Identity crisis

My throat hurts. Not that badly. I’ve had worse sore throats. But since I can’t think of many things worse than being sick for the weekend, let alone sick while abroad, I’m on cup #4 of tea for the day. Not tea, actually. Agua de hierbas. Specifically, de menta, which might be my favorite.

Drinking lots of tea, especially when what you’re going for is the healing power of the heat, has taught me that there’s a very small window in which tea is at a perfect temperature. You can’t drink it right away or you will burn the heck out of your mouth, and then you can’t enjoy the tea because your mouth hates you. But if you wait too long, you lose out on the awesome sensation of heat and how good it feels in your semi-swollen throat. And then you’re just drinking herbal water with sugar in it.

There was a weekend in between now and when I last posted.


My university hosted a big, free concert for all the students. Things I learned here: music transcends language. Except rap. I don’t think rap transcends language. Or at least not easily. I have trouble understanding/appreciating rap in English, let alone Chilean Spanish.

Another thing I learned: I underestimated the prevalence of cigarette smoking among Chilean youth. I would see students around campus smoking, but not on a grand scale. More often than at my home school, for sure, but I think they have a smaller percentage of smokers than the general population as a whole, so I wasn’t surprised. But man. Holy smokes. I think everyone except my friends and I was lighting up. Now generally, I can tolerate smoking. Do I smoke? No. Have I ever? No. Do my parents? Nope. My host dad smokes, and it really doesn’t bother me. Often I find the smell somewhat comforting. But maybe it was the amount of smoke I was inhaling, or the kinds of cigarettes around (there had to be some unfiltered action going on), but I could actually feel my throat burning a little by the end of the night. And when you blow grey snot out of your nose, you know you’ve been exposed.


I had the great pleasure of meeting up with a very dear American friend of mine who, as luck/fate would have it, is also studying in Santiago this semester. We trekked around Plaza Ñuñoa, in the comuna of Ñuñoa, during the quiet time between the end of the afternoon and the opening of the bars. She is also blonde. Very blonde. And we were speaking in English. But are there actually that few blondes here that it’s necessary to call them out anytime you see them? I wonder what it’s like to be an actual chilena and naturally blonde. They do exist. Do they get taken for gringas all the time?

That meet-up on Saturday also made me recognize the value of having a good friend here with me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m getting along wonderfully with all of the people in my school’s group, and I know I have them to lean on if I need anything. But there’s something about having someone who has known you for a long time, who knows your family, who knows where you come from and how you work, that makes this journey a little bit easier. The help is there if you need it. It’s truly a blessing and a crazy twist of fate.


Guys. I cooked something. And I have pictures!

Look at that! It’s a mixing bowl on the blog again!

Yes. I made pancakes. With a mix.

Guys, I cannot tell you how happy it made me when my host sister came into my room Sunday morning and asked me to help her make pancakes. It made me feel so at home to mix up batter and put it in something hot and then get something fluffy and delicious.

Full disclosure: there were mishaps.

Apparently it only takes about four weeks for you to forget how to flip something with a spatula.

Note: pancakes in a pan don’t cook up the same as they do in a griddle. Heat distributes differently. Watch out!

These things are easily remedied, however, with a good dousing of syrup and hiding them under the prettier pancakes in the pile.

This picture makes me want to bake more things in my new kitchen, just so I can photograph them in the beautiful light.

Cooking something really helped me feel more at home and comfortable, just like a friend and Chile alum told me it would (thank you, C.! The good pancakes are for you!).


The weekend ended. I went to class. Ho hum.

But I also met up with my tandem language partner, a Chilean student with whom I will practice my Spanish, in return for practicing his English. It got me thinking about names. Here, I’ve been introducing myself as Gabriela, mostly because there’s actually another Gaby (Gabby) in my group, and since my full name is indeed Gabriela, I figured we could distinguish ourselves that way. But now there are people getting to know me as Gabriela, and not Gaby.

Is la Gabriela a different person than the Gaby? What about my other friends who are going by entirely different names- either Hispanicized versions of their names (i.e., Esteban instead of Steven) or names that have been lost in translation (this happens when people have names that just don’t translate well to a Chilean pronunciation, or when the name is not written like it is spoken). What about them?

(I say this, and I just got an email from someone to whom I introduced myself as Gabriela, and they called me Gaby. The blessing of having a name and nickname that is incredibly normal for this continent. Mom and Dad- you’re brilliant. Without any idea of what my future would be, you could not have given me a more perfect name.)

Names aside, I’ve heard we’re different people depending on what language we’re speaking. In some sense, that’s a little obvious: language is inherently bound up in culture and customs. Of course you’ll be a little different in Castellano than in English. But it goes deeper than that, folks. I’m not wholly myself in Spanish. Why? Because I can’t express myself as fully as I can in English. Sometimes what I would say in English just doesn’t carry over in Spanish. Or the moment is lost in the effort it takes for me to translate.

My hope is that my host family and the other Chileans I’m getting to know can see little bits and pieces of American English Gaby in the almost-but-not-quite-fluent-enough Castellano Gabriela, and I also hope that they can see that I really very badly want the Gaby and la Gabriela/Gaby to be as much the same person as possible. Or at least that I’m trying!

Chileans: I’m really a lot smarter and more interesting than I might appear. Except when I still almost fall over on the subway every day. Or that time I almost fell over on the moving walkway in Jumbo. Or that time I shut my thumb in the car door. True story. That Gaby cannot be hidden by any language. That Gaby, like music, transcends language.

In all honesty, though: the Spanish is getting easier. Lord be praised, I might have actually dreamt in Spanish the other day. And if it wasn’t a dream, it was certainly an unconscious/subconscious thought. I also find myself thinking about things in Spanish during the day, even if I’m not speaking Spanish at the time. Step by step…paso a paso…


In honor of the feriado (day off) miércoles for la Asunción de la Virgen, my host dad picked up sopaipillas and dobladitas. Dobladitas might be the most delicious bread product I’ve tasted yet in Chile. That’s a big statement, people. The way my host dad explained it is that it’s the dough for empanadas, but unfilled and folded into quarters. We had them heated up with butter. Basically, it was like dense, chewy pie crust, with butter.

My host mom heated up the sopaipillas with chancaca, which is this dark sugar sauce cooked up with orange zest, cinnamon, and probably other stuff. It was kind of like eating a plain doughnut soaked in spiced wine. Again, delicious.

I’ve talked for a long time. Fingers crossed, I might actually be going to a disco this weekend, aka Thursday. And then shopping the streets of Santiago. And then indulging in some more traditional Chilean food. I will make an effort to take pictures!

More stories from the Spanish struggle bus/streets of Santiago/sitting here at my laptop to come!

Besos y un abrazo,

Gaby (Gabriela?)

1 Comment

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One response to “Identity crisis

  1. emroznowski

    ick sorry about the smokers! seems like you are doing well 🙂

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