Guest columnist Lauren Bateman describes her time abroad in Santiago, Chile.
After months of getting courses approved by Temple, making transportation plans, going through the arduous process of obtaining a student visa and sitting through an almost 11-hour flight out of John F. Kennedy International Airport, I’ve relocated from Philadelphia to Santiago, Chile, for five months.
Before deciding to go to Chile, all I really knew about the country was that its previous military dictatorship was headed by Augusto Pinochet, and its devastating 2010 earthquake that trapped miners and made international headlines.
My family and friends must have had the same preconceptions because my decision to study abroad in Santiago was frequently questioned with, “But why don’t you just go to Spain if you want to learn Spanish?”
I made my decision to study abroad prior to graduating high school and deciding on a college. Years down the line, as a sophomore communications and Spanish major, I had to start narrowing down my options: It was either going to be Spain, Central America or South America (for my first time abroad, at least).
I was set on South America before I knew it. I also knew I wanted to remain in an urban setting, like Temple. So, what about Santiago? The population is in between that of Philadelphia and New York City, it has a well-developed public transportation system, it’s surrounded by mountain views and, like Philadelphia, it is only an hour-and-a-half drive to the beach.
My next step was to decide which institution I wanted to study abroad at because Temple doesn’t have a program in Chile. I came to the conclusion that it would be best to go through the Butler University Institute for Study Abroad – a program with a Temple affiliation and one that I knew would ensure my credits would transfer.
All of my pre-departure qualms were settled by IFSA-Butler representatives, and now that I’m in Santiago, I have two program advisers that I can rely on for anything. There are 14 other students from different United States universities who are in the same program as me. From our first week of orientation until now – a month and a half into our semester – we’ve already made lifelong friendships.
My first sights of Chile were from the bus windows as we drove from the Santiago airport to our orientation hotel located in the comuna (municipal division) of Providencia. I was introduced to the mountain views that I’d be seeing every day until July and immediately fell in love.
Arriving at the end of Chile’s summer months, everything was especially green – there was an abundance of fruits and veggies and the temperature was never below 80 degrees Fahrenheit. In the city, the architecture is a mixture of Spanish/European influence as well as indigenous design, and the buildings are very spread out rather than built-up.
In my opinion, the people on the streets are very friendly in comparison to major United States cities, welcoming questions from extranjeros (foreigners) such as myself and greeting people who walk past their establishments.
Once orientation week ended, I moved in with my host family, who lives in the comuna of Providencia in the neighborhood of Bella Vista, which is known for its nightlife – bars, restaurants and dancing, as well as shopping and overall sightseeing.
The first day with my host family was great. My “parents,” Juana and Wenceslao, as well as my “siblings,” Rocio, Paloma and Rodrigo, welcomed me with an enormous lunch. Waking up in the morning in my new room, I had to think twice about where I was. I thought to myself, “Am I really doing this right now?”
The rest of my second day was much tougher than the first. Paloma and Rodrigo were no longer there (they’re both in their thirties and moved out of the house), the initial excitement was gone, and I was feeling extremely overwhelmed.
What was everyone saying? Chilean Spanish was so different from anything else I had ever heard. I had been to Spain, Mexico and Guatemala already – I was used to hearing and speaking Spanish – but this was something completely different. They spoke so quickly, with so much slang and with an accent all its own. I started to miss home. I questioned what I was doing all the way in Chile. Was this the right decision?
Life in Santiago was a bit of an adjustment. Juana cooks every meal in our house herself, but doesn’t let me help with anything. I wake up in the morning with my yogurt, fruit, cereal, milk and silverware sitting out on the table waiting for me. My lunch is all packed up and ready to take with me for my school day.
When I come home in the evenings, she offers me tea and fruit as snacks, and then prepares a delicious dinner for me. We also have a nana – as most families do in Chile – named Feli, who helps with the cleaning and cooking. The treatment that I receive from Juana and Feli is completely different from anything I have ever experienced. I was brought up to be completely independent and to be responsible for my own needs. I’ve come to embrace it, for the most part. Sometimes, Juana lets me do the dishes or help set the table, but that’s about it.
Aside from getting used to my home life, I’ve started to feel more comfortable in my classes (which are all taught in Spanish) and the overall experience in Santiago. I’m making more and more Chilean friends, I’m participating in two different language programs to better my Spanish and I’ve figured out which micros are most useful for my schedule. I have three-and-a-half months left in Chile, and I’m going to make the most of it.
I’ve already been able to go on some great trips to explore different parts of the country, and I’m looking forward to doing even more. I’m so glad I made the decision to study abroad as a sophomore, giving myself time to do it again, if I choose. For anyone considering studying abroad, let this be a testament to how great of an experience it really is. ¡Chao chiquillos (kids), un besito (little kiss) de Santiago.
Lauren Bateman can be reached at email@example.com.