Tips for Publishing Your First Journal Article

This video is a colloquium I was part of for AsiaTEFL 2020.

The panel was moderated by Willy Renandya. Other speakers were Eun Sung Park, Cheryl Sheridan, and Supakorn Phoocharoensil

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Academic Writing Groups: Setting Them Up and Keeping Them Going

Last week I gave a mini-workshop for grad students on academic writing groups. Since this information might be useful for other academics, I’m copying the handout I created here.

Reflection: What are your immediate writing support needs? What are your needs in the near future (next month to next year)?

Types of Groups (not mutually exclusive functions)

  • Company while writing
    • Meet regularly for impetus to keep writing
    • Moral support
    • Accountability and impetus to keep going
  • Emotional support
    • Check-in on writing progress
    • Reflection on emotional and physical well-being
  • Feedback on drafts
    • Reader response to part or all of a paper or chapter
    • Targeted feedback on writer’s concerns
    • Can be sent out in advance (longer pieces) or brought to group (shorter pieces)


  • Membership expectations:
    • Can anyone join, or should there be limitations?
    • Are there any parameters for member background/qualifications?
    • How many members?
    • What rules do you want for participation and attendance?
    • Decide in advance a policy for cutting someone for noncompliance
    • Will there be roles (leader, secretary, etc.) for specific members?
  • Establish mutually agreed upon guiding principles and stick with them
    • How much to submit for feedback: page or word limits
    • How often to submit
    • Feedback practices
    • How much personal vs text-specific talk is OK
    • Confidentiality: not talking about other writers’ work outside the group
    • Be honest but also kind to each other
    • Timing for sending out work in advance, talking through feedback, session length
  • Revisit guiding principles from time to time and revise if necessary
  • Commit to attending: make writing group a sacred time; do not schedule meetings or appointments during the time
  • In any kind of response group (moral support or on writing), establish rules for interaction
    • Writer introduces text and frames feedback requests
    • Reviewers focus primarily on areas writer has requested
    • Deep listening: not a discussion! Listen to whoever is speaking in order to hear what they are saying, not to respond
    • Give feedback in a spirit of constructive, supportive readerly response, NOT critique or criticism
    • Swallow your pride: feedback can hurt. Writers may need to take a deep breath and make an effort to listen without responding or getting defensive
  • Keep in mind that any form of response is recommendation, not requirement. Writers make the final decision

More info on writing groups:

Writing Groups 101 (Inked Voices) Great resources and advice!

The 10 Commandments Of A (Functional) Writers’ Group (Writer’s Edit)

The 4 Hidden Dangers of Writing Groups (Jennie Nash)


  • What type of writing group seems most useful for your current needs?
  • What principles or rules are most important for you in a writing group?
  • Who do you know that might fit in your group?


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Hiking, even more Chilean style

Note: I started this post not long after these two hikes, but forgot to finalize it and share it. In rereading what I had written, I’m reminded of how amazing this adventure was.

When I go hiking in the United States, our usual routine is something like this: get up before dawn, eat a quick breakfast, meetup with the group as early as possible, carpool to the trail, hike vigorously, maybe eat a snack, and then go home for lunch. As I have noted earlier, that’s not how it works in Chile.

I have now been on two more hikes with the group Andrea introduced me to in September and am seeing that the experience is consistent. One Saturday in early October, we had an all-day expedition that ran from 8am to 11pm. A week later, I joined a smaller party for a short trip that only went from 8 to 5. Both exemplified the camaraderie and fun this group seems to value.

Last weekend we had the whole group together and took three vehicles into the desert foothills of the Andes cordillera. I rode with Andrea and her colleagues Hector and Patricio. We met up with the others at a gas station on the edge of Copiapó and caravanned an hour or so northeast until we reached a dirt road heading into the desert (all roads here head into the desert). We pulled off by a house that had some chickens and a turkey in the yard (apparently it’s on an oasis so they have a source of water) and pulled out a folding table and cups and cake. Maybe you have guessed: tea time! We ate and talked a while and then got back in the cars and drove back to the paved road. I had thought we were already near our starting point!

A dirt road leading into the desert

Another 30 minutes on the highway and then we turned off again to head towards the hills. We pulled over at one point to look for traces of the old Inca highway, but it has been washed away in the recent floods. Rather sad to think that it had been there 500 years, and climate change in the last decade has erased it almost completely. With promises that we would keep looking for the road, we drove higher up into the hills and onto rougher dirt roads. We pulled over at a space under some trees by a small stream and got ready to hike.

“Hiking” may be a bit of an exaggeration. We did a bit of scrambling up rocks and a lot of strolling along the trail. But the outcome was worth the (minimal) effort. In rock faces throughout the canyon were paintings made by the Incas and the indigenous Atacama peoples who lived here before the Incas colonized the area. Some were mysterious but many showed llamas (or vicuñas) and people quite clearly.

Hector had a book that explained the pictures at least as much as anyone had figured out; some indicated that academics had discredited common interpretations but didn’t know what they did mean. We couldn’t walk all the way to the end of the set of pictures because the trail had washed out in the floods of 2015. So we went back to the grove of trees by the river where we had parked the cars and prepared for lunch.


Yes, we had wine with lunch out in the middle of the desert!

As I have noted multiple times already, lunch in Chile is a big deal. We had two folding tables, a camp stove where we cooked a fresh pot of rice and some meat, several different salads, bread, and desserts. Plus wine! In stemmed glasses! We sat for over an hour, eating a talking, and then some people decided it was time for a siesta. Others of us wandered off in the opposite direction from where we had walked earlier. Hector’s book suggested there were some more paintings, so we headed out to look for them.

After scrambling up some rocky slopes and poking around a wash (where we found some shards of Incan pottery and what might have been bones), we got back in the cars and headed back to town. But as we were driving through a narrow canyon, we had to slow down for a large flock of goats in the road. Several of my companions suggested we stop at the farm to see if they were selling goat cheese (a local specialty), so we pulled in and got out of the car in the middle of goats, pigs, chickens, and a few dogs and cats milling around. It turned out the proprietors had already sold all their goat cheese in town, but the allowed us to wander around and take photos with the chanchitos (piggies).

Our next stop was at a vineyard, where we hoped the owners would be open to selling us some homemade wine. No one was home when we walked up the driveway, but we wandered around in their garden and took more photos with the bunnies and other animals. We hit the road again as the sun goes down. (I thought we were on the way home…)


After driving a while on the main highway back to Copiapó, Alonso comes on the walkie-talkie (cell service is scanty this far out in the desert) and suggests we go looking for an Incan house he knows about nearby. We turn off the highway onto a dirt track and wind our way among the boulders on the side of the slope until the cars stop by the side of walls about three feet high. These are the base of what must have been a large home or some other building. Our companions pull out their folding tables and the camp stove and after giving thanks to the ancestors who built the walls, we have our onces (the Chilean equivalent of late afternoon tea), with instant coffee, tea, and cookies, while we gaze at the vast clear sky full of stars. This deep in the desert, there are no lights or clouds to block the view, and I wish I had learned more about identifying stars in the Southern Hemisphere.

It was nearly midnight by the time I got back to my apartment and climbed in bed with memories that will endure of how thoroughly my Chilean friends were able to immerse themselves in their desert environment.

I didn’t get around to writing about the other hiking trip. Suffice it to say, that also involved a lot of food consumed in style in the middle of the desert!



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English Festival 2018

Last Friday I participated in one of the English department’s outreach activities, the English Festival. The department is tasked with making connections with local schools in order to promote its programs and get middle and high school students thinking about going to college. Sometimes these are serious events, but other activities are designed to be fun and to get kids excited about learning English.

This past week’s activity was one of the fun ones. Several local schools brought groups of students to campus to participate in the event. The buses arrived around 11 am and the kids and their teachers started wandering around the displays.

The English majors (in Pedagogy and Translation careers) had worked with their classmates to research and create stands representing US American culture in the decades of the second half of the twentieth century (1950s-1990s). Each group created informational posters and crafted little souvenirs that visitors could take home. The students dressed up in fashions from the era and explained what they had learned.


1960s information stand


1980s information stand

After the schoolkids had had the opportunity to check out all the stands and talk with the university students, they filed into an auditorium for the big finale: a music and dance show performed by our students.  Each decade was represented by an English-language song or medley, with dancers and singers performing in costume with high energy. The students had been rehearsing for weeks to make this truly spectacular.


1950s dance: medley of songs from the musical Grease


1970s song and dance: Boney M’s “Ra-ra-Rasputin”

As a visitor from the country most represented in the performances, I was asked to be the MC. I co-hosted with two English major students who changed costumes for every decade (I got to stay in my own clothes the whole time…). We tried to make our explanations of the history brief, although I don’t think the kids really understood most of what we said. Nevertheless, with an accompanying slide show of images representing the iconic events of each decade, I hope that we were able to convey some of the spirit of the times.


With my co-hosts Karla and Marcelo

When the show ended, the schoolkids were gifted a ‘colación’ (snack bag), which may have been the highlight of the day for some of them. They posed for group photos while the university students and professors cleaned up the auditorium and stands. By 12:30 pm, the whole event was over and it was just another day of classes.

What this event has helped me realize is that we are missing out on similar activities at universities in the US. I feel like (at least in my experience as a faculty member and graduate student in three different institutions) outreach is often left to the administration or to entities beyond the department level. At the department level, individual faculty members develop projects with schools and other organizations beyond the university campus, but it rarely brings the whole department together or engages as large a percentage of students as the English Festival did.

At UH Manoa, I have represented our department in university-wide promotional events where all the other departments and programs had similar booths, but other than a few volunteer students from each department, most of the information came from professors and program directors. The UDA English Festival, in contrast, gave the visiting schoolkids a chance to talk 1-on-1 with actual university students who were not that much older than themselves and to see that going to college and learning English could be fun. I realize that organizing such an event requires enormous inputs of time and money, particularly time that professors could be using to prepare their instruction or conduct research, but I feel like it might be a valuable investment if it convinces more schoolkids that they want to pursue our field because it is both fun and fascinating.

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Buenos Aires

In order to renew my Chilean visa status, I had to leave the country sometime in October. I decided to link travel to a conference in Santiago to a long weekend in Buenos Aires, which it turns out is very close (only 90 minutes flight) to the Chilean capital. Thanks to recommendations from friends, I found a great hotel just across from the Recoleta cemetery, which is famous for Evita Peron’s grave but in actuality houses thousands of mausoleums for Argentina’s once-famous and wealthy. I wandered around the cemetery for a long time and found so many fascinating tombs, many of which are like small churches and other buildings.

The next morning I took a bus tour of the city in order to get a sense of the history and landmarks. We visited the neighborhoods most heavily promoted to tourists for their historical and architectural interest, including San Telmo (which has a weekly antique fair that spreads across its main plaza and down the roads radiating away from the plaza. We also drove past the stadium where the Boca Juniors football (soccer) team plays and saw fans posing for photos outside. The neighborhood of La Boca is full of colorful tin-sided houses and souvenir shops.


At the end of my bus tour, I was dropped off at the Tetro Colón, Buenos Aires’s opera house, which is magnificent. Although we were only allowed to tour the front of the house (the areas open to the public), we got to sit for a while in the most expensive boxes and watch while the company and directors went through a lighting rehearsal for their upcoming performance of La Boheme.

Then on the way back from the tour to my hotel, I stopped into the most amazing bookstore in the world. Built in 1919 as a theatre and later used as a movie theater, the Grand Splendid now houses the bookstore El Ateneo, which has converted the seating areas into bookshelves and the stage into a cafe. Knowing that I had to fit everything back into my carryon suitcase, I had to restrain myself, but I did buy a few books by Argentine authors and found a folktale in a bilingual Mapuche-Spanish edition (Mapuches are the native people of central Chile).

I also attended a very good tango show and took a bike tour of some of the same places I saw on the bus tour. The bike tour was fun in that it allowed us to stop when we wanted and look more closely at some of the things we had passed by in the bus. Even though I was only there for three days, I feel like I packed in a lot of touring and got a sense of how Argentina is different from Chile.

And I ate a lot of delicious pizza. I’m now halfway through reading the book I bought about Buenos Aires pizza and will definitely need to go back to try more of the famous pizzerias.

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Linguistic Landscape: Copiapó

In sociolinguistic research, a linguistic landscape is often considered the use of written language on public signs. Studying such language use allows us to better understand how languages are present or absent in a place, which languages are valued over others (as determined by their prominence in the signage), and what things people choose to write about in public places. A true linguistic landscape study involves systematic documentation of all the signs in a particular space; generally researchers limit themselves to a sampling of neighborhoods or to a particular type of signs, since it is nearly impossible in a modern city to capture all the words present in the public sphere. What I share here is not a linguistic landscape research study but rather a collection of photos of signs and words that I have found compelling in my walks around Copiapó, a city where Spanish is dominant. The signs convey a bit of what the official and unofficial feelings of the population are at this moment in time.

The first two signs are from the government. This first is a giant billboard promoting a dam upstream on the Copiapó River. These large official billboards are all over the city. I think the government wants residents to know where their tax money is going–in this case, to improving the dam so that the river won’t flood and cause as much damage as it did a couple years ago.

This colorful poster promotes an exhibit at the regional cultural center, a large new complex in the center of town that hosts art exhibits, concerts, and other events. Most include free admission.

These next photos are of commercial signs. Businesses use signage to convey a particular image of their enterprises and attact customers who will value their products. First is a set of signs on the front of a shop that sells uniforms for various professions and for youth sports teams. Here is a place to see some interesting appropriations of words from English into Spanish, such as the direct use of ‘short’ (shorts) or the completely different use of ‘jokey’ (which is also a misspelling; in Chile, ‘jockey’ is used for what Americans would call a baseball cap).

I pass this next sign every day on my way to the unversity. On the front wall of a preschool, it appears to be a song, but is written alternately in Spanish and in a local indigenous language (I asked some students, but they weren’t sure which language exactly). It is possible that the preschool teaches this language to kids in some way, but it is also possible that they are displaying the sign to indicate a positive attitude toward diversity and acceptance of the indigenous people.

After surviving 20 years of dictatorship (1973-1990), Chile is now a thriving democracy, where people are still strongly aware of the ways that the dictatorship oppressed protest. September 11 was the anniversary of the 1973 coup that killed the elected president, Salvador Allende, and allowed Augusto Pinochet and the military to take over. Even though the current generation of university students weren’t even born at the end of the dictatorship, their parents and grandparents still hold strong feelings. A spirit of social protest is strong and there are some permanent murals around the city, such as this one:

Lots of photocopied posters appeared around the city in early September as well. The next two point out that the struggle continues and the current government is no better than the dictatorship.

Chile also has a neoliberal economy where everyone is selling something. In the next two photos, you can see the protest posters juxtaposed with equal quantities of advertisements for various services. I also find the poster that says ‘Allende vive!’ (Allende lives!) interesting in its resemblance to a Kentucky Fried Chicken logo. I don’t know if that was done deliberately or not.

Not all protest signs are commercially printed, either. Below is a poster advertising a march to protest violence against women (put up a year ago, but still hanging because it hasn’t rained at all).

This is on the whiteboard in one of the classrooms where I teach. It was written in permanent marker; I’m not sure if the author intended for it to stay up forever or if they didn’t realize what kind of pen they were using.

Then there are less politicized and quirkier signs. The next picture is at Copiapó’s small zoo next to the Emu enclosure, warning people not to get too close. The emu is possibly the most dangerous animal in this zoo, which otherwise primarily houses farm animals like rabbits and llamas.

Finally, people also create signs to draw attention to lost pets, as in the case of Horus, below. There are so many stray dogs on the streets of the city that it’s hard to iamgine that poor Horus has been found, but I hope he is either back with his family or enjoying some wild times with the local hounds. (This is also an interesting misspelling–it says he is very small, like a ‘poddle’, which I presume should be ‘poodle’, but when you pronounce poodle in Spanish, it comes out sounding like ‘pod-lay’ so I think the sign-creator was writing the way it sounded.)

I will continue documenting the signs around Chile as part of understanding the culture. Perhaps I should consider making this a true linguistic landscape study and doing this a bit more systematically.


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Fiestas Patrias, part 2

Having already discussed the lead-up in my previous post, I will now describe the events of September 18 and 19, the two days of official holiday. Fiestas Patrias means celebrations of the homeland, in the plural because there are actually two national holidays back-to-back that are often accompanied by a third day off work if the two holidays occur in the middle of the week, as they did this year. September 18 commemorates the date in 1810 when Chileans first began organizing towards independence (the declaration of independence didn’t happen until February 1818, which means they celebrated their bicentennial earlier this year). September 19 is the ‘Day of the Glories of the Army,’ as Wikipedia translates it. For most Chileans, the 18th is the big day and the 19th is a chance to recover from the 18th or continue partying, sometimes while watching the Santiago military parade on TV. This year’s parade made social media news worldwide because it included a group of police dog puppies being carried by their handlers.

Like many national holidays, September 18 is meant to be celebrated among family and friends. I was lucky that my friend Andrea invited me to join her family for both Tuesday and Wednesday. Because her husband works for a mining company outside of town that required him to work his regular schedule this week, Andrea was on her own and took me to her mother’s house. Her teenage nieces were also there as their parents had gone on a very long-delayed honeymoon trip to the south of Chile (they sent photos back via WhatsApp, South America’s preferred social media platform). Andrea’s mother told me that she really didn’t know how to cook for vegetarians, so she was very apologetic about the delicious budín (crustless quiche) she made for me Tuesday. As usual, we ate a tremendous amount of food for lunch and then sat around drinking tea for a while.

Andrea and her niece Rocio then took me out for a walk in the park that was created when the region finally convinced the mining companies to allow some water to flow in the Copiapó River, which had been completely dry when I visited the city 5 years ago. Here we are in front of the humongous flag that was erected earlier this year for the bicentennial:

All month a truck has been driving around town announcing the arrival of Circo Americano, which it turns out is a US-style circus presented in a big tent set up near the mall. We didn’t go but instead continued our walk.

It was the first warm day of the year, so the park was full of families with picnics, kites, and bicycles. There were a few kids splashing in the river (it seems to be much less than a meter deep, and friends say that it probably still has plenty of icky stuff flowing down from the mines). The street dogs of Copiapó have taken a liking to the river as well:

There’s a path on both sides of the river, with seating areas, playgrounds, and a sand volleyball court. The green is a refreshing change from the beige desert all around.

Later in the afternoon, we got in the car and drove to Parque el Pretil, the large fairgrounds where the action was centered. I hadn’t realized until we got there just how similar Fiestas Patrias is to its US equivalent, the 4th of July: flags everywhere, food vendors, music, and entertainment for the kids. 

There’s a small zoo in the park, featuring almost exclusively farm animals and local creatures (other than a single emu, which has a large enclosure to itself). The llamas were hanging out threatening to spit at anyone who got too close:

In addition to being able to buy food from dozens of vendors, lots of families bring picnics and grill their own food. This video shows one of the areas where people hang out, as well as a set of horses you can pay to ride slowly around the area.

There are also vendors of crafts and toys. In the middle of this next photo is a stand where the Carabineros de Chile (national police force) has a community goodwill booth and provides information about how to join up.

People also decorate their cars with flags:

After wandering around a bit and drinking some leche de platano (bannana milk–a blend of banana and milk, with a little sugar added), we went back to Andrea’s mother’s house for onces (evening tea).

Wednesday afternoon, Andrea picked me up and we went back to her mother’s house for another delicious lunch. We went to visit Andrea’s in-laws briefly and then headed back to the park for the music concerts that started at 4pm. The show began with some local bands playing folkloric genres, often a blend of various Andean traditional instruments with European guitars and drums.

The crowd started to pick up when a cumbia band took the stage. I’m not sure why they were all wearing Hawaiian shirts, but the beat was great!

The headliners for the evening were the Chilean group Inti Illimani, a group that performs traditional Andean music and Chilean folk. This group has changed makeup over the years, but its original members played a role in resistance to the dictatorship in the late 20th century. Several of their songs were written by Violeta Parra, who worked to revive Chilean traditions that were being lost to modernization.

Although the concert was scheduled to run until 10pm, we left a bit after 9 in order to avoid the masses; unlike the majority of families, we had to go to work Thursday (but many students didn’t show up or came to class hung over… it might have been a better idea for the university to stay closed all week like the schools did!).


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Fiestas Patrias, part 1

The past week has been so full of activities related to Chile’s number one national holiday that I will report on it in two parts. This first post covers the lead-up or pre-holiday events.

The entire month of September is considered time to start prepping for the holidays. The city put up signs all around town:

And our department office was also decorated with patriotic doo-dads and streamers in white, red, and blue (you say the colors in that order):

La Fonda means something like homestead when referring to a place, although it is also used for talking about the many food stalls selling national cuisine during the holidays.

During the week before the holidays, university officials sent out greetings to everyone with a email address. These usually included at least one flag and images of people dancing the cueca in traditional clothing. The picture below came from the UDA English Center, hence why it says “September” in English.

Captura Fiestas

Various entities at the university also prepared more elaborate festivities during the week before the holiday. I missed the one that happened on the north end of campus, but on Thursday (September 13) the Elementary Education department coordinated a show that included multiple cueca performances by students, professors, and a dance group from a local school. After the performance, the dean handed out coupons to all the audience members granting us a free empanada and anticucho (skewer of various processed meats) from the canteen. I didn’t bother waiting in line since colleagues who got there early said the empanadas were all meat-filled.

Dancers from the local school waiting their turn to perform. The traditional costumes for cueca include big fluffy petticoats for girls and ponchos and spurs for boys.

University students from the Physical Education department prepare to dance.

Cueca being danced by a few professors.

Campus dogs get involved in the performance as well. I didn’t capture the moment when this dog joined the schoolkids while they were dancing.

When we finished work on Friday, everyone went home looking forward to a 5-day weekend, time with family, and a lot of food.

I will describe my experiences over the weekend in my next post.

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Hiking, Chilean style

This past Saturday, my friend Andrea invited me to join her and some friends from a hiking group she is in on an excursion. Because I was so short on space in my suitcase, I didn’t have room for my hiking boots. Andrea suggested we go to the mall Friday and find me some new boots (I was willing to buy new boots because my old ones in the US are getting worn out anyway). It turns out that many Chileans are super into outdoors activities, so the mall has at least three sporting goods stores and several hiking/camping stores. I found a great pair of boots at a decent price (about the same as I would pay in California) at a store called Doite, which it turns out is a Chilean outdoors gear brand similar to North Face or Columbia (both of which are also available at the Copiapó mall).

My new hiking boots plus some neat lichen

Saturday morning, Andrea said she and her husband would pick me up around 8:30 so we could meet the rest of the group and head out of town. Then it turned out her husband had to return his company pickup truck and it might be more like 9 before they got me. Then it turned out that nobody had told him the office only opened at 9:15 on Saturdays, so we wouldn’t be leaving until more like 9:30. When we finally got to the gas station on the edge of town where we were supposed to meet our companions, they said they had overslept, so it might be 10:30 before they could meet us. Then it turned out they had to go to the store to buy extra gas for the camping stove, so it might be even later. This, it turns out, is totally normal timing for Chile.

We decided to hit the road and check out some sights in Caldera, which was on the way to our destination, rather than waiting any longer at the gas station. We stopped at a plaza on the edge of the city, overlooking the ocean, where the little church called Gruta Padre Negro is located. It’s not really a church but actually a ‘grotto’, or a small stone building with a shrine to the virgin and another to Padre Negro, the Black Priest, who is not yet a saint but has been credited with miracles. The inside was filled with little prayer plaques people had left asking for and thanking them for help. In the plaza outside, city workers were busy hanging Chilean flags on all the lampposts, and a high school marching band was practicing in the field across the street. The whole country is prepping for next week’s national independence holiday. We sat in the car for a bit drinking hot tea and eating hard boiled eggs while we waited for our companions to reach Caldera.

Gruta Padre Negro

We met up with them around noon on the highway north of the city and caravanned up to a park called Zoológica de Piedra (Zoo of Stone). The park is full of granite boulders of many different sizes, which with some imagination look like various animals. We set off into the rocks (there doesn’t seem to be any set trail), scrambling over some of the rocks and climbing inside a few that had been carved out by erosion. I don’t think we had any clear plan other than to enjoy each other’s company and get some fresh air. As we climbed up the slope, we could see across the highway to the ocean. The fog eventually lifted from the hills on the inland side of the park.

Hugo and Alfonso next to a giant snail

As with my visit to Caldera two weekends ago, this was another opportunity for me to really practice using Spanish to communicate. Andrea is an English teacher, but neither her husband nor our hiking companions could speak any English, so I had a lot of immersion in natural language. Because the talk was casual and about things around us and daily life, I think I did better at keeping up my end as well. It turns out that Delsy also studies yoga, so we talked a bit about yoga classes, learning the Sanskrit names of the poses, and how different teachers expect different things of students. Alfonso has a lot of high tech gadgets, including a similar GPS to the one my dad loves to carry around, so I could also talk about those topics.

Yoga poses on a boulder

After a couple hours of wandering around, we were starting to get hungry, so we found our way back to the cars and pulled out our picnic. But as I have noted before, lunch is a much bigger deal in Chile than it is in the US. Delsy and Alfonso had brought a full camping kitchen and a folding table and stools. Andrea had prepared rice and meat to reheat and had brought the makings for a fresh salad. We found a giant boulder that provided shelter from the wind and set up camp, heating the rice and meat on the camp stove and setting out a table cloth under our ceramic plates. After we had dined, Alfonso heated water over the stove and we had tea to go with slices of cake. We stayed at the table for at least an hour (this seems to be a minimum requirement for lunch), hearing stories of how Delsy and Alfonso had camped all around Chile.

Picnic lunch, Chilean style

We packed up the cars and headed back toward the highway. A brief stop at the park entrance led to a long tirade against how Chilean people don’t seem to care about cleaning up after themselves (there was garbage strewn all around, graffiti on the rocks, and human waste behind the bigger rocks) and it is a national shame when foreigners like me visit these sites. We then headed back toward Caldera a few kilometers and pulled off at the Santuario Granito Orbicular (Orbicular Granite Sanctuary), a beach park with some amazing and rare rocks. What makes them so interesting is that apparently they were little geodes that got drowned in granite millenia ago, and then the ocean erorded the granite to the point that now the geodes are showing as circles embedded smoothly in the larger rocks.

Orbicular granite and a sea star

We admired the rocks for a while, checked out the tidepools (they have bright red sea anemones here!), and then stood behind the cars to enjoy more tea and cake while discussing the difference between rock music and rock ‘n’ roll (plus blues and R&B). We finally headed back home just before it started to get dark.

When we were approaching the center of Copiapó, we noticed that they had closed off one of the main streets and set up a stage by the cultural center. We parked the car and walked over. It turned out that the event was wrapping up (the food trucks were all closed) but there was still another band setting up and a bunch of kids in Bolivian native dress waiting to perform. The band was a local group that plays folk music from across South America (picture Andean flutes and those little guitars called charango).  For one of their songs, a group of kids dressed in Bolivian traditional costumes with lots of feathers came out and performed a dance. The show ended sometime after 9, with the announcer telling us to stick around for the last band, but we were too tired and finally went back home. I slept very soundly!

Kids doing Bolivian dance

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Chilean lunch

As I noted in an earlier post, lunch is an important time in the Chilean workday. Because I didn’t really understand that my first week here, I missed out on an essential aspect of getting to know my colleagues. I could see that they all disappeared from their offices around 1pm and didn’t return until 2:30 or so, but I wasn’t sure where they went.

Then a couple colleagues invited me to join them instead of eating alone. It turns out that the department office building has a small room specifically dedicated to lunchtime. Professors who don’t have errands to run (banks are only open until 2pm, and not at all on weekends, so you have to use lunchtime to go to the bank, for example) will gather in the lunchroom at 1 and stay until 2:30 if they don’t have to teach at 2. There’s a microwave oven in the lunchroom, so many of my colleagues bring their own lunches to reheat there.

Because I didn’t have much lunch-appropriate food in my apartment at first, I was eating in the canteen where the students tend to gather at lunchtime. Morning classes end at 1, so there’s always a long line at that time. Someone had advised me to go earlier, but when I went at 12:30 one day, the food wasn’t ready. Then a colleague walked me through the process of preordering. If you go in sometime between 11 and 12, you can pay for your lunch and then pass the receipt on to the ladies in the kitchen. They will have your meal ready to go at 1, packed in to-go containers so you can bypass the lines and grab your food. The takeout containers cost an extra 100 pesos (about 15 US cents), but it allows people who don’t prepare food at home to join colleagues in the lunchroom.

Chilean lunch is the largest meal of the day. At a minimum, there is a hot dish of some sort and bread. The canteen meals include a glass of some kind of sweetened drink (I’ve noticed that similar to Costa Rica, there’s a lot of powdered fruit-flavored drinks here). For an extra 350 pesos, you can add on a salad or soup, and with another 150, you get a dessert as well. Watching the students eating in the canteen, it seems that a lot of them go for the whole package.

I have’t taken any photos of our lunches at work, so here’s one titled ‘Chilean Cazuela’  (By G. Küppers (JordiCubero) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 4.0 (, from Wikimedia Commons)

In the lunchroom, I get to observe what my colleagues bring from home. Some have simple salads (but with homemade dressing–English teachers who have spent time in other countries have picked up a taste for salad dressing flavors that aren’t available in stores here), others have pasta with sauce and meat, and others have more elaborate meals that may be leftovers from an earlier meal. It is inspiring me to figure out how to cook other dishes that can be brought from home and reheated in the microwave.

Lunchtime has also become a good opportunity for me to learn more about Chilean culture. In general, my colleagues are able to compartmentalize and put teaching and university issues aside while we eat. They talk about family and travel and cultural experiences.

This week, a main topic is what people plan to do for Fiestas Patrias, the national holiday week that centers around September 18, Independence Day, which falls on a Tuesday this year. We will have Monday Sept. 17 off, plus Sept. 19 is another national holiday, so essentially we get a 5-day weekend that will be full of partying. Unlike Christmas and New Years Eve, both of which are considered evening events, Fiestas Patrias is all about daytime eating–meaning asados (barbecues) that last all day and into the night. (On a related note, the university just sent out an email including 5 attachments warning people to be careful over the holiday and not to drink and drive, as road accidents are the number one cause of death and injury during the holiday week).

Lunch on weekends tends to happen a bit later, run much longer, and include wine. Familes gather to catch up on the week and tell stories. Kids come and go, but adults stay put and keep talking.


Filed under Culture, language learning