Disclosure: this photo was taken during February, the peak of Chilean summer. It is now May, and oh yes. Winter is coming.
It is summer back home in my sunny state of Florida, and I know the hemlines are beginning to rise as the temperatures do. I watch as finals season proceeds in my home university, imagining my friends hunched over their laptops late into the nights as the May breeze pours through their windows. I scroll through Facebook and life is happening without me, as I know it does, and my classmates revel in their miserable solidarity while camping in the library until their eyelids droop close. A week and a half later, though, and people celebrate the end and recycle the notes of their semester, sing praises to their beloved professors (and leave rough course evaluations for the others) before heading off to their summer internships.
I watch all this happen from my homestay in Santiago, Chile, and it feels as though I am figuratively (just as I am literally) thousands of miles away. While they excitedly post their plans on Facebook and bemoan the exam results, I am still trudging through the last half with a month ahead of me. Because of the way school semesters are organized in Chile, they attend school from February to July, enjoy winter break skiing from July to September, and return to their campus as spring begins. So even as I crawl towards the summer in Florida ahead of me, Santiago gets chillier.
The scarves begin to wrap around the citygoers, the stars — well, not stars in a high-pollution and dry city like this — begin to show at 6 pm, and everything is a lot grayer a lot quicker. I adjust to the Celsius temperatures like the standard system limited American I am, just as I've adjusted to everything else in Santiago by now. I love living in a city, I love swiping my bip! card in the metro/bus and the greenery that surrounds me even in the bleakness of the weather. Santiago is a gorgeous place for a winter like this, and even now in the 40ish degree drop, the street vendors grin as they hawk "Hand rolls! Hand rolls!" and bags of roasted peanuts. The independence of falling for a city abroad is like nothing else, because once you read these streets and have your favorite chapters, you revisit them lovingly and leave footsteps across the pavements of the barrio you call yours, the friendly barista who knows your order, the tree that you've watched work itself from spring bloom to winter bark.
I feel a practical santiguina now even if that's annoying for a foreign student to say, in that I know that I can not only survive but thrive in this city. I can tell you my most cherished touristy spots OR where to get your groceries for the best bargain. When I step out the house into the dreary weather, I wrap myself in the coat I bought on the sidewalk of Barrio Italia, step into the boots I bought in a Chinese-owned storefront in Patronato, and take a swig of the ever dependable Vital agua. By this time, I’ve got the routine down to a pat. Even though I am leaving soon, I hope I will come back some day and do it again.
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<p>Annie Cheng is a sophomore at Yale University studying political science and ethnic studies. She speaks 2.5 languages, listens to jazz and hip hop, and is currently residing in Santiago, Chile. Her passions include journalism, environmentalism, and supporting the arts. By the end of her studies, she hopes to confidently claim trilingualism.</p>