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Protestas y Carretes – Protests and Parties

Two of the most interesting cultural experiences for me have always been how other nationalities party and how they protest. As it turns out, Chileans are very good at both. Within the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to see both facets of Chile’s national character. I have tried to say yes to every new experience I can while in Chile, and here is where that led me.

El Jolgorio

The idea behind the Jolgorio (literally “revelry” or “merrymaking”) is one of the most comically pragmatic I have heard. A massive party is organized on the UdeC campus with so many participants that the campus security guards are powerless to stop it.

El Jolgorio, in the campus forum.

I’ve heard conflicting ideas on whether regular Chilean police (carabineros) are allowed to enter campus without permission, but I believe the Chancellor’s office has to give them some sort of permission first. With no police presence and a relatively small contingent of security guards, students drink, dance, and smoke with impunity all across the campus forum.

When I briefly checked the Facebook invitation, something like 8,000 people had RSVPed. Read More…


El Mechoneo – Hazing

El Mechoneo.

El Mechoneo. Photo courtesy

My first day at the university, I saw young students walking around half-dressed, without shoes, and covered in various colors of paint, flour, and other interesting-smelling liquids, so I asked the Chileans in my lab what was going on.

“El mechoneo,” they replied. I didn’t know the word in Spanish, so they explained it to me. Hazing! Read More…

La Paciencia y el Suerte – Patience and Luck

El Cajón del Maipo, outside of Santiago.

A post titled “Patience and Luck” seems to accurately sum up my Fulbright experience so far. Almost two weeks into my stay, I finally have a bit more time to think and reflect, rather than worrying about making my next flight or trying to figure out the best store to buy bed sheets.

I had planned to arrive in Santiago at 10 a.m. Wednesday in time for our 2 p.m. Fulbright orientation, but, thanks to some mechanical delays on my United flight, I spent a very short night in Houston and arrived just before midnight, after rescheduled flights and a layover in Panama City. Paciencia.

Once I actually made it to Santiago, everything went smoothly – I took a shared taxi service to my hotel and crashed for five hours before waking up for day two of orientation. Most of the administrative presentations happened on day one, so I got to listen to a motivated, cosmopolitan group of young people talk about their research projects. Suerte. Read More…

Watching the English

Big Ben

The iconic clock tower housing Big Ben in London.

Study abroad guides and similar publications suggest that culture shock can often be worse in countries like the UK, Australia, or other English-speaking countries. Americans expect them to be similar to home because they share a common language.

I’m not ready to agree that the culture shock is worse, but it can often be more jarring, sneaking up out of nowhere to thump you on the head, simply because you aren’t expecting it to.

The following observations Read More…

Two Countries Divided by a Common Language

A view of Oxford from the Magdalen College Tower.

A view of Oxford from the Magdalen College Tower.

Thinkers from George Bernard Shaw to Oscar Wilde have mused that the United States and the United Kingdom are two nations divided by a common language.

Exploring some of the myriad differences between these two ostensibly similar countries elicits laughs on either side of the Atlantic, and the differences are something I’ve come to appreciate more and more as Amanda and I spend time in Oxford.

It’s the language, innit, mate?

My general expression when confronted with strange English words and pronunciation.

My general expression when confronted with strange English words and pronunciation.

The differences in language are sometimes very small, sometimes wildly different, and usually enough to make me feel like an American rube.

Englishmen wear “trousers” when going out — you’d better have on something more than “pants” because here those are what Americans would call “underwear.” Read More…

You Won’t Like It Here: Immigration Stories

Buckingham Palace, where the Queen runs the country using a panel of buttons and levers.

Buckingham Palace, where the Queen runs the country using a panel of buttons and levers.

When Amanda and I first landed in London in October, I steeled myself to face the notoriously strict UK Border Agency, but even after preparing myself, the experience left me mildly traumatized. The immigration official asked me more probing questions than most job and scholarship interviews I’ve completed, delving into what felt like an inexhaustible list of topics.

The official who inspected Amanda upon our initial arrival wasn’t satisfied Read More…

Italy’s culinary capital, the oldest university in the world, and Commie agitprop: Bologna

A view of "La Rossa" from the Asinelli Tower.

A view of “La Rossa” from the Asinelli Tower.

The home of the oldest university in the world is also touted as the culinary capital of a country universally renowned for its food. Throw in centuries of left-wing agitation, and you’ve got Bologna, Italy.

A beautiful town with an expansive medieval cityscape, nicknamed “La Rossa” as much for its political leanings as for its terra cotta bricks and roof tiles, Bologna was Read More…

Florence is for Lovers

The Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge in Florence to survive World War II.

The iconic Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge in Florence to survive World War II.

Instead of dragging the reader through a play-by-play of the three days that Amanda and I spent in Florence, highlighting a few of our favorite sites and experiences should provide a window into one of my all-time favorite cities. After Naples and Pompeii, we took a high-speed train to Florence — it was a bit pricey, but the train was nicely furnished and took a mere two and a half hours.

In no particular order and certainly not in an exhaustive list, here are some of my favorite Florentine experiences.

Wandering the Streets

For some reason, Lonely Planet really lays into Florence — especially the historic city center. While the city can become hot and crowded during summer, people flock to Florence because it’s a beautiful city with a lot to offer. If anything, December was the perfect time to visit — we traded off longer daylight hours for almost no crowds or lines, while the weather hovered at a blessedly sunny and pleasantly crisp 50 degrees most days. Read More…

That’s Amore: Naples and Pompeii

Mount Vesuvius looming over the ruined city of Pompeii.

Mount Vesuvius looming over the ruined city of Pompeii.

After Rome, we were off to Naples, a city immortalized in the Dean Martin song “That’s Amore,” birthplace of pizza, and a seedy locale stereotyped as a mafia hotspot. While the Lonely Planet guidebooks generally cast a positive light on destinations they cover, they don’t mince words introducing Naples, describing it as “a raucous hell-broth of a city.”

We took a dusty regional train south from Rome through the dry, Mediterranean hillsides of Southern Italy. As embarrassing as admitting this apparently should be — based on the expressions of the Europeans I later told this to — this was my first time on a train. Read More…

Ancient Rome: The Colosseum and the Forum

Panorama of the Colosseum.

The Ancient Romans and their Greek forebears laid the foundation for the Western World to such an extent that I feel a bit silly blogging about ideas and images as immutable as the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. What can I say that hasn’t already been said by greater men than me?

Our second day in Rome was dedicated to the glory days of the Republic and the Empire. From the main Termini station right by our hostel, we took the Rome Metro two stops to the Colosseum station. Emerging from an underground train still reverberating with the rich sounds of a street musician’s saxophone, we spilled out into the crisp city air with the huge amphitheater standing just across the street.

Despite a slight chill and clouds (which later lifted to herald a bluebird day), visiting the Colosseum in December is an excellent time: While there were still quite a few people there, it was empty compared to the deluge of tourists during my last visit in summer 2005.

Amanda and I in front of the Colosseum.

Amanda and I in front of the Colosseum.

Most people know Read More…