Sunday, September 21, 2014

¿Dónde está el baño? (Where is the bathroom?)

So, contrary to the title, I am not actually telling you where all of the bathrooms are in Chile. I am actually going to tell a little bit more information about the bathrooms here. You already know about the used toilet paper in the trash can, so we will expand from there. Sound good? Great!!
First and foremost, why am I telling you about the bathrooms? It seems kind of like a silly thing and that in our naive little minds, we think that all bathrooms are the same in all countries. That is not true. Some people learn it the hard way. Others learn it by watching others learn it the hard way. Also, my dearest mother, who came to visit me over the last week, pointed out that I should make a blog about the differences so that travelers and studiers alike would not get confused or end up in a stale without any toilet paper (to throw in the trash cans).
So, what is there to know? There's actually quite a bit. First of all, just because it's a public bathroom does not mean that it is a free bathroom. Some people make you pay to use it, others make you pay to use the toilet paper (in which case you should carry tissues on you at all times, just in case). It's not usually much, usually starting somewhere around 200 chilean pesos (about 40 cents). The price usually depends on how much toilet paper you need/want.
Next, there aren't always public bathrooms. In the US it is common to see one in public places, like a mall or in a park. Of course, you can always pop into a restaurant, buy a water, and stop to use the bathroom before leaving. But not all restaurants have bathrooms for customers and not all public areas have super easy to find bathrooms. Hence the title of the blog. If you don't know much Spanish, but you want to go to a Spanish speaking country, that is a very important sentence to know how to say. So if you can't find a public bathroom, or one in a restaurant, or the mall, just ask "¿dónde está el baño?"

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Terms of Endearment

Everywhere you go you will hear terms of endearment. Common ones in the US are: honey, baby, sweetie (pie), etc. As many Chileans say, they are not quite so politically correct here, and that includes terms of endearment. So what do they say and what does it mean? I'm glad you asked! Here are some terms that they say and their translation:

  • Chino/a/ito/ita: 
    • Of asian decent (no distinction between the different oriental countries)
  • Negro/a/ito/ita:
    • Of african decent
  • Gordito/a:
    • Chubby/fatty
  • Guatón:
    • Chubby/fatty
  • Gringo/a:
    • From the United States
  • Mi hijo/a:
    • My child
  • Mi niño/a
    • My child
There are many more for sure, but these are the most common ones used. They are not meant to offend anyone, simply to describe your appearance (or the opposite). For example: If you are fairly thin/fit, they may call you gordito/a. Almost like a joke or sarcasm. They will use the same term if you are not quite so thin/fit. Please do not take offense to these terms. Chileans mean well when they call you by one of these words. It is their way of welcoming you into their homes and their hearts. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Chilean Pesos and Currency Exchange Rate

So if you have been following along, you will know that the last post I made was also about money and how to budget. This entry is about what the money looks like, and how to quickly convert it to US dollars. I will also put the exact conversion, but for budgeting purposes, I recommend using the quick conversion. It will allow for a little more wiggle room in your budget (you will see why in just a minute).
So, let's start with the coins. You will see one, ten, 50, 100, and 500 peso coins.
One peso = 1/5 of a cent. (.17 of a cent)
Ten pesos = two cents. (two cents)
50 pesos = ten cents. (nine cents)
100 pesos = twenty cents (there are two different coins used for the one-hundred peso, both coins are displayed). (17 cents)
500 pesos = one dollar. (85 cents)

Next, paper money. There is a 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000, and 20000 peso bill.
1000 pesos = two dollars. ($1.70)
2000 pesos = four dollars. ($3.41)
5000 pesos = ten dollars. ($8.52)
10000 pesos = 20 dollars. ($17.04)
20000 pesos = 40 dollars. ($34.08)

As you can see, the quick conversion is much cleaner looking than the actual amounts, and it gives you some room for budget adjustments later on. So, how do you get the quick conversion of Chilean Pesos (CHP) to US Dollars (USD)? Super simple. Let's say you're shopping at Jumbo, the supermarket. You've just gotten into the check out lane, everything is bagged, and they give you the total owed. It looks something like "19.950" (they use periods in place of comas and vice versa when it comes to numbers). You can either round that up as say it's 20000 CHP and almost 40 USD or if you leave the period where it is and use it as a decimal point, take the number you have and double it. So 19.950 CHP becomes 39.90 USD. Obviously, it is not exactly equivalent, but it is close and quick enough for you to use when you are on the go. You don't even have to be "good" at math to be able to do this little trick.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Money, Money, Money

Traveling abroad is quite an investment, but always worth the money. The quality of the experience will always make you happy, and it is genuinely a once in a life time experience that you will never forget. When planning such a large trip, it is important to take your funds into consideration. Do you need scholarships? Grants? Another job to help you save some money? Will your parents/guardians help you with spending money? All good questions to consider when you start looking at places to go abroad. 
But what about when you actually get where you're going? Take into consideration that you cannot have a paying job while abroad (but you can volunteer). So, be sure you have an estimate of what you can spend. With this estimate, what do you have to buy? You will have to pay for your own transportation (for more info on transportation cost, there is a post on my blog about public transportation). Occasionally you will have to pay for your own food. If you plan to do some extra travels, you will have to pay for everything that comes with that (food, hotel/hostel, transportation, tours, etc.). 
My recommendation for money management: make a budget that you will follow while you are abroad. Know how much you are going abroad with and how it will be spent. Put your planned budget into an excel spreadsheet so that you can pull it up whenever you need to make sure you are on budget or change it. So what will you be paying for and about how much will it cost? Allocate money for public transportation ($2-$10 a week to go to and from classes). Money for food (I usually put about $5 a week towards purchasing my own food). Gifts to bring home (I am working with about $5-$20 per person that I want to buy for). Extra travels (it costs about $10 to get to Santiago and back to Valparaíso, not to mention flight or other bus costs that go with each trip). 
Just one last tip before wrapping this up: when you get to your location, you should take a week or two to get accustomed to the exchange rate. Until you get a grasp of the exchange rate, you will probably spend much more than you normally would. Here in Chile, the easy conversion exchange is that 500 pesos equals about one dollar, but the real equivalency is 500 pesos to 85 cents. So things look super expensive, but they are actually, usually, cheaper than their equivalent in the US. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Public Transportation

Here in Chile, public transportation is the most common and easiest way to get around. When trying to get from point A to point B (depending on where you are going, of course), you can either use the metro (subway), micro (bus), or colectivo (a cab that drives a specific route). You can also call a cab or see if someone can get you a ride, but more often than not, the public mode of transportation is much easier.
There is a metro that runs between Viña del Mar and Valparaíso. More than likely, there will be a stop near where you are staying. In one direction, you can go to the Port (in Valpo) or you can go to Limache (in Viña) which has buses that can take you to other destinations. The most you should ever have to wait for a metro is around 12 minutes, and that only later at night, weekends and holidays. Otherwise it is about a 5 minute wait.
If there is not a metro stop near where you are staying, you can always take a micro. These buses run much closer to the houses and up the cerros (mountains/hills) practically 24/7. The drivers can get a bit crazy, but you will make it to your destination, and in a pretty timely manner. The micro costs less than a dollar to take in one direction, so it's a pretty good deal. If you don't know where you are suppose to get off, just keep bugging the driver to let you know when you need to get off. Just tell them where are you going and that you don't know when that is. Most of them will help you, I have yet to meet a driver that would not help me. Like the metro, the distance between each bus to your destination depends on the time of day and if it is a holiday, but there are always buses. If you cannot find a bus that is going in your direction, you can always ask a bus that stops if they know when one that you need will be coming by or if they can take you part of the way there. Now if you look closely at the picture of the micros, you will see that there are numbers and other words in the windows. The words are of cities or locations (like a mall) that the bus is suppose to route to. Each route has a number, and there are usually multiple numbers that go to and from the same location, there is just a slightly different route in between.
And then there are the colectivos. A colectivo is a cab that you share with strangers. There is a "collection" of passengers going in the same direction and getting off at different stops. It has a similar system to the micros, but it costs a little more and the drivers are a little more willing to drop you off specifically at your destination, especially the later at night that it gets. As you can see, they also have a number and a list of locations that they drive to. Just like the micro and the metro, the frequency depends on the time of day and if it's a holiday.

As I said before, what you want to take depends on where you are going. The metro is a great way to get between Viña and Valpo, but it definitely won't get you to Santiago. The buses and colectivos practically go everywhere, but they will not leave the Valpo-Viña area. You will have to buy a bus ticket to leave the area. If you plan on traveling, you need to look for bus companies that will take you to those places, or at least to the airport so that you can fly to those places.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Lost in Translation

For many of you planning on going abroad, the place you want to go mainly speaks your second language, unless you are going to someplace that speaks your first (of course...but that's cheating!!). While looking into programs in Latin America, you should consider your level of Spanish. If you are more of a speaker or a writer.
Personally, I'm not much of either, at least that's what I thought when I left home four weeks ago. I know how to write, but it's no where near perfect. And I can speak, but I'm not much of a talker as it is in English. Either way, it is helpful to know so that you can learn ways to improve the one that needs a little bit of help. For example, one of the girls that is in the program is not much for speaking Spanish, but she can write phenomenally. So she uses her writing skills to help her talk to locals. If someone asks her a question, she usually has a notepad and pen with her so that she can write down key words and phrases from what they said and turn it into an appropriate response. If you think something like this will help you, try it. It can never hurt to try something.
Aside from knowing your own level, you need to understand that everywhere you go will have a different dialect. The majority of the Southern American accents are similar as far as their pronunciation of "s" at the end of a syllable and "ll". Having a forewarning can help you to better prepare for the differences when you arrive to your destination. Here in Chile, the "s" at the end of a syllable is usually dropped. For example, if you are going to say a word like "hasta," which is normally pronounced /asta/, will be pronounced more like /ah-ta/. And that goes for 90% of "s" at the end of syllables.
Along with pronunciation differences, there are also slang terms that are different in every country. I only know a couple of the ones here and I do not know if other countries use them, but since Chile is fairly isolated, the odds of hearing the slang here used with moderate frequency in other countries are pretty low. My favorite term is "cachai" which is "you know?" or "got it?," common phrases in the US, right? Also, when asking someone how they are, you usually ask "¿cómo estai?" (in place of está/s). Of course there are many others, and surely they will have a post of their own, so look for them!!
Just remember, language is different everywhere. You wouldn't believe that Michigander English is the same as Californian English, right? Different accent, different slang. Same rule applies to Spanish.

Saturday, August 9, 2014


Obviously, health is a super big issue. Going abroad is a huge experience and you don't want to spend all of it feeling icky. So, if you plan to travel to the southern hemisphere, remember that it will always be the opposite season of the northern hemisphere. For example, I came down here about a month ago, obviously it was the middle of summer when I left the U.S. That means that it was the middle of winter when I got to Chile. Now, their winter is nothing like what I'm used to in Michigan. Most days are at least 50°F and the sun is out all day. The only problem is, when the sun goes down, the temperature drops dramatically. If you're not fully ready for it, you could get sick very quickly from such a temperature change. So if you plan on staying out all day or going out at night, use layers. For my sake and for yours.
Of course there is a reason as to why I'm posting about health. There's a reason to everything, right? The reason is, I have been super sick since Monday afternoon. I have lost my voice a few times over the course of the week, I've been unable to eat and I've been pretty darn nauseous. Just yesterday was I able to eat three full meals and not feel sick afterwards. I just started coughing and fully getting this out of my system Thursday afternoon. It is very hard to attend classes and function fully when you are feeling this terrible, so take care of yourself. If you start feeling any kind of illness coming on, whether its just allergies or something as big the the stomach flu (or bigger), just take it easy. If the icky continues, ask your host family or a local Chilean what kind of medicine you should take or if you should go see a doctor. They are all very willing to help. If you cannot seem to find someone to ask, find a pharmacy, they are literally everywhere, and ask at the counter what they think you should take. If you still don't feel better after a few days, be sure to go to a doctor if you didn't go before. It's very inexpensive here, so you may as well go. Just in case.