Saturday, March 13, 2010

Trains, Mountain Terrain, and Chilean Hotdogs

Once again, to start out I'd like to thank you all again for your concern and emphasize that despite everything that has happened here, I am safe and happy in Santiago.

On Thursday, Chile experienced three more large aftershocks, which (for me) counted as serious earthquakes as all three clocked in between 6.0 and 7.0 on the Richter scale. I was actually in class at the time, and a little bit confused as to what was happening. Only our third lecture at the Universidad de Santiago de Chile, we had discovered two days earlier that our building is very close to Estacion Central, a large train and metro station. So when the windows started rattling I couldn't tell if it was a train or a replica until it lasted longer than a train would have, at which point I started to lose it a little. We exited the building and it subsided, so we returned to our classroom to continue lecture. Only, as the professor was speaking, the image from the overhead projector was shaking and the windows started rattling again. This time we gathered our stuff and got out a lot more quickly, and waited out the rest of the temblores in the safety of a grassy quad.

Aftershocks usually have the dual-effect of raising my heart rate and evoking images of the last big earthquake. It's hard for me not to get emotional with each one that hits us, especially after how frightening my first experience of seismic activity was. Sometimes I'll get dizzy after an aftershock, or I'll convince myself that my room is shaking when it's actually not. When little aftershocks happen during class, our professors always tell us to be calm, but it's hard to focus on past tense verb conjugation or Chilean trade agreements when my instincts are telling me to run out of the building.

All of that being said, I find comfort in the fact that it is very unlikely for another large (8.8) earthquake to hit in the near future. I also know that my apartment building passed inspection earlier this week, so the only damages to our apartment are strictly cosmetic. Additionally, the psychological effects of the earthquake are starting to wear off as I find inner strength to conquer the impulsive fear that envelops my body during an aftershock. Plus I know that I have so many people in the US and UK that are there for me, so even if I do have a bad day, I find solace in a cheerful email or facebook post. I never thought I'd be in a position like this while I was in Chile, but in a way I think I'll come away from this semester as a stronger person who better appreciates the value of life and the human experienceOn a lighter note, this marks the second full week of academic classes of my program - time is shooting by! In light of the earthquake I seemed to have bypassed any discussion of my school activities, so here is a dense summary: I am completing a program with the School of International Training focused on the Social, Economic, and Political Transformations of Chile. A small and personalized program, I am one of seven American students enrolled in this course. I am taking 16 credits of classes, the highlight of which is a seminar with the Government and Economic Department of the Universidad de Santiago de Chile (known here as USACH.) Each class is taught by a different professor completely in Spanish, so sometimes it's a challenge to understand the content when the lecturer has a strong Chilean accent (or he's just talking very quickly.) Another exciting aspect of our program is the month-long Independent Study Project that we complete at the end of our semester. Basically, I get a stipend to travel anywhere in Chile to complete a research project on a related topic to the economic, political, or social issues we have covered in class. Let's just say I'm pretty excited about this upcoming opportunity...

While not studying or worrying about earthquakes, I've been taking the occasional shopping trip to the market, listening to an impressively hilarious mix of music from the apartment next door, playing pick-up soccer with Chileans, or running through Parque Arucano (a gorgeous park two blocks from my apartment.) I also like planning future adventures for the upcoming weekends I have free here, the first of which happened yesterday. I went for my first official hike in the Andes Mountains (insert large smiley face) with some students from my program, and two of my host sisters, one of which had never been on a hike before (brave soul!) Despite receiving some questionable directions from an elderly Chilean woman, we managed to find the trailhead after about two miles of roundabout searching for Aguas de Ramon Parque Natural.
The trail we walked was pretty dusty and arid (a flashback to Modoc National Forest in California) but we were rewarded with a beautiful set of waterfalls at the turnaround point, which really made the hike. Other highlights included the company of three resident trail dogs, eating snacks and fruit that my host mom had packed for us, and great views of the city despite a strong layer of smog that foiled any attempt at photography. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed getting out of the city for a bit, especially after seeing my brother's three part youTube video of his Appalachian Trail photos ( It reminded me of how much I love being outside, and inspired me to get out of the city more and hopefully plan a backpacking trip down to Patagonia. Anybody want to join me? (Cough. My older brother? Cough.)
Today has been a more relaxing day devoted to catching up on a couple readings for class and nursing my first allergic reaction to a bee-sting from yesterday (we're talking a dinner plate size of swelling, but it has luckily gone down since.) Later today, my host sisters are introducing me to a completo, the Chilean hot dog. From what I've heard it's essentially a regular hot dog with lots of things on top like avocado and tomato, but like the garbage plate in Rochester, it's apparently an essential for any visitor to experience. Look for photos later this week!

Thanks again for reading and if you've not done it yet, become a follower!


Monday, March 8, 2010

How you can help...

I just received a campus-wide email from David Skorton, President of Cornell University, regarding the earthquake in Chile. The Chilean Association at Cornell has put together a website of information, including a page about how to make a donation to a variety of organizations working to help the Chilean people recover from this tragedy. Please consider donating:

After receiving this message, I also discovered that I am the only current Cornell student studying in Chile right now. Although slightly isolating, this fact made me realize that I am the sole representative of my school in a nation shattered by an immense natural disaster. Therefore it is my responsibilitgy to convey what is happening here to the Cornell community and also to encourage their support. I understand that the American news media cannot help but compare the destuction here to the aftermath of Haiti, but the truth of the matter is, over 800 people perished in this earthquake and it damaged more than 1.5 million homes not to mention roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Both Haiti and Chile face the immense challenge of picking up the pieces and starting to rebuild.

My study abroad program is planning a service trip down to the south later this semester. I hope you can find a way to help too.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Picking up the pieces...

First of all, thank you SO much for all of the support and encouraging words. It's not be an easy time to be in Chile, but reading your emails, Facebook posts, and blog comments has really helped me to stay positive the past few days, and I am very grateful. I have not been able to respond to each and every one, but please know that I read everything with care and it means a lot.

Two days after the earthquake, I went to the grocery store with one of my host sisters and our neighbors across the hall (the ones who had to kick down their door during the quake because they couldn't get it open.) We went relatively early in the day but it was already packed. Armed with large shopping carts and long lists, we elbowed our way through to buy everything from bottled water to roasted chickens. I was impressed by the size of this supermarket - I think I would compare it to a Walmart Supercenter. With this size in mind, now consider that the lines for the cashier spanned the entire store from front to back - it was rather intense.

As official foreign exchange student in residence, I was in charge of maintaining our spot in line, while the others braved the crowded isles to select groceries. The whole affair took about four hours, and was pretty exhausting. By the afternoon, lots of items were running low, as people were understandably stocking up. At this point in time nobody was really sure if and/or when the stores would be restocked. On this day though, the most popular items for purchase were bottled water and coke, diapers, rice, and, of course, avocados.

As I alluded to earlier, Santiago was not as affected as places closer to the epicenter, but evidence of the earthquake lingers in the city. As I walked to class on Monday, I passed a travel agency with a line two blocks long of people trying to secure transportation, either out of the country, or south of here to check on relatives and friends they had not heard from.

Areas of the sidewalk are sectioned off with caution tape so that people are not in danger of falling pieces from crumbling buildings. Piles of rubble litter the streets of older construction. Many sections of the city still did not have electricity and water. It's scary to think about how much worse it is down south.

However, my neighborhood is relatively unscathed. The worst damage I saw here was the ceiling in the lobby of my apartment (see my second post for a photo) and a large shattered window in the lobby of an apartment near here. In Santiago though, some buildings and a parking garage collapsed, and one brand new building in a neighborhood close to here is leaning at a dangerous angle right now. A lot of the time since the quake has been devoted to evacuating people from dangerous structures, but also the people are trying to find someone to blame. Construction companies with buildings devastated in the earthquake (especially the one responsible for that brand new building) are under fire from the citizens and the media for using cheap materials and not constructing buildings according to the seismic code.

The news is also filled with heartbreaking interviews with people in tragic situations. Perhaps the most disturbing images for me were of the brutality of the police force in Concepcion towards people looting stores. I understand that stealing is against the law, but for people who have literally lost everything and who still had not received aid after 3 days. then 4 days, then 5 days, it is clearly out of necessity. Granted, some plasma televisions and other non-essential items are being stolen in the mix, but if more time was spent actually getting essential aid to the victims of this national tragedy instead of tear-gassing desperate people, I think the situation would be a lot better.

Now without access to stores in the south, the streets have turned into a dangerous place because of collapsing structures, but also because of street riots and violence between people fighting over water, food, and clothing. Like the United States after Hurricane Katrina, it is taking the Chilean government a long time to get aid to victims as well as to ask for and accept the help of other countries and the United Nations. The Chilean government also failed to warn many coastal communities and islands of the tsunami danger, which makes a lot of the population question what the authorities are saying. An intense fear has enveloped the communities hit the hardest by the quake, leading to many false alarms about tsunamis, one of which caused the complete evacuation of a marine base.

For a nation surrounded by fault lines, Chile's preparedness and response to this terremoto is surprisingly lackluster. Because of an extended period since a large earthquake, Chileans have forgotten to take basic precautions. My professor addressed an example of this: he told me most Chileans used to go to bed with their keys in the door in case of a quake. In my building, the precious moments it took to get the keys in the door made the difference between waiting out the quake in a doorway, or being trapped in a shaking apartment.

Despite all of this bad news, there is an optimistic story to be told as well. After replenishing their own pantries following the quake, the citizens of Santiago have really stepped up to the plate. Students flood street corners and grocery store entrances ready to take donations of food and water. People with megaphones in the Plaza de las Armas collect money for various relief organizations. The staff for my study abroad program went to the hospital after class to donate blood. My own host family emptied their closets for a clothing drive organized by their former high school! Everyone wants to help in anyway that they can, and the spirit is infectious.

As a group, my fellow students and I are hoping to complete a service project in the south during one of our excursions. We also plan to pool our money to buy water for the donation drives here. On a personal level, I would like to contact student groups at Pittsford Sutherland High School and Cornell University to encourage their support of relief organizations in need of donations such as Cruz Roja (Red Cross) and my personal favorite, Un Techo Para Chile (a Habitat for Humanity type organization.) If you're interested in donating, please access the following websites for online giving: I will try to post alternatives ways to help in the following days.

We are still feeling the aftershocks of the quake. Two actually occured as I was writing this entry. The US Embassy has advised that strong aftershocks are likely to happen in the following weeks, but I like to think that the worst of the seismic activity has already occurred. Either way, my host parents still sleep in the living room, ready to open the apartment door so it doesn't get stuck closed and my backpack of essentials and sneakers are still ready by the door.

My heart goes out to those who are suffering. I continually feel blessed to be safe and healthy. I hope that more relief reaches those in need as soon a possible.

Thanks again for reading - please become a follower!


Still safe and new post coming!

I am still safe and I have so much to say, but I haven't been able to get a post together yet, mainly because the academic portion of our program has just started up! We're going on an educational excursion today to a human rights organization but as soon as I get home after it I will be posting my next entry.

Thanks again for all of your interest and concern. It means a lot to me that so many people have been thinking of my safety and wellbeing during this time.