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The gringo makes his way to Chile

“Valparaiso, what an absurdity you are, how crazy: a crazy port. What a head of disheveled hills, that you never finish combing. Never did you have time to dress yourself, and always you were surprised by life.” This quote begins the poem Ode to Valparaiso by Pablo Neruda, famous poet who once lived in Valparaiso, Chile, the very city I currently call home. In the week that I have been staying in Valparaiso (commonly referred to as Valpo), I have began to fall in love with its unapologetically messy way of life and the culture that drips from every graffiti strewn wall and cobblestone paved hill. During my time in Peru, I felt content to live there for five weeks, but here in Valpo, I am honored and exhilarated to live in such a beautiful part of the world for five months. Each morning I am reminded of that very exhilaration when I wake up, throw open my window and smell the salt waft in from the sea and hear the clamour of a city hard at work. I feel just like Rapunzel peering out her window except minus the captivity and magical hair aspects.

Despite only having been in Chile for a mere week, I found that my adjustment period relatively short compared to the other Americans in my program. I assume this is due to having adapted to being in such a new place while in Peru, and Chile is simply the next step in my time abroad. Part of me misses experiencing the wanderlust and excitement of being in such a different place that I can see my fellow exchange students going through as they adapt, but feeling comfortable relatively quickly is hardly a bad thing. In addition to having time to adjust to a different culture in Peru, it also helped sculpt my Spanish, or so I thought. Chileans are notorious for their accent and lightning fast speaking, and I learned that this is hardly an exaggeration. In addition to these slight roadblocks, they also use an immense amount of slang specific to Chile. Words like po, hueon, and bacan are littered throughout most sentences, leading me to wonder if new words are specific to Chile or simply vocabulary I have yet to encounter.

Apart from encountering Chileans, starting this new part of my time abroad brought me into direct contact with other Americans again for the first time in a month and a half. With those Americans came the jokes, phrases, and culture that I had been deprived of while in Peru. But most of all, it brought back fluent English speakers. On the one hand, it feels amazing to be able to communicate everything I want to without a second thought, but at the same time I am here in Chile to improve my Spanish, and while in the company of native English speakers it is incredibly hard to motivate myself to speak solely in Spanish. Some study abroad programs employ a language pledge, binding the students to speak and write solely in Spanish for their time abroad. I told myself that once classes start I would speak solely in Spanish, but the idea is daunting. Further, my Spanish is not quite good enough to make jokes, be sarcastic, or fully convey my personality, which both frustrates me into speaking English and motivates me to practice my Spanish.

The cultural contrast between Peru and Chile is substantial, although I believe this in part to be due to my host families. In Peru, my host family was dedicated to order, cleanliness, and efficiency, while here in Chile, my host family is messy, spontaneous, and artistic. Both of these families embody the extremes of their own city – Arequipa being a conservative, orderly place and Valparaiso being rambunctious and bohemian.

Tomorrow classes begin and I return to a regimented schedule that has been lacking in my life for three months now. Although as our study abroad director reminded us during orientation, it’s called study abroad, not party abroad or vacation abroad, so there is no escaping classes and real responsibilities. In the coming weeks I will be exploring Chilean universities and continuing my life here in beautiful Valparaiso. I’ll be writing about classes here vs. the US, being gay in Valpo, earthquakes, and much more, so stay tuned!

That’s all for now,
William

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