February, 2010

Earthquake!

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

My name is Katie Gray, and I’m a CISB student on exchange in Chile for Spring Semester.  Well, I’ve been in Santiago about 3 days and I’m already shaking things up!  Talk about making waves!

EarthquakeOk, enough.  First and foremost, I am alright, and so is everyone else I know here in Chile so far.  I am very lucky to be living in a nice part of town with solid architecture that was built with earthquakes (terremotos in spanish) in mind.  I am so grateful that I had the fortune to come across this family, who were not only level-headed, but were well prepared with loads of candles and a radio to listen to updates on, for when the power went out during the quake. However, all our thoughts go out to everyone who was not lucky enough to be in a well-built structure during the quake.  I know there isn’t a lot of damage here in this part of town, but everyone here is thinking about the people who were living in areas that may have gotten hit harder.

So, in case anyone is interested, here’s what happened.  I am still feeling like I’m on Tucson time, and for those who know me as the night owl I am, you can imagine that I’ve had a pretty hard time getting to bed before 4am here the last few nights (which is about midnight in Tucson time).  The family’s two sons, Rodrigo and Javier, were having friends over for a little get-together last night, and they invited me to come out and socialize with them.  So we were all in the backyard at 4am when the earthquake hit.  It took a few seconds to dawn on me what was happening.  There were about 15 or 20 of us in and outside the house, and everyone immediately rushed outside and huddled together in a circle and held hands while we waited for it to pass.  I’m told it lasted for 3 minutes, which is an incredibly long time to be wondering if the Earth is about to open and swallow you up.  The most fascinating image that I will remember until the day I die was of the pool in their backyard, which was twisting sideways back and forth like a mobius strip, emptying out probably half of its water in the process. Incredible.

They are saying that at the epicenter the quake registered at as 8.8, and I think here in Santiago it was an 8.0.  Thinking about this really makes me feel fortunate to have been in a place that is well prepared for earthquakes.  To give you a frame of reference, the quake that hit Haiti in January registered as a 7.0–so many tens of times less intense.  But the immense damage was sustained due to their poor construction and infrastructure.  Luckily, much like the Bay Area, Chile is better prepared than a lot of other countries for such disasters.  As Maria said, better it happen here than in somewhere like Bolivia or Peru.

Immediately following, everyone was pretty out of it for a few seconds, and then all of a sudden, it was like we all came back to life at once, and people started hugging each other and crying and getting on their phones to call their families.  It was then that everyone really started to freak out, because the power had gone out (on purpose–it’s one of Chile’s many earthquake safety measures), and all the phone lines were down, so no one could get in touch with their loved ones, and some people were getting really worried.  There was one guy at the party, who is easily big and tough-looking enough to be a bouncer, who was in the corner bawling because all his family lives in Conception, where the epicenter of the earthquake was.  My thoughts to him and his family.

All in all, I probably got to bed a little before 7am this morning.  I woke up at 1pm, noting that last night did not do anything to actually help me achieve my goal of setting my body clock forward a few hours…but then again, I just don’t think it was meant to happen last night.  Tonight however…

On a side note, last night during the 3 hours where everyone was just milling around and talking by candle light, it occured to me that I was incredibly hungry.  Like, emergency chocolate hungry.  Even after my post yesterday, I never imagined that I would ever actually have to use the chocolate for an emergency, but with the power out and not a lot of food to go around with such a full house, I decided it was time to use up the rest.  Luckily it did the trick, and now I have learned my lesson.  I will never take emergency chocolate for granted again. Amen.

Check natural disaster off the life list.

Que les vayan bien.

My Smooth Transition

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Moving to Germany for my semester abroad was a very smooth transition. Some of the stereotypical elements of Germany ended up holding true. For example, German’s commitment to efficiency (i.e. with timely public transportation arrivals/departures); however, others things such as the ‘coldness’ that supposedly comes along with the efficiency loving Germans has not seemed to be true in my experiences. Rather I have found that Germans, and the culture that they perpetuate, do in fact pride themselves on efficient, well running systems but the people are still able to remain very warm, humble, fun-loving, and friendly. I personally feel that in Germany you are able to get the best of both worlds… one being efficient and reliable infrastructural systems and the other being humble, fun-loving people!

The fact that the German culture is efficient yet warmly welcoming, allowed for me to have a very smooth and virtually stress-free transition. For example, the highly efficient transportation systems in place allowed me to get from the Frankfurt Main Airport by the German Train to Mannheim’s Central Rail Station, then from the station by street cart to my apartment across the river. However the helpful people along my way were able to happily assist me when I had questions regarding how to use the different transportation systems.

This same sort of experience of benefiting from both the efficient system in place, and the friendly people has been consistent throughout my stay here in Germany so far. Another example is in my classes, or even going to organized school parties with several different phases to the party. All in all, I would say that Germany has been a very smooth transition for me, and I have loved every moment of my time here!! I will be so sad to return home!!!