First Day of School in Santiago

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Mira Diamond-Berman
September 8, 2023

After a busy week of orientation of learning to navigate Santiago on the metro system, chilenismos (Chilean slang), and the names of many new friends, it was finally time to start classes. Summer had come to an end despite feeling extremely drained from the constant use of my second language.

Outside of my IES Abroad classes, I was planning on taking one class at la Pontificia Universidad Católica, which is a major private university in Santiago and supposedly ranked the number one university in Chile. An orientation session was held at the university, and I was pleasantly surprised by the gorgeous European architecture. The first week of classes was dedicated to auditing as I wouldn’t be officially registered until the second week.

I was interested in taking a class related to the sociological side of health, so I decided to audit the class “Salud, Cultura y Sociedad Global”. However, the class was unfortunately at 8:20 a.m. on Mondays—not ideal for a study abroad student hoping to travel on the weekends. I figured I would at least see if I liked the class; maybe it would be worth the ensuing exhaustion.

Unlike the typical dormitory college lifestyle in the US that allowed me to wake up 30 minutes before the start of a morning class and run across campus to class, I was not living at my university. I had to commute an hour to campus, so my 8:20 a.m. class felt like a 7:20 a.m. class back home.

I arrived at the campus in a daze, but my sleepiness was quickly overcome by the adrenaline prompted from the stress of not being able to find the classroom. I asked other students, security guards and teachers, but no one knew the location of the classroom. Did it not exist? Just my luck for the first day of classes. Eventually, I desperately went into an administrator’s office who told me I was on the wrong campus.

That was embarrassing. I was used to my tiny liberal arts college in rural Iowa. I didn’t think to check for the campus of my classroom; I assumed it was the same campus that I visited for orientation.

Okay, take two. Now I’m on the correct campus with a map to direct me. What else could possibly go wrong? Even with the map the huge campus was confusing, and I ended up being 10 minutes late to class. I sit down relieved that I finally made it to a class, but then I quickly realize something doesn’t seem right. The professor is mentioning business, but I was looking for a physics class.

In all the stress of trying to find the classroom, I realized I read the number wrong: it was 102, not 201. So, twenty minutes late I finally arrived at my intended class.

Alright, day three. I’m hoping today goes smoothly. The day before I found my classroom to preemptively prevent any confusion. I arrived five minutes early, unfrazzled. All was well until the professor announced la tarea (homework)—a group presentation. Not only did I not know anyone in the class, but it seemed that everyone was already friends, and the cliques had already been established. The Chilean university system differs from the US in that students primarily take all the same classes with the other students in their carrera (major), so third-year students tend to know everyone in their classes very well; however, I had no friends to work with for the group presentation.

I asked the girl sitting next to me if I could join her group and she was very welcoming, even offering to speak to me in English. But then I returned to the IES Abroad center and found myself with a text: lo siento (I’m sorry) we cannot work together anymore because the group had too many people.

Shoot. I didn’t have anyone else’s number in the class. Who else could I work for the group project? I was doomed to fail the class already.

But then I luckily received a WhatsApp message from a random number asking me if I needed a group for the Public Health homework. And then another message and another asking if I wanted to join their group. All those worries about being alone in the class were eased. I had a stressful first week of getting lost many times, but it all worked out in the end. The other students were so kind to ensure that the exchange student had a group to work with. Never had I felt so included. That’s when I knew I made the right choice to study abroad in Santiago; The kindness of the Chileans made the moments of feeling lost and confused worth it.

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Mira Diamond-Berman

Hi! I'm Mira and I'm a Chemistry major at Grinnell College! love taking my dog on long walks and binging a good book. When traveling, I love going on runs to explore new places.

2023 Fall
Home University:
Grinnell College
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