Valpo Or Bust


Address Change

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christian @ 22:01

I have no idea if anyone still comes here, as there have been no updates in the past century.  However, just for the record, I have an address change – here’s an excerpt from an e-mail I just sent out:

Sorry for the epic lack of updates on the blog/via e-mail, though I’m glad to see that everyone (with one exception – I’m looking at you, Aunt Patty/Uncle Dean!) is on Facebook.  For my generation, it’s definitely the way to keep in touch, simply because it’s so easy and multi-purpose: not only can you send messages, but you can also post pictures, etc.  Still, I thought I’d send out this update the old-fashioned way, just so everybody’s in the loop.

Over the past several months, ISA (my study abroad program) has commissioned a new office to be built just down the street from the old office.  The reasons are two-fold, it would seem: for one, the current ISA office building is small and is usually packed with students; the new building will provide more space and a nicer environment.  Also, the new building is a block or two closer to the main university building, meaning that students will be able to avoid the area near the Mercado Central in Valpo, an area with a reputation for thievery.  Tomorrow is the last day that the old office will be open, and the ISA staff have allotted themselves four days to transfer everything over before the new office opens Monday, June 7th.

What does this mean for you guys?

That I have a new address:

Attn: Christian Gonze

Oficina de ISA, 12 de Febrero #86,

Valparaíso, Chile

Any cards that anyone has already sent will be forwarded to the new location.  Also, to be honest, the window for sending things via snail-mail is on it’s way to closing – I wouldn’t put anything in the mail after the last week of June/first few days of July, as it might not reach me before I come home.  Speaking of which, the end is in sight!  Only 53 days until I set foot on my plane home!



(Not) Too Cool for School

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christian @ 23:08

So I guess once a week more or less is a good blog frequency, no?  I knew the second I signed up for this thing that my entries would be sporadic and few-and-far-in-between… Sorry about that, guys.  I haven’t had a blog in a long time (oh, the days of xanga), and I feel that some people let their blog take control of their lives, rather than vice versa.  There’s just so much living going on down here that it’s hard to churn out these posts with any frequency.  Meh.

This past week was my first week of classes, which amazes me ceaselessly because my compatriots back home at Messiah are already finishing up their Spring Break.  It seems that the semester here will be considerably shorter here anyway – classes only run from March 17th through July 3rd, but on the other hand, the class periods themselves are longer than most Messiah classes (every class period here in invariably 1.5 hours; in turn, Messiah’s class periods this semester are either an hour or an hour and twenty long, if I’m not mistaken).  Maybe that’s a falsehood – I haven’t done the math, that’s just the way it seems to me at any rate.

As I touched on in my last post, the whole class selection process here would make any college in the United States self-destruct.  I learned this past Thursday that even though I formally signed for classes last Friday, that day (which went surprisingly smoothly) was essentially an exercise in pointlessness – I can, in fact, add or drop any class I desire by simply attending (or not attending) said class.  In about two weeks or so, after I’ve created my final class list through this trial-and-error method, I will turn this final list in to my study abroad organization.  It is only then that I will truly be enrolled, once and for all, in any given class.

Unique, huh?

Fortunately, this informal Chilean method of class selection has already worked in my favor.  I’ve already had to drop two of the initial six classes that appeared in my original schedule:

Hispanic America, Mon/Thu 10:05-11:35

Modern History of Chile, Tue/Thu, 11:45-1:15

Art and Society in Prehispanic Chile, Wed, 11:45-1:15

Grammar for Foreigners 3, Mon/Wed, 3:40-5:10

History of Latin America in the Twentieth Century, Thu, 5:20-6:50

Translation/Informed Interpretation Workshop, Mon, 5:20-6:50/Fri, 11:45-1:15

Why did I drop the classes that have been crossed out?

The only hour and a half I will ever spend in Hispanic America, a class with Chileans (as opposed to a class exclusively with foreigners), almost made my mind explode.  This much is unfortunate, too, because the first ten minutes I spend in the class were very enjoyable.  The teacher, a younger woman maybe seven or eight years my senior, was extremely amiable.  I could understand her clearly, and even her suggestion that I introduce myself was a success (I made all the Chileans laugh by calling myself a gringo, a vaguely derogatory word for English-speaking Westerners that is much more friendly in Chile than elsewhere in Latin America).

Then class began.

The teacher immediately launched into a four-hundred word a minute monologue about something that I didn’t really understand.  It wasn’t necessarily a Spanish failure, I don’t think, but more a history one – what I didn’t know before entering the class was that Hispanic America was a class created by history majors for history majors.  Third year history majors.  I also didn’t know that it was part of a continuing series of classes, but I found this out quickly because every thirty seconds the prof asked us if we remembered information from previous classes.  I didn’t.

It was at that point that I decided that achieving a passing grade in the class would likely be more difficult than dividing by zero.  I decided to drop it like it’s hot.

The other class I decided to leave – the Translation Workshop – was throughly enjoyable the whole way through.  Unfortunately, while abroad, I have very specific criteria I have to adhere to for my abroad class to count for credit back home.  History, Literature, Politics and Linguistics are all safe.  Unfortunately, this class – a workshop designed to show us how to us Windows Paint to paint over Spanish words and insert English words – definitely would not have been a worthy Spanish major course, so I dropped it as well.

So what’s left?

Modern History of Chile is exactly what it sounds like.  We didn’t get too deep into anything on the first day, but it seems like it could be pretty good.  The professor is a nice guy, although he’s occasionally hard to understand because he suffers from the standard Chilean accent – ignoring half of every word he says and combining many words into one long stream of consciousness.  Still, it’s their native language, so I guess I won’t criticize…Slowly but surely getting an ear for it.

Art and Society in Prehispanic Chile is boring.  And also exactly what is sounds like.

Grammar for Foreigners 3 makes my life better.  It’s a small class (only 10 or so of us), which is a perfect size.  The professor is the man and a half – he’s very open and unintimidating, and says that about of the class time will be material he has planned, but the other half will come from our suggestions and difficulties.    Big win.

History of Latin America in the Twentieth Century could be my favorite history class ever.  It’s kind-of co-taught by two teachers who are both very cool guys, and very charismatic.  Again, I’ve only had this class once, and we didn’t get too deep into anything, but it should be good.

Unfortunately, after dropping those two classes, I’m one credit short of what I need for my study abroad requirements.  So I’ll probably end up finding another class to take – probably a class about the history of Valparaíso – but I’m not exactly sure yet.

I’ll be sure to let you all know how it shapes up.



Filed under: Uncategorized — Christian @ 00:35

Forgive me, guys, for the epic lack of updates since the earthquake.  I wanted to get an update out immediately after the quake just to give everybody a sense of what was happening here in Chile, and of course to let everyone know that I was all right, but as of late I’ve been remiss about updating.  Boo.

A brief chronological synopsis:

The Saturday of the quake (it technically occurred at 3:34 AM), our study abroad program, International Studies Abroad, moved us to a resort in a small country town called Olmué, about half an hour away from Valparaíso and and hour or so from Santiago.  There is very little to say about my stay there, except to commend ISA for their actions.  I know several of my fellow students complained a lot about staying in such a remote, quiet town where there is no night life to speak of, and to tell the truth, even as someone who hates big parties, I thought it was pretty dull.  But after living through the fifth (I think?) strongest earthquake in recorded history, a little boredom was a welcome change of pace.  ISA kept us safe and made the right decisions every step of the way; I cannot thank them enough.

After two days in Olmué, we were distributed to our host families.

And let me tell you, my host family is amazing, although not really in a way that I can describe in words.  All the standard adjectives fit: nice, kind, understanding, fun, etc.  But try describing your own family in so many words in a virtual journal – it doesn’t really work.  Suffice it to say that although I had a great childhood as an only child, I’m very much into having siblings for these five months.  I’ve actually even found a new Canasta partner in my hermanita, Dani.

Since I arrived last Monday (1/3/10, which is the Spanish dating system, by the way), most of my time has been dedicated to exploring Viña del Mar, the city in which I reside, and Valparaíso, the city where  my university is located.  My experience so far has been a growing experience, obviously, in more ways than one: of course, the language barrier has an impact on everything I do here, but almost as importantly, acclimatizing myself to city life has been quite an experience.  I’m used to American individualism – if you want to go somewhere, you take your car and you just go.  All my life, I’ve traveled from place to place via car maybe 98% of the time.  The point then becomes moot when I’m at Messiah  – a five minute walk will take me anywhere I desire.

Here, though, public transportation constitutes 98% of my transit from place to place – a completely new concept to my suburbian mind.  Here in Chile, public transportation comes in three flavors: metro (self-explanatory), buses (colloquially called “micros” here), and colectivos.  Literally translating to – you guessed it – “collective” in English, colectivos are, if I’m not mistaken, a form of taxi that is indigenous to the Andean region.  Essentially, it’s a car that works in the form of a bus – rather than one passenger entering and selecting a destination, colectivos follow predetermined routes.  The advantage to colectivos is that they can get to places that traditional buses can’t; here, among the tall cerros of Valpo and Viña, a bus is more of a liability than a help, and I can imagine that most buses would instinctually run away from some of the hills (read: mountains) in this region.

All good things must come to an end, however, and after more than a full week of descanso, of vacationing and relaxing and exploring my new home, it’s time to get to work.  Today was my first day of formal orientation in La Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (or simply La Católica for short), and though the orientation itself, which consisted in viewing a presentation and some traditional and modern Chilean music and dance, was not too strenuous, the class lists we received reminded us that things are about to get very busy very fast.

Even before I set foot inside a classroom on my first day of classes, this Monday (15/3), I will undoubtedly have to endure the epic headache that class selection will be.

It goes something like this:

Here at La Católica, there are two different types of classes I can choose from: classes with extranjeros (that is, classes with just international students, and classes that integrate international students with Chilean students in one classroom.  Though I can take some classes with extranjeros, how many I can take is, to the best of my knowledge, a limited number.  That number is a mystery to me.  Also, whereas Messiah College is set on a 3-credit class standard (almost every class I take in Grantham is worth 3 credits), here they dispense credit numbers at random: there are far more 2, 4, 5 and even 6 credit classes than there are 3 credit classes (at La Católica). To add to this mess, a class that counts as 2 credits here (at La Católica) isn’t necessary worth three credits back home at Messiah.  To combat this insanity, Messiah has what is called a Course Equivalency Database, an online database that establishes what classes abroad count as in Messiah language.  But because this program is so new (only its second semester with Messiah), there’s hardly anything in this database for us…which is a total fracaso (fail).


At any rate, by Friday night, this will all be figured out, and classes will start Monday.  At 8:15 in the morning.  By then my house will have water (we lost it for 72 hours starting yesterday for pipe repair), and what will be life as normal will begin.

More updates then. =)


Gracias por la Bienvenida, Chile

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christian @ 19:10

Obviously, going to any foreign country (especially for the first time) is an unbelievable experience that no amount of words on a page can truly capture.  As many of you know, this semester in Chile is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to leave the United States, and even after only three full days, I feel my world expanding in ways I hadn’t anticipated with each minute that passes.  The most memorable event, of course, is the welcoming gift Santiago gave us at about 3:30 local time this morning.  More on that in a minute.

Wednesday, 24/2/10:

My first flight from Philly to Dallas on an MD-80 was truly an awe-inspiring experience.  So inspried with awe was I that I’m sure I looked like a complete and total moron to everyone that surronded me.  As we gained speed on the runway and finally left the ground, I looked back and forth between windows, a childlike grin on my face, wondering why no one else was finding air travel so exhilirating.  But the newfound love I found for airplanes in the three-hour trip from Philly to Dallas quickly disappeared about 45 minutes into the international flight from Dallas to Santiago, Chile.

45 minutes is probably also about the amount of sleep I got on the long, grueling 10-hour flight.  Takeoff again was fun, watching Dallas at night – a grand web of multicolored lights – recede into the distance.  Unfortunately, our Messiah group was about as close to one of the engines as one could get, and paired with the cubic foot of space reserved for me in economy, it was, without question, the least comfortable place I’ve ever (not) slept.

Thursday, 25/2/10:

Despite the minimal sleep I got on the plane, arriving in Santiago gave me a long-lasting burst of energy.  To tell the truth, these first two days are and absolute whirlwind in my mind, a long stream of new places and people which is hard to remember in a continuous chronological reel.

I remember the relief of finding that both of my checked bags has arrived safely and on time in Santiago, and the relatively painless customs check before meeting the rest of the ISA group in the main hall of the airport.  I exchanged my American dollars for Chilean pesos – 510 pesos on the dollar – before briefly heading back to our hotel to freshen up.

After that, we went out to a nearby restaurant where I ordered a salad that, despite bearing the name Cesar, did not have dressing or croutons or anything else one might associate with a Caesar salad.  Still, it was good, and was enough to sustain me through our trek to the teleferico and San Cristobal, and epic mountain on the edge of the main metropolis of Santiago.

The teleferico we rode was essentially a very glorified version of an incline, like the one found in Pittsburgh, which slowly but surely took us up to the very top of the mountain.  Up there we found a downright magnificent view of the skyline of Santiago, a vista which is always watched over by a statue of la Virgen.  The statue was erected in the beginning of the twentieth century, if I’m not mistaken, as a Catholic symbol in a predominantly Catholic country.

That night, we ate out in an amazing Italian restaurant before coming back to our apartment to play Dutch Blitz out on the patio by the light of our bedroom lamp.  Good times.

Friday, 26/2/10

We had to wake up Friday morning at an irritating 8:00 to make it to breakfast before heading over to an hour-long ISA meeting about safety in Chile.  Sure, it was well worth our time, but after having spent two months of waking up whenever I choose, 8:00 is very painful.  I guess I can get used to it.

After the meeting, we went out to see la Palacia Presidencial de La Moneda – the Presidential Palace which was originally created by the Spanish as a mint (Moneda means money or currency in Spanish).  It has a rich history which was delineated to us in rapid-fire Spanish by a tour guide who showed us all around the place.

We went to a nearby market for lunch before returning to the hotel for a break.  I used the break to go out for a walk with some of the Messiah crew just to explore a park located a block away from out hotel.  I also went to the supermarket for the first time here in Chile, which was cool, before we had to return for yet another orientation meeting.

Two hours of more safety protocol later, a small group of us went for pizza and returned to Shaina and Karissa’s room to play some cards and just generally hang out.   More good times were had by all, and Josh (my roommate) and I decided to return to our room to try to get some sleep at around 12:45 or so.  After a long day walking around Santiago, a good night sleep was all I wanted, but it was rudely interrupted by…

Saturday, 27/02/10

3:30 A.M.

I’m sleeping relatively soundly when all of a sudden the entire city starts to shake.  My first thought was that this wasn’t too big of a deal – in one of the earlier orientation meetings, our leaders had told us that tremors were very common and that they’re not anything to be concerned about.  Very quickly, however, we realized that this was no small tremor – this was an 8.0 scale massive quake, the likes of which had not been seen by Chile since 1985.

My roommate Josh had jumped out of bed and was standing in the doorway, where we had been told it would be safest in the event of a major earthquake.  He ordered me to do the same, and I was more than happy to comply.

Honestly, this was the most intense thing I’ve ever experienced.  The quake probably only lasted 30-45 seconds, but it seemed like an eternity.  I’ve never felt such helplessness.  The lights went out right away, and as our building was shaking, all we could hear were the sounds of falling debris in our darkened main room and in the hallway.   We managed to keep our footing, but after the shaking ceased, the three of us in our room quickly got dressed and immediately left the building.

Outside we found darkness and all a small crowd standing in the street.  We found other ISA students and joined them, waiting for leaders to appear to tell us what to do.  They soon did, making sure we were okay and letting us know that this was no normal occurrence, even for Chile.  We must have been outside for an hour and a half or more before we were allowed back in, but we passed the time by playing spoons with pieces of rubble from the hotel.  Yeah, that’s how we roll.

In all seriousness, thought, the Chilean government has confirmed 708 casualties so far, three of which were in Santiago.  Please pray for their families – it’s only by the grace of God that we were in a safe structure in a modern city prepared for this type of disaster that this wasn’t a tragedy on the scale of Haiti.  An all-too-visceral reminder to be grateful for every moment you have.



Filed under: Uncategorized — Christian @ 20:46

So packing’s about 95% complete, with about 50% of that taking place in the last hour:

Tomorrow: leaving on a jet plane, I do know when I’ll be back again…


Thumbprints and Packing

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christian @ 17:03

My philosophy about packing: slow and steady wins the race.

Ehh, that’s what the weekend’s for anyways, right?  No need to strain myself.

Anyways, after a trip to the consulate yesterday, I finally (!!!!!) have my Chilean visa and can breathe a big sigh of relief.  It surely was a process, though – I got down to the consulate in Philly with time to spare, but drove around the building about fifteen times before settling on a place to park.  Fortunately, we located the correct entrance on the first try (there are several “main” entrances to the Public Ledger Building), and made it all the way up to the Consulate on the tenth floor.

Once there, however, a series of failures ensued.  You see, they printed out this long sheet of paper with all of my information on it for me to sign and stamp my fingerprint on to make it official.  The lady processing me printed out the first sheet, which I signed successfully (no small feat, as I had to write my middle name, “Douglas”, in cursive, something I had not done since the end of the Eisenhower administration).  Filled with confidence by my successful signature, I dived right in and applied my thumbprint, which ended up being less of a thumbprint and more of an indeterminate black blotch that appeared to be the outcome of a massive pen explosion.


So she printed this sheet out again (assuring me that “this kinda thing happens sometimes”), and had me sign it and thumbprint it.  Success!

I had barely returned to the lobby, though, when she called me back in to show me the paper – all I had contributed was fine, but somehow the sheet had been misprinted, and my parents had become Randall Mishigishack and Patricia Khazinbooger.

Failure redux.

So, the woman printed out yet another sheet, and this time all went well, she gave me my visa, and I went on my merry way.

With all of that taken care of, then, there’s not really much left to do –  I need to pack, obviously, which is perhaps a task I’m underestimating, but that’s really about it.  I’m still getting used to the idea that in a week’s time, I will have arrived in Santiago just a few short hours ago.  Chile, here I come!


Testing, testing.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christian @ 18:47

1, 2, 3…

Currently in Murray Library at Messiah, just trying to figure out how to use this thing. It’s the last day of my Valentine’s Day weekend Messiah visit, and to be frank, I think it sucks that I have to go home. After having been away for two months, returning to this place reminds me how much I enjoy it here.


More to come…

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