I woke up missing the metro.
How strange, to be missing the metro. In Santiago, the metro was always crowded. It was my transportation, taking me around town when I couldn’t walk. Some people preferred the buses, but I preferred the hustle and bustle of the Santiago metro system. Sure, at rush hour the trains, and stations, were crowded from wall-to-wall and at times I felt so claustrophobic I could hardly breathe, but as time went on, I found that I understood it. I understood the train system, the colored lines; the stations became familiar. Los Orientales to Tobalaba where I transferred and rode to Universidad Catolica was how I got to the office. If I went the other direction, I could get to my classes. It became familiar, but it was also costly. At times, I missed the ease and convenience of my car.
So why was I, a girl from a city without public transportation, missing the metro?
The metro wasn’t just the thing that got me from place to place within the city. It was also a place where I observed the city. Sure, I observed the city on the street, but when you’re walking around, you don’t always take the time to observe the people and their routines. You’re too absorbed with the architecture, the street vendors, and that stray dog that might be following you.
On the metro, the stations change, but the car doesn’t. The people change, but not much else does. Suddenly, you begin to notice the people around you.
At first, I was tense, afraid. I watched the lines carefully, peering out of windows, afraid to miss my stop. I clutched my bag to me, afraid that it looked stupid on my stomach, but afraid to put it on my back. I clung to any handhold possible, and didn’t know how to enter or exit the crowded cars. I was just trying to survive.
Then I started to understand the lines. I paid attention to the stops, but didn’t have to peer out the window at every stop. I saw people listening to music, so I started listening to it on the main line. I sat occasionally, clutching my bag. I started finding small spaces to squeeze myself when I entered the cars.
As I understood the metro, I paid closer attention to the passengers. Suddenly, I was aware of their style, their composure, and their language. I settled into my environment, listening to the conversations around me, and hugging my backpack to my stomach. The people changed based on which line I was on, as did their customs. The metro was just another place to learn about the culture around me.
As time passed, I started assimilating to my environment. I listened to music through my rides, nonchalantly hanging from a handle. I got off at my stop without even having to listen to the announcements; I started dressing like the locals and was asked for directions a few times. One day, I realized that I could pick out all of the vacationers and freshly arrived students on the metro. “Foreigners” I scoffed to myself as I watched them nervously clutching their backpacks and counting the stops. It hit me. I had stopped feeling like a stranger in this huge city. Throughout my semester, I had made it my own, and here, on the metro it was hitting me.
That’s why I woke up missing the metro. I missed my forty-minute cultural lessons on the metro to school. These were rides when I always could expect to see or learn something new about Chile and its culture; I just didn’t realize it until that morning when I woke up.
Rebekah Coble is a student at DePauw University and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler on the Chilean Universities Program, Santiago, in 2013.