Here I am finally making a blog post after a month in Chile. I managed to come up with a thing or two to discuss after all my time here.
I guess the biggest reason I decided to go abroad in the first place was to gain perspective, to take a step back from my life up to this point and hopefully get a bit of an outside look at my life and maybe know myself better as a result. All of that definitely sounds really typical, but its the truth. I decided I wanted to improve my Spanish and that I should go somewhere in Latin America. Truth be told I didn’t really have a strong desire to go to any one country over another, but after hearing about it from other people who had been here and finding a program that suited my academic interests, I landed on Chile, figuring I shouldn’t worry too much over the specifics of my program since I didn’t really know what I was looking for outside of those few basic criteria.
Chile’s military dictatorship throughout the 70s and 80s following the overthrow of a democratically elected socialist government is sort of the historical backdrop for my classes on this program. I learned a fair amount about this whole situation from a memoir that I read on my trip here. It gave me a good sense of how this history has affected present-day Chile and helped me feel a little more prepared for what lie ahead. Although the language was part of the reason I decided to come here, it was also definitely my greatest source of stress going into the program. I wasn’t (and still am not if I’m being honest) super confident in my Spanish. But I’m improving, albeit slowly, so that’s good. Of course, in spite of all that stress there was the excitement of exploring a new place and having a completely different life for three months.
When I got here I spent four days living in a hotel for orientation. We spent the vast majority of our time sitting through a bunch of presentations in a windowless room in the hotel. It wasn’t a great introduction to our time here, but it made the few times we got to venture outside the hotel and around Valparaiso all the more exciting. Valpo is easily the best city I’ve ever been to in terms of aesthetic. There’s color and murals everywhere and gorgeous views from the hills. It’s also got a lot going for it functionality-wise. The flat part by the water serves as the downtown with a pretty straightforward layout. As you go up into the hills, the city becomes more residential with houses clustered together in a more irregular way. The city has pretty extensive and easy to use public transportation, with buses, a metro, and collectivos, which are sort of like taxis that run on select routes. You can take a quick trip up the hill in the ascensores, which I can best describe as sort of a mix between a giant outdoor elevator and a cable car. When I first got here and got the chance to explore Valpo, for a while I got this kind of enchantment from being in such a new, unique city. I still feel like there’s so much to the city that I haven’t seen. An added bonus to such a cool city is the proximity to the ocean and beaches, as well as these giant sand dunes by the ocean that are just a short bus ride away.
While I’m really enjoying Chile itself, I’m not as stoked on my program as I thought I would be. I generally enjoy the three hours of Spanish class most mornings, but the seminars in the afternoons are usually dry and pretty much 100% lecture-based. I also spend way more time in class and other program activities per day than I would at Colby, which leaves me feeling like I have less time to fully enjoy this new space I’m in. That being said, I feel like the content and overall themes of my classes are interesting and relevant to my major and what I’m interested in. It just feels like its lacking in depth sometimes.
Aside from long days in class, life in Chile is good. My host family is really sweet; they treat me like part of the family, which has given me a window into the culture and daily life of Chile. There’s never a shortage of places to go or see, and the other students in my program are really chill for the most part. I found a group to play frisbee with, which is something that I was worried I was going to miss out on entirely this semester. Overall, I’m just enjoying the time I have in this beautiful, energetic city.
Reflecting on my transition to life here, I feel like it’s gone pretty smoothly for the most part. I don’t think I had too many preconceptions about how I’d be living and what I’d be doing, which I think has been beneficial. Of course, I expected the language difference to be difficult, which absolutely proved to be true. The distinct accent, rapid-fire pace, and unique words of Chilean Spanish make things tough. Yesterday I had like a half-dreaming half-awake realization of sorts, where I found myself trying to process and wrap my head around the fact that I’m actually here and already a third of the way through my semester. This sort of thing happens fairly frequently, perhaps contradicting my general feeling that I’m pretty settled into my life here.
The last thing I’d like to say is that I’ve nearly been pickpocketed twice and I dropped my phone in the ocean. Abroad is not without its challenges. Thanks for reading. Chao!