Camellia Travels the World: “Defending the Land is Defending Our Mother”

October 29, 2019

Mari Mari, my friends! (Hello in Mapudungun, the native language of the Mapuche people).

After weeks of crazy busy city life in Santiago, we escaped to the south of Chile. No, it is not Patagonia, but a lovely town called Curarrehue. On the border of Argentina, Curarrehue is home to the Mapuche people, an indigenous community that inhabit south-central Chile and southwestern Argentina. We stayed with community members while learning about their ideologies and struggles through talks and site visits.

My host mom Ida. She is the kindest person I have ever met in my life. She makes the best Chappi (hot pepper sauce) and sopaipillas!

 

Ida is an amazing artisan. She makes beautiful hand crafts to decorate her home. She also gave me a small handmade basket as a gift.

The Mapuche community has a strong connection with nature; to be more accurate, they are considered to be a part of nature. “Defending the land is defending our mother,” they repeated many times. Thus, they are willing to do anything to protect mother nature, against the biggest perpetrators – the Chilean state and private companies. Because of their geographical location and potential resources, many mining companies come into their space, using hydro-powered machines to extract minerals. The Chilean state, even though declares water as common goods, sells the use of the river to private companies. The Mapuche people know that they don’t have power to resist companies from coming, thus they turn to nature and pray for rivers to protect themselves. The people believe in the spirits of nature and share their lives with these spirits.

I honestly did not quite grasp their belief in spirits of nature until I sat by the river and watched the flow. All I could see was the beautiful view of the mountains, and all I could hear was the harmonious sound of water. At that moment, I finally started to comprehend the worship of water and worship of nature. This scene also took me back to my freshman spring semester, when I took a class called Geographic Dimensions and Human Development. I read an article about Fiji indigenous people’s struggle with the Fiji Water industry. Again, I had some sympathy for them at the time, yet I did not quite understand their difficulty. This serene moment by the river finally made me comprehend the issue for the Mapuche and for Fiji Islanders. Water, as a natural resource and an essential need, should not and never be a privatized source for profit. It is such a capitalist idea to take water away from human lives for money; this is a serious violation of human rights.

The river at Regiolil near Curarrehue.

Forests also play a significant role in the Mapuche culture. The people go into the mountains for months, dancing and singing by the woods, giving trees love and company. In their philosophy, one should always ask for permission from nature when entering an unfamiliar place. And to show their gratitude, they also bring some offerings to nature as well.

On the weekend, we went hiking near Volcano Lanin. Before we started, we came by a river at the foot of the mountain. Our guides told us that if we ask for permission from nature sincerely, then mother nature will protect us in the wilderness. Thus, I closed my eyes and prayed in my mind, “thank you for letting us into your space. I promise I will take good care of all my actions in your place.” After praying, one guide took out a bag of flour, grabbed a handful, and placed it in the river. “This is a gesture to thank mother nature,” another guide explained.

After the ritual, everyone felt refreshing and well-protected; thus, we started hiking. For the first few minutes, it was just like other hikes in the woods. However, after a moment, there appeared patches of snow. Then, without knowing, we were stepping into several feet of snow. Two years of life in Virginia did not prepare me well to walk on snowy land. I slipped several times and fell into the snow twice with snow up to my thigh. Luckily, there were many friends well experienced and managed to pull me out of my plight (literally and figuratively).

Our group picture in front of Volcano Lanin.

 

My roomie and me presenting Volcano Lanin.

The whole hiking trip was about five hours. We stopped here and there to appreciate nature and views, and we also learned about special species of trees and seeds in the woods. One guide recounted that he used to come into the woods with his family, helping to find good spots to plant seeds. Yet, the trees’ rate of growth was much slower than the humans’ speed of cutting. “Those Europeans love turning woods into furniture,” he joked.

It was a very short and joyful hiking tour, and I had a taste of the Mapuche’s intimate connection and affection of mother nature. For a people that have been living there for thousands of years, nature runs in their blood. The Mapuche people faced Spanish invasion and Chilean oppression, yet they are staying strong to defend themselves and defend their mother nature. This is a spirit that I shall carry forever.

A meeting cabin for leaders. On the left, you can find two flags. The one on the left is the flag of Chilean Mapuche, and the one on the right is the ancestral flag.


Camellia Travels the World: Special Month in Chile

October 21, 2019

We come to Chile at a special time. September is an important month in Chilean history.

On September 11, 1973, the world’s infamous dictator Pinochet led a coup d’état to overthrow the Socialist Chilean government. On that horrific day, the city of Santiago was overwhelmed by air raids and ground attacks over the presidential palace. Under the terror, President Allende vowed to remain in the presidential palace as a confrontation against the threats. He calmly delivered his final speech to the nation via radio: “My words do not have bitterness but disappointment. May there be a moral punishment for those who have betrayed their oath…the only thing left for me is to say to workers: I am not going to resign! Placed in a historic transition, I will pay for loyalty to the people with my life.” 

Flag to commemorate President Allende. The quote is from his last speech: “The history is ours, and people make history.”

The violence did not cease after the death of Allende. Under the dictatorship, numerous citizens were abused and tortured. According to the Commission of Truth and Reconciliation, the number of direct victims of human rights violations accounts for around 30,000 people; they were taken as political prisoners in concentration camps. Approximately 4,500 people were executed, and around 200,000 people were forced to exile.

In order to commemorate these victims of political violence, people gather for peaceful marches and ceremonies on September 11 every year. After learning and discussing the dark history, we went to one memorial site – Estadio Nacional – at night for the commemoration ceremony.

The Candlelight Ceremony outside of Estadio Nacional.

Walking into the tunnel around the stadium, I was overwhelmed by the heavy ambiance inside. The ceiling of the tunnel was not too low, yet I felt it was barely above my head; the lights were brightly incandescent, yet the tunnel was still so dim; the paint on the wall had fallen out, and it was full of marks from history. On the walls, there was a photograph exhibition that reveals the  terror that people had gone through.

Thousands of people were captured, detained, and tortured at this specific site.

Inside the modern stadium, there was a remaining section with wooden benches surrounded by modern plastic seats. Many people put flowers and notes on the fence to pay their tribute. A group of us went inside the fence and sat on the benches for a while, trying to absorb the atmosphere and comprehend the fear and despair in the dark.

The fenced section inside the Estadio Nacional dedicated to memorializing the horror of 1973.

On a lighter note, September 18 is the National Day of Chile. On September 18, 1810, the Independence movement began in opposition to the rule of its colonizer, Spain. The Independence movement lasted more than a decade, but at last in 1826, the last Spanish troops surrendered, and the Chilean Republic was established. Thus, the Chileans have a week of celebration for their independence.

We went on a cultural “site visit” – going to a fonda. It is a carnival fair for a whole week, where people can buy food and beverages, dance Cueca (a traditional dance), play games, and watch rodeo. There were several fondas taken place in Santiago, so I went to the one at Parque Padre Hurtado, closest to my homestay.

My giant smile and double chin with Terremoto (a drink made of pipeno wine, grenadine, and pineapple ice cream) and Anticucho (a meat skewer).

Anyway, it was a lot of up-and-down feelings in one week. On the one hand, we memorialized and honored the dead from the horror of coup d’etat; on the other hand, we celebrated the thrilling independence of Chile. It was a full cultural experience.


Camellia Travels the World: Stepping out My Comfort Zone

October 9, 2019

Hola, Amigos!

I have been in Chile for a while, and I am finally starting to adapt into this new environment. To be honest, even though I have already experienced studying in another country (the United States) for six years, it is still uneasy for me to be in Chile.

Panorama of Santiago area from Cerro de San Cristobal. (Look closely to find Gran Torre Santiago, the tallest building in South America)

First and foremost, there is a huge language barrier. In Chile, almost 90% of the population speaks only Spanish; and unfortunately, my six years of French is unhelpful in this situation. Even for my classmates who have learned Spanish, the Chilean Spanish is still difficult to comprehend, because Chileans speak very fast and use a lot of slang. Therefore, it is my daily struggle to navigate and order food in Spanish.

Furthermore, the language barrier extends into classroom. Even though we have an interpreter for every site visit, and she does a wonderful job, there is still always a giant wall between me and the speakers. We practice consecutive interpretation, which is an interpretation done by repeating in chunks; so I always have a delay in reacting to what has been discussed (when the Spanish speakers laugh at jokes or frown for displeasure, I just look confused). Also, it is difficult for me to concentrate when stories are broken into pieces; thus, even though I am listening to all the interpretation carefully, I feel that I am still only getting half, if not even less, of what the speaker is conveying. Nevertheless, this is a practice that I have to work on for the rest of the trip and in the future.

Another challenge is cultural custom. One of the most common etiquette in Chile is that people greet by hugging and kissing on the right cheek. I learned this in the orientation, yet I forgot about it in the blink of an eye. Thus, when I first met my little host brother, he opened his arms when I was reaching out my right hand. He looked so confused, and then he turned to his mother, using his puzzled eyes to ask her what to do. Finally, in order to not embarrass me, he gave me a handshake and then hugged me. Nevertheless, I was still abashed by my mistake. Ever since that moment, I engraved this local greeting gesture in my brain.

A family photo with my two host siblings, my host mom, and my two roommates.

Apart from those challenges, I am enjoying a variety of things that Santiago offers. In the metropolitan region, there are several cerros (hills); my friends and I hiked Cerro de San Cristobal to see the panorama of the city. At the Central Market, there are many restaurants (touristy yet still worth a visit); my friend and I had fresh seafood for a Saturday brunch. At Plaza de Armas, there is a big square with neoclassical-style buildings around; we sipped pisco sour (a typical Chilean drink) as we imagine being in Spain.

At the center of the Central Market. There are numerous men in red sweaters waiting for tourists to come. They can greet them in many languages; one waiter greeted us in Japanese and Mandarin. It was also interesting to me that a group of restaurants use the same menu.

The city of Santiago presents itself with multiple facades. Spain subdued and colonized Chile from 1540 to 1818 (Chile declared its independence on September 18, 1810, yet it only won its formal independence when it defeated the last large Spanish force on Chilean soil on April 5, 1818). On account of its colonial history, there is strong reminiscence of European footprints across the city. On the other hand, there are also segments reflecting the modernistic industrial period; the apartment buildings demonstrate the emphasis on simplicity, economy, and functionality. Moreover, the post-modernistic skyscrapers are also scattered in the city. Overall, the architecture in Santiago is quite diverse (sometimes I find elements of Asia as well), so it is very enjoyable to stroll down streets and experience different ambiances.

 


Camellia Travels the World: An Extraordinary Journey Begins

August 28, 2019

Hello, everyone! I am Camellia, and I am a junior at the University of Richmond, majoring in International Studies: World Politics and Diplomacy. I am from Chengdu, China, and fun fact, it is also the hometown of Giant Panda. At the age of fifteen, I boarded the plane from China to the United States to pursue education. During these six years, I have not only learned critical thinking and empirical reasoning, but also Frisbee playing and Netflix binge-watching. In other words, I think I have taken my root on the other side of the world; and, I decided that it is time for a new challenge.

Therefore, I applied for the International Honors Program with SIT. This has been my dream program since freshman year; it is unique because IHP gives me an opportunity to contemplate with one theme on a global scale. Gladly, I will also be with thirty other fellow enthusiasts and a director throughout the program. We are from different universities, we represent different cultures, we have different hobbies, yet we are all coming together for our shared passion for human rights. Over the next four months, we will closely examine the causes of struggles for human rights, the relationship between human rights and activism, and the comparison of “Human Rights” and “human rights”[1]; Moreover, we will travel to four drastically different locations: New York City, USA; Santiago, Chile; Kathmandu, Nepal; and Amman, Jordan. At each location, we will take classes with local faculty and stay with host families to learn and experience the authentic culture.

This journey is deemed to be extraordinary even from the prequels of my traveling. Long story short, I had to go to Boston for my Chilean visa, therefore I came back to the US a few days before my program. Everything went smoothly until I found out my flight from Newark to Boston was cancelled. It was already 8:30 pm, and all the other United Airlines flights were completely full. At that moment, my heart was filled with despair and my eyes were full of tears. All I had in mind was that I have to get to Boston in time. Thus, I cancelled my plane ticket and made up my mind to rent a car and drive, even though I had been tirelessly travelling for the last 20 hours. When I went to the carousel, I noticed another lady waiting for her baggage. I collected my courage and asked her if she was interested in carpooling with me. Amazingly, she agreed, and we even found two other girls wanting to share the ride. In the end, we embarked for our road-trip to Boston. We talked non-stop for almost four hours and learned a lot about each other: Elisa is from Italy, and she comes to the US to visit her high school host family in Boston; Sneha has just gotten her Master’s degree, and she is going to Boston for a job interview; Erin is on her way back to Boston for an important meeting the next day and her husband’s birthday… Now that I reflect on it, I would never have met these incredible people if I only sat quietly on the thirty-nine-minute flight; maybe the cancellation was not so disastrous after all. 

On our way to Boston. Elisa could not believe how much traffic there was at 11 pm in NYC.

There is an old Chinese proverb: “A good gain takes long pain.” I have finally got my visa after everything, and I am ready to start my journey, hopefully without any cancellations or delays. I will be sharing fun stories, travel tips, personal thoughts, and anything you ask throughout my trip. So stay tuned and wish me luck!

Me trying to paint my “selfie”.

 


[1] Stephen Hopgood delineates the two spheres of human rights in his book, The Endtimes of Human Rights, where “Human Rights” represents “top-down” influences while “human rights” relates to “bottom-up” movements.


Mel in Chile: Is it really over?

December 19, 2013

Is study abroad really over? Well I didn’t have time to ponder on this question for too long. I left Santiago early on a Saturday morning. About a month ago my parents bought me tickets to visit my family in Europe. You cannot imagine my excitement!

So the reason I didn’t have much time to be melancholy about leaving my beloved Santiago was because in five days I was going to board a plane to London to visit my family! What’s more, two weeks after that I would board another plane to Albania to see the rest of my family. You can imagine on our goodbye dinner my emotions were a bit confused. I was extremely sad to leave my life in Santiago behind. On the other hand, I was absolutely ecstatic to see my family. Now that I have arrived in England, and am sitting in this lovely café in Reading, I feel I finally realize that yes it really is over. I will go back to Richmond on January 11th, not Santiago. To be completely honest, I am looking forward to going back to Richmond more than I can express in words. I think after working abroad in the summer in the Dominican Republic, and later studying abroad in Chile, I am looking forward to going back to a familiar and comfortable setting.

I am also a bit anxious. Even though I am coming back to a “familiar place” I wonder if it will be hard to adjust, if I will miss life abroad. When I get back I will dive into a full course load of core business classes. Registration was not too kind to me this semester. I have 8 am classes Mon/Wed/Fri and 9 am classes Tues/Thurs. I sometimes get worried I will be overwhelmed. When I think of all of this I seriously criticize myself for denying myself the opportunity to study abroad another semester in Santiago. It is at this precise moment that I realize why I initially decided to come back to UR.

I came back for the academics, for the resources we have (career center, center for civic engagement, common ground, free tutoring), to have access to professors and other mentors I have at the University, to spend more time with my friends. Most importantly I came back because I am excited to look for the ways I can become more involved in the Richmond community at this point in my academic career. Studying abroad helped me understand who I am and what I care for. I am looking forward to re-entering the Richmond community (both UR and the city of Richmond) as someone a bit different than when I left.

IMG_1743

I will finish this blog the same way I started it. This is a picture of Santiago as seen from the top of Cerro San Cristobal


Mel in Chile: Everything you want is right outside your comfort zone.

December 15, 2013

This is the post we have all been waiting for!!! THE END OF STUDY ABROAD YAYYY! That is in fact true. Some days ago I finished my study abroad semester with an SIT program in Santiago, Chile. I imagine the following text will be suspiciously similar to other testimonies of study abroadlings but I’ll do my best to make it a bit different. I will be honest.

In my last entry I talked about how the topic I chose for my independent study project was outside of what I have chose to study at UR. I was a bit nervous about writing so much on something incredibly new but I thought, “ Well this is one of the best opportunities I will have. The grades don’t count as long as I don’t completely blow it. Might as well!” The project was one of the most enjoyable activities I have overtaken. It was refreshing to read things outside of what I am usually exposed to but I was also lucky because I had the opportunity to link traveling for my personal pleasure to my research. It was sort of a multitasking situation.

It was only when I came home that I saw an article circulating around the Facebook community addressing college students who study abroad. It was an article from The Onion hinting, through their infamous satire, the message that study abroad was an excuse to party in Europe or meet cute Latinos in South America. Even more off putting than the article were the responses from fellow study abroaders affirming the overall message of the article! Now I will not make myself the “responsible” student who studied abroad only for the educational opportunities and the broadening of my perspective by living in another culture. I will be honest in saying some of the comments were funny but true. Like all articles form The Onion, it was genius.

On the other hand, I couldn’t help but remember all the times I had Skyped with friends and family and talked to them about how much I was learning during my study abroad semester. So when I read the article from The Onion I of course laughed but I also couldn’t stop this strange feeling of “Well that isn’t entirely true. Maybe not even the slightest bit true!” As I said before, I will not deny the Shenanigans, the traveling, the going out with other travelers that were passing by on their way to Patagonia, making new friends with my group, the salsa classes, enjoying the fiestas patrias…and well everything else that comes with study abroad. But…is that so bad? In my opinion, study abroad works best when students take complete advantage of what your city has to offer. We are used to learning only coming from academic spheres, everything from lectures, articles, classes, and books. If you are willing to accept it, an opportunity to study abroad is an opportunity to learn. To learn from people, the culture, other foreign exchange students, the host family, street performers, and everyone around you.  I would highly recommend taking an opportunity to study abroad. But it does not end there. Learning takes initiative and requires a person to be proactive and to be open to new concepts. You will be uncomfortable; you will miss UR, your friends, your professors and the resources offered at our university. The point is to see beyond your previous accommodations, stop comparing between your home and host institution and simply allow yourself to grow from the experience.

“Everything you want is right outside your comfort zone.”

– Robert Allen

The following are images of Chile:

gran torre

This is an image of the Gran Torre de Santiago- the tallest building in Latin America.

indomita vineyard

Old wine bottles at Indomita

isla negra

View from Pablo Neruda’s house in Isla Negra.

valledelaluna

We watched the sunset at Valle de la Luna. One of the most beautiful places on Earth.


Mel in Chile: The Final Project

December 10, 2013

Some days ago we closed our SIT Chile: Political Systems and Economic Development study abroad semester. During November I had been working hard (or hardly working?) towards the thirty-page research paper that we submit at the end of a semester abroad with SIT. I have to admit the month of research was an incredible opportunity to test out my ability to work independently. The only deadline to keep in mind was December 4th.

November was full of activities and my schedule looked busy even though I did not have classes. I needed interviews for my research and when you are in Latin America scheduling interviews/any meeting situations with people will prove to be a difficult process. I also chose a topic for my research that I had not studied through classes at Richmond or study abroad. It was a critical analysis of community-based tourism in Valle de Elikura within a mix of post-colonial/anthropological/orientalist theoretical frameworks. I spent half of the month simply looking for articles and reading as much material as I could so I developed a strong background before I started the actual writing.

I sometimes wonder what will happen with the thirty-three-page research paper I wrote in Spanish. It is difficult to convince myself that it will be useful for a class in Richmond since I know the rest of my time will be devoted to fulfilling business class requirements. If I want to use the paper anywhere in the US I would need to translate the entire thing to Spanish. So I sometimes ask myself “Why did you chose to do something ‘irrelevant’? Why didn’t you choose something that is more related to what you study at UR? Chile is would have been a fantastic country for research in any neoliberal related topic.” I am lucky I do not have to think very far to find my reasons. The truth is that I absolutely loved my topic. More importantly I enjoyed the journey of learning something entirely new, processing it, and then applying it as analysis to my fieldwork. I realized I was also wrong to refer to my work as “irrelevant”. This may sound cliché but I understood from personal experience how seemingly distinct areas of study are actually not as unrelated as we sometimes imagine. My research project gave me an opportunity to relate tourism, anthropology, orientalist theory, post colonial theory, Foucault’s notions of relations of power, and basic demand-supply relations within a capitalism economic structure. My study abroad experience allowed me to step back and explore the relationships between different disciplines. I would strongly argue that a study abroad experience is essential to a liberal arts education.

diploma

My certificate from Universidad de Santiago de Chile!


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