has a leak)) to communicate with my cuadrilla about the building process. We slept at an internado (military barracks), and I met a few eighteen- and nineteen-year-old soldiers completing their mandatory military service. We all spent a lot of time shivering (winter is coming fast).

I feel like I say this a lot, but the countryside was also beautiful. My new chileno friends tended to give me incredulous looks when I said so, but just because the region’s not Chiloé doesn’t mean it’s not lovely in its own right! Mostly though, I just really enjoyed getting to travel to another part of Chile while making myself useful at the same time, and will definitely go again if I get the chance.

I was also asked no less than four times there, “Don’t Americans speak worse English than the British?” which bothers me on multiple levels. My inner wannabe-linguistics major immediately screams, “But there’s no such thing as a “better” or “worse” language!” Then my experience here makes me remember that I definitely make an exception to that proposition where accent is concerned. There are people I live with who I still have a lot of trouble understanding after two months on account of their accents, and comprehensibility seems to me probably the only reasonable standard for “judging” a language.

And the fact that I’ve only really run into that question from Chileans has a lot to do, too, with how they relate to and think of their language. I spent a lot of time at the internado talking about the language Chileno (as distinct from Español) and its modismos (special vocabulary/idioms). Chileans are very acutely aware that they speak (self-described) “worse” Spanish than say, Peruvians or Mexicans (two nationalities known for their slower, very clear manner of speaking), both in terms of their accent, which is so difficult to understand, and the fact that they make up so many modismos, and from what I can tell their grade school English teachers have been indoctrinating them to think that you can similarly judge English dialects.

(I’ve also clearly found myself being a lot more knee-jerk defensive of my country and most things associated with it than I expected. Anyway, I stand by my position that you can’t judge Standard American against Standard British English in the same way, though I guess comparing regional accents this way would be essentially the same as comparing Spanish accents by country.)

Anyhow, those kinds of questions, as well as giving informal English lessons to my house-mates who are taking English classes, has turned me on to the differences in English dialects, too. For instance, when I look through an English textbook, I can generally tell within a few pages whether it’s written in British or American English, and not just because of the extra ‘u’s. There are more subtle differences in usage, like the use of “mustn’t” or “needn’t” instead of “shouldn’t” or “can’t,” or the fact that, “I’m mad about this blouse,” never means, “I just love this blouse,” in American English. But that’s neither here nor there; just goes to show that wherever you go and whatever you do, you’ll always end up learning most about yourself.

Hm, what else? I’m sick again! (Every two weeks, de nuevo.) Other than that, I’ve been reading reading, for Latin American Lit and because my History of Chile professor found me a few books in English!, since I have essentially zero context for the politics of Chile ca. 1920-70 (on a related note, I can’t imagine how students managed study abroad before the internet).

And today I cleaned my room, went shopping at Líder (Wal-Mart affiliate) and went with some friends to a concert/benefit featuring Chilean folkloric music and dance for Lolol, a little town affected by the earthquake. Came home to find the residence (and its residents) in total chaos since it is, after all, a Friday night. What I mean to say is, my life’s been pretty low-key lately. Not every moment is thrilling and different; routines happen everywhere. Which is not necessarily a bad thing — it just leaves me with less to blog about!

Hasta pronto!


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