To preface this blog: I spent two weeks solo traveling around South America, both in Chile and Argentina. This time alone allowed me to quickly confront some of the most initially challenging elements of adjusting to life abroad. The language barrier was immensely frustrating. One of my favorite examples of this was in my mis-reading of labels. The sun is very strong here (Arica is in the desert) and thus I needed both skin essentials of sunscreen and aloe vera. I bought two good-looking candidates for each of these needs and carried on my way to the beach. Next thing I knew, however, the expected white lotion of sunscreen (bloqueador in Spanish) was actually a deep, rusty brown color signaling tanning cream (which is bronceador in Spanish). I did get a bit of a tan that day! When I went to follow up with the aloe vera, the seemingly clear green goo turned into a creamy foam on my skin, and I quickly realized I had accidentally bought aloe shampoo instead of lotion. Nice job! The cultural differences were also at times overwhelming. Another anecdote for this one: it is a custom greeting here to kiss on one side of the cheek while you embrace. I, however, did not know this coming to Chile and had only ever seen the classic French style greeting of two kisses on each cheek. While I went to place my second greeting kiss, my new friend was absolutely taken aback and flustered by my approach. Nice Aliza! But despite the obstacles and mess ups, I had to stay strong and stay positive, since I was the only person that I could rely upon.
Fast forward to today. It is incredible, and nearly unbelievable, how much learning and growing has already occurred in the past few weeks; and yet, I continue to be challenged, inspired, and changed in new ways each day. I have not truly established a rhythm in my life here yet, as classes have still not officially begun, however, my expectations of Arica and life in Chile have been significantly questioned in my first week of being in the city. One of the things I have been most surprised by is the pace of life here. I have had several conversations with locals about this very topic, as well as started participating in it, and I am still a bit taken aback. Essentially, here in Arica, time is of no pressure or true significance. Many Chileans are late to everything, considering punctuality to be a guideline rather than an expectation. Everything here opens later, following this idea of a relaxed lifestyle. I cannot get into a pharmacy or bank until 10AM and cafés open whenever the owner decides to show up. One personal example of engaging with this relaxed lifestyle was when we went to register ourselves as students at the Policia de Investigaciones (PDI). We were late, by about 20 minutes, even though we had an appointment at 9AM. Unfortunately, we missed our time slot, but no one seemed to care, and we just showed up the next morning, this time only 5 minutes late. It has been difficult, oddly enough, to dive in and appreciate this way of living. In the United States, we are so conditioned for a life on the go. Constantly, I feel the pressure of time- the clock is forever ticking away. Sometimes I am so caught up in the rush of life, I realized I have missed important things, forgotten important events. I am trying my best to embrace more of a calm and not always be looking to the next thing on my to-do list, but it is a cultural adjustment that has been more of an obstacle than I thought. An additional cultural shock I have experienced is with the food. It may seem trivial, and comical, which in retrospect it is, but I am genuinely struggling with the amount of bread that is consumed here and the sweetness that is added to everything. Chileans eat bread with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but it is not simply an addition, it is what the meal is served on or with. Additionally, during “onces” (which is derived from tea time in Britain, but has become more of a meal for the Chileans) more bread is served to satisfy Chileans’ carb-cravings between lunch and dinner. Then, to add to the amount of glucose already entering my body, Chileans love their sweets and elevate all of their dishes with sugar. Beer is not a favorite flavor here because it is so bitter, so what do Chileans do? They mix Fanta (an orange soda) with beer. Furthermore, manjar (the Chilean version of dulce de leche) is everywhere as well: on pancakes, in ice cream, in cookies, between layers of cake, on toast, and in cupboards. It has been a bit overwhelming having to consume all of this bread and sugar all the time. I sincerely did not think about how significant everyday food and eating is influenced by culture and subsequently influences my personhood. I am hopeful that I will be able to get a handle on my eating habits soon!
Through these initial experiences in my host country, I am simultaneously learning more about another culture’s and other people’s ways of living, as well as my own. As I embrace this new lifestyle, I hope I can find a balance between engaging and transforming myself based on my cultural immersion, while maintaining core pieces of my own lifestyle. Two of the ways I am seeking to accomplish this is by going to local fitness classes, specifically yoga/pilates and salsa, and cooking for and alongside my host mom. Ultimately, I am looking forward to becoming a part of the community and developing more of a schedule and flow to life. I feel like there is no good preparation for this experience, as each day is different, which is what makes this such an exciting and amazing opportunity to grow.