Today was both incredibly eventful and not eventful at all. I got on my connecting flight in Atlanta at 11:30 p.m. yesterday and wound up in Santiago de Chile the following morning at 9:35.
The pure exhaustion I was feeling kept me from really processing everything around me – you know, the fact that I was beginning an entirely new life in a new country with a new family. I guess that’s for the best. I mostly wanted to die standing in line for immigration and customs, just feeling hot and bothered and thirsty. However, as long as everything took, it all went seamlessly and I met the Institute for Study Abroad (IFSA) coordinators as well as three other CC girls who had morning flight arrivals. The only “culture shock” – if it could even be called one – that I encountered was genuine confusion about how to use the hand dryer in the bathroom.
We took a very short drive, maybe 20-30 minutes, from the airport to IFSA’s office. Looking out the windows, I felt very much at home; like Colorado Springs, mountains and hills surround the city, and the air is hot and dry. However, Santiago is actually a city, at least in size. There are few skyscrapers, but the bustling traffic and compactness of everything is undeniable. The IFSA office is in the fine arts neighborhood/district in Santiago Central.
At the office, we were able to snack and relax a bit while we waited for our host families to pick us up individually. The program director, Isa, taught us a common Chilean phrase, “guatita llena, corazón contento” – “full belly, content heart” as we devoured some sandwiches and fruit. Everyone in the program lives in Santiago Central or one of two neighborhoods east of it: Providencia and Ñuñoa. My host parents, Paula and Roberto, arrived to take me to their house in Providencia, about a mile away.
Paula and Roberto are both very laid-back and welcoming. While Paula is a former nutritionist turned stay-at-home mom, Roberto is an adjunct professor in the social science department at the Universidad de Chile. The department includes anthropology, sociology, and psychology, among a couple others, and he says there are around 125 graduates in the program every year. He emphasized that it’s just one department a in a vast collection of departments, and Paula added that they’re really all over the city, in no way concentrated. Attending and/or working at the Universidad de Chile or the Universidad Católica is the most reputable.
We arrived at their two-story house in Providencia around 1:30. The house is small but with plenty of space – a kitchen, dining room, living room, and small study for Roberto downstairs, 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms upstairs. Paula explained that their daughter, Daniela, still lives with them, but is around very little. By day, she’s a kinesiologist, by night, a musician. She has her own band and sings and plays guitar and piano (she has several of both instruments at home). Paula says that music is her true passion, but it’s quite difficult and requires the kinesiologist job to be financially feasible. She actually has a pretty significant gig coming up on April 12.
In addition to Daniela, Paula has a son named Francisco, married with three kids all age 7 or under, and another daughter, also named Paula, with a 15-year-old, a 2-year-old, and another baby along the way. The family visits from time to time, including Paula’s mom, who lives in Viña, an hour or so west of Santiago. They also have a sweet chihuahua named Clarita, who unfortunately is stuck in the backyard because 1) Ricardo is allergic to dog hair, and 2) she has a problem with her back from jumping up on and down from high objects (something that easily happens to short dogs…watch out, Chowder). Apparently she’s supposed to have limited exercise for 2 months, and only until this last week was she allowed to walk up and down short stairs. Pobrecita. She’s quite loving and doesn’t bark, making her an ideal chihuahua.
After settling in, Paula served us all a delicious lunch of asparagus soup and tortilla de vegetales, essentially a veggie frittata. We discussed our families and the climate in Chile versus Colorado and New York. We also talked a lot about the Spanish. I explained that I’d been told that Chilean Spanish is difficult, but also that I was used to Cuban Spanish, which initially was impossible. They agreed that Chilean Spanish is hard – people don’t enunciate well – but there are also a bunch of “chilenismos,” or Chilean slang words. Roberto was saying how much of the slang has to do with animals, for some reason. “Estar chancho,” for example, means to be content, satisfied, but “chancho” really means pig – “to be pig.” And “hacer una vaca,” which literally would mean “to make a cow,” really describes when a group of friends decides to all chip in to do some activity/buy something. According to him and Paula, while Chilean Spanish is weird and sometimes difficult, it’s probably no worse than Cuban Spanish and is definitely better than Argentinian Spanish. But the best Spanish is Peruvian Spanish. That’s muy claro.
Post-lunch, I unpacked and then did some exploring. Providencia is a nice neighborhood, not silent but not overly bustling either. There are lots of colorful buildings and houses, graffiti artwork, cafeterías, etc. I went walking to find the Parque Metropolitano, ending on Pío Nono, a very fun, lively street full of clubs, bars, and restaurants of all cuisines – Brazilian, Italian, Japanese. The bars try to lure us tourists (or at least me) in with CRAFT BEER written in huge letters outside, in addition to mixed drinks that use pisco, the country’s signature brandy. Many of the bars are essentially beer gardens; you walk through a gate and there are lots of tables in the fresh air, reggaeton blasting behind.
I am now back at the house resting before dinner and then more resting. Orientation tomorrow…maybe pictures on here, too, if I muster up the energy. Just wanted y’all to know I’m surviving and thriving.