Six months down; six more to go. Many students from the United States go abroad for a single semester, but I firmly believe that a full year was the best decision for me. Before leaving The States I decided to study abroad for two semesters, because students who had formerly studied abroad mention that at the end of their semester they didn't feel ready to leave. I would much rather feel homesick and aching to return than leave just as I'm starting to feel assimilated. I'm looking forward to a semester where not everything is new. My family visited me for Christmas, and only then did Santiago truely start to feel like home. How disappointing would it have been to move back to California when I've only just started to feel at home in Chile?
A reflection on my first semester:
Everything from last semester took adjusting. Everyone tries to prepare you for culture shock, but it still hits hard. Sometimes there where big adjustments like getting used to using the metro and bus systems, and sometimes I had to figure out small things like where to buy a notebook. I think the small adjustments where the most difficult, because I didn't anticipate all the little differences that left me constantly feeling like a lost puppy. Life gets frustrating when you're learning everything by doing it wrong the first time around: grabbing the toilet paper before going into the stall, which color train to take on the metro, where to turn in class assignments online.
While struggling through daily life in a foreign culture, there are, of course, many things to be gained. I can honestly say that my host parents have integrated me into their home. I remember making a comment about our tiny little apartment overflowing with people: their family and myself. Without missing a beat, my host mom replied, "as long as you are living in this home, you are part of this family" (roughly translated from Spanish of course). Needless to say, I plan to stay with the same host parents next semester. In addition to a family, I've gained much needed confidence in my ability to speak Spanish. Although I expect that I will always speak with a bit of an accent and imperfect grammar, I feel sure in my ability to communicate -something that has devolped with time.
Starting a second semester abroad:
I'm more excited and less nervous for the new semester than the last. I no longer have to wonder about countless unknowns: what does Chilean Spanish sound like? Whom will I live with? Where's my campus? I could go on forever with the list of questions I won't have lingering over my head when I move to Santiago this time around. This semester, I have a better idea of the places I want to visit and the things I want to try. I'm significantly more confident in my ability to manuver through this country. I feel much more comfortable traveling and trying new things on my own. I get to take on my second semester more sure of myself -with a better understanding who I am.
Also, I get to start the spring semester a lot more Chilean than when I came. Some of my Chilean friends tease me for speaking with a bit of a Mexican accent (I did after all grow up about 20 minutes away from the Mexican border); however, I am slowly starting to pick up the Chilean accent. I feel proud when someone confuses me for Chilean after a bit of conversation, especially if that someone is Chilean themselves! Additionally, I've experience a 7.9 grade earthquake -a right of passage seeing as anything less than that is dismissed nonchalantly by a Chilean as a mere "tremor." Tomatoes, avacados, and bread are staples in my diet; I no longer say "bless you" when someone sneezes; when I go out, my night starts a 1am. These are just a few of the small changes, and I expect there are more to come.
A little about my break:
Being on the opposite side of the world, I'm experiencing the opposite season. In other words, while all my friends at home are on winter break, I'm making the most of an extra summer vacation. I stayed in Chile between semesters (not under IES Abroad). I took advantage of the free time to hike up Machu Picchu, backpack through Torres del Paine, watch the New Years fireworks in Valparaiso, and spend Christmas with family and friends in Santiago. When my family came to visit, I introduced them to my host parents. I wish every abroad student had this opportunity. Introducing my families brought together the lives I've created in two different worlds.
I've now settled into Castro, Chiloé, the main city on an island in the south of Chile. I will stay here for a total of 5 weeks, before moving back to Santiago. People here live at a much slower pace, and I expect that I will need a few days to get back into my normal routine. In the meantime I am enjoying the island and mentally preparing to go back to classes.
A better packing list:
Although I stayed in Chile over the summer, I've thought about how I packed for my first semester and what I would pack now. Here's what I would pack again and what I would change:
- Anything for Warmth: If you plan on being in Santiago during the winter, I suggest layers of warm clothing. The first several purchases I made upon arrival where gloves, hand warmers, a beanie, and another sweater. If you live where it gets really cold, keep in mind you probably get to return to a heated house at the end of the day. Central heating is practically nonexistant in Santiago. Despite our little heater, I spent my first couple of months freezing, able to see my breath in my own room some nights.
- Workout Clothes: I remember reading that there was no need to pack workout clothes for study abroad, but I did so anyway and don't regret it. While wearing your workout clothes when out and about the city is not nearly as acceptable as it is in a college town, I actually do work out.
- Journal: A lot will happen while abroad. Writing down what I did that day or how I felt helped me not only remember later all the adventures I had, but it also was a cheap and easy way of dealing with culture shock. Looking back at the journal I just finished, I'm surprised at all I might have forgotten if I hadn't written it down. I will need to buy a new journal for the new semester!
- Prescriptions (extra): Any medication you're accustomed to taking I highly recommend bringing with you and bringing extra. There is no garuntee that the same thing will be available or that you will be able to get it prescribed while abroad (depending on what you take).
- Camera: Should you bring that bulky professional camera? Absolutely! I was hesitant to bring mine, but I use it all the time!
- LBD: A multifunction little black dress won't take up much space in your bag, can easily be dressed up or down, and will have you preprared for any occasion. (Sorry boys, I realize that this doesn't apply to you, but maybe a multifuncional shirt instead?)
- Something that reminds you of home: If you anticipate missing something from home, especially food, I recommend packing it. I wish I had brought dried mango with chile powder on them. Or when my family came to visit, I asked them to bring me chile since, ironically, spice isn't too common in Chile. Also, I swear the chocolate doesn't taste the same (specifically Kit-Kats). I've also heard that the peanut butter tastes completely different.
- A few toiletrees: Unless you absolutely need to stick to certain brand of something, I suggest buying most of your toiletrees upon arrival. I was glad I had a little of the basics when I arrived, but you might as well save the space and buy your bottles of shampoo at the local pharmacy. You can find many of the same brands that we use in the US anyway. Travel sized bottles will get you by until you can get to a store, and you can reuse the small bottles when traveling. My friends and I have had trouble finding travel sized bottles for sale in Santiago.
- Waterproof Shoes: Even if they're your chunky hiking boots, you'll be happy to have these when it rains in Santiago. The streets flood, and I've come home more than once with a soaked pair of running shoes. At one point I only had one pair of dry shoes left, and knowing that I had to cross a flooded intersection, I decided to wear a pair of flipflops figuring they would dry much faster than my running shoes. Although this was one way around having wet, cold feet all day; it drew quite a bit of attention.
- Combination Lock: Although you can just as easily buy one of these here; mine has come in handy various times: at the university gym or for lockers at hostels when traveling. I prefer the combination over the key, only because then you don't ever have to worry about losing the key.
- Gift for host family: Although anything will be appreciated, your host family will love a gift that is unique to your state or region. A box of See's candy is a great go to, but something more personal will really show your effort to intigrate into the family.
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<p>I study Physics and Spanish at the University of the Pacific. When not studying, all I want to do is dance or get outdoors. I've moved to Santiago to get the best of everything: city, mountains, beach, desert, and more!</p>