My first week in Chile
Buenos días! I’m here in Chile and have been for a week and a few days. I’ve been putting this blog off for the past couple days because I feel like I have so much to say and nowhere to start. I’ve already had what feels like a semestre’s worth of fun times and new experiences, and trying to condense and organize it all into a blog post is way harder than flipping on my tele for some good old Hollywood classics dubbed in Spanish. But alas, it’s time to bite the bullet so here is my best attempt at a summary:
CHILE IS FANTASTIC! Completely fantastic; the whole experience. The past week has been an exciting, challenging, beautiful, hilarious adventure and it just keeps getting better. The experience of getting to know a new country is something so cool and something I had never experienced before coming here. At the heart of it, life isn’t all that different. People are people and they go to work and school and live life together, but at the same time everything is a little bit different and you get the chance to encounter a different way of living and a different way of constructing a community or a town or a city. That is my very broad summary of my first week here, now lets start this over with some specifics:
First thing: Chilean Spanish. Definitely the most difficult thing about this past week has been learning Spanish and being able to understand the Chileans when they speak to you. Chileans speak really fast, slur their words together, eliminate all sorts of sounds, and use a lot of Chile-specific slang in their speech, and they are SO hard to understand. They know it too, one of my Chilean friends told me that in Mexico they put subtitles on Chilean movies because I guess even other Spanish speakers can’t understand what these Chileans are saying. But language immersion really does wonders. When I first got here my Spanish was embarrassingly rusty and if people were speaking Chinese to me it wouldn’t have made much difference in my level of understanding. Now, one week later, I can proudly say that I understand about 75% of the Chileans that I talk to and can pretty much communicate anything I need to say in Spanish accompanied by a good bit of stuttering and a handful of grammatical errors. I have a long way to go, but I’ll get there. As a language enthusiast this has been incredible because you really get to understand what a language is made of when you have to learn it and use it to communicate. You get to see how the rules play out in the way phrases are put together, but also how the language is added to and manipulated by its speakers to fit real life. The little factors of language like slang and greetings and filler-words are so creative and cool, and if you look at those sorts of things you can really see the intersection between the formal rules of language structure and the freedom that language has as a communicative tool that is constantly used and changed by its speakers. That kind of stuff just rocks my socks. Even though it’s tough I really love the accent and the Chilenismos they use here. Every time I hear someone say “Cachai?” or “Po” I just get a little bit of happy running through me.
Next thing: people. What would a new, exciting adventure be without people to share it with? I’ve met many wonderful people here in Chile and very few non-wonderful people so it’s a great ratio. The other students in my IFSA program are so awesome and so much fun. It’s going to be a real pleasure spending the next 5 months with them. My host-family is absolutely wonderful as well. My host parents are an older couple with a son and two grand-daughters who live in the apartment above ours. They have been so sweet and so patient with me as I struggle to communicate, and I’m positive that I will never be short of food or hugs while I’m here with them. Finally, the Chileans that I have met since being here have been such a blast to get to know and spend time with and so welcoming. I didn’t think I would be able to say that I made friends with the locals before classes even started, but the people here are just so friendly and relational. It makes it really easy to be a gringa.
And finally, one of the primary reasons I chose to study in Chile, the Pacific Ocean is in my backyard! Not literally, more like 5 block from my family’s apartment, but you get what I’m saying. I love the mountains as well and after my first ski trip you’ll hear all about that, but there is just something about the ocean and the waves that fills me with joy. There is a song I love by Galician artist named Xoel López and the first two lines go like this: “Yo soñaba cada día poder alcanzar la playa, y ahora está tan cerca casi ya la puedo oler.” Which translates roughly to “I used to dream everyday that I could reach the beach, and now it’s so close I can almost smell it.” My first night in my host family’s house I played that song at least 5 times and I couldn’t believe that it was actually true. Now every day I can watch the sunset from the beach or jump in the water for a quick swim. I know it’s the middle of winter, but after a long jog it doesn’t feel so cold. That alone is a dream come true for me. I also love the way the ocean brings beauty into every part of the city. Where I live in Viña del Mar is absolutely gorgeous with big apartments and hotels were people from all over Latin America come to relax and enjoy the beach, but my favorite day since coming to Chile was spent in Valparaíso in a smaller, poorer neighborhood where I went with a community service group to paint a building full small, cheep apartments. Standing on the roof of one of the buildings I could see miles and miles of the ocean and coastline and when the sun went down it all lit up with brilliant pinks and purples. Up until then I had been used to seeing coastlines reserved for tourists and big hotels, but it was so beautiful to see people who didn’t have much money or big houses who could look out their windows and see miles of ocean.
And here are some pictures; this first set is from my long walks on the beach that I’m enjoying so much:
And this set is from the building that we painted in Valparaiso (it’s the pink one) and the surrounding neighborhood:
Well that’s it for now, and this post is so long! There is so much more that I could say, but it would take a novel. My classes start tomorrow so it’s time for me to sleep.
Chao y hasta luego!