The end of the homestay

I have now been in Chile for four and half weeks. I’m more than halfway though my 8-weeks of clinical work, and just about halfway through my 9 weeks here overall. This past Friday afternoon, Oriana finally arrived here in Santiago to join me for the remaining month. She is taking intensive Spanish classes at a school just around the corner from our apartment, and will continue to do so while I finish out my time working at the consultorio. Having her here is wonderful, in many ways. Nothing compares to exploring a city with someone so close to you– it is far better and more fun than wandering around on one’s own. Whether it’s been eating a nice dinner outside or just aimlessly wandering around the city, we’ve been having a blast since she arrived. It’s made it particularly fun that in this case I already had four weeks of “local” knowledge when she arrived, so I have been able to show her what I have liked so far, and jumpstart our time here together, so to speak.

While the remaining month promises to be awesome, last Friday not only marked Ori’s arrival, but also my departure from the home in which I had been staying for the previous four weeks. It was a great arrangement, as I blogged about in my earlier post, Living in Las Condes. I must say that pre-trip, I had some trepidation about doing a homestay–it was something I had never done before, and it felt a bit like a roll of the dice…would I like the person I stayed with? How would the food be? Would it be awkward to live in someone else’s space, help myself to food from their fridge, and, per the agreement we had, let them do the cleaning and my laundry?

Perhaps most importantly, I wondered how much I would have in common with the person whose house I would live in. Obviously a large and welcome part of the experience of living in another country is to meet people who are different than you, and to see how their lives, values, beliefs and goals compare with yours. This, after all, is the essence of really experiencing and enmeshing oneself in another culture, as opposed to just passing through it. With that thought in mind, I knew I was not hoping to live with someone exactly like me, but still, it would be nice if we had things in common and were able to get along well, wouldn’t it?

Another question I had pre-homestay was born out of the story a friend of mine told me about her experience during a homestay in Costa Rica when she was in college. This friend had felt that the experience was overall positive, but told me that in her case, it was clear that her participating in the homestay was an essential source of income and livelihood to a large, poor family living in a small home. She described them opening up the “master” bedroom to her, so that she could live in relative luxury, while multiple family members spanning several generations crowded into an adjacent room, forfeiting their space in the name of income from a wealthy foreigner. This had been unquestionably awkward and uncomfortable, and was not an experience I was hoping to emulate.

Fortunately things worked out differently in my experience–all for the better. My host “mom” is an established professional working for an international corporation, with a gorgeous apartment that has two extra bedrooms and plenty of extra space. This meant that I was not the only visiting student; there was also a college student from Luxembourg here studying linguistics. Having two of us in the house made things more fun, gave me someone to explore with, and allowed me to avoid feeling like the lone-intruder in someone else’s territory.

My host mom was very gracious and helpful throughout my stay. Some things were awkward–such as letting her do all of my laundry and wash all of the dishes–but my experience was very positive, fun, and educational. She also made acclimitazing much easier, helping me with things such as getting a cell phone and finding my way on the metro–things I could have done on my own but what have taken me more time to figure out. In addition to her direct help, living with her, paired with my experience working with Chileans during the day, meant nearly every word I spoke, from waking to sleeping, was in Spanish.

Dinner during my homestay was always the centerpiece of the evening. While I am only working 9-5, with my 90 minute commute it was more like 7:30-6:30, which meant I had about 5 hours between when I came home and when I would typically go to bed. This sounds like a lot of time, but somehow it would quickly evaporate, each night, into a ritual of talking about our days while the host mom, the other student and I cooked together, set the table, ate dinner at a relaxed paced (often accompanied by wine or champagne) and then worked together to put everything away. Dinner here was not something to get over with, a meal that had to be eaten, it was something to plan an evening around, to sit and enjoy eating, and an opportunity to get together and talk. I cannot say the same about my typical dinners in Boston, which are often relatively rushed, and often served with a side of HBO.

Speaking of the food, it was delicious. It was pretty much all either Chilean or Chilean-inspired, and I had the opportunity to try several things I had never seen or heard of before. Beyond that, even things that were familiar, such as fruits and vegetables, looked and tasted slightly different here.

Here are some snapshots of a few of my favorite dishes from the past four weeks, along with brief descriptions of each:

A wonderful dish of corn, basil, and chopped onion, all put in the blender and then baked. We had it as a vegetarian dish, but you can also get it with ground beef or chicken inside. Yum!

A "pancake" made with freshly shredded carrots, combined with an egg, and then all fried together in a frying pan on low-heat

Breakfast on the weekends consisted of fresh bread from the bakery next door, with salami and cheese, and, if I was feeling indulgent, some dulce de leche spread (the brown tub in the picture). We also had delicious melon, a different color day after day. Yum!

Chicken in a spicy, garlic curry...probably not very Chilean, but damn was it good!

Beef roast, cooked in a pressure-cooker with a wine and mushroom sauce. Served with guacamole, a fresh salsa, and black beans that were cooked, pureed, and then fried...the beans are a Guatemalan specialty

This was how we celebrated my last night of the home stay. The guacamole was delicious! The avocados here aren't uniformly the best I've ever had, but some have been great. This bowl was from just one avocado the size of an eggplant!

With the bittersweet end to my homestay came the exciting beginning of living with Ori. I would like to say I found our new apartment quickly and easily, but I probably spent too much time obsessing about finding exactly the right place before I settled on this one. The ending was a happy one, however. We love this place!

Here’s a teaser image for now:

You can see the kitchen counter we dine at, with the living room behind, followed by our balcony and view of the city. We love this place!

The apartment spans the 24th and 25th floors of a 2008 building in Providencia (the year of construction is important because it means it was around to be tested by and survive the 2010 8.8 earthquake! Now it has also survived this past Sunday’s magnitude 7.2 quake!) The apartment is gorgeous, with a living space below, a lofted bedroom above, and a corner location with a wrap-around balcony that offers 270-degree views of the city. Ori and I wonder if we will ever be able to afford such a place in the US (we are both leaning towards no).

That will have to be my stopping point for now. I am just about to start an afternoon session of adult primary care.

Hasta luego!



Living in Las Condes, Santiago

Beyond knowing that I would be living and working in Santiago, I really didn’t know what to expect when I got here two Sundays ago. Santiago is a huge city of 7 million people (1 of 3 Chileans live here in the city) and even though it is far more developed, richer, and supposedly safer than other South American cities, there is still a tremendous geographic, cultural, and socioeconomic range represented here.

Fortunately my start here was easy. You could even call it “cushy.” I am doing a home-stay with a wonderful Chilean woman who lives in a part of Santiago called Las Condes. She’s in her mid 50’s and has two adult children who no longer live with her, so she opens up their two old rooms in her gorgeous, 7th floor apartment, to host foreign students. The apartment would easily qualify as a very nice place to live in a wealthy part of any US city–it is large, well furnished,  nicely decorated, and it has a balcony that offers a wonderful view of the city, as you can see here:

There’s also a pool down below, with a grassy area for sunbathing alongside. As you can see, my life here isn’t too rough–a far cry from my busy inpatient medicine or surgery days in Boston, that’s for sure:

There’s currently one other foreign student here, a college student from Luxembourg who is studying Spanish Language at Universidad Catolica–the same university through which my exchange is organized. Shes really nice and it’s fun to have another person to go out and explore with. Spanish will be her fifth language, not including pig latin.

In summary, Las Condes, Santiago is basically Los Angeles, California. I guess I need to be more specific…its like one of the wealthy parts of LA. There are wide streets full of expensive cars, several malls nearby, plenty of sushi restaurants, and people live in a mixture of apartment buildings and large houses. Without cues like street signs in Spanish and volcanoes visible in the distance, one would be hard pressed to identify this as non-US:

While I am living in a nice ritzy area, I am working in the opposite. I travel 90 minutes each way (two subway trains and a collectivo, basically a taxi) to get to the Consultario San Alberto in the Puente Alto community of Santiago. Puente Alto, home to a mere 750,000 people, is the poorest neighborhood in Santiago, and one of the poorest in the country. Again, think Los Angeles CA, although not Malibu or Brentwood this time.

It’s getting late, so let’s leave the discussion of how things have been going at the consultario for my next post.