So guess what? I am in Chile. That’s what.
I arrived in Santiago on Wednesday morning after a flight to Dallas, a long layover, and an even longer overnight flight. Total commute length? 18 hours. But still, I got to Chile a happy (though sleep deprived) camper and made my way through the airport and to the group of students that I will be sharing my study abroad experience with.
The program that I am doing is through CIEE, or Council of International Educational Exchange, and there are a whooping fifty of us. There are a good number from Lewis and Clark, and quite a few from University of Colorado Boulder, and in general there are a lot of multiples, but I am definitely enjoying being the only Vanderbilt student there. It has allowed me to really branch out and meet people quickly.
We had to take a bus from Santiago to Reñaca, a small town that borders Viña del Mar and Valparaíso, the former being where am living and the latter being where my university is located. Our hotel orientation lasted until Friday afternoon, where we learned the ins and outs of what our next five months. I won’t bore you with all of the details, but I will provide some highlights (in the tried and true form of a numbered list):
1. Empanadas are the bomb. I already knew this. But seriously, I don’t think anything beats sitting by the beach with two empanadas the size of your face, enjoying the view and the fried goodness.
2. Chileans are beautiful. Every single person here is a bombshell, and it is kind of ridiculous.
3. Chilean ≠ Spanish. The people here speak so fast and with so many modismos (Chilean slang phrases) that it can be very difficult to catch what people say. At least the modismos are pretty much restricted to younger people, so I can still understand my host mom really well (more on my host family later).
4. My group is wonderful. Every student that I have talked with so far in my CIEE group is gloriously laid back and just wants to take in everything as much as I do. There doesn’t seem to be any propensity for drama, which is always a bonus when you are thrown together all willy nilly with a group of people you don’t know.
5. The course registration here makes YES and even OASIS look like a sparkling mountain of ice cream and ponies. I’m sorry that that statement only makes sense if you are a Vanderbilt student. Basically you get a giant excel spreadsheet with all the classes offered by the university, make a list of ones you may want to take, and let the cards fall where they may.
6. “Chile is the most wonderful place on earth…if you pay attention.” While eating the aforementioned empanadas, our group was talking with a couple of guys that were from Santiago. One of them said this to us, and it really resonated with me. New trip motto, activate!
But our hotel orientation was just the start. On Friday at about noon I was picked up by my host mom, Vicky. She is a single mother whose daughter lives in Santiago. She was accompanied by her niece, Coni, who will essentially by my host sister. They drove me to Vicky’s apartment in Viña del Mar, which is right down the coast a bit from Valpo. I have my own little room with a desk, some cabinets, a cute day bed, and a television. Oh yeah, and this view:
Yesterday after arriving, my sisters Coni and Tamara took me for a walk around Viña with their two boyfriends (or “pololos” in Chilean Spanish). After we were all getting hungry we went back to their house for “once” which is an evening snack which can be eaten in addition to or instead of dinner. We had a very basic, but delicious, once with tea and coffee with bread, palta (avocado), and ham. Afterwards, we went upstairs and watched tv; right now in Viña there is a big music festival called Festival de Canción, and even though it costs money to go, they still air it on tv. And last night’s performance was by the one and only Sting, which was great. I went home and fell asleep to a view of Viña and Valpo at night – exquisite.
This morning I woke up feeling the most well-rested that I have since leaving Nashville. After showering and eating breakfast I worked on figuring out what courses I may want to take, but then Coni called and we decided to go walk around the shopping district in Viña. I’m starting to get my bearings in Viña, but I can honestly say it will be a very slow process – given my stunted sense of direction.
For lunch I had a delicious Chilean dish called pastel de choclo, which has ground corn (choclo), chicken, beef, and is somewhat like a casserole. Or shepard’s pie. Add on some fresh melon and I am one happy gringa.
And that takes us to now, folks. Keep in touch!