A Halfway Point Check-In
It’s hard to believe that we’re over halfway done with our fellowship. Once a month, we have been pressing the “pause” button on the regular updates to stop and give some perspective on the journey thus far.
What has been your favorite experience so far? (Chol Chol-wise and in general)
Sarah: If we’re talking about a specific moment, I would say the breakfast for International Women’s Day has been my favorite experience so far. But something that is my favorite experience is visiting the artisans in their homes. We get such a unique opportunity to be able to see what life is like for these women, how they make their work, and (attempt to) understand their situation. These artisans live so far from each other, sometimes an hour or more outside of the city of Temuco. I have such a respect for how much time it takes to make all of the products that they sell to the Foundation, from dying, to spinning, to weaving; it’s really incredible. But what I also am appreciative of is their hospitality. If I were to put myself in their shoes, I’m not sure how I’d feel about two gringos showing up with a video camera in my home and asking me questions that I wasn’t “prepped” with. Not only that, but they always offer us coffee, or sopaipillas, or lunch (!) and offer for us to stay as long as we like. (We will usually offer something as a thank you to help pay for the cost of the food, or run to the nearby store to grab some ingredients for them.) Even though I’m still learning with Spanish, I love to hear Juan Manuel chat with the artisans. And luckily a smile is a universal expression. 🙂 I just remember sitting in the home of Señora Elena and she was explaining about all the designs on her wall, with the smell of fresh baked bread permeating the air, while she cooked us eggs. This is an experience some Chileans don’t even have access to. And when we see each of the artisans when they stop by the Foundation, it’s nice to be familiar with them and say, “Hi! How are you?” or buy some fresh grown tomatoes from them. And what I also feel excited about is we still have three more months of it!
My favorite moment thus far of experiencing the country of Chile (besides the above) would be…hmm, this is tough. Chile has been such an amazingly beautiful and geographically diverse country. I think it would have to be Patagonia/Torres del Paine. Maybe it’s because it’s the most recent experience, but it was also the one I was looking most forward to. And I suppose the grass is always greener since Patagonia is pretty much the opposite of the Midwest, haha. The mountains there are unlike anything I’ve seen – they are so rough and jagged and raw. The formations are so interesting, especially the mountain Los Cuernos (or the horns). Because of the way they were formed, there are two different colors in rocks; a dark and light. It’s almost like an oreo cookie. This region has such a rich history of nature almost rejecting colonization (but it obviously still happened). Nature is rough down here, and I respect it a lot. You can experience all four seasons in one day and the wind is nothing to mess with. The people here are a little tougher and the food has a different Patagonian flare. The four-day trek we completed was absolutely incredible (which we will post about soon!). Patagonia does have a magic to it and I would love to live there forever.
Nick: Chol-Chol – I’ve written about this before in that I thought the International Women’s Day Event was really great. From a true “moment in time” perspective, this is probably my favorite experience because it involved celebrating the artisans, had everyone together at once, and you could really see the impact the organization has on them. It was also a really proud moment for me because they showed Sarah’s videos that she worked really hard to put together leading up to the event. Honestly, some of my favorite experiences, when I have the most joy, is watching Sarah kill it in what she does and accomplishes. Otherwise, I like that Susana really trusts Sarah and me and that she’s still impressed when we’re able to turn around a request quickly for her. Those are little moments that are great because we are there to assist her (and others) and the more that we can do that, the better.
Generally – this will be a bit of a cop out answer, but simply put, just being outside. It’s hard to rank the individual experiences and say any one is the ultimate favorite – but it’s just been incredible spending this much time exploring and being outside. Sarah and I try to workout most days, and so far that’s been outside. Working at the foundation, the room has so much natural light that it’s just uplifting. Every weekend we go somewhere and spend a ton of time just walking around and exploring. In the corporate US world, much of my time during the week is spent at the office of WMP or my client – sometimes you don’t even leave for lunch, so your time outside is your commute to/from work. Chicago weather can be great (hopefully Spring is here for good, friends) but often times it’s yucky so we spend lots of time in our apartment, or other places hiding from the elements. I don’t know, but just being outside and constantly active feel really great and I need to be sure to continue this back in the US, even when the weather is not as consistent or kind.
What is one thing you’ve learned about each other?
Nick: I came up with this question and I immediately regret it because I have no idea what to say here. One thing that is funny to me is that Sarah has some pretty “hot takes” on what she considers to be a “cool mountain” vs. a “boring hill”. If there are trees all the way to the top, that’s basically a hill (even though she was wow’ed by tree covered mountains in Hawaii – but whatever). She loves snow-capped mountains probably the most, but a close second would be mountains that are jagged like teeth. We have never gotten into this deep of mountain conversations in our Midwest-living days so this is truly something that I have “learned” about her.
I guess another thing is that Sarah really enjoys history. She minored in Art History in college, so I know she’s always enjoyed art, but traveling with her here, she has really tried to understand all of the Chilean history (art and non-art) of the places we’ve visited and has done a better job of connecting the dots than me (however, I’m not a big history buff). I’ve always known that she has a good memory of very small details, which has definitely come in handy when she references something we learned on a tour from 8 weeks ago on a more recent tour, etc.
Sarah: So this isn’t necessarily a huge surprise to me, but I’ve learned how incredibly thorough Nick is with his work. Starting from Day 1, he never jumped into suggestions or recommendations without asking alllll the questions and truly understanding how the Chol Chol Foundation works. And that, in turn, really helped me in the content that I am creating. He’s not afraid to ask hard questions to get to the root of a problem (like when he’s trying to understand where the money goes when they get donations or why some of the numbers aren’t adding up on their balance sheet). There are many times when he continued to ask questions to understand something that I thought, “If I were on my own, I would have probably just moved on to the next topic.” It’s taught me to take a step back from things and really understand the purpose or how all the elements work together. In one particular instance, he’s been going back and forth with Susana about the Women Empowerment Model (which is pretty aspirational in the way it is explained) to truly understand how it works. This model will help explain the goals of Chol Chol to potential companies that might fund projects. He doesn’t want to just regurgitate what is in the literature about the model, he wants to understand it and truly explain it to potential companies. So that’s something that I’ve definitely learned about him through our time here.
You’re halfway through, how do you feel?
Sarah: It’s funny, because Nick and I were driving home from the Foundation last week and said to him, “I think the panicked feeling of having so much to accomplish is finally starting to subside…” So right now, I feel good! I’ve been able to cross a lot of things off the list: several videos, a new logo, migrating to GSuite, invitations and collateral for the Women’s Day breakfast, a monthly social media strategy, and I’ve submitted my suggestions for changes to the website. So starting this week, I can hit the ground running with getting things done with that! WordPress has been an interesting thing to learn though, ha. Something I’m hoping to get done this month is their catalog. It really needs some help. Hopefully I can start to make things easier for people who want to order custom pieces from the artisans (which, if you are interested in a custom piece, let us know!)
Something that I do not feel great about yet is my Spanish. I feel like a broken record, but I was hoping to be farther along by now. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Chilean Spanish is completely different from regular Spanish (which, it was funny because last week Susana told Yasmin to “speak Spanish to Sarah, not Chilean Spanish!”) It’s been a one step back, two steps forward situation. And some days my brain just doesn’t work, and those are tough days.
Nick: Great. This is the half glass full/empty moment. I can think, “holy cow, these three months went fast” (which they did), but I prefer to think “heck yah, I still have 3 months of this!”. There is a reason that Sarah and I opted for 6 months and the main thing is that it takes a really long time to onboard with an organization to make a difference. First of all, you just learn about the foundation (e.g., current state), but it takes a long time to better understand what really takes place and to start thinking about recommendations beyond surface level improvements. I feel we’re at the part where we have a good sense of what we need to do, so it’s more about execution at this point, which is exciting. I know that we’ve made a difference at the foundation, and if we left tomorrow, Chol Chol would be pleased with what we’ve accomplished, but I’m excited and energized that we have 3 more months to make even more of a difference. Additionally, we’re already starting to brainstorm ways to continue to support them when we’re back in the States. So given all that we’ve done, I’d say that we’re still motivated and excited for what is yet to come!
What has been the biggest learning experience so far?
Nick: As I’ve mentioned many times before, I don’t speak great Spanish. And while I’ve learned more each day, that is not my biggest learning experience. Instead, I think my great learning experience thus far is dealing with that fact that I’m unable to effectively communicate with my counterparts. I have to listen more clearly, and even then, I have to question what I possibly heard, and try to reconfirm. Additionally, I have to check any assumptions I have at the door because I’m in a different culture. However, thinking about how I will use this experience back at WMP or in other ways, it’ll be vital to continue to limit assumptions, listen more clearly, speak less, and be really thoughtful in approaches that I choose to take. At the foundation, I’m not sure who will be on-site the next day, so I need to use my time wisely with key team members to keep my projects moving along. As a result of all the time spent at the foundation, struggling to effectively communicate, I believe I will be a better consultant and team leader.
Sarah: Whenever you are uncomfortable, that’s when you grow the most. And I think that is definitely true here. There are so many times I’ve felt uncomfortable about not understanding what Yasmin or Susana said, or trying to truly understand a request that they may have. I’ve been internalizing a lot of that, and sit down to sort through it in my head, but I need to ask more questions in the moment to truly understand. It could even be as simple as lunches that I feel uncomfortable! Usually we try to eat together, but sometimes we can’t last that long, haha. But Yasmin may ask “Prefieren almuerzo?” and I think, “Oh, maybe they made lunch and are sharing? Or do they just want us to prepare our food too and eat with them? Or are we doing a potluck thing?” This is how my mind works in these type of simple, every day occurrences. It’s been a learning experience to navigate through situations like these in a different country.
Crafting social media posts has also been a huge learning experience for me. Chol Chol’s brand voice is very thoughtful and poetic, and I just can’t get to that level with the Spanish that I know. Sometimes it even backfires! This past week, I posted a series of photos about the artisans, and would show a portrait in one post then a photo of them working in another post. There was a photo of Rosa’s hands that people started really freaking out about. “Why aren’t you showing her face??” “Show Rosa’s face!” “Why do you just show her hands, this is not a good photo!” I ended up texting Yasmin asking what we should do. In the end, we swapped the photo for a portrait and she responded individually to all the posts. That whole situation made me take a step back and realize that I am in a different country and experiencing a different culture that may not react the same as back home.
Update on New Years Resolutions?
Sarah: I think I’ve been doing pretty good with making progress on my resolutions! I’ve definitely done more good with design through all my work with Chol Chol. And I think I’ll continue to help them even after I leave for miscellaneous requests. We’ve also made a lot of progress on getting outdoors more. We’ve done a handful of amazing hikes and explored a lot of National Parks, so that has been exciting progress. Every weekend we’re doing something outside. And the weather has been perfect here, so it’s hard to not take advantage of it! In terms of more focus, I feel like I’m lacking a bit here. Like I mentioned above, it was just last week that I truly started to not feel stressed about everything at the Foundation. So I think I need to be better about organizing my time and making to-do lists every week. I don’t know if the feeling also comes from always being on the move, never really staying in one place. We do have an apartment in Temuco, but we just spend weeknights in it. And it doesn’t necessarily have the same feeling as being at home in our apartment in Chicago. So maybe the feeling of always being go-go-go has something to do with it. We’re nomads, I suppose, haha.
So, prioritizing health, I’d give myself a B. We try to eat healthy during the week, but I’m definitely eating more rice and breads than usual. I think the biggest difference I’ve noticed is the amount that I drink. In Chicago, I’m very much a social drinker—I’ll grab drinks with friends to catch up, have wine at book club, or go out to a bar on weekends. But when you take away the social aspect, I don’t feel the need to drink as much. And taking a step back has made me realize how much I was drinking in Chicago. It’s been kind of nice to press reset on that a bit. I still have more work to do on eating healthy though; I can’t resist those sopaipillas or a delicious slice of kuchen. And lastly, creating more. I’m not doing as much hands-on creating, but I’m very creative in the work I’m doing for Chol Chol. I’ve also been working on some beer labels for some friends at Bold Dog Brewing, so that’s been fun as well. I’m hoping to tap into more sketching or doodling to keep the creative juices flowing.
Nick: Help the Chol-Chol Foundation – I left this one pretty vague to start, but I do feel that I’ve helped make a difference. I recently wrote about my to-do list, and while I don’t believe I’ll accomplish everything on it, I know that knocking out 80% of it would be a success. I believe that it is possible, so I think I’m still in a “green” status on this one.
Lose 20-25 Pounds in 6 months – This one is pretty self-explanatory and somewhat easy to measure. I say somewhat because I’ve actually only seen two scales in the last 3 months. I stepped on one about a month ago and it said I had lost 16 pounds, but stepped on another about 1.5 weeks ago and it leaned more towards an 8-pound loss. Either way, I do feel healthier but still want to crack down these next 3 months and see what I’m able to accomplish.
Explore – We’re doing great here. Having Sarah as a motivated travel partner really helps and we’re constantly able to work together to find the next adventure. It’s also been great that we’ve recently had some visitors to explore with. The weather should take a turn for the worse in the coming weeks, but we’re committed to continue our explorations.
De-clutter (Electronically / Social Networks) – The day after I wrote this as a goal, I signed up for Unroll.me to decrease the email clutter (which worked) and I went through and cut out a lot of random accounts that I follow on Instagram/Twitter, etc. However, I still feel I spend too much time on it and it’s a hard thing to kick. Especially because our generation just uses it to “decompress” after days. I’m not a huge “reader” – so social media is basically my news/entertainment source from a reading perspective. I need to think more about the ultimate goal with this and what I hope to accomplish.
Get a corgi – not accomplished yet, but plenty of time 🙂
For the next three months, stop, start, continue:
STOP: getting frustrated about my Spanish skills. I’ve been pretty frustrated and down on myself that my Spanish is not that great (and far inferior to Sarah’s), but I know I’m understanding more and more each day, but just not as fast as I wanted. There isn’t much I can do to speed up the process, so I need to go with the flow more on it. I’ll also get frustrated when people are talking to both Sarah and me and about 10 seconds into a conversation they only talk with Sarah and kind of write me off – but putting myself in their shoes, I’d probably do that same thing, so cannot take things personally. Instead, I just need to continue to focus on trying to understand what others are saying, and heck, if people don’t think I’m great at it, that means I get to focus more on listening as opposed to listening and thinking about how to reply. Baby steps.
START: interacting more with my co-workers at Chol-Chol. This goes along a bit with the above and how I’d get frustrated, but I need to accept that my Spanish is not great and just let it be but do my best to still make conversation with those at the Foundation. They know my intentions are in the right place – so I just hope they know that I’m trying (which I need to do a better job and “start” showing more effort here). Additionally, looking ahead, I think we’ll need to start thinking about life back in the US. As of this moment, we don’t have return flights, we don’t have an apartment, and we don’t have a car, etc. Lots to think about, so hard to think down that line when there are so many (great) distractions in front of us here in Chile.
CONTINUE: taking advantage of the wonders of this country. For those that follow the blog or our social media accounts, you can tell that we stretch our limits and try to see as much of the country and encounter as many experiences as possible, and we need to continue to do that. The weather will start to get a bit more dreary and I think that will tempt us to “stay in and relax” but we need to keep exploring and learning more about Chile and other parts in South America.
STOP: lacking confidence in my Spanish speaking skills. I’m afraid to make myself uncomfortable. I need to make mistakes so that I can learn from them and not be afraid to ask someone to repeat something or speak slower.
START: making more of an effort to form relationships with the women at Chol Chol. We see Susana, Yasmin, and Viviana every day. Along with the item above, I need to learn more about them. What’s their favorite type of music? What is their favorite type of food? What’s their favorite place to visit? etc.
CONTINUE: to say “yes” to any opportunity that arises. We’ve been good about saying “sure!” to experiences, like going to Pucón with Juan Manuel and Mily, or booking a last minute flight to Easter Island, or accepting invitations to have tea with Sandra. It’s like the movie Yes, Man (which I love – with Jim Carrey and Zooey Deschanel). We should be taking in every opportunity here, because when will we ever have the chance to live in and truly experience another country like this?