Day 31

One Month Down.

Today is Day 31. We’ve been in Chile for 1 month. Of course, we feel that it’s gone by so fast. We know these six months will be done before we know it. We wanted to take a moment to reflect on the last month and answer some “common” questions that we’ve gotten (and some we haven’t). Thanks for following along with us thus far!

What has been your daily/weekly routine thus far? (via Nick)

After vacationing for the first week in Santiago and Valparaiso, we got to Temuco on January 6th. Since then, we have gotten into a bit of a groove in town and at the Chol-Chol Foundation. Our normal weekday schedule looks like the following:

  • 7:30 a.m. Alarms start going off, consistently hit snooze
  • 8:00 a.m. Finally get up
  • 8:15-9:00 a.m. Do some exercise – running, jogging, walking – always outside since the weather has been great. We like to rotate “routes” downtown, but we make a point to visit the outdoor market each week to get produce and also hike up Cerro Ñielol to prep for a longer hike that we’re doing in late March
  • 9:00-10:00 a.m. Get ready, shower, eat breakfast, etc.
  • 10:00-10:45 a.m. Walk to our car, drive to Chol-Chol Foundation
  • 10:45-5:30 p.m. Work at Chol-Chol Foundation (at this point, we’ve split time between heading to Chol-Chol, meeting with artisans, and working from our apartment if we need stronger internet). As for the day itself, when we’re at the Foundation we get settled when we arrive and usually have some coffee/tea and then work the rest of the morning until lunch (which is around 2 p.m.). Lunch is great because people often prepare items there and we try to eat together. Also, they have a tradition in which people have to make food for everyone from their home country. We had some pastel de choclo today that Susana, Yasmin, and Viviana prepared for everyone. We will probably do ours in the coming two weeks, but after today, the bar has been set very high haha. After lunch, we’re working the rest of the afternoon on our various projects. Given that Sarah and I have a decent amount of autonomy, we try to schedule time with Susana each week to review work and get her feedback. So far, things are going well!
  • 5:30-6:30 p.m. Come back from Chol-Chol, since we have a car, we often times drive people back and drop them at various locations, we park our car and then walk to our apartment (often times stopping at grocery store on way home).
  • 6:30-10:00 p.m. The evenings are pretty low-key; we’ve grabbed some drinks/dinner with Juan Manuel a couple times, we’ve been to yoga once so far (but hope it’s more of a routine soon). It usually consists of making dinner, catching up on some remaining work (now that we have better internet), doing research for weekend adventures, etc.
  • 10:00 p.m. Watch an episode of Game of Thrones in bed
  • 11:00 p.m. Sleep

As for the weekends, we’re purposefully trying to avoid any sort of repetition. There is so much to explore so we just try to get out of town and see something new. We do like to be back in Temuco to our apartment by late afternoon so that we can get settled (e.g., grocery shopping, laundry, etc.) prior to starting the week on Monday.

What’s it like to work at Chol-Chol? (via Sarah)

Working at Chol-Chol has been really great. I’m very excited about the work we’re doing. And I think Susana and the others really trust our expertise in areas and are letting us run with what we think would be best, which is awesome. I know a big part of the struggle for others can be getting through all the red tape, but for us, there really isn’t a lot that we need to do in order to get approval. We explain what we want to do and why, and Susana and the team lets us run with it.

It’s also been great to work at a tad slower pace than West Monroe. I’m honestly still adjusting to it. I have so many videos that I want to finish, but I could stay up all night doing that. And Susana and the team is understanding of the time we need to accomplish things.

I appreciate the group lunches that we have every once in a while. We need to work on our Spanish more to contribute to the conversations, but it’s good from a team building perspective to spend time with each other and not talk about work.

How do you feel about the progress we’ve made at Chol-Chol so far? (via Nick)

While this post is about being in Chile for a month, as of today, we’ve just started our 4th week, so we have 16 working days with Chol-Chol under our belts. I’m so used to using metrics to measure progress (e.g., % complete, interviews, etc.) and that’s a bit more difficult here, but I’d give us a solid B+ grade to date. Ultimately, I’d give Sarah an A and me a B- haha. The first two weeks were a whirlwind of getting different tasks. The foundation wasn’t entirely sure everything they wanted us to get done so we heard different versions from different people.

However, the dust has settled a bit and I think Sarah and I have more “plans in place” that we’re working on. I think Sarah has made tremendous progress – primarily focusing on updating Chol-Chol’s logo (which she unveiled some items with the organization today, and the were impressed); completing an artisan video (with 3 other interviews completed); working on setting up their “Google for Non-Profits” account. Sarah is always a tough grader of her work, and she feels a bit behind because some videos are starting to pile up, but I keep reminding her that pace is a bit slower here and that she’s knocking it out of the park. I think I have more experience with “slower pace” environments because many of our clients take a while to make decisions or get items completed, whereas Sarah only supports those crazy West Monroe folk – so she’s always used to “Go! Go! Go!”.

As for me, I’m still in the “data collection” phase of trying to calculate how long it takes to make some products, so then I can get a better idea of how to measure productivity and map it against prices of products. I’m getting information with each artisan visit, which has been helpful, but it’s just slow moving. This isn’t like a normal situation in which you can schedule 1-hour long conference calls with stakeholders and then complete 6 in a day. Instead, we schedule 3 visits a week and have to drive a long way to complete each one. Very different haha. However, I think the work with the Brazilians is going well thus far. A manager is only as good as their team, and luckily the three of them have had great attitudes and are really making strong progress on updating some of the rooms for the artisans to use. Lastly, I’ve used a good amount of down time to prepare some materials for projects that will be completed later (e.g., translating an online application to Excel so that weavers can apply to some festivals; creating an Excel tracker for the Microloans that are currently tracked on paper; creating a customer survey that will be used in the stores soon).

I keep telling Sarah (and also reminding myself) that we cannot be too hard on ourselves if immediate progress is made. I know that we’ll make a big difference to the organization (and the artisans), but much of that impact will take time. Also, I don’t think the organization is complaining about some free volunteer labor :).

What has surprised you thus far? (via Sarah)

Well, fellowship-wise, I think those first three days were the biggest surprise, haha. We were getting direction from Susana and Arturo, and some of it was conflicting. I suppose some miscommunication is expected, but those first few days sent me reeling from understanding my ever-growing list of things to do, haha.

General-life wise, something that surprised me is how much everything here is ruled by your RUT number. I imagine it’s something close to a social security number in the States, but you literally enter it EVERYWHERE. We couldn’t book an oil change without having a RUT (which we don’t have one, so we just showed up). Signing into a visitor log requires your RUT. Buying a chip card requires a RUT. It’s very interesting, but was a big surprise to me.

Something kind of funny that surprised me: in order to buy produce, there’s a little machine near the stands where you place the bag, select the item, and it will print a label for the cashier to scan. You just stick it on the bag. The same goes for bakery items. You should have seen my face when I tried to buy three oranges and the cashier kept asking for the sticker. I went all the way back to the produce and took a picture of the price and showed her. She then smiled, closed her checkout lane, and went and weighed my oranges and put a sticker on them. Whoops.

Ending on a positive note: something that surprised me is how nice Chileans are. I’m used to the attitude of Europeans where they maybe aren’t as patient when you try to speak the native language, or dismiss you if you can’t communicate. But everyone here is so nice and they want to talk with you as much as they can. Our Airbnb host even spoke with a Google Translate app! Everyone is so friendly, helpful, and glad we are here, and it’s something that I wasn’t expecting.

AND THERE ARE PUPPIES EVERYWHERE.

What is something you feel you were well-prepared for? What is something you feel you were unprepared, or couldn’t have been prepared as much as you tried? (via Sarah)

Something I do feel we were prepared for was the transition of everything. Managing change is Nick’s every day at West Monroe, so the whole process of listing items on Craigslist, moving, etc.; I never felt stressed or frantic. It was all pretty smooth. I personally felt prepared for our work plan and talking with Susana for over a year. Nick might not feel the same way, but mine has pretty much been the same, with some new additions. But I knew what I was getting into from the start.

Something I feel unprepared for? The language. And we tried! I had been taking group classes in the beginning of the year, and we had an awesome tutor for the last four months. But Chileans speak so fast and drop so many syllables, I maybe get 50% of what they’re saying. We were told to add Spanish subtitles to the artisan videos, if that says anything. Nick found this funny map on a forum the other day, and I think it’s pretty true:

“Puedes repetir, por favor?”

Hopefully when we check in two or three months from now, it will be a different story, haha.

What’s the best memory thus far? What’s the worst memory thus far? (via Nick)

Best Memory – There are lots to choose from already. We had a great time in Santiago & Valparaiso early on in the trip. We have had many great weekend excursions so far – seeing many beautiful sites. We’ve met many really great Chilean people who have been incredibly kind to us. However, the moment that sticks out to me was a very simple lunch in Melipeuco, Chile. We had just come back from an overnight camping trip in Villa Pehuenia, Argentina, successfully crossed both borders with Lemmy to “complete” the purchase, and successfully avoided any car trouble on our way back (very sketchy road). We found a little bakery with one table outside and we just had a nice relaxing lunch. The food was good, but what made it so memorable was just how relaxed I finally felt after so much planning. It was also nice that there were two dogs just chilling with us as well.

Worst Memory – I’d say when we were in Santiago, we were trying to figure out how to get the required insurance to drive in Chile. We went to a local insurance agency that was supposed to have someone working there that spoke English, but that person had apparently gone home. Ultimately, we tried to work with them for 1 hour to get it figured out (the problem was that our US-issued license plate number is 7 digits, whereas Chile plates are 6 digits, so we couldn’t complete online). Ultimately, we didn’t get it solved, and the place was closing so the employees weren’t too concerned with us. We needed to have it figured out by the next day since we were picking up the car. We finally went back to the hotel and did some more research and figured it out, but that experience in the insurance agency was really frustrating. Oh well, it worked out!

How’s Lemmy doing? (via Nick)

Honestly, great! I was a little discouraged early on since bus travel is so good in Chile. I was wondering “did we really need the car”? However, after getting the mechanic to look it over (and fix a bunch of stuff from previous owners) and completing the border crossing to complete the transaction, he’s been great. Honestly, I don’t know how we’d be able to complete the artisan visits without him, and having him makes weekend travel much more flexible. He has done great on many gravel, rocky, pot-hole filled roads. He has already 11 unique passengers, 1 oil change, and we’ve already driven him 1,819 miles.

What’s the best thing you brought from home? What did you forget at home? (via Sarah)

The best thing we brought from home I think was our own sheets. We arrived at our Airbnb in Temuco and the sheets and comforter did not really seem clean, so we put our sheets on from home and it was such a nice feeling!

Something I forgot at home was wardrobe-related. I forgot:
1. Short sleeve dress shirts for during the week at the Foundation
2. Nicer shoes.

For the first one, I thought it wouldn’t get much above 75 degrees, and I underestimated how nice everyone at the Foundation dresses (no t-shirts or tank tops, really. And I wore shorts one day and felt very uncomfortable, haha). So, I ran to the H&M here in Temuco and snagged a few nicer shirts. Also, the high this weekend is 100 degrees, so definitely underestimated the need for cooler clothes.

Along with the point above, I basically brought a pair of nice sandals, sneakers, and hiking boots. In the mornings here, it can get pretty cool. So I wished I had a nicer pair of flats or boots to wear. There are some markets of handmade leather shoes nearby, so hopefully I can check that out sooner than later as the weather gets cooler in March–June.

What do you miss most from home? What do you not miss from home? (via Sarah)

Besides family, friends, and Hamlet (our fish), I MISS TRADER JOE’S. And knitting. And playing Settlers of Catan. Nick is seriously contemplating shipping the travelers’ edition and trying to recruit some friends to play.

Something I don’t miss? Our politics. Yes, I went there. We’re obviously still up-to-date on what’s happening, but it’s nice to take a few steps away from all of the madness.

Also, I don’t miss the cold. We were chatting with my parents and they said the high on Wednesday is -17 degrees, so I’m fine never experiencing that.

What are some of the biggest differences between Chile and the United States? (via Nick)

This could be a very long answer, as there are several, but I’ll just list a few top of mind:

  • Gas Prices – Average gas price in Chile has been about $4.50 a gallon, so obviously, the USA currently wins this battle.
  • Weather – As Chicago and much of the Midwest is bracing for record-low temperatures this week, Chile has been very pleasant. Weather consistent in the low-50s in the morning, getting to the 70s-80s during mid-day. However, we’re bracing for a bit of a heatwave in Temuco this weekend, as the highs will reach 100 (so we’re going to try to get out of town, again).
  • Banking Options – In the US, we get spoiled with all the mobile banking options (e.g., Venmo, QuickPay, etc.). Welp, it’s back to the drawing board in Chile as we need to pull out a lot of money via ATMs. However our credit cards do work most places.
  • Water Pressure – Holy cow, if you turn on a sink in Chile full-blast you better be wearing swim trunks. The water pressure is “fire hose” material, and I love it. Showering with that amount of water pressure is fantastic.
  • Food Convenience / Prices – Even being in the Loop in Chicago or in Wicker Park doesn’t compare with how many street vendors there are just outside our door in Temuco. If we want, we could get a sopapilla every morning for about 33 cents (but we resist because fried dough for breakfast each day is probably not the best – side note, Chile has an overall lack of caring about “healthy food options” as well). Also, wine is great here and you can get a really high-quality bottle for $10 USD.
  • Friends & Family – Well the biggest difference is that all our friends and family are back in the US (which is tough). But people here have been very welcoming. Our lack of great Spanish inhibits us from being able to just go out and make friends, but luckily we’ve enjoyed our time with Juan Manuel and Mily on some weekend trips and during the week. We are excited for some anticipated visitors in each of our remaining months here, so that’ll be a little slice of home.

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