As embarrassed as I am to admit it, my main way of contact with America is Facebook. My News Feed is how I catch up on what music is popular, what TV shows are coming back for the new season (It was hard, and not necessarily legal, but I found a way to keep up with all my shows), what movies I’m missing, and, most importantly, what my friends and family are up to.
This week, I noticed that a lot of Wofford students have received their study-abroad acceptance letters. I am so excited for them; I remember how amazing it was receiving that email (I received mine on my phone in the middle of physics lab—it was the most interesting information I received all semester). Coming to Chile, for me at least, really has been a dream come true. Now, as jealous as I am of them (I want to come back next semester!), I think I’ll make this blog post in honor of them. Here is my list of “Things I Wish I Knew before Coming to Chile.”
1. The water in Chile is different from the water in the United States. It’s harder, which means it has a higher mineral content (thank you, Wikipedia), and for the grand majority of things, it makes no difference—you can drink it, wash dishes with it, and shower in it. For your hair though, it can pose some pretty ugly problems (yes, I’m going to talk about hair). Now, granted, my hair is always dry from over-washing, chlorine, and too much sun, but the hard water has taken quite a toll. What I would suggest for girls coming to Chile for interim or next semester is bringing a leave-in conditioner, or an extra-strength additional conditioning treatment. It’s probably too late for me, but save yourselves!
2. Everyone tells you that study abroad classes are a joke. They are wrong. As I’ve said before, I’ve been taking two classes with my program (a Spanish class and a Clinical Observation Internship) and two with the Chilean university (a religion class and an art class). The IES classes require some studying, but all in all, they aren’t terrible. The university classes are a little more complicated, but so far, I’ve done really well with my theology class. My art class, however, is horrible. It is three hours every Thursday afternoon (after four hours of the Clinical Observation class), with a teacher who speaks no English, and with a bunch of students who don’t speak to me. Moreover, I’m almost convinced I failed the first test, which was on Thursday. HOWEVER. I still maintain that it wasn’t my fault…I studied concepts, themes, and overarching ideas, and the first question asked, “Please write down the four points of the quote we read in class five weeks ago.”
3. Your study abroad center is an absolute godsend. After I failed that art test, I went right to my study abroad center to talk to the academic advisor. (Okay, to be fair, that’s not exactly how it happened. First, I went home, stress-ate an entire can of Pringles, and wondered how badly I could do in the class without dropping my GPA so much that I wouldn’t be accepted by any post-grad programs…everybody is allowed a freak-out once in a while.) When I sat down with Angela, I explained as best I could (in Spanish) that I couldn’t continue with the class. I explained to her that if I thought I could pull my grade up, I would be more than happy to finish the class, but with two grades left for the semester and a very unhelpful professor, I was positive that I wouldn’t be able to. Within five minutes, she had a plan worked out for me; she would drop the art class from my schedule, no problems, and add me into another Spanish class with IES (I’m taking a Medical Spanish class, but there is also an option for a grammar class). I will be spending the next two or three weeks making up all the work from the first half of the semester, but if my other option is sitting through that art class one more day, then I say bring on the work. I am so grateful for my study abroad center for making this so easy for me; I am amazed at how helpful they are, and I’m lucky that I chose IES! For anybody going abroad with a program like IES: USE them! They know what they’re talking about, and they’ve been doing this for a long time. They don’t want you to fail or be stressed out the entire semester; they want you to learn a lot, but they also understand that most of the learning you do abroad (and the most important learning you do) is outside the classroom. Which brings me to my next point.
4. You’re in a foreign country…take advantage of it! You are going to be seeing things you may never get the chance to see again, do things you’ll only get to do once, and meeting people you’d never meet otherwise. Take these opportunities as they come, and do as much as you possibly can. If that means planning a trip with some friends, heading out to a fair where nobody speaks English, or even just sitting down and having a conversation with your host family, then do it! This week, I planned three trips for the rest of the semester. First, I’m going to the desert San Pedro de Atacama, one of the most famous and beautiful places in Chile, with one other person from my program. Then, two weeks later, I’m spending the weekend with a group of 40 exchange students in Pucón, a southern city with lakes, volcanoes, and thermal springs. Finally, at the very end of the semester, after my last exam, I’m going to PERU! Kirsten and I are flying up to Cuzco for a couple days, and then spending two days hiking around Machu Picchu, the site of some really incredible Incan ruins. It should be an awesome trip, and I’m so excited for the summer, to make these trips a little more comfortable (I’m looking at the window at a gray, cold, rainy day). I’m excited to explore a little more of South America—these are trips I’ll never be able to take again. And even when I’m in Santiago, I try to take opportunities like that—I’ve been to some extremely Chilean concerts where I’m the only gringa (with Chilean friends there, to keep me safe, of course), eaten food I’d never imagined trying, and learned a TON of Spanish. Most importantly, I’ve met some pretty fantastic people along the way. I am determined to have no regrets when I go back to the United States. (Well, maybe some regrets, travel-wise. I don’t want to see EVERYTHING now; then I won’t have a reason to come back later!)
5. Find your routine. For the first half of the semester, I only had class on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays…I was free to roam around Santiago as I pleased on Tuesdays and during the weekends. It’s always hard to establish a routine, but in this culture it’s especially hard—in Chile, the culture is just more relaxed. At first, I had a hard time shaking off the notion that Chile is just a vacation from reality, but now that I have my routine down, it finally feels like everyday life. Classes are good for keeping me firmly planted in reality, but sometimes that’s just not enough. I set aside every Sunday as my gas station day (blogging, homework, etc.), and every Sunday night for church! It doesn’t seem like much, but it helps me keep focused on what I have to do for the week and plan the rest of my week accordingly.
6. Use your resources. Yes, I kind of already said this, when I mentioned how awesome the study abroad programs are. But the more time I’m here, the more I realize how many resources I have here. There’s my American friends who’ve already been to Santiago, who have helped me find the best ways to plan trips, my Chilean friends who help me find the cool, less-touristy things to do around Santiago, and my host family who feeds me, gives me advice, and makes sure I’m safe. There’s also my real family in the States, who will always listen to me when I get a little homesick, and my friends in the States who remind me that, even though I’ve got my home down here, I’ll still have a home at Wofford when I come back. Since we’ve all grown up with the Internet, it’s not as amazing to us, but sometimes I’m just overwhelmed thinking how close I am to all of these people, even though some of them are so far away. We live in some pretty fantastic times…take advantage of all the resources you have!
7. Bring an umbrella. Or a rain jacket. I didn’t, and we’re on day two of straight rain. The walk to Mass should be FUN.
Spanish lesson for the day…
calzón chino – This is a slang expression that literally means “Chinese underwear” but actually means “wedgie.” Yes, like those really uncomfortable things you’d get from bullies on the playground (or from big brothers at home). I’m not sure why it’s Chinese underwear…probably some subtle Chilean racism at play here.
guatón – This is a play on the Chilean word for stomach, “guata.” It means “fat man.” The word for a woman is “guatona.” It’s kind of rude how often this word is used by Chileans to describe other people, but there is an amazing restaurant called “El Guatón” where you can buy a sandwich that’s bigger than my head! It’s enough for four people to share, but we usually split it between two of us. (I’m always hungry here. I’ll turn into a “guatona” by the time I come back!)
la raja – literally this means “the butt-crack,” but it’s used to describe anything that’s good. (By the way, one of the most hilarious interactions I’ve had with my host mom was her trying to explain to me that it means “butt-crack.” Gestures were included.) If something is “la raja,” it means “It rocks!” It’s not a bad word, but it definitely falls into the category of slang and probably shouldn’t be used around professors, bosses, friends’ parents, etc. (The thing about my host family is they think it’s so funny when I use Chilean slang that I can pretty much say whatever bad words I want, and they just laugh and laugh…I don’t take advantage of it too much, but it was an especially helpful characteristic when I was trying to learn the difference between good words and bad words. And they do the same with me! A couple weeks ago my host brother used a really nasty English word at the table, and even though I was offended, it was really too funny to take seriously.)